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Science - Biophy Library - Physics: Develop a Research Question

A guide will help you finf information and materila on Physics

Choose your Research Topic and Develop a Research Question.

The decision of a suitable research topic and the formulation the research question is in many ways the most difficult task. A thorough knowledge of a specific subject is needed. You will need to think and read critically around your area of interest.


Choose a broad Reseach Topic: Discuss your ideas with academics bearing in mind that you also have to select a supervisor for your research. Consult the Faculty Websites to follow the research activities of your potential supervisor. In many cases the general research topic is set by your supervisor. See also A-Z of Research at Wits.

Do preliminary research on your Topic: Generate keywords and use the library resources below to develop background knowledge on a subject. Successful completion often depends on whether the topic continues to hold your interest.

Start asking Questions: Taking into consideration all of the above, start asking yourself open-ended “how” and “why” questions about your general topic. Make sure your approach is flexible.

Review your Research Question:  As your research develops it is likely that some of your initial ideas will be challenged. You must to be prepared to change or modify your question if necessary. Be sure your question is specific and manageable in the time you have to complete the research.

Make sure you are familiar with the most recent developments in your field. This will ensure your idea is achievable. Consult the following library resources to make sure that your proposed research topic have not already been presented at Masters or Doctoral degree level. Also refer to the databases and reference sources in your relevant Subject Libguide to assist you:

e-Wits catalogue: If a thesis was completed at Wits, search our online catalogue for the details and location of the thesis.                 

Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD): All online theses at Wits are hosted on our Institutional Repository WIReDpace and available full text. Links to these theses are also available via the library's e-Wits catalogue. Read a recent thesis by a student from your Faculty/School.               

Nexus Database: This database includes South African dissertations and theses. It provides information on all fields of science since 1919. It also includes abstracts. A limited number of records contains links to the full-text. 

Union Catalogue of Theses and Dissertations (UCTD) via the Sabinet platform contains bibliographic records of completed disstertations and theses submitted to universities in South Africa.

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses: The Humanities, Social Sciences, Sciences and Engineering Collection: This database is the world's most comprehensive collection of dissertaions and theses in the Social Science, Humanities, Science and Engineering subjects.

WorldCat: WorldCat is the world's largest network of library content and services. Select "Thesis/Dissertations" under the content Search option.

How to create a Search Strategy?

By focusing on the keywords you use in your search, you can easily identify alternative terms and other strategies that will help you eliminate results that don't meet your needs.


Visuwords: Look up words to find their meanings and associations with other words and concepts. To use the applet you only need to type a word into the search query at the top of the page and press 'Enter'.

Different Types of Journals

Periodicals are important sources for up-to-date information in all disciplines. With a collection as large and diverse as the Wits library it is often difficult to distinguish between the various levels of scholarship found in journal collections. In this guide we have divided the criteria for evaluating periodical literature into three categories:


Research Ethics is a broad umbrella covering the responsible conduct of research and all of its content.   Research ethics involves the application of moral rules and professional codes of conduct to the collection, analysis, reporting, and publication of information about research subjects, observations, results and application.

It is important to obtain appropriate ethical approval to carry out research projects, this can involve issues related to interview of persons or use of sensitive information. You should consult your supervisor to ensure you have met all ethical approval requirements and procedures to carry out your project.



New ethical challenges are emerging in all fields. The first responsibility for ethical conduct rests with the researcher. 

  • A researcher's paramount responsibility is to those studied. Where there is conflict of interest, they must come first. Researchers must do everything within their power to protect their informants' physical, social and psychological welfare and to honour their dignity and privacy. ?
  • The aims of the investigation should be communicated as well as possible to informants.
  • Informants should have the right to remain anonymous.
  • Questions asked should not be insulting or embarrassing.
  • The use of monitoring devices such as tape recorders and cameras should be open, and fully understood by the people concerned. They should be free to reject them if they wish. Results should be consonant with the informant's right to welfare, dignity and privacy.
  • There should be no exploitation of informants for personal gain. Fair returns should be given them for all services.There is an obligation to reflect on the foreseeable repercussions of research and publication on those studied.
  • The privacy and wishes of informants should at all times be respected.
  • No reports should be provided to sponsors that are not also available to the general public and, where possible, to the group studied itself, subject to the policy laid down in the document, Policy on Matters Relating to Sensitive and Confidential Research. 


  Set up your Library PIN.

Your Library PIN enables you to:
+ Access library electronic resources off campus.
+ Request material, not available in the Wits library, on an Interlibrary Loan.
+ Access your library account to view all titles issued out to you.
+ Place a hold on an item which is issued out to another patron.

Reference Styles: Always check first with your supervisor or publisher to see which Reference style to use.             

Interlibrary Loans: If the information you need is not available at the Wits library, request an Interlibrary Loan. The publication will be sourced from another institution and made available to you. An online request can be submitted.

Keep a Research Diary

Research Diary: Keep a Research Diary to record your research process and progress.

Readings for Researchers

Almost every primary research study begins with a review of the literature. The purpose of the literature review section of a research article is to provide the reader with an overall framework for where this piece of work fits in the “big picture” of what is known about a topic from previous research. Guide to Reading Research Articles.

“Well-crafted questions guide the systematic planning of research.  Formulating your questions precisely enables you to design a study with a good chance of answering them." Read more: By Design: Planning Research on Higher Education, by R.J. Light, (1991).



Common Errors

How to Choose a Citation Manager?

It is important to decide how you are going to manage your literature and references as early as possible in the research process.

What matters in referencing are the two principles that you should:

+ Recognise when you are drawing or building on other people's ideas;

+ Provide enough information for your readers to locate those same previously expressed ideas for themselves.

Consult your supervisor and your Faculty Style guide for assistance on the prescribed Reference style for your research.

Bibliographic Reference Management Tools will assist you in saving references you consult over a period of time and is a powerful tool for organising ideas and mapping the territory you are working in, as it has previously been explored by other researchers. It will assist you to format citations and bibliographies in the preferred reference style.

The following Reference Management Tools are supported by the University:

Endnote: Available via Computer & Network services,

Zotero: Zotero is an open-source reference management software. It is an extension for Firefox, therefore making it compatible with any platform using Firefox/Safari/Chrome. Support available via your librarian. Consult the Wits Zotero Libguide for information.

Further guidance consult: "How to choose a Citation Manager."