Research questions are central to scientific inquiry. Well-formulated research questions identify the specific issues your study will address and help you plan your investigation.
In this post, we’ll show you how to formulate strong research questions in five steps:
Start with a broad topic that you’re interested in.
Familiarize yourself with current work in your chosen area.
Identify the specific issue you want to focus on.
Develop a suitably complex question.
Refine your question by examining each word.
Read on to learn more about each of these points.
1. Choose a Subject That You Are Genuinely Curious About
You’ll spend a lot of time researching your chosen topic. That’s why you should choose a topic that interests you and that you’d like to learn about. Also, you should choose a topic that’s exciting and relevant to your audience, especially if you hope to have your work published.
Instead of choosing a completely new area of study, choose a topic that you already know a little bit about. If you’ve read even just a few articles about something, that’s better than tackling something completely new.
Your topic should be broad but not too broad. For example, if you choose “mental health,” you need to narrow it down right away so that step 2 is doable. A more realistic broad topic would be “mental health in teenagers.” You won’t have to complete as much research, but you’ll still have plenty of room to find a niche topic within the larger area.
2. Carry Out Preliminary Research
The next step is to research your chosen topic. By looking at recent journal articles and review papers, you can find out what other researchers are exploring and what questions arise from existing studies.
The aim here is to identify possible subtopics and/or find gaps in current research. So, as you read, jot down questions you’d like to answer and areas you’d like to explore further.
3. Focus on a Precise Issue Within the Broader Topic
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the current state of research on your chosen topic, you can focus on a niche area.
In our example above, “mental health in teenagers,” this could mean focusing on a specific group (e.g., 7th–9th-grade students). We could look at a single area of mental health (e.g., anxiety) or a specific time or place.
Maybe in your initial reading, you discovered a gap in existing research that could form the basis of your research question, or you may be interested in exploring the relationship between different variables (e.g., gender and anxiety level).
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Another idea is to consider how current events might affect the broader topic. For example, you might choose to study the impact of the pandemic on the mental wellbeing of 11–16-year-old children.
4. Create an Interesting, Researchable Question
The next step is to turn your idea into a well-balanced question. The best research questions will tick all the boxes below:
● Original: This simply means that your question shouldn’t have already been answered. It doesn’t mean you must have an idea that nobody has come up with yet, but your approach should bring new insight. This could mean that you focus on a specific age group or geographic area.
● Focused: Your question should identify a single problem that you want your research to address.
● Complex: If someone could answer your question by searching the Internet for five minutes, it’s not complex enough. Research questions should ask “how” and “why” rather than “is” or “does.” In other words, they shouldn’t be easily answered with “yes” or “no.” Rather, answering the question means bringing together ideas and data from different sources.
● Achievable: Even if your question is complex enough to turn into a research paper, you still need to keep in mind constraints like word count, time frame, availability of resources, and your ability to complete the necessary research.
● Debatable: When answering your research question, keep in mind that you don’t want to reach a definitive conclusion. A strong question leaves room for further discussion.
5. Make Every Word Count
The final step is to formulate the precise wording of your question. You may need to follow a defined format (e.g., PICO or PEO), or you can phrase the question in your own way.
In either case, your research question must clearly state what the paper is about. It should be as concise as possible but not open to misinterpretation. This includes defining ambiguous terms (e.g., “young people”) and detailing how you’ll evaluate any relevant variables.
Hopefully, you can now formulate effective research questions. Don’t forget to have your paper proofread by an expert when you’re done. At Proofed, we’ll check your writing for errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation and give you feedback on clarity and conciseness. You can even try our proofreading service for free.