What is a Research Question?

The Research Question is the question the author is exploring.

Related Concepts: Organizational Schema


Research Question

A research question is a guiding question that an author uses to guide his or her research while gathering information for a project. Research questions typically appear in an annotated bibliography or other summary of a writer’s research. Generally, a research question does not have an easy Yes/No or other simple answer. Here is an example of a research question: How has video game usage changed how we communicate/socialize with one another?

While a research question may or may not always appear in a finished text, it is important to keep the research question in mind so that your writing specifically addresses the scope of the research question. This will not only help to locate sources related to a topic but also discuss them in a way that shows their connection to the research question.

How to Create a Research Question

In the research process, a writer usually starts with a topic of interest. Investigation of an initial topic will result in a well-developed research question.

When creating a research question, use the topic + concept = research question equation. A topic is a specific, concrete focus (Facebook, video games, school uniforms, etc). A concept is a broad, more abstract area (education, health/fitness, communication, etc).

Now, let’s practice creating research questions. Take the topic of videogames and combine it with different concepts to create a research question.

Videogames (topic) + communication (concept) = How has videogame usage changed how we communicate/socialize with one another? (research question)

Videogames (topic) + health/fitness (concept) = How are videogames contributing/not contributing to adolescent obesity rates, and what are the future health implications from this

Common Issues with Research Questions

Too Broad

If a research question is too broad, a writer will not be able to adequately respond to it within the scope of the project. The writer will also be overwhelmed by the amount of sources that you find.

Example: How does smoking affect teenagers?

This topic is entirely too broad. However,  there are ways to narrow it, such as specific aspects of teenage life, geographical area, time period, etc. Based on these changes, here are some possible research questions:

How does teenage smoking affect participation in athletics?

How does teenage smoking the Northeast region of the United States affect academic achievement?

Too Narrow

A research question that is too narrow is also difficult to work with because it limits the amount of research sources. Also, it restricts the writer’s ability to discuss and explore the topic.

Example: How did the filming of the 1994 film “The Punisher” impact the economy of Tampa?

Because this research question focuses on the effects of one film on just one aspect of life in a single city, the writer may not be able to find sufficient information on this topic or adequately explore the topic. With a topic that is too narrow, follow the same process as broadening topics, just in reverse: additional aspects of life in Tampa, geographical area, time period, etc.

Based on these changes, here are some possible research questions:

How did the film industry affect the economy of central Florida in the 1990s?

How did the making of the 1994 movie “The Punisher” impact the economy and daily life of Tampa before, during, and after its actual filming?

Yes/No Question or a Question with a Definite Answer

A research question should not have a simple answer, especially a Yes/No answer.

Example: Should smoking be illegal for teenagers?

This question, although it is very broad, can actually be answered in a “yes” or “no” form: “Yes, smoking should be illegal” or “No, smoking should not be illegal.” The question needs to be more open ended.  Here are some possibilities:

How would new, more restrictive legislation affect rates of teen smoking?

How does legislation against teenage smoking affect teens’ use of other drugs?

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