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Developing a Good Research Question

Developing a good research question is the key to getting your dissertation done efficiently and to making an original contribution to your discipline. Your dissertation question should meet six criteria.

Identify the Theoretical Construct

A good research question should clearly identify the theoretical construct you are studying. For example, if you are interested in figuring out the processes by which parents transmit their political perspectives to their children, the theoretical construct you are studying is "transmission of political perspectives." If you are interested in how technology innovations in teaching improve student performance, your theoretical concept is "effectiveness of innovation." Notice that the theoretical construct is the phenomenon, event or experience you want to learn more about.

Recognize the Theoretical Construct

A research question should contain some suggestion of recognizability of the theoretical construct. This means that the research question articulates the theoretical construct in a way that is specific enough so you will know it when you see it as you are coding for it in your data. In other words, it supplies a clear unit of analysis that allows you to tell the difference between that construct and other constructs relatively easily. To accomplish recognizability, you should word the construct in a way that is concrete and specific.

Perhaps an example will help clarify this idea of recognizability. A student started her dissertation planning with a theoretical construct of "the experience of nontraditional women in college." While certainly an important construct, it is too large because the student would have a difficult time recognizing the construct in the data. It involves a potentially large number of different constructs, including women's experiences of raising children while going to school, degree of support from family members, responses of other students, educational accomplishments, emotions the women experience, and on and on and on. There is virtually nothing having to do with nontraditional women college students that would not count as part of the construct of "the experience of nontraditional women in college."

A more specific theoretical construct would be "nontraditional women's experiences of discrimination in the classroom" or "nontraditional women's use of support services on campus." The recognizability here is that the theoretical construct is focused on one aspect of nontraditional women's experiences and allows the student to discriminate between it and other constructs that are a part of nontraditional women's experiences in college. As you formulate your research question, think about how you will code data with that question, looking for examples of the theoretical construct you are considering featuring in your research question. Will you be able to locate it and distinguish it easily from other constructs that appear in your data?

Transcendence of Data

Your research question should meet the criterion of transcendence of data. Except in a few instances, your research question should not include mention of the specific data you are using to investigate your question. Many different kinds of data can be used to answer your question, so don't confine it to the one type of data you plan to study. You want your question to be more abstract than those specific data.

For example, if you want to study resistance strategies used by marginalized groups to challenge institutions, you can use as your data a social movement, works of art by politically motivated artists, the songs sung by union organizers, or the strategies used by Mexican immigrants to improve their status in the United States, to name a few. You want your study to contribute to a significant theoretical conversation in your field, and it can do that more easily if your question is not tied to one particular kind of data. A research question on the topic of resistance that transcends the data, then, might be, "What is the nature of the resistance strategies used by subordinate groups in their efforts to challenge hegemonic institutions?"

As an example where the criterion of transcendence of data was violated in a research question, consider the proposal of a theoretical construct of "accounting practices used in children's theatres in Detroit." Here, a theoretical construct is the same as the data. The student is conflating the construct in the research question with the data used to answer the question. As a result, the story has limited interest to other readers. The students certainly could collect data for a study concerning accounting practices in children's theatre groups in Detroit, but the construct should be larger than that. Perhaps it could be something like "accounting practices in nonprofit arts organizations."

There are a few kinds of dissertation where the criterion of transcendence of data in the research question does not apply. These are dissertations in which researchers want to find out about a particular phenomenon, so the research is specifically about that phenomenon. For example, someone who is interested in the strategies used by Alcoholics Anonymous to attract members would want to include Alcoholics Anonymous in the research question. In this case, the researcher sees something unique and significant about that particular organization, in contrast to other treatment approaches, and sets out to understand it specifically.

There are some fields, too, where the data are typically included in the research question in dissertations. History is one. Dissertations in this field are about a particular place and time, and their purpose is to explore that place and time. Thus, those particulars are included in the theoretical construct of the research question. For example, a research question for a history dissertation might be, "How was a counter-culture identity sustained in Humboldt County, California, in the 1980s and 1990s?" The discipline of English is another one where research questions may include mention of data. Scholars in English are often interested in a writer or group of writers or a particular type of literature, and those would be included in the research question. An example is: "How do troll images function in the narratives of Scandinavian writers between 1960 and 1990?"

Contribute to Understanding the Construct

Your research question should identify your study's contribution to an understanding of the theoretical construct. Your research question should name what happens to the theoretical construct in your study and what you are doing with it in your study or what interests you about it. This contribution should be developed from the theoretical conversations in your discipline and should reflect a specialized knowledge of your discipline. For example, the new contribution you might be making is to begin to suggest the communication processes by which political beliefs are transmitted within families. You know that such beliefs (the theoretical construct) get transmitted. Your new contribution will be to explain some of the processes by which the transmission happens. Meeting this criterion in your research question forecasts the contributions to the discipline you'll discuss in your conclusion.

The Capacity of Surprise

Your research question should have the capacity to surprise. You should not already know the answer to the research question you're asking. You want to be surprised by what you find out. If you already know the answer to your question, you don't need to do the study. Moreover, if you know the answer, you aren't really doing research. Instead, you are selecting and coding data to report on and advocate for a position you already hold.

So, for example, using the data of immigrant narratives, a research question might be, "How do traumatic events produce long-term negative effects on individuals?" This already assumes that immigration inevitably traumatizes individuals and there are no possibilities other than to experience immigration negatively. There is not likely to be any surprise in the findings because the question articulated what was expected. Continuing in this direction, one could have found examples of negative effects, but the contribution to the discipline (and future ability to publish) would have been greatly diminished.

A research question that is robust has the capacity to generate complex results. Your question should have the capacity to produce multiple insights about various aspects of the theoretical construct you are exploring. It should not be a question to which the answer is "yes" or "no" because such an answer is not a complex result. Research questions that typically produce robust findings often begin with:

You undoubtedly have seen dissertations or journal articles in which there is more than one research question. Should you have more than one question in your study? Maybe, but it is discouraged. In some cases, studies contain more than one question because researchers have not thought carefully enough about what they want to find out. As a result, they take a scattershot approach and try to get close to the question they want to answer by asking about many things. A better approach is to aim for one research question and to think carefully about what it is. Refine it sufficiently so that it really gets at the key thing you want to find out.

