How to Write a Research Question (with Examples)

By: Henrique Bertulino

13 min

2

10.04.2022

How to Write a Research Question (with Examples)

Before you can start a research project, you need to define what you’re going to study. This concept or question will be the focus of your investigation.

This article's goal is to help researchers craft effective questions by outlining what they are, why they're important, how they're constructed, and giving some good research question examples.

What is a Research Question?

A research question is a question to be answered by a study initiative. It usually asks how a certain issue will be specifically and thoroughly addressed to come to a conclusion and possible solution. In most studies, this is carried out by outlining all aspects of the study, including topics to be studied, variables to be analyzed, and the objectives of the study.

 More specifically, a research question is typically directed towards gathering data to confirm or refute a hypothesis.

While you might think that this is a fairly straightforward concept, defining a good research question can be difficult. You need to make sure that your question is broad enough to cover all potential data and interesting enough to retain your attention – but also clear enough to direct your studies. 

For example, prior to conducting a survey, an analyst might ask themselves the following question, “Do users of mobile phones in the United States have a higher monthly internet usage than users of desktop computers?” This represents a good research query because it’s descriptive, addresses a problem experienced in the real world, and can be answered using data collected from a survey.

 

from topic to research question

As a student, researcher, or member of a team, you’ll often be tasked with carrying out research activities. These may include creating a thesis, working on a project, data gathering in preliminary research process, or carrying out an analysis. One of the key components of these activities is coming up with and developing a research question.

Research questions can vary in scope. A student in social psychology might examine the impact of perceived racism on self-esteem. A student in physics might look at how color affects the strength of materials. A student in biology might study how a particular drug affects an ecosystem. The area of study doesn’t matter – as long as you can narrow down your central topic and ask a relevant question. Depending on your field of study, strong research question definition can vary, but there are a few guidelines that generally hold true.

How to Form a Research Question

Once you’ve figured out what you’re going to study, the next step is to figure out how to format a research question.

The structure of a good question resembles this:

  • What is x?
  • How does x affect y?
  • Can x be measured through z?

In other words, you need to state the subject, the influence, and the measurement tool. Your question for study will serve as the foundation for the entire project.

The most typical mistake that students make when formulating a research question is being too narrow. Students will ask something like “what effect does X have on Y?” This question is too limiting. It won’t give you enough information to work with for the entire project.

A better way to phrase this would be “what are the effects of X on Y?” This allows you to cover a wider range of possibilities.

What Makes a Strong Research Question?

The question "how to write a good research question" does not have a unique solution, but there are some elements that all good questions for study share. A strong question should be specific, achievable, and relevant to the audience you are writing for. It should also be clear and concise so that readers can easily comprehend the topic.

Some examples of good research questions:

  • What are the most effective methods for reducing stress in college students?
  • What are the biggest factors that contribute to happiness in relationships?
  • What are the most common causes of car accidents?

As you can see, each of these questions is specific, achievable, and relevant to a particular audience. They are also clear and concise, which is crucial for communicating the purpose of your study to your readers. Once you’ve come up with a list of research question examples, it’s time to decide which one will be your focus.

Remember that good research question example should be:

  • Focused and researchable
  • Feasible and specific
  • Complex and arguable
  • Relevant and original
  • Open-ended and questionable
  • Uncovering or revealing
  • Interesting and meaningful to you

strong research question characteristics

What is a good research question in your case?

You should choose a topic that is interesting to you. College students are required to write many research papers throughout their academic careers, but few people enjoy reading about something they don’t feel connected to. Choosing a topic that interests you will make the writing process easier and the end result more enjoyable to readers. Keep this in mind when you consider how to create a research question.

How to Come Up with a Research Question

A good question will help to guide your study and keep you on track. Here are some tips for how to write a good research question:

  1. Start by brainstorming a list of potential topics for your study.
  2. Once you have a list of potential topics, narrow down your list by choosing a specific issue or problem to focus on.
  3. Take some time to think about how to formulate a research question so that it is clear and succinct.
  4. Make sure that your question is measurable, specific, and focused.
  5. Ask yourself if your question is achievable and realistic – would it actually be possible to complete the project within the given time period?

Following this simple five-step approach will ensure that you understand how to develop a research question and that your study begins with a well-formed and useful research topic.

Creating a research question can take time. You will want to make sure that the question is challenging yet achievable, which can push your skills but still be within your ability to complete. It should be straightforward, not have many nested questions, and invite discussion from a different perspective.

Take a look at yourself and your situation. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you know already? 
  • What have you experienced or witnessed first-hand? 
  • What questions do these facts raise for you? 

This knowledge can help guide you in formulating your question for exploration.

Search for articles, surveys, studies, and other documents that can help you build knowledge and form a question. Be open to what you’re reading and willing to question your existing ideas about the topic. A good research query allows you to “break away” from the literature and develop an original test of a hypothesis.

Hypotheses

A hypothesis is a statement (usually in the form of an equation or sentence) that suggests a new idea or explains a phenomenon. For example:

Humans release heat energy due to the kinetic energy of their moving body parts.

