Developing a Research Question

What is a research question?

A research question is an essential tool to help guide your research paper, project, or thesis. It poses a specific question that you are seeking to answer in your paper. Research questions can be broad or narrow, and can change throughout the research process.

A good research question should be:

  • Focused on a single issue
  • Specific enough to answer thoroughly in your paper
  • Feasible to answer within the length of your paper
  • Researchable using the resources available to you
  • Relevant to your field of study and/or to society at large

The length of your paper and the research you're able to locate will help to shape your research question. A longer paper, like a thesis or dissertation, may require multiple research questions.

The answer to your research question develops into your thesis statement.

Writing Your Research Question

Chose a Topic

You should choose a research topic that is interesting to you. This will make the research and writing process much more bearable.

A good way to begin brainstorming research questions is to list all the questions you would like to see answered, or topics you would like to learn more about. You may have been provided a list of potential topics by your professor, if none are interesting to you ask if you can develop your own.

It is better to start broad and narrow down your focus as you go.


Do Preliminary Research

graphic depicting an upside down triangle showing the process of narrowing a research subjectIf you are having difficulty deciding on a single topic, choose the top one or two questions that interest you and do some preliminary research on those. Limit your reading to recent publications and only one or two titles on the topic. This will help you familiarize yourself with the topic and how it is being discussed in research.

Reference materials like encyclopedias can also be good for this purpose.


Narrow Your Topic

Now that you have a basic idea of what research exists on your topic, you can begin to narrow your focus.

Make sure that your question is specific enough that it can be answered thoroughly in the length of your paper.

Developing a Research Question Video Tutorial

Using Keywords Video Tutorial