Why do we need a research question in the first place?
Having a proper research question before you begin a research project is imperative. As noted by Hung and Popp,
Developing good research questions is an essential first step of every research project, because good research questions focus your work and provide direction for your next steps. (2009)
Not having a well-designed research question before starting a project would be akin to walking into a bookstore and asking for a book. What kind of book? What topic are you interested in? What is the focus of that topic? What is it about that focus that you want to know about? Before you go into that store you know what questions you want to be answered by the book you are looking for. How would that be any different from researching a project and writing your own paper? As Lee Cuba notes, a good research question can become the thesis statement for your whole project (Cuba, L, 1997).
What makes a good research question?
There are many things that can make a good research question. Here are a few things that could be considered important:
- As illustrated by the image at the start of this post, a good research question must not be too broad. It must be focused and clear.
- It must not have a definitive yes or no answer. There must be room for deep investigation.
- A good research question is one that can be answered with information that is available. The Lumen learning website uses the example of the question “Does carbon-based life exist outside of Earth’s Solar system” (2018). While this is a good question there is not enough data to support the claim.
- It is a question that has not already been answered yet in the context that you are presenting it. Are you trying to find an answer for something that someone has already done the research on?
This list is by no means exhaustive. These are just some points that I find helpful as I start to develop my own research questions.
Cuba, L. (1997). A Short Guide to Writing about Social Science (3rd ed.). (New York: Addison-Wesley Educational
Hung, P, Popp, A. (2009). Learning to Do Historical Research: A Primer How to Fram a Researchable Question [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.williamcronon.net/researching/questions.htm
The Lumen learning center. (2018). The qualities of a Good Research Question [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/englishcomp2kscopexmaster/chapter/the-qualities-of-a-good-research-question/