522.1.3 – What makes a good research question?

Welcome back! My fellow MALAT students and I have shifted into our next course, and we are now exploring the tenets of quality academic research. But what makes a good research question? This quick blog post summarizes some of the components that create engaging and effective educational adventures through research. Whether your paper is 1000 words or 100 pages, choosing a topic that you find attractive is essential. But how can we frame our inquiry and hard work into a product that moves the field of study forward? Here are some bullet points to remember.

Scribbr (2020) suggests six components make up a good research question. These include the following:

  • Focused – can be fully answered within your word limit
  • Researchable – data is currently or can be made available
  • Feasible – within your time and financial bounds
  • Specific – explores one topic
  • Complex – cannot be answered with a simple or a yes/no answer
  • Relevant – relevant to your program or society

Conversely, Seburn (2021) suggests a more condensed checklist and includes the following:

  • Concise – clear to the audience and author, provides strong direction for exploration
  • Complex – avoid yes/no answers and requires full word count to explore
  • Arguable – does the question matter? Can the author argue, defend, or explore the topic?

So depending on how long you prefer your checklists, we can decide to cross-check and design our research question against the above points. But are there any rules of thumb that help us get started?

Choosing a topic that interests you is an important step. It is always more fun to write about things that interest you. Scribbr (2020) also recommends that we start articulating our research question by first choosing a broad topic. Then begin preliminary reading to help understand if there are unanswered questions in the field of study, like the data available and how feasible the data analysis will be (Seburn, 2021). After reviewing the information and understanding the field of study, narrow it down to a niche that needs more study (Seburn, 2021), but how do we know if it is the right area? Seburn (2021) explains that this step can be the most fun and is where you can play devil’s advocate to try to poke holes in the current research literature and find areas of weakness. Who doesn’t love to play the skeptic? Once the above process is complete, begin drafting your research question.

Drafting a good versus a significant research question boils down to how concise, complex and arguable it is. Rules of thumb to set you in the right direction include the following from Miller-Wilson (n.d.):

  • Avoid value judgments; instead, explore the characteristics of what makes something successful
  • Use ‘how’ questions instead of ‘why’ (too broad)
  • Open to debate (will your work move a complex issue forwards?)

I hope this first blog post is helpful to readers who are exploring the fundamentals of research, why it is essential, and how we can set ourselves up for an engaging and practical learning experience by choosing research that is relevant, feasible and, arguable. Until next time!



Scribbr (2020, January 2). How to develop a strong research question. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71-GucBaM8U

Seburn, C. (2021, January 10). How to write a strong research question for research papers. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IF2FQeP5wpI

Miller-Wilson, K. (n.d.). Examples of Good and Bad Research Questions. Your Dictionary. Retrieved from https://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-good-and-bad-research-questions.html