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Writing a good Research question is the key to a successful project, regardless of whether you are writing a thesis, paper or article. Knowing the question that you are trying to answer informs your work and focuses your direction.
There are many different types of research; some want to simply inform the reader by reviewing the existing scientific information regarding a particular subject matter. Others may desire to put forward a unique hypothesis or a new perspective on the existing knowledge and theories, while others may be summarizing new research altogether. By developing a good research question, you can begin to narrow the focus of your writing to achieve its intent.
A basic research project may rest on a foundation of the existing knowledge base and expand the understanding of it to develop a new theory, or possibly to call for future research needs. On the other hand, your focus may be in taking the existing knowledge base and using it to put forth a solution to a real-life problem. Is your research delving into an under-studied area, or are you looking at a well-developed subject matter with a new twist?
Writing a research question is the first step in organizing your work and presenting it effectively to your colleagues and prospective clients. If this step is overlooked, your work will lack the laser focus required for success.
What is a Research Question?
A research question provides a guide and a purpose to your work. A good research question focuses and highlights the issue that you want to address. It should be a question that inspires thought and debate, not something that seems to have an obvious answer. At the same time, it needs to be grounded in reality and have a framework that provides a logical, step-by-step solution. There needs to be a way forward to provide an achievable solution, so it has to be focused and concise, but complex enough to allow for the totality of your work.
It also has to be something that your colleagues will find relevant to the major issues facing your field of study. Your augment has to excite the reader and capture their attention, or they will quickly move on to the next title.
Depending on the complexity of your work, whether a thesis, paper or dissertation, a good research question may develop into a series of questions that lead to your conclusion. These steps are used to connect the dots for your reader, showing the way to your solutions. Taking the time to flush out your overall questions and the steps that will provide the framework for your writing. For a deeper discussion on developing a framework, take a look at this article.
Here are some questions you will want to ask when developing your research question to make sure it’s a good one.
- Is your question focused but without an obvious answer?
- Is the question practical and the answer achievable in terms of a step-by-step solution?
- Does your question relate to your field of study and inspire thoughtful debate?
- Is laser focused but still leaves room for debate and discussion?
- Is your question challenging?
- Is your question difficult to answer without a dive into the facts and information presented?
- Does your research question offer a unique take on the subject?
How to Write a Research Question
It’s best when doing your investigation into a potential research question to start with a broad subject that is of interest in your field and methodically drill down to a more narrow focus. Don’t expect to arrive at your question immediately, do your research. What are the current topics focused on in your discipline? Be sure to be current with the periodicals, publications and scholarly articles in your area of study before choosing a broad subject matter.
If your subject involves numerical data versus qualitative, non-numerical data, your approach is going to vary. Here is an article regarding Clinical Questions about these two approaches: Clinical Questions: PICO and PEO.
Once you have the subject in hand, break it up into narrow problems. At this point, write down as many potential issues as possible, brainstorm without filtering to develop a list of concerns regarding your chosen subject matter. Methodically explode all aspects of the issue before you begin to narrow it down using the questions listed above.
You can begin by describing the problem and looking at the current studies that pertain to it. From there, it becomes possible to explore weak spots in the various theories and augments to see where to focus your investigation.
Depending on the complexity of your project, you may have to construct a series of related questions to then arrive at your conclusion. Just be sure that any additional questions add to the process rather than distract.
A good research question is the basic foundation to an interesting, informative and successful paper.
Research Question Examples
For this example, the general field of study is the review of the relative benefit of exercise versus dietary restriction in reducing the overall fat percentage of total body mass. In this case the question may be as follows:
How does exercise compare to diet restriction for achieving loss of body fat?
Sub-questions may be as follows:
What types of exercise are most effective in changing body composition?
What type of diets are most effective in changing body composition? How are your conclusions original and relevant to the subject?
The following is an example of a research question that pertains to a comparison of mental health care assessment in the US vs Canada. There are many ways to focus the research question. For example:
How does the US and Canadian mental health care assessment for outcomes differ for patients within a short-term acute care facility?
How does the assessment in short-term facilities correlate to long-term outcomes in mental health in the US versus Canada?
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