How to Create a Main Question for a Research Project

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  • 0:01 What Is a Main Question?
  • 0:20 Analyze Prompt
  • 1:31 Research
  • 2:31 Evaluate your Information
  • 3:30 Form a Main Question
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Social Studies, and Science for seven years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

When given a research assignment, you often must first create a main question that will be the central focus of your project. This video lesson will help you create that main question.

What is a Main Question?

You have been assigned a research project. Your teacher gives you a general prompt, and you must create a main question. The main question is the primary focus for the entire research project. But, how do you create that main question? Where do you begin? This lesson will explain the steps to creating a main question for your research project.

Analyze Prompt

The first thing you must do is to analyze the prompt. Usually, the prompt your teacher will give you will be very broad. Your job is to narrow that general prompt into a manageable topic that can be answered throughout the research project. For example, in English class you might get a prompt that states, 'Examine the role of an author's personal life in his works.' This is a very broad prompt. It can relate to any author and any written work.

The first thing you need to do is to look carefully at the prompt to determine exactly what it is asking you to do. For this example, you should see that you are required to find similarities in the events of the author's life and the events that occur in his written works. This might seem like a massive undertaking, but the information you find in your research will help to ease the task.

An example that might occur in history class could be: 'Analyze the events that led up to World War I.' When you look closely at this prompt, you should see that it is asking you to identify and explain which events helped the war to take place. Whatever your prompt, analyze it to identify exactly what it is asking you to do.


Once you have analyzed your prompt and you understand exactly what it is asking, you need to research the topic. To research means to find reliable sources, which give you information on your topic. In the case of the first example above, you will have to research an author, since finding out information about the author will help you to relate his life to his written work. Furthermore, this prompt even allows you to choose any author. For this, be sure to choose an author you are already familiar with or one that interests you.

Once you decide the specific topics on which you need information, then begin your research using credible sources. Encyclopedias, textbooks and scholarly journals are all credible sources. Feel free to use online sources, but be sure to check the publishing information to be certain the source is reliable. A personal webpage from a person who is a big fan of Harry Potter is not as credible as J.K. Rowling's official website.

Evaluate Your Information

As you research, you should be evaluating the information. Not all information will be relevant for your project. You need to find information that connects to your prompt. For the prompt on an author's personal life, you should be scanning biographies of an author for information that might show up in his novels.

For example, if you researched the author Jack London, you would find that he spent time in his early 20s in Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. You will also find that one of his most popular novels, The Call of the Wild, follows the story of Buck, the dog who travels up to Alaska to become a sled dog during the gold rush.

Do you see how London's real life experience in the Klondike Gold Rush influenced this novel? Furthermore, London wrote several other novels with a similar theme, so you can find a lot of information to apply to this prompt. For your research, be sure to find reliable information that relates to the topic you determined after analyzing the prompt.

Form a Main Question

Once you have some insightful information on your general topic, it is time to narrow down your focus to a main question. Remember, the main question is the primary focus for the project. This question should be what the entire project works towards answering. To create this, you need to look back on your analysis of the prompt and look over the research you have found.

Let's use our example prompt from earlier: 'Examine the role of an author's personal life in his works.' After analyzing this, we determined it was asking you to find similarities between the real life events of an author's life and the events he created in his written works. So, how do we form a main question from that?

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