Research question

Research question(s) are fundamental for guiding the conduct and reporting of scientific research studies. A question specifies a purpose and a destination.

Time invested in development and refinement of research questions is generally well spent.

Developing research questions

  1. In the early stages of research projects, brainstorm a series of possible research questions
  2. Formulate research questions based on:
    • Consulting theory
    • Reading other research
    • Real-world observations
  3. Consider and discuss the pros and cons of each question, then select, and refine
  4. Use open-ended research questions (e.g., What is the effect of s on t?) rather than closed-ended questions (e.g., Is u better w?), although the latter may be appropriate in some specific cases.
  5. Once research question(s) are established, consider generating hypotheses, which are generally more specific statements to be tested.
  6. A well-developed research question provides a clear focus for the design and conduct of the study. However, it may be necessary to revise the question during the conduct of a study.
  7. Research questions can be written in sentences and paragraphs. They can also be numbered.

Are questions researchable?

  • Meaningful
    • Has the question already been satisfactorily answered?
    • Does it matter? (is the topic worth investigating in theoretical and practical terms)?
  • Specific enough? (e.g., these questions are too broad: Is psychotherapy effective? Can attitudes be changed?)
  • Can the question be answered on an empirical basis? (e.g., does god exist? No. Is caramel the tastiest ice-cream flavour? Yes.)
  • Research question needs to be refinable to specific, testable hypotheses

Example generic forms

  • What is the relationship between a and b?
  • What is the difference between f and g?
  • What is the effect of x on y?

Example research questions

  • What is the relationship between social support and mental health?
  • What is the difference in mortality rates between countries with above and below 10% of Gross Domestic Product expenditure on healthcare?
  • How can the lifespan of a soap bubble be extended in different temperatures and atmospheric conditions?

See also