What Makes a Good Research Question?
Posing questions leads to the pursuit of knowledge, and thus speaks to the critical importance of formulating research questions. According to Alvesson & Sandberg, “one could even say that good research questions might be as valuable and sometimes even more valuable than answers. Questions may open up, encourage reflection and trigger intellectual activity; answers may lead to the opposite: to rest and closure” (2013, p. 2). The broad goal of research is to learn something about the world, and to communicate it to an audience. The question driving the research should be clear and specific, state the focus of the investigation, and not be answerable by a yes or no response (Royal Roads University Writing Centre, n.d.).
In general, researchers usually develop their research question at the end of their literature review and then amend as needed as they do their research and engage with the field. Byrne (2017a) outlines four approaches that can be used to develop a research question: describe a social context, test a hypothesis, develop ideas about a topic without a formal testable hypothesis, and/or use grounded theory as the methodological approach. Note that these approaches are not mutually exclusive.
When working with a hypothesis, the research question is known but may be amended throughout the testing process. If the researcher is taking a descriptive approach, they will usually formulate the research question as they finish the literature review. At that point it is possible to construct a question to guide research and writing because enough is known about a topic and what others have already said about that topic. Researchers taking a grounded theory approach will engage with the research field and develop an understanding of the issues before determining the research question (Byrne, 2017b).
In short, research begins by identifying an area or topic of interest, followed by a review of related literature. From there, the researcher can formulate a research question to guide their investigation and writing.
Alvesson, M. & Sandberg, J. (2013). Research questions: a core ingredient in developing interesting theories. In Constructing research questions: Doing interesting research (pp. 1-9). SAGE Publications Ltd. https://www-doi-org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/10.4135/9781446270035
Byrne, D. (2017a). How do I develop a research question?. Project Planner. SAGE Publications Ltd. https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781526408525
Byrne, D. (2017b). When will I know what my research question is?. Project Planner. SAGE Publications Ltd. https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781526408525
Royal Roads University Writing Centre. (n.d.). Thesis Statements/Research Questions/Problem Statements. Retrieved from https://library.royalroads.ca/writing-centre/writing/structure/thesis-statements