Another reason studies sometimes include many research questions is because students confuse research questions with the questions they will use as prompts for coding their data. The many research questions are really just guides for coding data. In one study about online chat rooms and whether they have the capacity for deep culture, you may find this list of research questions:

These questions are not separate research questions as much as they are questions that the researcher will use to guide an analysis of the data. They are methodological guidelines that will help in the coding of the data. Remember that a research question is what the dissertation is about. It produces the title of the dissertation.

There are some cases when more than one research question is warranted. When a study has more than one research question, it tends to be when basic information about a theoretical construct does not exist, and you need to know basic information before you can investigate a process that characterizes the construct.

Be sure to spend time making sure your research question is a good one before you get too far along in your study.

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10 Research Question Examples to Guide your Research Project

Published on October 30, 2022 by Shona McCombes .

The research question is one of the most important parts of your research paper , thesis or dissertation . It’s important to spend some time assessing and refining your question before you get started.

The exact form of your question will depend on a few things, such as the length of your project, the type of research you’re conducting, the topic , and the research problem . However, all research questions should be focused, specific, and relevant to a timely social or scholarly issue.

Once you’ve read our guide on how to write a research question , you can use these examples to craft your own.

Note that the design of your research question can depend on what method you are pursuing. Here are a few options for qualitative, quantitative, and stastical research questions.

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Dissertation Research Question Examples

Published by Owen Ingram at August 13th, 2021 , Revised On February 9, 2023

A  dissertation  is an important milestone no matter what academic level or subject it is. You will be asked to write a dissertation on a  topic of your choice  and make a substantial contribution to academic and scientific communities.

The project will start with the  planning and designing of a project before the actual write-up phase. There are many stages in the dissertation process , but the most important is developing a research question that guides your research.

If you are starting your dissertation, you will have to conduct preliminary research to  find a problem and research gap as the first step of the process. The second step is to write dissertation research questions that specify your topic and the relevant problem you want to address.

All  research questions should be focused, researchable, feasible to answer, specific to find results, complex, and relevant to your field of study. The research question’s factors will be;  research problem ,  research type , project length, and time frame.

Research questions provide boundaries to your research project and provide a clear approach to collect and compile data. Understanding your research question better is necessary to find unique facts and figures to publish your research.

Search and study some dissertation research question examples or research questions relevant to your field of study before writing your own research question.

Research Questions for Dissertation Examples

Below are 10 examples of dissertation research questions that will enable you to develop research questions for your research.

These examples will help you to check whether your chosen research questions can be addressed or whether they are too broad to find a conclusive answer.

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How Can We Help You With Dissertation Research Questions?

If you are still unsure about writing dissertation research questions and perhaps want to see  more examples , you might be interested in getting help from our dissertation writers.

At Research Prospect, we have UK-qualified writers holding Masters and PhD degrees in all academic subjects. Whether you need help with only developing research questions or any other aspect of your dissertation paper , we are here to help you achieve your desired grades for an affordable price.

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Here we explore what is research problem in dissertation with research problem examples to help you understand how and when to write a research problem.

How to write a hypothesis for dissertation,? A hypothesis is a statement that can be tested with the help of experimental or theoretical research.

This article is a step-by-step guide to how to write statement of a problem in research. The research problem will be half-solved by defining it correctly.

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How to Write a Good Research Question (w/ Examples)

masters dissertation research question

What is a Research Question?

A research question is the main question that your study sought or is seeking to answer. A clear research question guides your research paper or thesis and states exactly what you want to find out, giving your work a focus and objective. Learning  how to write a hypothesis or research question is the start to composing any thesis, dissertation, or research paper. It is also one of the most important sections of a research proposal . 

A good research question not only clarifies the writing in your study; it provides your readers with a clear focus and facilitates their understanding of your research topic, as well as outlining your study’s objectives. Before drafting the paper and receiving research paper editing (and usually before performing your study), you should write a concise statement of what this study intends to accomplish or reveal.

Research Question Writing Tips

Listed below are the important characteristics of a good research question:

A good research question should:

Some of these characteristics might be difficult to understand in the form of a list. Let’s go into more detail about what a research question must do and look at some examples of research questions.

The research question should be specific and focused 

Research questions that are too broad are not suitable to be addressed in a single study. One reason for this can be if there are many factors or variables to consider. In addition, a sample data set that is too large or an experimental timeline that is too long may suggest that the research question is not focused enough.

A specific research question means that the collective data and observations come together to either confirm or deny the chosen hypothesis in a clear manner. If a research question is too vague, then the data might end up creating an alternate research problem or hypothesis that you haven’t addressed in your Introduction section .

The research question should be based on the literature 

An effective research question should be answerable and verifiable based on prior research because an effective scientific study must be placed in the context of a wider academic consensus. This means that conspiracy or fringe theories are not good research paper topics.

Instead, a good research question must extend, examine, and verify the context of your research field. It should fit naturally within the literature and be searchable by other research authors.

References to the literature can be in different citation styles and must be properly formatted according to the guidelines set forth by the publishing journal, university, or academic institution. This includes in-text citations as well as the Reference section . 

The research question should be realistic in time, scope, and budget

There are two main constraints to the research process: timeframe and budget.

A proper research question will include study or experimental procedures that can be executed within a feasible time frame, typically by a graduate doctoral or master’s student or lab technician. Research that requires future technology, expensive resources, or follow-up procedures is problematic.

A researcher’s budget is also a major constraint to performing timely research. Research at many large universities or institutions is publicly funded and is thus accountable to funding restrictions. 

The research question should be in-depth

Research papers, dissertations and theses , and academic journal articles are usually dozens if not hundreds of pages in length.

A good research question or thesis statement must be sufficiently complex to warrant such a length, as it must stand up to the scrutiny of peer review and be reproducible by other scientists and researchers.

Research Question Types

Qualitative and quantitative research are the two major types of research, and it is essential to develop research questions for each type of study. 

Quantitative Research Questions

Quantitative research questions are specific. A typical research question involves the population to be studied, dependent and independent variables, and the research design.

In addition, quantitative research questions connect the research question and the research design. In addition, it is not possible to answer these questions definitively with a “yes” or “no” response. For example, scientific fields such as biology, physics, and chemistry often deal with “states,” in which different quantities, amounts, or velocities drastically alter the relevance of the research.

As a consequence, quantitative research questions do not contain qualitative, categorical, or ordinal qualifiers such as “is,” “are,” “does,” or “does not.”

Categories of quantitative research questions

Qualitative research questions.

