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Research questions

Developing Research Questions

What is a research question?

  • A research questions focuses the topic for the research. A research question should be clear, concise and arguable.
  • A tightly focused research question creates a path through researching.  When research questions are specific, the student can write an arguable research paper rather than a report of information.


Steps to take to write a research question:

  1. Choose a general topic that is interesting  - the most difficult research takes place when the researcher is not invested in the topic.
  2. Do some preliminary research – this is what Wikipedia and Google are for.  When the researcher wants to get a basic understanding of the topic, these are good avenues to start down, provided that the researcher knows these are not citable sources.
  3. Consider your audience – mostly, you will be writing for someone who will evaluate you (a teacher) so take a formal tone in your research and writing. 
  4. Start asking questions - Taking into consideration all of the above, the researcher should start asking open-ended “how” and “why” questions about the general topic.


Evaluate the research question:

  • Is the question clear?  With so many research resources available, the question must be as clear as possible in order to be effective in directing the researcher.
  • Is the question focused?  This can be the most difficult for the researcher. Questions should be specific enough to be well-covered.
  • Is the question complex? Research questions should not be answerable with a simple “yes” or “no” or by easily-found facts.  They should, instead, require both research and analysis on the part of the writer.

Hypothesize: After developing a solid research question, the researcher should think about the next steps in the process. Where do you think you’ll find credible sources?  What argument are you hoping to make?


Examples of focused, complex, and clear research questions:


Topic: Social networks           

Clear research question: How are online users experiencing or addressing privacy issues on such social networking sites as Facebook?


Topic: Global warming

Focused research question: How is glacial melting affecting penguins in Antarctica?


Topic: Diabetes in the US

Arguable research question: What are common traits of those suffering from diabetes in America, and how can these commonalities be used to aid the medical community in prevention of the disease?


Bad Research Questions!

Poor research questions are generally lower level questions.  Questions that begin with who, when, and where generally can be answered quicky and with little information.   When developing research questions, stay away from these types of questions because once they are answered, your research stops there.

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