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How to Write a Research Question: Types, Steps, and Examples

Updated: Jul 10

Any successful research effort begins with the formulation of a compelling research question.

It's similar to setting out on a journey knowing exactly where you're going; otherwise, you can end up lost.


Whether you're an experienced academic or a student writing your first research paper, knowing how to write a research question is important.


This guide will lead you through the many kinds of research questions, show you how to formulate one, and offer helpful examples to get you going.


Understanding Research Questions


Research Question: What Is It?


A concise, brief problem that your study seeks to solve is called a research question.It is the main support system for your studies, directing all of your endeavors and ensuring that you stay on course. Consider it the central question of your project, and ensure that everything you do contributes to providing an answer. A well-crafted research question gives you guidance and facilitates your exploration of the relevant aspects of your subject.

 

Research questions, as their name indicates, are frequently based on research. These questions are therefore dynamic, allowing researchers to modify or enhance the research topic as they examine relevant information while developing a study framework. Larger studies frequently employ multiple research questions, even though many research initiatives will concentrate on just one.


Significance of a Research Question


Why is a research question so important? It's simple: your study may quickly veer off track if you don't have a good question. A well-crafted research question helps you focus, making your study more doable and relevant. It frames your analysis, directs your methodology, and forms your literature review.


Additionally, it tells others—like mentors, peers, and possible funding sources—about the goal and importance of your research. Like a compass, a clearly defined research question can help you stay on goal and prevent unnecessary distractions.


Types of Research Questions


Whether it's a scientific study, a thesis, or a market research project, research questions are essential to determining the emphasis and direction of any research. Understanding the various categories of research questions helps researchers in developing explicit objectives and selecting suitable approaches. The primary categories of research questions and their respective importance are as follows:

 

Descriptive Research Questions


Descriptive research questions are used to characterize a population or phenomenon. These kinds of questions focus on the "what" and "how" of a topic. For Example, A descriptive question in the social sciences might be, "What are the factors influencing consumer behavior in online shopping?”


Comparative Research Questions 


Research questions that are comparative in nature compare two or more variables, circumstances, or groups. These types of research questions used to distinguish or resembles different phenomena’s present in different areas.  For Example, "How does the medical services available in both towns and villages impact the standard of life?" Is a study question that compares two groups of people from different areas considered comparative?


Causal Research Questions


Causal research questions explore the relationships between variables in a cause-and-effect manner. These are important topics for experimental research because changing one variable can reveal another's reason. For example “How might dietary changes affect the management and prevention of diabetes?” is a causal research question. 


Exploratory research questions


Exploratory research questions are designed to delve into uncharted territory or regions that have received little attention in the hopes of revealing trends, concepts, or new information. Most of the time, these are queries with no answers without a preconceived notion.


For example "What are the latest innovations in green energy breakthroughs?"

These kinds of questions support scholars in comprehending recent advancements and highlighting essential components that necessitate additional study.


Explanatory Research Questions


These types of research aim to establish cause-and-effect correlations by providing an explanation for the causes behind observable events. These questions frequently come after exploratory study to go more deeply into particular problems. For example, "Why do certain communities have higher vaccination rates than others?"


How to Write a Research Question


Choosing a Broad Topic


Choose a broad topic of interest which motivates you to start. You should be enthusiastic about this topic or eager to learn more about it. The idea is to pick an area that is relevant to your subject of study but yet leaves room for questioning.


A broad topic gives writers a lot of options to consider when coming up with a strong research question. Techniques like brainstorming and concept mapping can assist you in breaking down a topic into subtopics and possible research questions.


Conducting Preliminary Research


Once you have a general idea for your topic, start your preliminary research. This involves examining previously published works, becoming aware of current trends, and spotting knowledge gaps. This step assists you in narrowing your focus and becoming more acquainted with the topic.


You can identify any gaps or restrictions in the current understanding of your topic by doing a preliminary study of related literature. These trends and graphs can be later used in your research with certain changes.


Furthermore, some grant-giving organizations advise applicants to perform a thorough analysis of the literature and existing research to determine whether a comparable, current study has already been done before submitting an application for funding (Farrugia et al., 2010).


Narrow Down the topic


Start focusing on your topic with the knowledge you have gained. Concentrate on choosing fields that are less studied or really fascinating. This procedure will assist you in narrowing down a more focused subject that demands research within your general topic.