In quantitative research, research questions have the potential to relate to broad research areas as well as more specific areas of study. Qualitative research questions are less directional, more flexible, and adaptable compared with their quantitative counterparts. Thus, studies based on these questions tend to focus on “discovering,” “explaining,” “elucidating,” and “exploring.”

Categories of qualitative research questions

Quantitative and qualitative research question examples.

stacks of boos in black and white image

Good and Bad Research Question Examples

Below are some good (and not-so-good) examples of research questions that researchers can use to guide them in crafting their own research questions.

Research Question Example 1

The first research question is too vague in both its independent and dependent variables. There is no specific information on what “exposure” means. Does this refer to comments, likes, engagement, or just how much time is spent on the social media platform?

Second, there is no useful information on what exactly “affected” means. Does the subject’s behavior change in some measurable way? Or does this term refer to another factor such as the user’s emotions?

Research Question Example 2

In this research question, the first example is too simple and not sufficiently complex, making it difficult to assess whether the study answered the question. The author could really only answer this question with a simple “yes” or “no.” Further, the presence of data would not help answer this question more deeply, which is a sure sign of a poorly constructed research topic.

The second research question is specific, complex, and empirically verifiable. One can measure program effectiveness based on metrics such as attendance or grades. Further, “bullying” is made into an empirical, quantitative measurement in the form of recorded disciplinary actions.

Steps for Writing a Research Question

Good research questions are relevant, focused, and meaningful. It can be difficult to come up with a good research question, but there are a few steps you can follow to make it a bit easier.

1. Start with an interesting and relevant topic

Choose a research topic that is interesting but also relevant and aligned with your own country’s culture or your university’s capabilities. Popular academic topics include healthcare and medical-related research. However, if you are attending an engineering school or humanities program, you should obviously choose a research question that pertains to your specific study and major.

Below is an embedded graph of the most popular research fields of study based on publication output according to region. As you can see, healthcare and the basic sciences receive the most funding and earn the highest number of publications. 

masters dissertation research question

2. Do preliminary research  

You can begin doing preliminary research once you have chosen a research topic. Two objectives should be accomplished during this first phase of research. First, you should undertake a preliminary review of related literature to discover issues that scholars and peers are currently discussing. With this method, you show that you are informed about the latest developments in the field.

Secondly, identify knowledge gaps or limitations in your topic by conducting a preliminary literature review . It is possible to later use these gaps to focus your research question after a certain amount of fine-tuning.

3. Narrow your research to determine specific research questions

You can focus on a more specific area of study once you have a good handle on the topic you want to explore. Focusing on recent literature or knowledge gaps is one good option. 

By identifying study limitations in the literature and overlooked areas of study, an author can carve out a good research question. The same is true for choosing research questions that extend or complement existing literature.

4. Evaluate your research question

Make sure you evaluate the research question by asking the following questions:

Is my research question clear?

The resulting data and observations that your study produces should be clear. For quantitative studies, data must be empirical and measurable. For qualitative, the observations should be clearly delineable across categories.

Is my research question focused and specific?

A strong research question should be specific enough that your methodology or testing procedure produces an objective result, not one left to subjective interpretation. Open-ended research questions or those relating to general topics can create ambiguous connections between the results and the aims of the study. 

Is my research question sufficiently complex?

The result of your research should be consequential and substantial (and fall sufficiently within the context of your field) to warrant an academic study. Simply reinforcing or supporting a scientific consensus is superfluous and will likely not be well received by most journal editors.  

reverse triangle chart, how to write a research question

Editing Your Research Question

Your research question should be fully formulated well before you begin drafting your research paper. However, you can receive English paper editing and proofreading services at any point in the drafting process. Language editors with expertise in your academic field can assist you with the content and language in your Introduction section or other manuscript sections. And if you need further assistance or information regarding paper compositions, in the meantime, check out our academic resources , which provide dozens of articles and videos on a variety of academic writing and publication topics.

Dissertations & projects: Research questions

On these pages:

“The central question that you ask or hypothesis you frame drives your research: it defines your purpose.” Bryan Greetham, How to Write Your Undergraduate Dissertation

This page gives some help and guidance in developing a realistic research question. It also considers the role of sub-questions and how these can influence your methodological choices. 

Choosing your research topic

You may have been provided with a list of potential topics or even specific questions to choose from. It is more common for you to have to come up with your own ideas and then refine them with the help of your tutor. This is a crucial decision as you will be immersing yourself in it for a long time.

Some students struggle to find a topic that is sufficiently significant and yet researchable within the limitations of an undergraduate project. You may feel overwhelmed by the freedom to choose your own topic but you could get ideas by considering the following:

Choose a topic that you find interesting . This may seem obvious but a lot of students go for what they think will be easy over what they think will be interesting - and regret it when they realise nothing is particularly easy and they are bored by the work. Think back over your lectures or talks from visiting speakers - was there anything you really enjoyed? Was there anything that left you with questions?

Choose something distinct . Whilst at undergraduate level you do not have to find something completely unique, if you find something a bit different you have more opportunity to come to some interesting conclusions. Have you some unique experiences that you can bring: personal biography, placements, study abroad etc?

Don't make your topic too wide . If your topic is too wide, it will be harder to develop research questions that you can actually answer in the context of a small research project.

Don't make your work too narrow . If your topic is too narrow, you will not be able to expand on the ideas sufficiently and make useful conclusions. You may also struggle to find enough literature to support it.

Scope out the field before deciding your topic . This is especially important if you have a few different options and are not sure which to pick. Spend a little time researching each one to get a feel for the amount of literature that exists and any particular avenues that could be worth exploring.

Think about your future . Some topics may fit better than others with your future plans, be they for further study or employment. Becoming more expert in something that you may have to be interviewed about is never a bad thing!

Once you have an idea (or even a few), speak to your tutor. They will advise on whether it is the right sort of topic for a dissertation or independent study. They have a lot of experience and will know if it is too much to take on, has enough material to build on etc.

Developing a research question or hypothesis

Research question vs hypothesis.

First, it may be useful to explain the difference between a research question and a hypothesis. A research question is simply a question that your research will address and hopefully answer (or give an explanation of why you couldn't answer it). A hypothesis is a statement that suggests how you expect something to function or behave (and which you would test to see if it actually happens or not).

Research question examples

Note that these are open questions - i.e. they cannot be answered with a simple 'yes' or 'no'. This is the best form of question.

