Developing Strong Research Questions
Making up research questions is the next step in the process of writing your thesis, research project or dissertation. They should focus on the main purposes of your research and indicate what you are going to find out for your academic paper topic. They also should be:
- specific to receive the exact answers;
- relevant to the aims of your specific study, institution, field and society;
- concentrated on one issue;
- available for research with the help of vital primary and secondary sources;
- complicated and complex to explain the answers within the space of a voluminous academic paper;
- possible to answer within the predetermined restrictions and the timeframe for the research work.
If your research project is a small one (like an essay or research paper), you can use only one research question to develop your writing. You can include its concise variant in the thesis statement and then develop it gradually throughout the whole paper.
If your academic paper is a voluminous one (like a dissertation or thesis) you can formulate several research questions, but they need to be relevant to the main research problem and continue developing its idea.
Research papers can be of different types. So the questions can also differ in their content and structure.
Writing a Research Question
There are certain stages of formulating research questions:
- Picking out a broader topic.
- A preliminary reading of articles and books describing issues and debates.
- Narrowing down the topic within a specific niche.
- Defining a research problem your questions will address.
After the problem has been identified, you may start formulating the questions. Consider what you want to learn and whether it will correspond to the ways of problem-solving.
Research Purposes You Want to Achieve
The formulation of questions is also greatly influenced by the results you plan to obtain. Let’s consider the examples of the questions related to various purposes.
- Describing and investigating the matter:
- What are the main factors that influence X?
- What are the main features of X?
- How was X developed over time, and did it advance?
- In what way is X related to Y?
- Explaining and examining the problem:
- What effects has X had on Y?
- What caused X?
- How are X and Y interrelated?
- Assessing and performing:
- What are the benefits and drawbacks of X?
- How can we use X for Y?
- What are the ways of improving X?
- How can we get and manage X?
- How useful is X?
There can be one or several questions, depending on the size of your paper.
The content of the research questions will affect your research design.
What Are Characteristics of a Strong Research Question?
Research questions can influence the course of the whole project. That is why they should have some specific characteristics to be helpful in further project advancement. Learn about some criteria a strong question should comply with.
Distinct and Researchable
The research question should concentrate on one topic and follow the research problem you have already formulated. Even if there are several questions, all of them should comply with it.
The questions can be answered with the help of primary and secondary data. You will collect the qualitative or quantitative information from the scholarly sources you will be using and then develop an argument. If there is no relevant information, think about something more concise.
The questions should not require subjective or biased answers. Such evaluative words as ‘good,’ ‘bad,’ ‘worse,’ or ‘better’ do not provide clear tips for unbiased answers, so they should be avoided. Use more understandable terms for asking about the definitions:
- ❌ Is X better than Y?
- ✔️ How efficient are X and Y in terms of making an impact on Z?
Achievable and Concrete
The questions should be formulated in a way you can find the answers within the limits of the research work. You always need to know how much time you have and whether the resources are accessible. If you are unsure whether you will be able to find certain sources and data, narrow the question down and make it more specific.
The concrete and well-formulated concepts are important in making the correct questions. All terms should be clear, and the language used cannot be vague. Avoid broad ideas about ‘who,’ ‘where,’ ‘what,’ ‘how’ and ‘when’. For example:
- ❌ How does social media affect people’s way of thinking?
- ✔️ How does the daily use of Instagram influence the attention span of teenagers?
Do not make a question that requires instruction about the course of action to find the final solution. Your research should be informative but not instructive. Even if you are researching a practical issue, the questions should concern ways to improve understanding of the problem but not the ready instructions on how to solve it. For example:
- ❌ What can teachers do to improve their methods of dealing with talented students?
- ✔️ What are the most efficient strategies for teachers to deal with talented students?
Contradictory and Complex
Your research question should not be answered with a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. You will have nothing to research if there is not enough material for discussion and a deep look into the problem. For example:
- ❌ Has there been a decrease in the number of talented students in recent years?
- ✔️ How have the teachers’ attitudes towards the talented students influenced their further academic success?
The question should not be answered with simple facts or statistics, either. If you can find all the answers on Google or while reading one article, then the question is way too simple for further research. To be considered a complex one, the question should examine multiple sources, their analysis and synthesis of the received information, and the interpretation of all the data to be answered.
The research question should also create a place for debate and interpretation. If you can answer it by just providing some facts or simple statements, it is not suitable. You should discuss different points of view, interpret the found information and make up an argumentative thesis statement and explain it in detail.
Unique and Relevant
The problem your research questions address should correspond to your field of study. It is usually based on the preliminary reading on the broader topic but be sure that the questions address a concrete gap in the knowledge or disputable issue in this very specific field.
The questions should also contribute to the topical debate and social or academic contradictions that need further research. The debate should be actual and ongoing in your field, and it should result in some conclusions, which will be used for future research.
Be sure that your research questions have not been answered yet. It does not mean that you should invent something completely groundbreaking, but your questions should be unique. Check whether they have been discussed and answered by someone else. If you just write the same answers, but in other words, your research will be unnecessary.
You now know what kind of research questions can be considered well-developed and appropriate. Also, you can see what essential characteristics your research questions should possess to be unique, strong and useful for your further research.
Do not forget to discuss your research questions, their relevance and consistency with your academic supervisors. You need to ensure that you are on the right path in your research process. The results of it will contribute a lot to the development of the specific topic and solving the problem, which will have much influence on further research.