Developing the Research Question


The time has come to formulate your research question. It should be ensured that the research question is precise, well structured and informed well. The question should be both sufficiently narrow to be addressed within the constraints of your project and sufficiently wide to enable in-depth research.


Sandberg and Alvesson (2011) suggest problematization as an additional method for formulating and identifying research questions. Problematization is a research question methodology that seeks to evaluate and challenge presumptions that underpin the researcher's theoretical viewpoint as well as that of others. This entails formulating research questions that contradict your opinions or your understanding of the subject matter.


Analyzing Your Research Question


Clarity


Now make sure that the research question you have created is precise and unambiguous. It needs to be clear enough to understand without more explanation. Keep your terminology simple and avoid jargon.


Concentrate


The question you ask ought to be precise and concentrated on a single problem or facet of your field. Your research endeavors will be directed and you'll stay on course with a well-focused question.


Complexity


A good research question must be intricate enough to require in-depth analysis. It should involve study and critical thought rather than a straightforward yes or no response.


Evaluating the Soundness of Your Research Question


Now it's the time to evaluate the soundness of your research question.For this assessment, Hulley et al. (2007)'s FINER criteria serve as a useful guide:

 

Feasible: The study question needs to fall within your area of expertise. Take into account the extent of the study, your capacity for data collection, and the available resources.

 

Interesting: Select an issue that interests you and your coworkers. This keeps one motivated while conducting study. For instance, if it's something you're interested in, researching trends in student housing can be interesting.

 

Novel: Make sure that your research advances the field's knowledge. Either existing knowledge should be confirmed or expanded upon. Being novel can imply going to previously unexplored territory or offering novel viewpoints on well-researched subjects.

 

Ethical: Your study needs to be approved by the appropriate review boards and conform to ethical guidelines. Think about the ethical implications of your research and make sure it complies with legal requirements.

 

Relevant: Your question ought to hold importance for the scientific community and be relevant to individuals working in your area. It should be relevant of the general public interests. Relevance guarantees the significant influence of your research.

 

Your research questions can be strengthened and made more valuable to your field of study by employing the FINER criteria.



Common Errors to Avoid While Developing Research Question


Being Too Narrow or Too Wide


A research question that is too narrow might not yield enough information for a comprehensive analysis, while one that is too wide could be intimidating and unmanageable. Make sure that your question is both sufficiently detailed and

specific to strike a balance.


Insufficient clarity


Stay clear of general, nonspecific questions. Uncertain study objectives and results can result from vague questions. Make sure the inquiry you're asking is clear and specific.


Lack of Significance


Make sure your research question advances our understanding of the subject and is pertinent to your area of study. Research without relevance and impact may be the consequence of asking irrelevant questions.


Refine Your Research Question


Seeking Feedback: Talk about your research question with mentors, colleagues, or subject matter experts. Their advises may help you to improve your research question.


Reviewing the more Literature: Take another look at the body of research to make sure that the question truly fills a need or answers a gap. You can also use this to narrow the topic and broadness of your study.


Considering Your Interests: Think about your personal hobbies and interests. Maintaining motivation and engagement throughout your research journey can be achieved by selecting a research issue that is in line with your academic and personal interests.


Conclusion


In summary, formulating a precise research question is crucial to directing your investigation and ensuring that your findings are pertinent and concentrated. Understanding the various types of research questions—descriptive, comparative, and causal will help you to focus your research on specific aspects of your subject. There are multiple steps in the process: selecting a broad topic, gathering background information, refining the topic, formulating the question, and assessing it for complexity, focus, and clarity.


Make sure your question is significant and researchable, and steer away from frequent mistakes like being overly general or ambiguous. Your question will be even more excellent and pertinent if you refine it with input from others, a second look at the literature, and some thought about your own interests.



FAQs


What are the 6 steps involved in developing a research question?


The six stops that are involved to formulate the research questions includes:

  • Selection of topic

  • Review of existing literature

  • Narrowing down the topic

  • Draft possible potential research questions

  • Review of the research question

  • Analyzing the research question 


2.  How many types of research questions generally have?


Every research starts with a research question. As research is of different categories, there can be different types of research questions as well. Following are the types of research questions:

  • Casual research questions

  • Descriptive research question

  • Qualitative research questions

  • Explanatory research questions 

  • Exploratory research questions


3.  What are the qualities of a good research question?


A research question can be good enough if it has analytical properties. The good research question has the ability to produce an analysis on the existing problem rather than simply describing the situation. 

 


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