Writing Strong Research Questions | Criteria & Examples
All research questions should be:
- Focused on a single problem or issue
- Researchable using primary and/or secondary sources
- Feasible to answer within the timeframe and practical constraints
- Specific enough to answer thoroughly
- Complex enough to develop the answer over the space of a paper or thesis
- Relevant to your field of study and/or society more broadly
How to write a research question
You can follow these steps to develop a strong research question:
- Choose your topic
- Do some preliminary reading about the current state of the field
- Narrow your focus to a specific niche
- Identify the research problem that you will address
The way you frame your question depends on what your research aims to achieve. The table below shows some examples of how you might formulate questions for different purposes.
|Research question formulations
|Describing and exploring
|Explaining and testing
|Evaluating and acting
Using your research problem to develop your research question
|Example research problem
|Example research question(s)
|Teachers at the school do not have the skills to recognize or properly guide gifted children in the classroom.
|What practical techniques can teachers use to better identify and guide gifted children?
|Young people increasingly engage in the ‘gig economy’, rather than traditional full-time employment. However, it is unclear why they choose to do so.
|What are the main factors influencing young people’s decisions to engage in the gig economy?
Note that while most research questions can be answered with various types of research, the way you frame your question should help determine your choices.
What makes a strong research question?
Research questions anchor your whole project, so it’s important to spend some time refining them. The criteria below can help you evaluate the strength of your research question.
Focused and researchable
|Focused on a single topic
|Your central research question should work together with your research problem to keep your work focused. If you have multiple questions, they should all clearly tie back to your central aim.
|Answerable using credible sources
|Your question must be answerable using quantitative and/or qualitative data, or by reading scholarly sources on the topic to develop your argument. If such data is impossible to access, you likely need to rethink your question.
|Not based on value judgements
|Avoid subjective words like good, bad, better and worse. These do not give clear criteria for answering the question.
Feasible and specific
|Answerable within practical constraints
|Make sure you have enough time and resources to do all research required to answer your question. If it seems you will not be able to gain access to the data you need, consider narrowing down your question to be more specific.
|Uses specific, well-defined concepts
|All the terms you use in the research question should have clear meanings. Avoid vague language, jargon, and too-broad ideas.
|Does not demand a conclusive solution, policy, or course of action
|Research is about informing, not instructing. Even if your project is focused on a practical problem, it should aim to improve understanding rather than demand a ready-made solution.
Complex and arguable
|Cannot be answered with yes or no
|Closed-ended, yes/no questions are too simple to work as good research questions—they don’t provide enough scope for robust investigation and discussion.
|Cannot be answered with easily-found facts
|If you can answer the question through a single Google search, book, or article, it is probably not complex enough. A good research question requires original data, synthesis of multiple sources, and original interpretation and argumentation prior to providing an answer.
Relevant and original
|Addresses a relevant problem
|Your research question should be developed based on initial reading around your topic. It should focus on addressing a problem or gap in the existing knowledge in your field or discipline.
|Contributes to a timely social or academic debate
|The question should aim to contribute to an existing and current debate in your field or in society at large. It should produce knowledge that future researchers or practitioners can later build on.
|Has not already been answered
|You don’t have to ask something that nobody has ever thought of before, but your question should have some aspect of originality. For example, you can focus on a specific location, or explore a new angle.
Research questions quiz
Frequently asked questions
- Should I use a research question, hypothesis, or thesis statement?
The way you present your research problem in your introduction varies depending on the nature of your research paper. A research paper that presents a sustained argument will usually encapsulate this argument in a thesis statement.
A research paper designed to present the results of empirical research tends to present a research question that it seeks to answer. It may also include a hypothesis – a prediction that will be confirmed or disproved by your research.
- How can I tell which sources are relevant to my research?
As you cannot possibly read every source related to your topic, it’s important to evaluate sources to assess their relevance. Use preliminary evaluation to determine whether a source is worth examining in more depth.
- Why is structure important in an essay?
- What’s the difference between a research hypothesis and a statistical hypothesis?
A research hypothesis is your proposed answer to your research question. The research hypothesis usually includes an explanation (‘x affects y because …’).
A statistical hypothesis, on the other hand, is a mathematical statement about a population parameter. Statistical hypotheses always come in pairs: the null and alternative hypotheses. In a well-designed study, the statistical hypotheses correspond logically to the research hypothesis.
Cite this Scribbr article
If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the ‘Cite this Scribbr article’ button to automatically add the citation to our free Reference Generator.