Asee peer logo

Design Activity Worksheets for Developing Research Questions

Download Paper |


2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Preparation for Graduate Research

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Vetria Byrd Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Dr. Vetria Byrd is an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Graphics Technology in the Polytechnic Institute at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Dr. Byrd is the founder and organizer of the biennial Broadening Participation in Visualization (BPViz) Workshop. Dr. Byrd has given numerous invited talks on visualization and has been featured in HPC Wire online magazine (2014), and numerous workshops nationally and internationally. Dr. Byrd received her graduate and undergraduate degrees at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in Birmingham, Alabama which include: Ph.D. in Computer and Information Sciences, Master’s degrees in Computer Science and Biomedical Engineering and a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. Dr. Byrd’s research interests include: data visualization, data visualization capacity building, high performance visualization, big data, and collaborative visualization. Dr. Byrd’s research utilizes data visualization as a catalyst for communication, as a conduit for collaboration, as a pathway to STEM and as a mechanism for broadening participation and inclusion.

visit author page


Jorge D. Camba Purdue University, West Lafayette

visit author page

Jorge D. Camba is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Graphics Technology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Developing good research questions is a skill that develops over time and is often difficult for students. More often than not, it is up to the student to figure out what to research. Where do I start? What do I look for? Is this a good research question? These are just a few of the questions students ask and should ask in the early stages of their research process. This work describes a progressive plan for developing research questions using a series of four design activity worksheets to guide students through the cognitive and metacognitive process of choosing topics, asking questions, identifying an appropriate problem and locating adequate data sources.

The goal of the first worksheet in the series, “Identifying Topics,” is to identify and rank a minimum of three topics of interest. At this point topics are generally either too broad or too narrow. It is unknown which or if any of the topics will be fully developed into a robust research question. In the event students reach an impasse in their efforts to develop their topic into a research question and decide to consider other options, the list of topics generated in this stage can be utilized to minimize time identifying a new topic. Upon completion of this worksheet students will generate, compare and rank topics of interest and identify who the intended audience is for their work.

The goal of the second worksheet, “From Topics to Questions,” is to generate questions based on the main topic of interest identified in the previous worksheet so students can transition from a broad topic to a specific question. Upon completing this worksheet, students will articulate what they hope their target audience will understand after reading their work.

The goal of the third worksheet, “From Questions to a Problem,” is to transition from a specific question to developing a problem statement. Upon completing this worksheet, students will identify the situation or condition they desire to address, the consequences caused by that condition and why it is important to address the problem.

The goal of the fourth worksheet, “From a Problem to Data Sources,” is to help students identify and acquire data for the chosen topic and determine the availability of data and data sources for the developed research question.

The worksheets are introduced in a linear manner and completed in order. This progressive path is intended to provide a logical and methodical approach to developing research questions. However, each worksheet can be completed independently. The worksheets can also be used as a pedagogical approach to introducing research methods into the classroom. The design activity worksheets have been used in multiple venues: undergraduate and graduate data visualization courses, workshops and more recently, a graduate seminar designed to help students identify their thesis topics in partial fulfillment of their graduate degree. In this work, we describe the development and characteristics of the worksheets and report some preliminary results of a study designed to assess their perceived impact and usefulness.

Byrd, V., & Camba, J. D. (2020, June), Design Activity Worksheets for Developing Research Questions Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34384

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2020 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015