Most papers focus on answering a question that helps clarify a problem. A research question is integral to an investigative study because it forms the foundation for the entire project. These questions allow the researchers to identify what they need to obtain from the research while setting the study’s objectives. Therefore, it is crucial to understand research questions, their qualities, and the best approaches to create good research questions.
What is a Research Question?
A research question is basically a tool designed to help a researcher explore a specific area and guide a research project or thesis. It forms a starting point for any project and provides a direction for the entire paper. The questions guide the researchers in collecting and analyzing relevant data that answers a specific problem.
A research question can be narrow or general, single or multiple questions in a single study. A focused question addresses a specific or single issue throughout the paper. A specific question is direct and should be answered thoroughly in a report. They help the researchers remain focused on one particular thesis and the construction of logical arguments.
Types of Research Questions
Research questions are grouped into either qualitative or quantitative categories depending on the study method.
A precise quantitative research question highlights specifics such as the dependent variables, design, and population. Therefore, when developing a quantitative research question, avoid terms such as “does,” “do,” “are,” or “is” because they can be answered using yes or no responses.
There are three types of research questions under the quantitative category including:
- Descriptive – these questions aim to quantify responses to one or more variables. The question starts with “What is…?” or “what are…” For example: “What is the prevalence of obesity among school-aged children in the United States?”
- Comparative – the questions compare two or more groups for some outcome variable. The keyword “compare” is often used, as in the following examples. “What is the difference in (dependent variable) between (group 1) and (group 2)?” The questions can be causal, like finding out X’s impacts on Y. For example: “Is there a significant difference in the academic achievement of students who attend public schools versus those who attend private schools?”
- Relationship – these questions identify trends between or among two or more variables. The research question uses the words such as “relate,” “relationship,” “trend,” and “association.” For example: “Does regular exercise improve mental health outcomes?”
A qualitative research question can focus on a broad or specific study area. Therefore, these questions are adaptable, more flexible, and non-directional to discover, explain, or explore a phenomenon. Qualitative questions help the researchers gain deeper insights into an unknown area, especially phenomena involving human experiences.
- Different type of qualitative research questions includes:
- Contextual: A question that describes the form or nature of what exists
- Explanatory: These questions examine the reasons for or associations between what exists
- Evaluative: The questions appraise the effectiveness of what exists
- Generative: The question intends to provide new ideas, aiding the development of theories, strategies, or actions
- Ideological: Such a question seeks to advance the ideology of a position
- Exploratory: These questions are useful in investigating a phenomenon where little is understood
- Explanatory: They help explain a phenomenon
- Descriptive: Aims to describe a phenomenon
- Emancipatory: Engages in social action related to a phenomenon
Importance of Research Questions
The questions provide direction and highlights the purpose of the study. Researchers help the readers understand the paper’s focus by posing the research problem as a question. In addition, the researchers use the question to determine what information is required to comprehensively address the essay’s objectives by answering the research question.
For instance, assume that the paper intends to example the impacts of social media on a person’s mental health among young people. This research problem can be phrased as: “Does social media use contribute to increased symptoms of anxiety and depression among young adults?” Therefore, anyone reading such a research study expects to answer this question by the end of the paper. Similarly, the researcher must answer this question to complete the study.
Steps for Creating a Good Research Question
1. Start with a Broad Topic
Starting with a broad topic is necessary because it provides writers, especially beginners, an avenue to explore a good research question. It enables the researcher to develop subtopics and create different research questions before settling on one. Selecting a broad topic within your area of interest is good because you identify gaps or areas you can improve. For instance, you might select a health or social science topic, then brainstorm different questions in this field.
2. Conduct Preliminary Research
Research questions come from knowledge from previous research or inherent curiosity. Once you have an idea from the broad topic, conduct preliminary research by reading existing literature that helps identify adequately and inadequately addressed issues by fellow researchers. You identify limitations or gaps in the research, and you can fine-tune them into a research question.
3. Determine the Research Type
Once you have the gaps or an idea of what you want to study, determine whether you want to conduct a qualitative or quantitative research project. The difference will inform the type of research questions to use in the paper. Remember, a question can be descriptive, causal, or comparative. You can create potential research questions for each subtopic identified above in each category of the research question.
4. Narrow Down the Topic
Once you have enough data regarding your topic and have settled on the type of study you would like to perform, narrow down the broad topic to focus on just one area. Remember, research questions should challenge or scrutinize assumptions in a given field. You can spot the gap or problem that you would like to explain.
5. Identify the Variables
At this point, you have the full idea of what you want to study. Therefore, identify the variables that will be investigated in your research paper. Divide them into independent and dependent variables.
6. Draft the Research Question
Use the information gathered to draft question that is specific, clear, and concise. Ensure the research addresses a particular gap or problem and contains the aforementioned variables.
7. Authenticate Your Research Questions
Finally, before writing your paper, evaluate if the question is sound, relevant, and worth pursuing. A valid and relevant question makes a study interesting and helps establish answers that add to the literature explaining a phenomenon.
FINER is a criterion for evaluating a research question.
- F represents feasible, indicating your capability to investigate the question. Therefore, ensure that the question is realistic and within your abilities to collect and analyze data.
- I for Interesting, meaning the question should interest the target population and peers.
- N for Novel, indicating that the question should generate new insights into the field of study. For instance, it can help bridge a gap, explain a limitation in others’ previous studies, or develop new information.
- E for Ethical shows that the researcher must maintain appropriate ethical standards. Do not write a question that would collect data that violates an individual’s privacy and rights.
- R for Relevant represents the question should be relevant to the people and scientific community.
Research questions are an essential component of any research study. They guide the research process by providing direction and focus to the study. A well-formulated question should be specific, clear, concise, relevant, feasible, and answerable. Following the steps outlined above, researchers can create effective research questions that provide valuable insights into their research problem or topic.