The primary objective of any thesis, dissertation or research paper is investigating and contemplating the most probable answers of a research question. Formulating the perfect research questions from a general topic or a given area of concern is the first step of any research process and gives it its direction.
This blog looks closely into the processes involved in drafting a focused and astute research question from a broader context of the discussion. We first look for a precise definition of a research question and then move on to the steps involved in conjuring up an astute specimen.
So, let’s dive right in.
What are Research Questions and What do they Represent?
In simple words, a research question is a problematic issue that a researcher deems worth solving. This is the most straightforward answer one can come up with for “What is a research question?” kind of queries.
A valid research question helps to:
Identify the gaps in the existing body of research
Details the problem statement and adds focus to it
Sets the context of the research
Provides a clear focus for the research process
Influences the content of the literature review
Determines the data collection techniques, research methodologies and the kind of questions to be asked
Acts as the keystone for the researcher’s argument or hypothesis
To achieve the above, questions must possess certain essential traits, which allow both the researcher & his audience to connect with the study.
Here is an acronym that expresses those traits of a good research question: FINERMAPS
However, if the acronym seems a tad too challenging for your new researchers out there, then here are the essential traits of a research question laid down in absolute simple terms, with some samples.
1. Research Questions must possess complete clarity
State the focus of your research as clearly as possible. Use relevant terminologies and do not worry if the question gets a bit long. Add words that help readers understand the subject and the reason for the research.
“Why are social networking sites harmful?” does not help readers determine the exact focus of the research.
A better and more exact question can be “What kind of privacy issues are online users experiencing on social networking sites such as Instagram& Facebook,and how are they addressing them?” It seems a bit long but makes things quite clear.
2. It should be able to narrow its focus on a particular problem
Consider the subject of Eating Disorders. It is a vast topic with numerous areas of focus. Now, researches on human health tend to focus on a subset of this subject, such as Teenagers & Eating Disorders.
Researches can be further narrowed down to a focused topic such as Teen Cognition and Eating Disorders, and a proper research question is then derivable from this narrow topic, “What is the cognitive impact, if any, of bulimia among teens in schools?”
The research question should drive the focus of research.
3. Simple vs Complex
It is quite natural for a research question to seem a bit complicated at the outset. There is nothing to be worried about if you come up with a tricky research question, as long as it communicates the focus of the research to readers. Remember, you are not writing a catchy heading for a tabloid, but declaring the purpose of scholarly research.
Here are some examples.
“How are doctors addressing diabetic cases in the USA?” –this question, though quite clear, is too simple for a research paper and also lacks focus.
“What are the common traits of patients who have diabetes in the US, and how does the medical community use these commonalities to enhance its diagnosis & aid?” – this is an appropriately complex question that is both clear and focused.
We next move on to the systematic process of crafting an excellent research question from a particular topic of research.
What are the Features of Good Research Questions?
If you go through sample research question examples, then you are bound to come across certain similarities amongst them.
Remember the acronym ‘FINERMAPS’ that described the traits of a research question. A good research question and the subsequent research should possess all the above qualities.
While conjuring up your research question, use these traits to guide you in your formulation.
Draft a question that allows conducting research, which lies within your capabilities and resources.
Be realistic about the scope and scale of the project.
It is easy to write “How can machine learning be utilized to simulate the convection zone of the Sun?” But, get down to the actual fieldwork, and you will face some intense challenges to your research work.
Your research question must not only reflect your interest in a particular topic and its research; it should also be exciting and appealing to your peers & audience.
Make your research questions unique instead of just rephrasing something. Think through and come up with an RQ that is simple, clear and distinctive.
Add sub-questions to your crucial research question if you think it will help readers relate better.Showcase your imagination and never hesitate to experiment.
Make sure of the ethical aspects of your research before partaking in it. It is essential to take permission from the relevant authorities and consider the privacy of the data to be used in the study. Maintain confidentiality in your research and be sure to reflect that in your research question.
The research question must be able to arouse academic and intellectual interest to the people in the field of study. Choose a relevant subject, preferably one that relates to a current situation, literature or other research.
Similar to the essence of feasibility, this particular trait looks into the fact whether the researcher manages to complete the research work correctly, within the necessary time frame.
The research question must be appropriate logically and scientifically to the relevant research community and the institution involved.
Every researcher must ensure that his or her research has a constructive contribution to the existing body of knowledge on a subject. A good RQ should address a topic or a problem that has significant implications on a broader context.
A well-crafted research question reflects an organized way of thinking on the researcher’s part. It should be indicative of their creativity and research acumen.
Keep the above essentials in mind if you intend to craft not only an excellent research question but also conduct impactful research.
How to Write a Research Question in 8 Easy Steps
Novice researchers and dissertation writers are the ones who struggle the most to define a valid research question. To that end, here is a systematic process that shows how best to develop a research question.
Start by identifying a broader subject that is of interest to you and is open to investigation.
Do preliminary research on the generic topic to ascertain what research has been done and what needs to be done. It will help you identify the gaps in the body of knowledge.
Determine the things you know, and what more you need to know to come up with a final research question.
What are the implied questions, and how can you come up with questions that are more specific using them?
Narrow your scope and the focus of your research.
Frame the question and then evaluate it thoroughly.
Once you have come up with the final version of your research question, it is time to come up with a robust research hypothesis.
It is also essential to take note of the implications of your research while developing the question.
Well, writing intellectual & impressive research questions will be relatively easy with the steps above.
Before concluding this write-up on how to formulate a research question, lets us go over the different types of research questions in existence.
The Varied Types of Research Questions
Well, now that you know what the criteria for a good research question are, here is a list of the research question formats followed across research communities.
Existencetype, which looks to uphold the existence of a particular phenomenon or refute some explanations;
Description and Classification type that are statement-like questions relaying information about the research to be conducted;
Composition type that breaks down the whole research into segments;
Relationship type evaluate the relationships between certain research variables;
Descriptive-Comparative types look to describe the comparisons in the topic under study;
Causality type questions aim to find the causal relationship between a cause and a suspected outcome via research. These research questions and associated research aim to compare the effects of two variables on another and determine the outcomes.
And, with that, we round up this extensive study into research question formulation. Use this article to aid you if you struggle to design a research question that allows for meticulous and fruitful research.
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