What Is A Research Question In A Research Paper

Sample Research Questions

Unclear: Why are social networking sites harmful?
Clear: How are online users experiencing or addressing privacy issues on such social networking sites as MySpace and Facebook?

The unclear version of this question doesn’t specify which social networking sites or suggest what kind of harm the sites are causing. It also assumes that this “harm” is proven and/or accepted. The clearer version specifies sites (MySpace and Facebook), the type of harm (privacy issues), and whom the issue is harming (users). A strong research question should never leave room for ambiguity or interpretation.

Unfocused: What is the effect on the environment from global warming?
Focused: How is glacial melting affecting penguins in the Arctic Circle?

The unfocused research question is so broad that it couldn’t be adequately answered in a book-length piece, let alone a standard college-level paper. The focused version narrows down to a specific cause (glacial melting), a specific place (the Arctic Circle), and a specific group that is affected (penguins). When in doubt, make a research question as narrow and focused as possible.

Too simple: How are doctors addressing diabetes in the U.S.?
Appropriately Complex: What are common traits of those suffering from diabetes in America, and how can these commonalities be used to aid the medical community in prevention of the disease?

The simple version of this question can be looked up online and answered in a few factual sentences; it leaves no room for analysis. The more complex version is written in two parts; it is thought provoking and requires both significant investigation and evaluation from the writer. As a general rule of thumb, if a quick Google search can answer a research question, it’s likely not very effective.

What Makes a Good Research Question? - Having trouble finding or deciding on a research question?  This journal article provides some tips.  

Formulating a Research Question - This resources provides specific examples of good research question and addresses the difference between a research topic and a research question.

The Relationship Between the Research Question, Hypotheses, Specific Aims, and Long-Term Goals of the Project - This link will explain how the research question should be developed to guide the creation of the hypotheses and the research project. 

How to Write a Good Research Question - Review examples of correctly written research questions.

Research Questions and Hypotheses - This book chapter takes an in-depth look at the principles used to design and write research questions and hypotheses for qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods research and describes the differences in approaches based upon the type of research. 

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