What is a research question?
As the title implies, a research question refers to a question the research project intends to answer. Quantitative and qualitative research both rely on choosing a research question. It will be necessary to collect and analyze data as part of the process to answer this question, and the methodologies for doing this will differ widely.
Simply put, the research question is the focus of your study. Therefore, it should be:
- Clear: your research question should be as clear as possible, and the article’s purpose should be sufficiently clear that its audience can understand it without needing further explanation.
- Targeted: The question should be focused, meaning it is small enough so it can be answered thoroughly within the time given for a writing assignment.
- Brief: Meaning the statement is expressed in the fewest possible words.
- Detailed/Complex: The problem cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” but must be synthesized and analyzed prior to answering.
- Argumentative: As opposed to being a set of facts, its potential answers should be debatable
You should ask a question about an issue on which you have a genuine interest or passion. Also, your question should be relevant to your field of study. As an example, Biology questions differ from those appropriate for Political Science and Sociology questions.
Research questions are essential to the research process, so why do we need them?
The purpose of research questions is to provide researchers with a pathway through the research and writing process so that they can focus their research. Specific research questions help writers avoid writing an “all-about” paper and focus on developing an arguable thesis.
A research question is developed using the following steps:
- Decide on a general topic you are interested in. Almost all professional researchers choose subjects they are passionate about. You should decide on a broad topic that is of interest to you.
- Get a sense of the topic by doing some preliminary research. Find out what has already been done on your topic and narrow your focus by searching current periodicals and journals. Is there any conversation going on in the academic world about your topic? In reading these articles, what questions arise in your mind?
- Keep your audience in mind. When developing your topic and crafting your question, keep your audience in mind while narrowing your topic. Do you think that audience would be interested in your question?
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Consider all of the above and ask yourself open-ended “how” and “why” questions related to your general topic.
- You should evaluate your question. Putting a question or perhaps even a few questions down on paper gives you the opportunity to learn whether these would be useful research questions or if they should be revised and refined. For evaluation, you should consider the following:
- What is the purpose of your research? The researcher must be able to direct his or her research successfully by formulating answers to questions that are as clear as possible given the breadth of available research.
- What is the focus of your research question? In a limited amount of space, research questions must be sufficiently specific.
- How complex is your research question? The answers to research questions need not be as simple as “yes” or “no” or based on simple facts. Instead, they should require both research and analysis on the part of the writer. The question of “How” or “Why” is often asked.