How is a research question like a red wheelbarrow? Simply put, it’s that so much depends upon it. Every part of a research project, in fact.
A research question is exactly what it sounds like: a question, typically just one sentence, that captures the essence of what you’re trying to figure out in your research. Think of it as a smart tweet with a question mark at the end.
Your research question is the engine of your project. It drives everything you do, from the sources you search out to the methodology you employ. Ultimately, your findings will directly answer, or at least tell us something new about, your research question; the rest of your document explains how you arrived at this answer.
Put another way, your research question is the boss of your research paper or thesis. Everything you write has to report to the research question, so to speak. Everything has to be explicitly relevant to it. Everything has to do what it needs done.
Research Questions: A Video Introduction
Our four-part "Creating Research Questions" video series concisely walks you through the process of developing a viable and trenchant RQ, from formulating to refining.
Research Questions Checklist
Here are some useful things to ask yourself as you refine your research question:
- Is the scope of this question appropriate to the assignment or research task? Can I produce a sufficiently robust analysis within my time and page limits? If not, how might I narrow or broaden the variables?
- Why is it important to answer this question? Why does it matter that we don’t know the answer? What useful knowledge might we gain?
- What kind of evidence would I need to convincingly answer this question? Is that evidence available to me?
For More Information...
As subject-matter experts, your professors and advisor(s) are the go-to resource for guidance on research questions. They’re generally not going to formulate one for you, though; for an in-depth look at generating research questions, attend our "Constructing Research Questions" workshop. Workshops are offered in the first four weeks of each quarter; you can sign up during workshop season through WCOnline.
Then dig into our other links for more dirt on research questions!
Research Questions Links