The Key Inquiry Question is the question that your research is aiming to answer. At the beginning of the research process, you know very little about the topic at hand. However, you need to be clear about what you are trying to discover. By reducing your focus down to a single Key Inquiry Question, it will help you to avoid wasting time on needless research, but also help you tell if your research has ultimately been successful.
Key Inquiry Questions use a variety of terms and it is essential you understand what each of these mean if you are to answer properly. Here is a list of the most common terms and what they mean:
|Key Word or Phrase||Explanation|
|Account for||Give reasons why|
|Analyse||Examine to explain meaning, relationships, similarities or differences|
|Argue||Give reasons for or against|
|Assess||Determine the value or significance|
|Causes||What things led to or caused the historical event?|
|Change||What was different as a result of this event or person?|
|Compare||Examine and note similarities|
|Consequence||What happened as a result of the historical event or person|
|Consider||Judge and come to an opinion|
|Continuity||What continued unchanged, or stayed the same?|
|Contrast||Emphasise the differences|
|Discuss||Examine by argument, considering for and against|
|Explain||Offer reasons for|
|How||Explain the process, steps or key events|
|Motive||The reasons people provided for their actions|
|Significance||Why is it important?|
|To what extent||Quantify the importance (to a great extent? to a limited extent?)|
|Why||Explain the motives, reasons or causes|
In most cases the Key Inquiry Question will be provided for you, but in some essays, you will be required to develop your own key question.
Here is some advice to help you create your own Key Inquiry Question:
In some essays, you will be asked to assess the accuracy of someone else's hypothesis. This kind of task will require you to look at all of the arguments being made and test these arguments based upon what your sources tell you. This is a great way of working out whether someone's claim about the past is trustworthy, or if the are simply manipulating the facts.
The best way is to turn the hypothesis into a Key Inquiry Question in order to begin your research.
For example, someone's hypothesis could be:
Constantine the Great founded the Catholic Church at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.
Your Key Inquiry Question could be:
What evidence is there that Constantine the Great founded the Catholic Church at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325?
History Skills Online has a ready-to-use Research Journal that follows these 9 steps and provides links back to the website to help you at each stage of your research. You can grab it here.
Next Step: Background Research