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SSI2-180: The French Revolution

The Research Process

From Research Topic to Research Question to Thesis

Research is not passive reporting, it is a search for answers. A research question is what drives your research project; it is something that you want to know about your topic and it is something you want to explore and try to answer in your research project. 

topic to thesis graphicResearch typically begins with a topic that has piqued your curiosity. When you're researching a topic, you typically are interested in questions of who, what, where and when. Topics come in all shapes and sizes:

  • The French Revolution (a huge topic!)
  • The Reign of Terror (slightly less huge, but still enormous!)
  • The French Revolution and women (still huge)
  • Louis XVII and the Temple prison (focused)
  • Olympe de Gouges's Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen (focused)
  • Marie Antoinette's excesses (focused)
  • Social/Political clubs in the 18th century in France (focused)
  • Voltaire's role in the Calas Affair (very focused)
  • ‚ÄčAmis de la Vérité (very focused)


As you learn more about your chosen topic, however, you'll discover that scholars may have different approaches and arguments about the topic, and you'll start to ask your own research questions. Research questions typically begin with why or how:

  1. How did salons, cafes and other social gatherings contribute to the rising revolutionary sentiment of the 1780s?
  2. Why did the newly formed National Constituent Assembly move to abolish feudalism in France on August 4th, 1789? How sincere were these reforms and did they last? 
  3. How did the French Revolution affect the rest of Europe? Why were some governments threatened by it?
  4. Why was Marie Antoinette a target for intrigue, gossip, and propagandists? Why did the French people have such negative feelings toward her? 

Marie Antoinette as a harpy

Harpie Monstre Amphibie vivante Ce Monstre, à environ 10 pieds de longueur, ... : [estampe], [1784]. From the Stanford University Libraries French Revolution Digital Archive.


When you've selected a research question to explore and are ready to make an argument as to how to answer it, you'll come up with a thesis.