I will typically write 1 to 3 research questions for a given project. A research question should be clear, concise, and something that you can answer. It should also not be too complex or vague. It’s much better to separate out different ideas into different questions…or eliminate that focus from your work if it is not needed.
In this post I’ll discuss three steps to follow as you write and revise research questions.
How to focus a good research question
It will most likely take you multiple revisions to develop a clear and concise research question. A question that is too broad will not define all segments of analysis.
Take a look at the following revisions of a possible research question:
- Why did the chicken cross the road? – This is much too vague and does not indicate specific chickens or roads.
- How many chickens crossed Burton Avenue on October 4th, 2016?– This is a bit more specific, but it could be answered by a simple sentence…which is not good. It is a good starting point.
- What are some are the possible environmental or social factors that occurred in Summerville, SC on October 4th that caused the chickens to cross Burton Avenue? – This is much more clear, but you’ll need to determine if you’re interested in this focus. This could allow you to make an argument about socioemotional factors that cause chickens to cross the road in the local area.
How to develop a good research question
Determine the subject of interest. Select a topic of general interest, but also one of specific interest to you. Conduct preliminary research on the topic to see what others have already researched. Write or brainstorm to help determine your thinking and motivation behind this line of research.
Determine the audience. Is this an academic essay or for a class? Will this be read by the general public?
Determine the line of questions. Once you have identified the subject and conducted a bit of research and/or writing on the topic, start asking yourself open-ended questions about your topic. Ask yourself simple Who, What, Why, How, When questions and evaluate the responses to these queries. Do these responses align with your subject of interest or are suitable for the audience?
Determine possible questions and evaluate. Start writing possible questions that are of interest to you. As you write your questions, you should try writing the questions in multiple formats and variations to see if it makes more sense or is more concise written in a different format.
How to evaluate your research question
After you have written several variations of your research questions, evaluate your work using the following prompts:
- Is the research question one that is of interest to the researcher and potentially to others? Is this a new issue or problem that needs to be solved or is it attempting to shed light on a previously researched topic?
- Is the research question researchable? Consider the available time frame and the required resources.
- Is the research methodology feasible? Do you have the skills, knowledge, and/or tools necessary to conduct this research?
- Is the research question measurable and observable? Will the process produce data that can be supported, contradicted, or replicated?
- Is the research question too broad or too narrow?
- Do you have any potential bias or perspectives that may be uncovered by your research questions? Can you remain objective?
Think and write good research questions
As I’ve indicated at the start of this post, educators and researchers often need to think through and solve problems systematically. The steps listed above will help you in the process, but the best habit is to develop a habit of questioning and examining.
If needed, I am available to help guide you in this process. You should also subscribe to my newsletter to continue your thinking about these skills and habits.
Also published on Medium.