A question answered with the help of a research project is called a research question. It is essential for both qualitative and quantitative research to choose a proper research question. Data collection and data analysis will be required for investigation, and the methodology will vary widely for this. A good research question will help and try to improve the knowledge on a crucial topic and is usually specific and narrow. The research question is considered as an essential part of your research. It is suggested to spend some time to assess and refine your question before you begin.
The length of the project, type of research, topic and research problem are the variables which will determine the form of the research question. But every research question should be specific and focused and also relevant to a social issue. Along with this, the following are a few properties of the research question:
The research question should be:
- Researchable with the help of either primary or secondary or both sources.
- Focused so that it can answer a single issue or problem
- Specific to answer the question thoroughly
- Feasible enough to respond within the given timeframe and practical constraints
- Relevant to your research as well as to your field and possibly for the society
- Complex to develop the answer on paper or research
Usually, in a research paper, a single research question is used to guide your thought process. The answer to that question is called your research paper. It is the central argument that you put forward in your research. In an extensive research project, there may be multiple research questions, but they should be focused and connected around the primary research problem.
How to write a research question?
Following are the steps to be followed while writing a research question:
- Choosing a broad topic
- The preliminary reading is to be done to find about the topical issues and debates
- Narrowing down to a specific niche to be focused on
- Identification of theoretical research problem that is supposed to address
Having a research question is one of the initial steps which the investigator takes before undertaking research. You have to have knowledge as well as interest in the topic so that it can be used to construct a question. The research question formation is determined by the kind of information that will be collected. The research question should be defined clearly.
Sometimes preparing a research question is done even before a framework of research is prepared. In any case, it makes the assumptions of the framework more explicit and also indicates what does the researcher wants to know first and foremost. Therefore he should identify the type of study that is to be conducted like quantitative, qualitative or mixed. This is done before the research question is prepared.
Usually, when the parameters of research like methodology or field of study do not fit the question, then preparing the research question becomes an iterative process. There are many methods for choosing the criteria for preparing the research question.
Constructing a research question
1. FINER criteria
This method of constructing research can be useful for outlining the research criteria which are used during the construction of the research question. Because of the flexibility of these criteria, this method may be used for different research scenarios.
This method prompts various researchers to determine if they have means and interest to conduct the study. It also asks them to consider the ethical repercussions and the relevancy of the research.
FINER criteria help to highlight essential points which may increase the chances of developing a research project. These criteria are as follows:
F – Feasible, I – interesting, N – novel, E – Ethical, R – Relevant
The question has to be adequate subjects, adequate expertise, affordable time and money, and it should be manageable. The question should be able to get new answers which intrigue the investigator and community.
The question should confirm the refutes previous findings and amenable to study, which will be approved by the institutional review board. It should also be relevant to clinical policy, scientific knowledge, health policy, future research, etc.
2. PICOT criteria
These questions are framed in evidence-based studies like medicine. These research might focus on assessing the problems as well as those that may be causal factors with an experimental and control group. P – Problem or patient, I – Indicator or intervention, C – Comparative group, O – Outcomes and T – Time
The researcher, while continuing with the research process, carries out the required research to answer the research question. Even though this involves reading secondary sources over a couple of days, a term paper or conducting primary research over the years for a significant project.
When the research is completed, the researcher knows the possible answer to the research question. In the term papers, the question’s answer is given in the introduction as a thesis statement.
Types of Research questions
Both the popular types of research quantitative and qualitative require research questions. The type of questions which you use depends on what you want to find and type of research to be conducted. It will also shape your research design.
Following are a few of the common types of research questions:
1. Descriptive research questions
These type of research questions are used to help a study which aims to describe a particular topic. For example, polls which are conducted on public opinions. The primary objective of these studies is to understand open views, which are descriptive. Questions beginning with How much and What amount and What is or are, etc. fall under descriptive research questions. Following are a few examples of such questions:
Q: How many calories do Germans intake per week?
Variable: Weekly calorie intake
Q: How often do Finnish students obtain scholarships in American Universities?
