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How to Write a Research Question: Common Types and Winning Examples

How to write a research question

The starting point for any investigation is a research question. Still, formulating valid and relevant questions can be challenging for many writers with little experience. Despite their crucial role in the research process, there is also a need for more guidance on creating innovative research questions.

While producing good research questions may only come naturally to some, this skill can be developed. Edubirdie writing experts are glad to share some secrets in this respect with you. The article aims to assist researchers in completing effective research questions by defining their importance and discussing the most effective methods for constructing them.

What is a research question?

Before going into details of this crucial aspect of academic writing, let’s discover the research question definition. It is an essential part of any work that specifies what readers will discover in an academic paper. A well-thought-out research question should have the following characteristics:

  • Address a single issue and be narrow to enable thorough response within the given writing task;
  • Be specific and contain enough details for the audience to grasp its purpose without further explanation;    
  • Offer various research perspectives using analysis of primary and secondary sources;
  • Be implementable and focused on finding a practical solution;
  • Have relevance to the field of study; 
  • Be complex enough to require analysis and synthesis of concepts and sources before a response is composed.

Creating a single research question to manage your progress is typical when writing an essay or research paper. The answer will represent your main argument or position and become the thesis statement. When completing larger research projects like a thesis or dissertation, you may need to create multiple research questions which must be closely related and focus on a central problem of your investigation.  

Why is it important to understand research question purpose?

Research questions play a vital role in helping writers stay on track during the writing process by providing a clear direction and breaking up the investigation into simple steps. They help to define the type of academic papers and identify their main purposes. Learners can avoid producing a generic "all-about" paper when a research question is well-crafted and specific. Instead, it enables them to focus on developing a specific and debatable thesis.

Types of research questions you must know and should use

Depending on the academic work type, research questions can be divided into three categories: quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods studies. Understanding the research type is important in defining the most appropriate research question. Let’s formulate the differences between these categories and look at some research question examples.

Quantitative research questions

Quantitative research questions are accurate and focused on proving or disproving a writer’s hypothesis through comparisons, descriptions, or relationships. They typically involve the following:

  • Dependent and independent variables;
  • The population to be studied;
  • The research design that should be used.

Quantitative research questions aim to appreciate particular educational, familial, or social experiences or processes in a specific location and context. They are useful when selecting a research topic or asking additional questions to get more information. 

These questions can be classified into three types:

  • Descriptive Research Questions;

They are the most typical and focus on describing variables measured during the research and evaluating the responses of a study’s population. They usually start with “what”, “when”, “why”, “where”, and “how” and often use statistics and data to tell about a phenomenon or event.

Example:

"What is the prevalence of depression symptoms among college students in the United States?” 

This question aims to measure the responses of the study's population (college students in the United States) to a variable (depression symptoms).

  • Comparative Research Questions;

They seek to reveal the differences between several groups for an outcome variable. They may also be causal. Thus, an author can contrast a group where a particular variable is present to another one where this variable is not involved.

Example:

“What is the difference in academic performance between learners who participate in extracurricular activities and those who do not?” 

This question aims to discover the differences between two groups (students who participate in extracurricular activities and those who do not) for an outcome variable (academic performance). The question may also be causal, as a researcher can compare a group where a certain variable is involved (extracurricular activities) with another group where that variable is absent.

  • Relationship-Based Research Questions;

They focus on exploring and determining essential trends and interactions between several variables and the effect one variable has on another. This type of question is characterized by independent and dependent variables and may contain words like “trends” or “association.” 

Example:

“What are the actual trends in virtual dating behavior among young people, and how do these trends influence the formation and support of romantic relationships?”

This question focuses on defining current trends in online dating and the impact these trends (or one type of variable) have on forming and supporting romantic relationships (another variable).   

Qualitative research questions

Qualitative research questions may concern broad or specific areas of study and are flexible, non-directional, and more adaptable than quantitative questions. They aim to "discover," "explain," or "explore" and can be categorized into exploratory, predictive, and interpretive questions. 

  • Exploratory Questions;

They seek to gain a deeper understanding of a topic without impacting the results. These questions aim to collect information and ideas without preconceived notions or biases. 

Example:

“What is the attitude of college students towards online learning, and how has that attitude changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?”

  • Predictive Questions;

Based on the question content, they are designed to anticipate the most suitable response variants. These questions aim to gain insight into a specific topic’s intent or potential outcomes.

Example:

“Based on your past purchasing behavior, how likely will you buy a new smartphone in the next six months?”

  • Interpretive Questions;

They allow you to observe people in their natural environment. These questions explore how a group collectively comprehends and interprets the shared experience associated with a particular phenomenon. This study aims to collect information and ideas about the group's behavior and reactions without affecting the outcome.

Example:

“How do employees interpret and understand the organizational culture of their company, and how do these interpretations affect their job satisfaction and commitment to the organization?”

Mixed-methods studies

Mixed-methods studies involve quantitative and qualitative research questions and focus on the importance and differences between qualitative and quantitative methods. 

Example:

“How does parental involvement influence the academic performance of elementary school pupils, and what factors encourage or impede parental involvement in education?”

This research question can be solved using mixed methods. Concerning the quantitative component, researchers may conduct surveys or gather data on parent participation and academic performance from a large sample of primary school pupils and their parents. 

As for the qualitative component, researchers may conduct interviews or focus groups with parents and educators to gain a deeper understanding of the factors that encourage or hinder parental participation in education. By combining quantitative and qualitative data, researchers can better understand the relationship between parent involvement and academic achievement and indicate the factors that influence parent participation.

5 Steps on how to write a research question quickly and correctly

Many students don’t know how to develop a research question. If this is challenging for you, we’ll provide you with an algorithm you should follow to make the process easier.

