What Kind of Question is That?

When you start a research project, whether it's a major research paper or just something you are curious about, you first need to determine what kind of question you are trying to answer. To put it simply, there are two basic kinds of questions:

factual questions
conceptual questions

Factual questions are answered by facts or data. Reference books are great resources for this kind of question. Reference books specialize in quick bits of information, from statistical data to definitions of words and ideas. These are all factual questions:

Who won the Nobel Prizes in 1995?
How many people live in Washington DC?
What does "existentialism" mean?

Conceptual questions are about ideas, and are answered by reading several sources and then coming to some conclusions based on your research. Some reference books can help with this kind of question, but you will usually have to use other books or articles. These are all conceptual questions:

What factors contribute to the population shift from rural to urban communities?
What makes a novel a best-seller?
How do Mennonite, Jewish, and African-American histories compare?

Sometimes, you will be asking both kinds of questions in a research project. You may be working on a conceptual question, and need to answer some factual questions in order to give a better answer to the conceptual question. For example, in the question above (What factors contribute to the population shift from rural to urban communities?), you would need to gather some population statistics (factual question) but also read what scholars say about the population trends.

Where do you find these resources? Answers to factual questions can usually be found in the Reference Collection. Answers to conceptual questions are found in the other resources in the library.


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