Research

Creating Good Research Questions

Creating a good research question can seem daunting. This is especially true if you’re new to independent or unguided study.

When you sit down to draft a research paper, it’s usual to start with a research question. Sometimes these are assigned by a teacher, but the more independent work you do, the more likely you are to invent your own research question. 

But creating a good research question, not unlike baking a perfect soufflé, requires a particular skill set. Anyone can ask a question. Asking one that is researchable, engaging, and focused is more challenging. 

Requirements for a Good Research Question 

When creating your research question, there are several parameters you need to meet. To create a good research question, the question you ask must be:

  • Specific
  • Focused
  • Researchable
  • Related to your subject

Not only that, but to create a good research question and do it justice, you must be able to answer it within the deadline you’ve negotiated with your supervisor or publisher. 

And if that wasn’t enough, a good research question is a complex question. As a rule, if you can answer your proposed research question with yes or no, or if Google gives you the answer on page one, the research question needs work. 

The Importance of Specificity 

But while creating a good research question needs something more than a yes or no answer, it also requires specificity. Together, these two things can seem contradictory. 

However, specificity can make the difference between good and bad research questions. That’s because specificity clarifies what the question is asking. That, in turn, helps focus the question.

Focusing Your Research Question 

Focusing your research question matters because it tells you what you’re researching. 

Don’t ask: Why is there so much fog imagery in Great Expectations? 

It’s too broad a question, and it gives you no hint as to where to start your research. 

Ask instead: How does Charles Dickens use the motif of fog to explore themes of misunderstanding in Great Expectations?  

Immediately the researcher knows what they’re looking at and why. 

This question has the further advantage of being analytical, rather than descriptive. That means to answer the question the writer has to do more than listing the events of the book under discussion. 

This is true of more than just arts subjects. A scientist would never ask ‘Why is the sky blue’ when creating a research question. The focus is too broad, and the answer to expository. 

Creating a research question that demands critical thinking rather than explanation is necessary for narrowing the focus of a good research question. 

Ensuring Your Research Question is Researchable

All researchers hope to be original. 

That said, even the most original thinker needs someone to have said something first. That’s because it’s not enough to be original. We need to back research up with credibility. 

For scientific minds, that can mean long weeks of experimentation and observation. For the arts-based disciplines, that usually translates into research. And research means building a bibliography. 

Importantly, not all the sources you cite must directly answer your research question. Background research can be an invaluable starting place for many academics. 

Similarly, a resource that takes the opposite position to your proposed research topic can be invaluable because it enables you to engage with extant research while allowing freedom for originality. 

Crucially though, the research you conduct must be relevant to your discipline. 

Creating Relevant Research Questions

Finally, a good research question has relevance within the researcher’s field of study. Research, like fashion, has moods and trends that vary with time. Knowing which are current in your discipline will help you create a strong research question. 

Likewise, knowing what is already under discussion will help you shape a research question that engages with those topics while bringing something new to the conversation. 

Conclusion

Creating a good research question can seem daunting. This is especially true if you’re new to independent or unguided study. 

Remember to create questions that are:

  • Specific
  • Focused 
  • Relevant 
  • Researchable

Above all else, create a research question that stems from something you’re passionate about. That enthusiasm translates into the resulting paper and makes for compelling reading and a good research question.   

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