Step 1. Start with finding an engaging and relevant topic. 

Select a research topic that is interesting, complex and relevant. The most popular academic topics are healthcare and medical-related research. Still, if you learn Mathematics, Engineering, or Law, or you’re attending a Humanities program, creating a research question relevant to your major and specific field of study is crucial. When looking for a topic, selecting one you’re really excited about is essential. Your research motivation depends greatly on your interest in your subject area.

A wide-ranging subject offers writers numerous possibilities to find a suitable research question. You may use various techniques, such as brainstorming, breaking down a topic into subtopics to complete potential research questions, and concept mapping. Another approach is to discuss with friends and generate questions to stimulate thinking and extract ideas. This research methodology can structure your ideas and discover links and significant concepts within a broad topic.

Step 2. Conduct preliminary research to learn about your topical issue. 

After choosing a topic, it’s time to do preliminary research by looking for articles and journals associated with your subject. Reviewing related sources will help you narrow your focus, update your knowledge of the topic and understand what other researchers are discussing. On the other hand, a preliminary review of relevant literature enables defining actual gaps and restrictions in existing investigations on your subject. You can further use your findings to create a research question. 

Step 3. Narrow your topic and define potential research questions. 

Once you understand the topic you will investigate, narrow your focus to a more specific study area. The best idea is to concentrate on the recent articles you’ve read and the knowledge gaps you’ve found. 

An alternative approach to generating research questions is called problematization. It involves questioning the underlying assumptions that support your theoretical positions. In other words, constructing research questions that challenge your existing knowledge of the study area or viewpoints. 

Personal experiences are also significant in this respect. For example, researchers with practical experiences can reflect on problematic areas within their practice while identifying patterns and trends in practice can offer new ideas and insights. 

Create several research questions that complement or extend the findings of other researchers. You should always consider your audience and whether they would be interested in your inquiry. 

Step 4. Assess your research questions. 

Once you’ve completed several questions, evaluate them to understand their effectiveness and relevance. Then, while revising your variants, analyze the finer details and their probable outcomes. Compose open-ended questions about your topic and estimate whether they are clear, focused, and complex enough to guide your research. Make sure your variants meet the essential research question criteria. Think about the possible paths your research could take and what sources you should consult to find a variety of perspectives and responses to your question.

Step 5. Make edits before creating the final version.

Ensure your research question is fully formulated before starting to draft the discussion section of a research paper. The result of your efforts should be a coherent and meaningful question sufficiently relevant to the context of your field. 

You can always receive editing and proofreading services from our company at any stage of the writing process. If you need assistance completing a research question or any other section of your academic work, or your language requires polishing, feel free to get help from our experienced writers, editors, and proofreaders. 

Examples of good and bad research questions

Let’s see how to write a good research question by looking at bad and good examples to guide learners struggling with creating this element.

Example no. 1:

Bad:What is global warming?

This question is too broad and general. It is not a research question but more of a basic definition question that can be easily answered with a quick web search. The suitable research question should be more specific and focused.

Good: How are human activities contributing to global temperature rise, and what are the potential implicationsof this trend for the ecosystem?

This research question focuses on the relationship between human activities and global warming. It also looks at the potential consequences of this trend for the ecosystem. This is a good question because it can guide research into the impact of human activities on the global climate and identify ways to mitigate those impacts.

Example no. 2:

Bad:Has there been a growth of cardiovascular diseases in the world in the past 20 years?

This example of a research question is too simple and broad and has an obvious answer. Generally, all “yes/no” questions should be avoided when completing research questions, as they don’t promote further discussions and don’t require collecting data and in-depth analysis.  

Good:How do physical activity and the Mediterranean diet affect the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in middle-aged adults?

This variant is specific and focused on the impact of physical activity and the Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular disease risk in middle-aged adults. It is a good research question because it motivates us to explore the potential influence of lifestyle changes on cardiovascular disease prevention. It also includes the specific population (middle-aged adults) and variables (physical activity and Mediterranean diet) to be studied.

Example no. 3:

Bad:How does the Internet affect our lives?

This sample is a basic question that can be easily answered based on personal experience or a quick online search. The research question should be clearly defined and focused.

Good:To what extent does social media use affect adolescents' mental health?

This question aims to discover the relationship between social media use and the mental health of a specific population (adolescents). It is a good variant as it can guide research to analyze the impact of social media on mental health, which is a timely and important topic. In further investigation, a researcher could examine various mental health consequences such as stress, depression, and anxiety and analyze effective measures to reduce the negative influence of social media on well-being and mental health. 

FAQ

What makes a strong research question

There are several characteristics of a strong research question. It should be:

  • Concise and relevant, able to express your essential idea in a few words;
  • Narrow and focused on one or several aspects of the subject, depending on the number of pages of your paper;
  • Clear and aimed at delivering specific information to readers;
  • Complex to involve arguments and results of analysis;
  • Testable and arguable so that answers to the research question come with counterarguments and promote further investigation. 

How to make sure I have a good main research question

Completing a main research question may be challenging. The question has to facilitate the solution to the issue you have set in your problem statement. Still, it should meet the following five criteria:

  1. Researchability: the question should be answerable using reliable sources;
  2. Originality: you should explore the topic from a new angle;
  3. Relevance: the question should be related to an actual problem or focus on a gap in the existing knowledge;  
  4. Specificity: all the concepts in the research question should have clear meanings;
  5. Implementability: you have to look for a solution to a practical problem in your research paper.

Why is a research question essential to the research process? 

Writing a research question is a crucial stage of the investigation as it shapes the study's design, determines the methodology, and establishes the research objectives. The research questions define the problem you will investigate, highlighting the intended research outcomes for readers. They also help divide research into manageable stages, facilitate achieving objectives, and solve the initial issue.

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