Hypotheses examples

Note that these are things that you can test to see if they are true or false. This makes them more definite then research questions - but you can still answer them more fully than 'no they don't' or 'yes it does'. For example, in the above examples you would look to see how relevant other factors were when choosing universities and in what ways physical health may be impacted.

For more examples of the same topic formulated as hypotheses, research questions and paper titles see those given at the bottom of this document from Oakland University: Formulation of Research Hypothesis

Which do you need?

Generally, research questions are more common in the humanities, social sciences and business, whereas hypotheses are more common in the sciences. This is not a hard rule though, talk things through with your supervisor to see which they are expecting or which they think fits best with your topic.

What makes a good research question or hypothesis?

Unless you are undertaking a systematic review as your research method, you will develop your research question  as a result of reviewing the literature on your broader topic. After all, it is only by seeing what research has already been done (or not) that you can justify the need for your question or your approach to answering it. At the end of that process, you should be able to come up with a question or hypothesis that is:

You can try a few out, using a table like this (yours would all be in the same discipline):

A similar, though different table is available from the University of California: What makes a good research topic?   The completed table has some supervisor comments which may also be helpful.

Ultimately, your final research question will be mutually agreed between yourself and your supervisor - but you should always bring your own ideas to the conversation.

The role of sub-questions

Your main research question will probably still be too big to answer easily. This is where sub-questions come in. They are specific, narrower questions that you can answer directly from your data.

So, looking at the question " How much do online users know and care about how their self-images can be used by Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook? " from the table above, the sub-questions could be:

The main research question is the overarching question with the subquestions filling in the blanks

Together, the answers to your sub-questions should enable you to answer the overarching research question.

How do you answer your sub-questions?

Depending on the type of dissertation/project your are undertaking, some (or all) the questions may be answered with information collected from the literature and some (or none) may be answered by analysing data directly collected as part of your primary empirical research .

In the above example, the first question would be answered by documentary analysis of the relevant terms and conditions, the second by a mixture of reviewing the literature and analysing survey responses from participants and the last two also by analysing survey responses. Different projects will require different approaches.

Some sub-questions could be answered from the literature review and others from empirical study

Some sub-questions could be answered by reviewing the literature and others from empirical study.

masters dissertation research question

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Research Questions – How to-Guide | Definition & Examples

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Research Question

Definition: Research Question

The research question states the aim of a paper in form of a question. The purpose of writing the paper is to provide an answer to the research questions No article/paper can cover all aspects of a broad topic.

You must select a more specific aspect that has the potential to yield significant results as part of the topic and then find a connection to your Thesis Statement .


What is a Research Question?

The research question lies at the heart of every piece of academic writing . The research question determines the sources to be quoted, how to structure the argument, and what a paper aims at.

The research question narrows down the topic and makes sure that the paper has a common thread. Moreover, the research question gives the reader a clear idea of what to expect from the paper.

You cannot start writing without having a research question in mind. It is easiest to think of a research question as a Wh-question . Finding an answer to the research question you formulate is your personal contribution. You must state your research question right at the beginning, as part of the introduction.

Also useful: What is plagiarism?

How do you write a research question?

What makes a good research question?

It’s important that your research question is focused on one single research topic , or a few interdependent topics. If your research question is too vague, then you will find it difficult to stay on topic whilst writing. It’s a good idea to focus on an unresolved problem- a problem that you never found a solution/many solutions for in your research. Your goal will be to resolve this problem in your paper.

How is the research question different from the hypothesis?

The hypothesis states your educated prediction regarding what you will find during your research. A hypothesis is used mostly in experimental or correlational research. It is your preliminary answer to your research question.

On the other hand, your research question states the aim of your paper and it is connected to your thesis statement . Throughout your paper, the hypothesis will be supported or contradicted with the collection and analysis of data.

What are the types of research questions?

There are many different types of research questions. However, the most common types are:

Already refined your research question? Then you’re ready to begin writing your research proposal . It’s a long process, but stick with it and your paper will be done before you know it!

How do I write a research question for a thesis?

The process for writing a research question for a bachelor’s thesis or a master’s thesis stays the same. You begin with your inital research before narrowing in further  on a few specific topics. The only difference is that your thesis will be significantly larger than a mid-semester paper so you will need more time to conduct some very intensive research before you begin writing.

The aim of a research question

“The research question is also the question why you should delight the world with another pile of printed paper” (cf. Winter 2004: 28).

A bachelor’s or master’s thesis is not something you write just for the sake of writing something. The aim is to create new scientific knowledge or to test and newly interpret existing theories. To achieve this aim, a thorough literature research is necessary to find an under-researched topic having new aspects you can focus on – a gap in scientific literature, so to speak.

To be even more precise: you can pose a very specific research question that nobody has asked before.

Esselborn-Krumbiegel says it is essential to understand what is required of every academic piece of writing, namely finding an answer to an open question (cf. 2002: 60). First, you have to find a topic and then formulate a research question derived from said topic . The topic as such will only be dealt with in terms of your specific research question (cf. Franck & Stary 2009: 167).

General example for creating a research question

The following diagram depicts how to proceed from a broad topic to a precise research question.

Research Question Example Write

(cf. Chad Flinn, n.d., . Last accessed 26 th  Mar 2019)

Concrete example using the topic of media violence

The following example shows how to derive a detailed research question from the topic “Media Violence”:

Formulate Research Question

(cf. Lewis A. Jackson Library, n.d., . Last accessed 26 th  Mar 2019)

Example: How the topic, problem, research question, and aim of the paper are interrelated

Examples: deriving a research question from a topic.

Research Question Examples

(cf. Lamar Memorial Library, n.d., . Last accessed 26 th  Mar 2019)

Dos and Don’ts

Take your time when formulating your research question – it will definitely pay off! Be careful not to pose a research question that is ambiguous. People might wonder if you actually know what you want to work on and which research question you are setting out to answer (cf. Kornmeier 2013: 71).

The following list details Dos and Don’ts of writing a good research question to make sure you know what to include and what to avoid when formulating your research question (cf. Karmasin & Ribing 2014: 24; Samac, Prenner & Schwetz 2009: 47).

