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Writing Research Questions: Purpose & Examples

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  • 0:05 Research Question
  • 1:11 Writing a Research Question
  • 1:53 Example
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

What is a research question, and why is it important to get it right? This lesson will explore one way to write a research question, which guides a researcher in designing his or her experiment.

Research Questions

A research question is an answerable inquiry into a specific concern or issue. It is the initial step in a research project. The 'initial step' means after you have an idea of what you want to study, the research question is the first active step in the research project.

A metaphor for a research project is a house. Your data collection forms the walls, and your hypothesis that guides your data collection is the foundation. So, what is the research question? It is the ground beneath the foundation. It is what everything in a research project is built on. Without a question, you can't have a hypothesis. Without the hypothesis, you won't know how to study what you're interested in.

A research question forms the base of where you are going, so we have to write a good research question. If your foundation is built on something shifty, like a house built on sand, then everything following that will be about correcting that initial issue instead of on making an awesome home/research project.

Writing a Research Question

Writing a good research question means you have something you want to study. Let's say you're interested in the effects of television. We will examine the steps and then look at how you could write a research question.

  • Specify your specific concern or issue
  • Decide what you want to know about the specific concern or issue
  • Turn what you want to know and the specific concern into a question
  • Ensure that the question is answerable
  • Check to make sure the question is not too broad or too narrow

This is the basic process in writing a research question. Writing a good question will result in a better research project.

Example

You, as the researcher, are interested in studying the effects of television. Unfortunately, this kind of topic is so broad that we can't really do anything with it. This is one of the first mistakes made by new researchers: picking broad, ill-defined topics. What we want to do is make our topic more specific, such as what effects television has on violence. Television and violence is a more specific topic than just television (which would encompass television and exercise, television and hours watched, television and beliefs, and many, many more). Right now we have: 'What is up with television and violence?'

We are going to study television and violence, but what specifically about the two? The idea that people who watch violent television become more violent has been studied in excess, so let's put a twist on it. Let's inquire about the television viewing habits of violent people and nonviolent people to make it more interesting. So, our question turns into: 'Do all violent people watch more violent television, and do all nonviolent people watch more nonviolent television?'

Is it possible to answer this question? Not yet. Specifically, our question deals with all violent people and all nonviolent people. We can't possibly survey all of the violent and nonviolent people in the world. So, our next step is to polish off what we have so far, making sure that we can answer it. Our question is now: 'Do violent people watch violent television, and do nonviolent people watch nonviolent television?' We removed the 'all' and the 'more,' making it about a sample group of people instead of about all people and their television watching habits.

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