Variable: Scholarships in American universities
Group: Finnish students
These type of questions helps the researcher in measuring the variables but their units change as per the needs of the researcher. Descriptive research questions also calculate the percentage and proportions.
2. Comparative Research Questions
Comparative research questions can be used to analyze the difference between multiple groups. However, the difference should be on dependent variables. The comparative questions start with ‘What is the difference’ type of questions.
It looks like a distinguishing feature. A study to determine the proportion of men and women who prefer what kind of beverage is comparative research. Following are a few more examples of comparative research questions:
Q: What is the difference in the calorie intake of German men and Women?
Variable: Calorie intake
Groups: German men and German women
Q: What is the difference in attitude between French men and women on Shakespeare and Jane Austen novels?
Dependent variable: Attitude towards Shakespeare and Jane Austen novels
Group: French men and French women
3. Causal research questions
Whenever the research is aimed to find out if a variable causes multiple outcomes, then it is called a relationship or causal research. For example, if the opinion of the public is affected by a recent event – which is termed as a cause – then the causal research can attempt to understand the effect of that particular event.
The research question usually attempts to identify the relationship between different variables on one or multiple groups. The two objectives of causality research are the identification of the cause and the variables which are affected by it.
To frame a causal question, the ‘relation between’ part should be followed by ‘amongst or between’. Following are some examples of causal research questions:
Q: What is the relation between attitude and age towards arranged marriage amongst youth in Africa?
Dependent variable: Attitude towards arranged marriage
Independent variable: Age
Group: African Youth
Q: What is the relation between mental health and leisure amongst teens?
Dependent variable: Mental health
Independent variable: Leisure time
What makes a strong research question?
Writing research questions is a challenging task. The entire project depends on the research question. This is why it is crucial to spend a lot of time on refining and fine-tuning them. Following are a few general criteria which will help you to evaluate the research question:
1. Focused, and Researchable:
The research question should focus on a single topic. The central research question follows entirely on research problems which will keep your research focused. If there are multiple questions, then they should be addressed.
The research questions should be answerable by either primary or secondary data or both. You must find an answer in the collection of qualitative or quantitative data or by going through various scholarly articles to develop a persuasive argument.
If the access for this data is impossible, then you have to analyze your question and rethink it. You may want to revise your question and try asking something more concrete.
Your research question should not ask for a value judgement subjectively. You should avoid using good, bad, worst, etc. words since they do not give a proper and clear criterion to answer the question.
If the question is evaluating something, then you have to use the terms which have a more measurable definition. For example, asking ‘Is the old boss better or the new boss’ is not desirable. Instead, ‘how effective are both the bosses?’ should be asked.
You should not ask why since these questions are very open and do not serve as a good research questions. There could be many causes as to why research cannot give a proper answer. Instead, try asking the question with ‘what or how’ type of questions.
2. Feasible and specific:
The research question should be answerable within the constraints. Ensure that you have a lot of time as well as resources to conduct the research which is required to answer the research questions. If you think you are going to have a hard time finding the data, then think of narrowing the question to be more specific.
The research questions should be specific and well defined. Any term which you use in research questions should have a definite meaning. Using vague language and too broad ideas are not recommended.
For example, instead of using questions like ‘what is the relation of phone usage and sleeping pattern of people?’ try using questions like ‘What effect does phone usage have on people under 40 years old using it while sleeping?
The research questions should not ask for a conclusive policy, solution or course of action. It is about informing and not about instructing. Even if you are sure that your project is focused on a practical problem, the question should aim to improvise the understanding rather than asking for already made solutions.
For example, instead of asking ‘What should the government do about the meagre voter turnout for polling,’ they should ask it as ‘How can we increase the voter turnover ?’
3. Complex and argumentative
The research questions should not be so easy that it can be answered with a simple response of Yes or No. They do not provide a lot of scope for discussions and investigation.
They cannot be answered with facts and figures found easily. If you can answer the question with a simple google search on Google, then your question is not complicated enough. A good research questions requires both original data and synthesis of different sources and their interpretation.
The question should provide scope for deliberation and debate and should be a simple statement of facts. You should have space to discuss and then interpret what you have found. This is very crucial, especially in the case of a research paper or essay.