Examples of good and bad research questions

The Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching (CIRT) suggests how to transform a bad research question into a good research questions using the following examples:

(cf. CIRT, n.d., . Last accessed 19 th Feb 2019)

Finding the right words

The easiest way to formulate a research question is to turn your whole bachelor’s thesis into one question . This will help to define the aim of your bachelor’s thesis (cf. Samac, Prenner & Schwetz 2009: 46). You can make choices concerning the literature, the structure and the content, as well as the study design, only if you have a very clear idea of what you want to write about (cf. Kornmeier 2013: 56).

The research question can also be formulated as an interrogative sentence, e.g. “The question this paper sets out to answer is…” or “This paper deals with the following question:…” (cf. Kruse 2010: 80). A question mark signals to the reader that there is an unresolved problem and your work offers a solution.

A good research question is precise and narrow . Andermann, Drees & Grätz say it is a cardinal error if an author thinks that everything that s/he has read about a topic must go into the paper. In a figurative sense, starting with Adam and Eve and the original sin, as well as trying to reinvent the wheel, are major mistakes for prospective scientists (cf. 2006: 33).

Sample research questions

In addition to developing the main research question, you have to be clear about the connection of your sub-research questions. Moreover, you have to figure out what type of research question you want to deal with. Otherwise, you run the risk of including everything you find out about a term or a statement during your literature research even if the latter play only a minor role in your research question (cf. Bänsch & Alewell 2013: 3-4).

Research question vs. title

(cf. Kruse 2007: 128)

The research question: Where it belongs

The research question determines the contents and the methods used in your bachelor’s and master’s thesis. Therefore, the research question must be introduced at the very beginning of your work. Moreover, the sole purpose of your paper is to answer the research question, so it is essential that the reader understands your research question. So you need to know: How to write an introduction

In your introduction, you should briefly introduce the topic and its relevance. Right after this, you have to pose your research question and highlight how it is part of a larger topic (cf. Oertner, St. John, & Thelen 2014: 31). You can split the research question into sub research questions, which should reflect in the structure of your paper. This means you are answering a bigger research question successively (cf. Karmasin & Ribing 2014: 24; Esselborn-Krumbiegel 2002: 64).

After all, longer papers like a master’s thesis do not consist of one big chapter only. Rather, several chapters building on each other are needed to adequately answer the research question (state of research, methods, empirical data collection, data analysis, etc.). Don’t forget to answer the research question in your thesis statement .

research question paper printing & binding

Paper printing & binding

You are already done writing your paper and need a high quality printing & binding service? Then you are right to choose BachelorPrint! Check out our 24-hour online printing service. For more information click the button below :

Andermann, Ulrich, Martin Drees & Frank Götz. 2006. Wie verfasst man wissenschaftliche Arbeiten? 3 rd Ed. Mannheim: Dudenverlag.

Bänsch, Axel & Dorothea Alewell. 2013. Wissenschaftliches Arbeiten . 11 th Ed. Munich: Oldenbourg Verlag.

CIRT. “Writing a Good Research Question”, in: CIRT. . Last accessed 26 th  Mar 2019.

Esselborn-Krumbiegel, Helga. 2002. Von der Idee zum Text – Eine Anleitung zum wissenschaftlichen Schreiben . Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh.

Flinn, Chad. “What makes a good research question”, in: Chad Flinn. . Last accessed 26 th  Mar 2019.

Franck, Norbert & Joachim Stary. 2009. Die Technik des wissenschaftlichen Arbeitens . 15 th Ed. Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh.

Karmasin, Matthias & Rainer Ribing. 2014. Die Gestaltung wissenschaftlicher Arbeiten. 8 th Ed. Vienna: Facultas.

Kruse, Otto. 2007. Keine Angst vor dem leeren Blatt – Ohne Schreibblockaden durchs Studium . 12 th Ed. Frankfurt: Campus.

Kruse, Otto. 2010. Lesen und Schreiben – Der richtige Umgang mit Texten im Studium. Konstanz: UVK Verlagsgesellschaft.

Kornmeier, Martin. 2013. Wissenschaftlich schreiben leicht gemacht – für Bachelor, Master und Dissertation . 6 th Ed. Bern: Haupt.

Lamar Memorial Library. “Creating a Research Question”, in: Lamar Memorial Library. . Last accessed 26 th  Mar 2019.

Lewis A. Jackson Library. “Forming a Research Question”, in: Lewis A. Jackson Library. . Last accessed 26 th  Mar 2019.

Oertner, Monika, Illona St. John & Gabriele Thelen. 2014. Wissenschaftlich Schreiben – Ein Praxisbuch für Schreibtrainer und Studierende . Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink.

Rossig, Wolfram E. & Joachim Prätsch. 2005. Wissenschaftliche Arbeiten . 5 th Ed. Weyhe: PRINT-TEC.

Samac, Klaus, Monika Prenner & Herbert Schwetz. 2009. Die Bachelorarbeit an Universität und Fachhochschule . Vienna: Facultas.

Winter, Wolfgang. 2005. Wissenschaftliche Arbeiten schreiben . 2 nd Ed. Frankfurt: Redline Wirtschaft.

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*Research and Writing: Advanced Skills & Strategies*

On This Page

Still struggling, developing a research question, components of a thesis, thesis revision examples, revise your thesis statement.

starting research icon

Components of a Thesis Statement

Conversing with someone else about your research and writing process can be incredibly helpful.  Contact staff at McKillop Library or the Writing Center using the links below.

After you have chosen a topic and done some brainstorming, it is time to develop your research question.  Although you will not include your research question in your paper, this is nonetheless a critical step because your thesis statement, one of the most important pieces of your research project, will answer your research question.  Your research question will also help you determine what is important to include in your project and when you have finished it.  

As you create your research question, remember issues that you identified in your brainstorming, concept mapping, and/or prewriting.  What specific aspect of your topic appealed to you?  What unique question do you want to seek answers to?

One of the most important things to keep in mind as you are creating your research question is that your question should be  open-ended : the question should not be able to be answered with a simple "yes" or "no."  You want to create a question that requires exploration and analysis: one that will require you to use a variety of credible sources to answer.  See the chart below for examples of open and close-ended questions.

Comparison chart for close and open-ended questions

There are many types of research questions, so spend some time brainstorming how you want to approach your topic.  You want your question to be innovative: something that will grab your readers' attention and make them think about your topic in a new way.  For example, let's say you want to examine the practice of tattooing in the United States for your research project.  Below are three types of research questions that provided examples for this research topic.

