The Research Question
- Research requires investigating a question for which no ready answer is available. As a researcher, you will design a research question and develop your own unique answer to it, using outside research sources to help you.
- This question will become your roadmap for research, and your research product (essay, paper, speech, etc.) will center around this question.
- A well-designed research question should be
- clear: it should provide enough specific information that your audience can easily understand it without further explanation
- focused: it is narrow enough that you can answer it thoroughly in the space required by the assignment.
- concise: it can be expressed in the fewest possible words
- complex: the answer to the research question should not be a simple “yes” or “no.” The answer needs to include synthesis and analysis of ideas and sources, and these need to lead logically to the answer.
- arguable: the answer or answers are not accepted facts; they need to be open to debate.
Steps to Designing a Research Question
- You have already chosen a broad topic, but if you haven't or you don't think your topic will work, choose a different one and conduct some narrowing of your topic..
- Do preliminary research on your topic, using current research journals, to see what's already out there. As you read, jot down any questions that occur to you.
- Ask open ended questions, and questions that don't have clear or accepted answers.
- Example of a weakly designed research question:
- Original question: How should social media sites deal with all the problems they cause people?
- Why is this question weak?
- Broad: "Social media" is too broad a term for a college paper. A narrower term would be a specific social media site.
- Vague: It's unclear what "problems" the researcher wants to focus on.
- Assumes opinion as fact: The researcher believes/assumes social media's problems are proven and/or accepted.
- Redesigned question: What policies can Twitter and Facebook implement to reduce the spread of fake news?
- After you’ve come up with a question, begin your research, thinking about the possible angle or angles you might be interested in. Focus on a variety of research sources, not just one kind, and make sure you explore different perspectives and responses to your question.
Learning how to design research questions can be frustrating, but you're not alone. Reach out to your instructor or a librarian for help.