This statement explains what happens when a person exercises. The key thing to remember about a hypothesis is that it needs to be testable. If your hypothesis isn’t observable or able to be viewed through a microscope, you’ll need to switch to another topic.

Hypotheses are often presented in the form of “if…then” statements. For example:

If students study for the exam early in the day, then they will have a lower grade than students who only study late in the day.

How to Write a Hypothesis

A hypothesis is a statement about what you think is going to happen. A good hypothesis needs to include four elements:

1. Problem: What problem does your research aim to solve?

A hypothesis must include a statement about the problem itself. What is the problem? Why is it important?

2. Explanation: How do you explain this problem happening?

This section explains how the problem happens through some kind of cause. What is the cause of the problem? How can you test your explanation of the problem happening?

What happens if your hypothesis is wrong? Doesn’t matter! Wrong hypotheses lead to new discoveries…So don’t worry if you get it wrong! 

3. Method: How will you test your explanation?

How will you prove that your explanation of the problem is correct? What method(s) will you use to prove your hypothesis?

4. Prediction: What would indicate that your explanation of the problem is correct?

This section describes what outcome would show that your hypothesis is correct.

Types of Research Questions

There are several types of research queries, and each one will direct your study in a different way. Your professor will advise you on the most appropriate type of question to use as well as how to conduct preliminary research.

Quantitative 

This type of research query is focused on what ideas or beliefs about a topic exist and why they exist. These questions can be answered using data collected from experiments or surveys and are classified as follows:

Descriptive 

Make an effort to characterize the population's behavior in relation to one or more variables, or to characterize the features of the variables themselves, in order to facilitate their measurement. We frequently hear "what?" in this context.

Comparative 

Explore the possibility of discovering group differences in relation to an outcome variable. These inquiries may also have a causal component. Study participants with and without a certain variable may be compared.

Relationship 

Developed to shed light on and describe patterns and relationships between different factors. Words like "association" and "trends" indicate that these inquiries deal with a dependent and independent variable.

Samples research questions:

  • How does stress affect student performance?
  • Is attending school part-time while working full-time detrimental to student performance?
  • What is the relationship between student performance and classroom distraction?

Qualitative 

These questions focus on understanding or explaining phenomena and can be answered using data, but the data is analyzed in a way that allows for depth and meaning rather than simply quantifying and averaging data points. 

Contextual 

Do your best to detect and describe the current situation. These questions focus on why things happen. For example, “Why did the new software program released by Company X cause retraining issues for employees?”

Descriptive 

Make an attempt to explain a phenomenon. For example, “What is the process of employee retraining when a new software program is released by Company X?”

Evaluation 

Analyze how well something is working, whether it be a theory, protocol, or practice. For example, “Was the new software program released by Company X effective in improving efficiency?”

Explanatory 

Analyze the causes of or connections between various phenomena.  These questions focus on how things happen. For example, “How can the process of employee retraining when a new software program is released by Company X be improved?”


Question types can overlap; for example, a descriptive one could also have an explanatory element. It’s important to note that each issue to stuy has two parts: a driving question and an exploring question. The driving question is the main topic of your study, and it’s what determines the type of research query you’ll write.

Exploratory 

Concentrate on the unknown features of a specific topic.

Example research questions:

  • What is the impact of social media on people’s lives?
  • How do companies that manufacture and sell clothes influence people to buy clothes?
  • How does spending too much money on groceries impact people?
  • What are the key factors that cause students to drop out of college?
  • Where are the highest concentrations of at-risk students?

Interpretive 

This type of questions focuses on why a text (e.g., a story, poem, song, movie, or television show) exists and why it has the qualities that it does. These questions can be answered using critical analysis of the text in inquiry.

Sample research questions:

  • Why did the author write this song/story?
  • How does the television show X portray women/men?
  • What is the purpose of the story/poem/song entitled X?

Your question should be tailored to the discipline you are studying. Ethnographic questions focus on understanding the reasons behind people’s actions by being a part of them. These questions can only be answered by actually participating in and documenting an experience. Biology research paper questions will differ from those posed in Political science dissertations or English literature thesis questions examples. If you are preparing your question for a subject other than first-year composition, you need to consult with your professor about the proposal.

Generating questions for research papers involves much more than simply copying information from a source and repeating it on the paper. The author must analyze, interpret and evaluate material found in the source. The author must also determine the main idea of the source and determine how it relates to the thesis statement. All of this information is then divided into sections of the paper.

If you are still unsure how to find an issue for study, are having difficulty distinguishing between examples of good and bad research questions, or require assistance in writing an essay, Studybay professionals may help you. Whether you are researching marketing, mental health, criminal justice, or another area, our writing service promises you a one-of-a-kind, plagiarism-free top-quality paper that passes all academic requirements.

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Henrique Bertulino

Head of Customer Success

I'm a medical doctor and brand manager. The process of getting into Med school and studying at it made me learn and apply many strategies to keep my productivity high while spending less time and effort. As a working student, I had to figure out how to study smarter, not harder. During this period, my interest in neurology and psychiatry, as well as my aspiration to help others, intensified. At Studybay, I use my knowledge, skills, and experience to develop helpful solutions for students and make their study paths more productive and fun.

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