The most important part of any writing assignment is the thesis statement. A thesis statement states the author’s purpose for writing or the point to be proven. The topic sentences of each succeeding body paragraph all connect the thesis statement.

Thesis statements guide the content, organization, and evidence that together build an effective paper. A thesis does not exist in isolation and should be threaded through the entirety of a paper. The creation of a powerful and cohesive thesis requires multiple revisions. To begin, your thesis may address the topic broadly; but through revision, the thesis should ultimately convey a critical, specific, and arguable perspective on the topic. The examples below model possible revisions to a broad, ineffective thesis.  

Ineffective thesis to be revised:   Tattooing is very prevalent in the United States. 

Effective thesis revisions:

Say why :  Many people decide to become tattooed because it allows them a permanent form of physical expression that positively promotes self-awareness and ownership of experiences.

Say why the reader should care :  As the prevalence to tattooing increases with the millennial generation, the trend will negatively impact the perception of young professionals in the American business world and the United States' success within a global market. 

Say how :  Body art acceptance in American society has grown significantly in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, achieved through the unraveling of stigmatization and ostracizing of a once believed deviant behavior.

Make specific comparisons :   While the practice of body modification once held many negative associations, the profession of tattooist has grown out of its underground beginnings to be considered a respectable position in the contemporary arts community. 

Make an evaluation :  The prevalence of tattooing as a key element of youth culture in the United States demonstrates the lack of maturity and personal responsibility amongst millennials. 

Consider the consequences :  As the generations X, Y, and millennials enter advanced ages of life, there will be a significant regret about their choices in body modification and a rapid increase in tattoo removal. 

Apply previous or other knowledge :  The acceptance of body modification, like many other social practices and beliefs that are recognized in contemporary society, was furthered by the driving social reforms and movements of the mid-20th century, including women's rights, the civil rights movements, and political protest. 

Give it a try! Use the worksheet attached to experiment with different versions of your own thesis. Remember, you can always revisit the wording. We will re-examine the thesis at the end of the process through reverse outlining. 

Politcs & more politics

It all begins with a good research question.

A good research question is the key to an excellent thesis. A bad research question can only result in a poor thesis- trying to answer it will be like trying to build a structure on quicksand with the ground constantly shifting beneath your feet. Get the research question right and everything else should follow.

So how does one go about choosing a question? I tell my MA students at King’s that they need to begin by choosing a topic that really excites them.

In choosing your topic, the subject matter needs to be so compelling that you want to read about it all the time. If you are already bored after a few days of reading, cut your losses and choose something else.  If you try to stick it out, you will dread working on your thesis.

Do  not choose a topic simply because you are familiar with it already. You will be bored by the subject and your boredom will show through in your writing.

Do not try to pick a research question without having read at least *some* of the existing academic literature in your area. Being interested in a topic does not always mean that you will enjoy the academic literature on that subject. Scholars might debate points that you find nonsensical, obtuse, or irrelevant. This is information you can only find out if you do some background research.

Policy Report vs Academic Thesis

A thesis MUST have a scholarly component to it. In other words, it must engage with the scholarly literature on this subject. Theses that do not reference the academic literature are unlikely to pass.

An academic thesis is not a policy paper. Neither is it a chance for students to speculate on the future of a country, a program, or a war.

A thesis may or may not include a policy component. However, students should note that policy recommendations should follow from the conclusions of the thesis research . Students should not go about this backwards by starting with policy recommendations and basing the research around policy ideas. This would be putting the cart before the horse.

MA Thesis Timeline (for non-procrastinators, for King’s War Studies students)

1. Choose a topic. You may need to test out a few before settling on one. (Oct-Nov)

2. Read about the topic. Write 2-3 potential potential research questions. (Dec-Jan)

Focus on a few major books/articles from the academic literature. Aim for 10+ articles or book chapters. Read the abstracts of 10+ additional pieces.

Write out a few research questions that address contested positions in the debate, or that fill a gap in the literature.

3. Choose a research question . Refine. (Jan-Feb)

This is the tricky part. You’re looking for something that is broad enough to stimulate your interest, but narrow enough that you can actually offer a satisfying answer. From your list of potential research questions, choose one to refine with your supervisor.

More advice on developing research questions here and here (See Section 4.3).

Don’t choose a research question to which you already know the answer. This may sound obvious, but it’s a common trap. The answer should not be a foregone conclusion. You might have a hunch about what the answer is, and you might desire a certain outcome, but there should be enough uncertainty that you are actually motivated to find out the answer. Proving something you already know is unlikely to keep you excited for long.

Here is a memorable piece of advice that Ngaire Woods gave me when I was putting together my doctoral proposal: Choose a question where all possible answers are interesting to you.

4. Read widely around your topic. (Feb-Apr)

Now is the time to read as much of the scholarly literature on your topic as you can. Sample from different disciplines to get a sense of what other fields have to say about your topic.

5. Map out existing scholarly debates surrounding your question. (Feb-Apr)

Understand what has already been said by others in answer to your research question. How are these scholars answering each others’ critiques? How do these debates speak to previous debates? What arguments do you find compelling? Whose work do you like? What do you like about it? What do you disagree with and why?

Here is a very good link to writing a literature review . (Aimed at PhD and higher, but still very useful.)

6. Refine your research question. (If you have time)

Now revisit your research question. Have you found evidence, ideas, theories that suggest a refinement of your research question? Did your literature review turn up a comprehensive answer to the question that you’ve posed?

7. Determine how your argument/thesis fits in with (or argues against) what  has already been said in the academic literature. (May)

Provided that your research question is still holding up under the weight of the research you’ve already done, you now need to consider how your argument contributes to the broader discussion. This should be grounded in the academic literature.

Do you provide additional statistical evidence for a claim? Does your case study confirm/disprove an existing model/theory? Are you overturning conventional wisdom in some way?

8. Marshal appropriate evidence (May)

Carefully consider the types of evidence you will present. This can take a range of forms: qualitative, quantitative, case studies, statistics, logic, interviews, social network analysis, court testimony, legal cases, firsthand observation, ethnography, oral history, experimental, photographic, audio-visual, archival, etc. Here are some ways to think about types of evidence in general, from philosophy , and from the health sciences .

