Bear with me, you're almost done with the first step.
What your paper is NOT:
A game of Jeopardy. When someone is done reading your paper, they should not be playing a guessing game of "I'll take smoking for $100, Alex. What are health effects?"
What your paper IS:
The answer to a question. What is the question? That's what you get to ask! This is another place where you have the power to choose your focus and where you start to make your fill-in-the-blank game. If your paper is the answer to a question, then you have a purpose and a mission to answer it completely.
The trick is, there are good research questions and bad ones. I think it's good to get acquainted with the bad ones first so you can avoid them in the future.
Let's think of your research question like a photograph. You know what a bad photograph is:
What would a research question be for each of these?
BlurryWhy is smoking bad for you?
--What do you mean? Is this philosophical, social or health oriented? It's also pretty broad.
What are the cancer and emphysema effects of smoking?-- You've only got time for one in this paper. Is it cancer or is it emphysema? You won't be able to do them justice if you try to answer both.
FlashyWhat would the world be like if nobody smoked?
--There's no way you could find anything to back it up because it doesn't exist. This sounds good only if you want to write a futuristic novel otherwise, scrap it.
PanoramicWhat are the effects of smoking in different countries?
--Whoa! No matter how early you started, there's no way you're going to have time to dive into the research for more than one country. Even if you found information, it wouldn't all be the same type and wouldn't go together easily. Pull back and think smaller.
So, now that you know what NOT to do, let's think about some that could work.
Going back to our lightning strike of laws/government:
- What are considered the most effective anti-smoking laws within cities?
- How effective are local government-sponsored anti-smoking campaigns?
Or thinking about health:
- What are the identifiable symptoms of cancer caused by smoking?
- Is there a critical time to quit smoking before emphysema is diagnosed?
You want to find something that is pointed, has some research done on it before, and focused enough you don't have to stretch far to tie the ends together.
Once you have settled on your working research question remember:
It's not set in stone, you can change it if you need to!
If you start looking things up and can't find enough information on your question, tailor it. This is not a one-shot deal.
Now you can breathe a sigh of relief because the hardest part of your research paper is done! And since you've started early enough, take a break before you start on Step 2: Pre-search