Writing Research Questions

Amanda Renaud, Devin Kowalczyk
  • Author
    Amanda Renaud

    Amanda Renaud has taught Middle School and High School English for 4 years. She has a Master's of Education in Curriculum and Development with a minor in Reading Intervention from Concordia University. She is certified to teach English and Humanities in Washington and Texas.

  • 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? Explore how to write effective and strong research questions. Learn their purposes and see specific examples of research questions. Updated: 08/03/2021

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What Is a Research Question?

A research question is the question that guides and centers the research process. A research question can be defined as an inquiry about a specific topic, issue, or concern that can be answered through research.

Research questions guide research.

Writing Research Questions_What is a Research Question_Research Guide

The Importance of a Research Question

Formulating a research question is the initial step in the research process. It will form a base that guides where the research will go, and it will help the researcher identify important aspects of the subject.

Writing a research question is the first step.

Writing Research Questions_The Importance of a Research Question

A research question will also help the researcher form a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a proposed idea that can be tested, and it guides the data collection for the research.

If a researcher does not formulate a research question before starting their process of investigation, it is possible that the research will be one-sided or the researcher will miss important information.

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  • 0:05 Research Question
  • 1:11 Writing a Research Question
  • 1:53 Example
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Purpose of Good Research Questions

A good research question is clear, focused, complex, and answerable.

  • A clear research question is easy to understand and can effectively guide the research process.
  • The question is focused and not too broad, so that the question can be answered thoroughly. This will help the researcher focus on the specific aspects of their subject that they are investigating.
  • Complex questions often begin with how or what. They are not answerable with a simple yes or no. This ensures critical thinking, synthesis from multiple sources, and quality research.
  • The question is answerable through the research process, not so narrow that it yields few results. If the question is not answerable, the research process can become overwhelming or frustrating.

Too Broad or Too Narrow

Research questions should not be too broad or too narrow. They should be broad enough to be complex, but also narrow enough to be answerable and focused.

  • Too Broad: What is propaganda?

This question covers the general topic, but it does not guide the research in a specific way.

  • Too Narrow: How can political propaganda found on social media platforms affect a person's understanding of universal healthcare?

This question has been narrowed down and clearly specifies what the researcher is looking to learn, but it may result in very few research opportunities.

  • Just Right: How can political propaganda affect a person's understanding of current political issues?

This question is not too broad or too narrow. The researcher will find a variety of search results that will allow them to use critical thinking and synthesizing skills during their research.

The specificity of the question will depend on the field of study and the point of the researcher's career. As the difficulty level of the coursework or research increases, the more specific and narrowed a research question will be. Different fields of study will also require increased specificity. The instructor or research project guidelines will help researchers write a question that is "just right" for the project.

Examples of Research Questions

A strong research question is clear, focused, complex, and answerable. These qualities ensure the research question guides the research effectively.

Weak Question Missing Qualities Strong Question
How many people face discrimination at work every day? answerable, focused How does racial discrimination in the workplace affect employees?
What is romance? clear, focused How have societal views on romance changed in the 21st century?
Can a person with bipolar disorder use medication? complex How can medication improve the symptoms of bipolar disorder?

The first question would be very difficult to answer. There may be studies available that use samples to create statistics about how many workers face discrimination, but because this question is all-inclusive of all workers, all forms of discrimination, and all work environments, it will be difficult to answer and will provide very broad results. The question can be strengthened by adding specific details and creating an open-ended approach.

The second question is too broad and lacks clarity. A search for this question would most likely yield many results and a variety of ideas due to the lack of clarity and focus. Narrowing the research question means adding clarity and focus.

The third question lacks complexity; it can be answered with a simple yes or no, even though the answer should be much more complex. The question's original wording was much too narrow. Approaching the research with a question that examines the impacts of medication on bipolar disorder broadens the topic enough to conduct research without too many results.

Writing Good Research Questions

Writers can follow a process to write a good research question:

1. Select a general topic of interest: The researcher should select a topic that is interesting and relatable. By doing a little research about the topic, the researcher can identify unanswered questions and decide what they want to learn.

2. Ask questions: Next, the researcher can brainstorm a variety of questions about the topic.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the examples of research topics?

General research topics can be anything that suggests an inquiry that can be researched. To begin, researchers start with a general, broad topic. The topic is then narrowed down through the research question.

  • Topic: Parenting Styles
  • Question: 'How does a parent's parenting style impact discipline?'
  • Topic: Discrimination
  • Question: How does racial discrimination in the workplace affect employees?

How do you define a research question?

A research question is the question that guides research and centers the research process. A research question can be defined as an inquiry about a specific topic, issue, or concern that can be answered through research.

How do you write a research question?

Writing a research question is the initial step in the research process. To write an effective research question, researchers should follow these steps:

1. Select a general topic of interest.

2. Ask questions about the topic.

3. Write an effective question based on the inquiries in step two.

4. Evaluate the question for effectiveness.

5. Start researching and revise as needed.

What is a good research question?

Research questions need to be clear, focused, complex, and answerable. They should not be too narrow or too broad. The research question should guide and refine the research.

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