Be careful though: not all evidence is created equal. Just because somebody with authority said it does not make it so. Not only should it pass a basic test of common sense, but I often stress to my students that they really need to understand the quality of that evidence and how it was sourced. One of the first thing I learned in my Waterloo stats class many years ago: Garbage In, Garbage Out. If your data is flawed or your sample is unrepresentative or your proxy is nonsensical, then the results and findings will be contested. Think carefully about what you need your evidence to do, decide if its strengths outweigh its weaknesses, and whether some information is an improvement over no information.

A good case in point is exemplified in this controversy over a blog post on levels of racial tolerance around the world . Max Fisher, a very respected foreign affairs blogger, had his analysis picked apart by Siddartha Mitter and by Stephen Saideman . Twice . The discussions centred around the poor quality of his data, his understanding of the data, and his interpretation of the data. The same skeptical eye will be directed towards any evidence that you choose to incorporate.

9. Outline + Detailed Outline (May-Jun)

The first outline should be 1-2 pages. It should include all of the major sections that are specific to your thesis, and 2-3 sentences on what you will discuss in each section. You should include a word count for each section.

Be mindful that your answer to your research question should take up the majority of your allocated words. I.e., in a 15,000 word thesis, be sure to use 7,000-9,000 of your words to answer your question. One common trap is to become so engrossed in writing an extensive literature review or in providing case study background information that the thesis only spends 2,000 or 3,000 words on answering the research question. Do not make this mistake.

The second outline you write should be as detailed as you can make it- down to the paragraph if possible. Put down all of your ideas in this structure and treat them like building blocks: you can move the individual elements around until you feel like your argument is coherent and flows properly. Use this outline to write your thesis.

10. Keep reading about your topic. (Jun-Aug)

In addition to the academic literature, read the policy papers put out by important organizations. Read what various NGOs have to say. Read the archives. Read the news. Read everything you can get your hands on. Watch movies on your subject. Listen to podcasts. Find documentaries about it on YouTube. Immerse yourself.

11. Write. Write. Write. (June-September)

Remember to stay focused on your research question. Your job is to provide as clear and compelling an argument as possible.

*To my King’s MA students: Please come prepared having done what was asked of you before meeting with me. If you are not prepared, the meeting will be a waste of time.

** To all other thesis writers, please find your advisor/tutor/professor at your home institution. I’m sorry, but I can’t provide specific thesis advice to you. Your advisor will be in the best position to give you specific advice.

Share this:

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please help me in choosing topic for research in applied linguistic and English literature.

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Sorry Khairunnisa- I can’t help you out there. I teach politics and international relations, not English literature. Try approaching your professors, tutors, teaching assistants, or graduate students for advice.

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hi , please help me i have a question. i want to know how many research questions a thesis for MA should have. is the number of research questions important? i have 1 research question and it is divided to 3 more ones . is it appropriate? 1. What is the effect of pronunciation awareness training on tertiary level Turkish EFL students‟ listening comprehension? In order to answer this question, several sub questions will be added. a. Is there a difference between the pre and post-test results of the experimental group after a 6-week pronunciation awareness training? b. Is there a difference between the pre and post-test results of the control group after six weeks of regular intensive English classes? c. Is there a difference between the experimental group and the control group in terms of their development in listening comprehension at the end of the 6-week period?

please mail the answer for me. thank you so much. I’m MA student of English teaching.

Again, please see my response to the previous question.

wow! thank you for not helping mee !

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ur people r always behave the same! 😦

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Mohsen, your response was both rude and unmerited! If you had bothered to read Professor Cheng’s introduction at the start of the article, you would have seen that she does not teach English. Furthermore, she was polite in her response to the previous question and explained that she does not teach the subject for which you seek help. She then gave suggestions for where to find help. My suggestion is that you start Fully reading and digesting information before making any more snarky comments.

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Thanks for your guidance! 🙂

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Dear Cheng. I am MA student in Human Rights and Multiculturalism at Buskerud University College, Drammen, Norway. I’ve been really inspired by reading your blog. I am working on a research question on the conflict in DRC. My experience is that there is little interest and knowledge about this conflict. My fellow students and even my professors did not know (or believe) that this conflict is the deadliest since WWII etc… and around the globe academics are doubting on IRC’s 5,4 million death estimate, and calling the conflict a civil war.

My desire is to describe why the Congo conflict should have a central part in the lower and upper secondary curicula for social studies, and why it is one of the most central conflicts to look at in conflict/peace education, human rights education and social studies.

After reading your very helpful article here, I see that my questions so far, are more to the “policy reports” direction than to the “academic thesis” direction. If you have time; can you give some of your thoughts on how I can avoid making my thesis a policy paper?

Hi Bengehya, Unfortunately, it’s really hard to give useful advice without reading or talking through the specifics of your project. This is really the point where your thesis advisor or tutor needs to step in to provide guidance.

Yes, ok. I’ll do that. Thank you for answering. Sincerely, BB

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Hello Cheng. I am a Public Policy Master student. I am trying to find a topic for my thesis, and my supervisor did not like any topic that I brought to her. Currently, I am thinking about the wage gape between men and women in the U.S. The question for my thesis would be: do the differences in education between women and men play a role in expanding the wage gap? Would this question be a good thesis’s question. Thank’s

Hi cheg, I found it very useful, thank u .

Glad you found it helpful!

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Dear Christine,

Thanks for your post, it really is extremely useful. I wanted to ask you about my research question. My topic is democratic transition and consolidation in Pakistan but I am unsure about how to phrase the question exactly. These are the sub-questions that I would like to answer: Which factors facilitated and hindered the democratic transition in Pakistan? Which factors are undermining Pakistan’s democratic consolidation? What are the prospects of consolidating democracy in Pakistan? But I need to combine all three…which one sounds better to you from the following as the Main research question?

To what extent has the transition to democracy been consolidated in Pakistan? What are the challenges, opportunities and prospects of consolidating the transition to democracy in Pakistan? What factors are affecting the democratic transition and consolidation in Pakistan?

I would be eternally grateful for your help!

Many Thanks Aiman

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Thanks for the information. It was really helpful to me. I am studying in China. And I am not Chinese . So I don’t know from where to begin where to end… tnx a lot

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Hello Friends, i m a student of Master Degree in English and International Relations from Tunisia, i m looking for an interesting subject for writing my dissertation.

i would be grateful if you could give me a hand( suggestions) thanks in advance.

Jihene Chedli

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You are right, we should not choose a topic simply because you are familiar with it already. You will be bored by the subject and your boredom will show through in your writing.

