What makes a good research question?

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If you good a quick internet search to “what makes a good research question” many answers appear!  In the YouTube video entitled “Three steps to writing a good research question”, it states that a good research question does not have a yes or no answer. Good research questions also do not use value words such as good or bad. A good research question also cannot be too broad or narrow. (Library Youtube Research and Learning Channel, 2018). Sounds good, but where do you start?  Is there an algorithm, a set of rules that can help craft a good research question?

A method to help draft a research question commonly used in quantitative healthcare research is the “PICO(T)” method. PICO(T) stands for population, intervention, comparison, outcome, and time. A good healthcare research question has PICO, not necessarily in that order with T as optional (McMaster University, 2020).

For instance, the following is a research question following the PICO(T) method and is taken from McMaster University Health Sciences Library: In emergency room visitors (population), do hand sanitizing stations (intervention) result in fewer in-hospital infections (outcome) when compared with no hand sanitizing stations (comparison) over a year-long pilot period (time)? This research question is on the general topic of prevention, specifically preventing fewer in-hospital infections. There are other examples from McMaster university that help develop research questions for the topics of etiology (cause of disease), therapy (treatment), diagnosis and prognosis (McMaster University, 2020).

While this is health sciences specific, this could be used similarly in other fields. The PICO(T) method helps to create questions that are not yes or no or too broad or narrow.  And watch out for value words (good or bad)!


McMaster University. (2020). Nursing: Forming Questions. Health Sciences Library Guides and Tutorials. http://hsl.mcmaster.libguides.com/c.php?g=306764&p=2045176

Library Youtube Research and Learning Channel. (2018, January 16). Three steps to writing a good research question [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/tuJXwyiR7qg 


One thought on “What makes a good research question?

  1. It was interesting to learn of this mnemonic for developing good research questions in the healthcare field. Do you think there would be some different criteria in the field of Education & Technology?

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