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Research Support: Develop a Research Question

Research support guide for faculty and students.

Suggestions for Planning

Deciding on a research topic can be a difficult task. You will need subject expertise. You will need to think and read critically within your area of interest.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Begin thinking early: As you discuss ideas with academics, bear in mind you will have to select a supervisor for your research. Consult the Faculty Websites to follow the research activities of academics. 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 to gain knowledge on a subject. Read a recent thesis by a student from your Faculty/School. Successful completion often depends on whether the topic continues to hold your interest.
  • Start asking questions: Ask open-ended “how” and “why” questions about your topic.
  • Review your research question: It is likely that some of your initial ideas will be challenged. Adapt your work and be flexible.
  • ​Consider your timeline: Be sure your question is specific and manageable in the time you have to complete the research.
  • Set achievable goals: Familiarize yourself with recent developments in your field. This will ensure your idea is achievable.
  • Originality: Refer to the databases and reference sources in your related subject guide to ensure your proposed research topic has not already been presented at Masters or Doctoral degree level.

Electronic Databases: Theses and Dissertations

Consult the following library resources:

e-Wits catalogue: Search our online catalogue for details on theses completed at Wits.              

Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD): All online theses at Wits are hosted on our Institutional Repository WIReDpace. Full text. Also available via e-Wits catalog.

Nexus Database: This database includes South African dissertations and theses on on all fields of science since 1919. Abstracts included, limited 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.

Database of African Theses and Dissertations (DATAD): Produced by the Association of African Universities, DATAD is an index, with abstracts of theses and dissertations completed in African universities.

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses: Humanities, Social Sciences, Sciences and Engineering Collection: This database is the world's most comprehensive collection of dissertations 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.


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, such as 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.

Code of ethics for researchers:

  • Responsibility to those studied; where there is conflict of interest, the informant comes first.
  • Protect the informants' physical, social and psychological welfare.
  • Respect the privacy and wishes of the informant at all times.
  • Communicate to the informant the aims of the investigation.
  • Informants have a right to remain anonymous.
  • Questions asked should not be insulting or embarrassing.
  • Any use of monitoring devices (e.g. tape recorders) should be fully understood by those concerned; they are free to reject them if they wish.
  • No exploitation of informants for personal gain. Fair returns should be given to them for all services.
  • Researchers have an obligation to reflect on the foreseeable repercussions of research and publication on those studied.
  • 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, so you can:

  • Access electronic resources off campus.
  • Request material from another institution through Interlibrary Loan.
  • Access your library account.
  • Place a hold on an item.

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

Search Strategies

Visuwords: This site contextualizes words and concepts. Simply search by keyword to get started.

Readings for Researchers

By Design: Planning Research on Higher Education. ​Book authored by Richard Light (1991). 

When is a Research Question Not a Research Question? Article from Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine (2013).

Literature reviews: Read literature reviews to increase your knowledge of relevant research and the current discourse.