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Thanks a lot

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please help me in choosing topic for research in philosophy. I’m very much interesting in Religion, metaphysics and extremism.

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Hello, what is the difference between background and literature review sections?

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Thank you for your helpful article. The topic of the thesis is really very important, because it affects your interest in writing a thesis, and thus its the quality. We must choose not what we know well, but what can really interest us.

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Hullo Prof. Cheng, This is very helpful…. If it isn’t any trouble could you help shade more light on the part of choosing a research question this is where I find most difficulty. Thank You Claire (MA Student)

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Dear professor, can you share a link to good examples ot theses or even just research questions? Thanks

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Hello Prof Cheng,

I am a Master student of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution at Open University of Nigeria. I’m preparing for my thesis when I came across this blog and it helps me a lot. Thanks a lot Prof.

I love the fact that this post seems to have helped so many students. Unfortunately, I can’t provide personalized guidance on your individual research questions- this is really the work of your dissertation supervisor. In our MA in Conflict, Security, and Development, most of my students will go through many iterations of their research question before they arrive at the one that they ultimately choose to answer. Between each iteration, students will go and conduct more independent research to confirm that they are on the right path. This is a process that typically takes 2-5 months and they take on this work alongside their regular coursework.

Research questions usually requires quite a bit of refinement and back-and-forth discussion. I help students hone in on what they actually care about- what they’re really interested in exploring. Usually, they have a feeling about something but they don’t exactly what it is, and it’s up to me to zoom in on the subject of interest, help them dig out the puzzle or the curious finding, and then guide them towards an appropriate question.

For good examples of MA theses, I would turn to eIR. Some of the articles on that site have been converted from MA theses.

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Thank you very much indeed for this article. I am planning to study for an MRes & I was quite worried about the process. Your article is realistic & grounded & it certainly helped.

Glad to be of service!

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Thank you for your great article; it’s given me some food for thought but, there is one thing I am still unsure of.

I was wondering if you have any advice on whether/how to integrate quotes into our body of work. I normally (in essays) do quote large bodies of text but I have seen it done in some brilliant books and journal articles. I’m currently in the writing phase of you masters dissertation and I’m writing about civil war recurrence.

I’m a student in International Relations/Security Studies.

This is a bit late for you, but I would say you can use common sense here. The longer the work is, the more discretion you have to integrate a long quote (say, a paragraph or more). In shorter works (like class essays), there is less discretionary space. Efficiency is more important and you are trading off the space for a long quote against space that you need to make your argument.

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Thank you professor Cheng, that has been helpful:)

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Thank you for this great post, professor.

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Hello Professor Cheng!

Thank you for your helpful advice. I am currently writing a masters research paper on the impacts the tobacco industry makes on the health of Pakistanis, and I’m having trouble nailing down a research question for it. I was wondering whether asking: Why does the Tobacco Industry impact the health of Pakistanis?, and then arguing that: Inadequate implementation of tobacco regulations in Pakistan produces preventable disease burdens on its population. Most research focuses on the health effects caused by tobacco use, while I would like to argue that these impacts to the health of Pakistanis can be buffered if the health sector had a stronger role within the government.

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Dear Professor Cheng, thank you very much for this article 🙂 One general question: the timeline you built was thought for how many hours of thesis-work per day? I only have 6 months to write my thesis, and I wonder if I could use the same timeline structure, but within a narrower period.

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Christine Cheng

I am a senior lecturer (associate professor) in War Studies at King’s College London. I conduct research on war-to-peace transitions, statebuilding, natural resources, corruption, African politics, and women in politics.

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How to Write a Research Question

What is a research question? A research question is the question around which you center your research. It should be:

You should ask a question about an issue that you are genuinely curious and/or passionate about.

The question you ask should be developed for the discipline you are studying. A question appropriate for Biology, for instance, is different from an appropriate one in Political Science or Sociology. If you are developing your question for a course other than first-year composition, you may want to discuss your ideas for a research question with your professor.

Why is a research question essential to the research process? Research questions help writers focus their research by providing a path through the research and writing process. The specificity of a well-developed research question helps writers avoid the “all-about” paper and work toward supporting a specific, arguable thesis.

Steps to developing a research question:

Sample Research Questions

Unclear: How should social networking sites address the harm they cause? Clear: What action should social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook take to protect users’ personal information and privacy? The unclear version of this question doesn’t specify which social networking sites or suggest what kind of harm the sites might be causing. It also assumes that this “harm” is proven and/or accepted. The clearer version specifies sites (MySpace and Facebook), the type of potential harm (privacy issues), and who may be experiencing that harm (users). A strong research question should never leave room for ambiguity or interpretation. Unfocused: What is the effect on the environment from global warming? Focused: What is the most significant effect of glacial melting on the lives of penguins in Antarctica?

The unfocused research question is so broad that it couldn’t be adequately answered in a book-length piece, let alone a standard college-level paper. The focused version narrows down to a specific effect of global warming (glacial melting), a specific place (Antarctica), and a specific animal that is affected (penguins). It also requires the writer to take a stance on which effect has the greatest impact on the affected animal. When in doubt, make a research question as narrow and focused as possible.

Too simple: How are doctors addressing diabetes in the U.S.? Appropriately Complex:   What main environmental, behavioral, and genetic factors predict whether Americans will develop diabetes, and how can these commonalities be used to aid the medical community in prevention of the disease?

The simple version of this question can be looked up online and answered in a few factual sentences; it leaves no room for analysis. The more complex version is written in two parts; it is thought provoking and requires both significant investigation and evaluation from the writer. As a general rule of thumb, if a quick Google search can answer a research question, it’s likely not very effective.

Last updated 8/8/2018


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    How does human growth hormone mimic the action of testosterone? ... What is the relationship between baldness and age? ... Is it possible that VEGF

  6. Dissertations & projects: Research questions

    Research question examples · How significant is league table position when students choose their university? · What impact can a diagnosis of

  7. Research Question

    The research question is central to every bachelor's and master's thesis. It determines the content, the structure, and the aim of an academic

  8. Research Question and Thesis

    Although you will not include your research question in your paper, this is nonetheless a critical step because your thesis statement

  9. How-to Guide: Writing an MA Thesis in the Social Sciences

    Understand what has already been said by others in answer to your research question. How are these scholars answering each others' critiques? How do these

  10. How to Write a Research Question

    Research questions help writers focus their research by providing a path through the research and writing process. The specificity of a well-