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The Research Question in the Sciences

This guide will help you formulate a quality research question when dealing with topics in the sciences.

The Research Question

"The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge."   Thomas Berger

The research question is the linchpin of the research process in that all parts of the process are anchored to it.  The research question will guide your literature review.  The research question will lead directly to the hypothesis that you formulate.  The research question that you choose to explore will help you design your study or experiment that will provide you with data.  It will guide how you interpret the data to see if you answered your question, or if it leads you to other questions.  Finally, the research question will frame the way you report your findings to your audience.  Because it is such an important part of the process, it is important to put a great deal of time and effort into constructing a quality research question.  The study or experiment conducted will only be as good as the research question that was asked.

 

What is a good research question?

Writing a good research question requires some thought and exploration.  You should select a general area of interest to you and do some preliminary research on the topic.  Examine what researchers have already discovered and reported on the topic.  This will help you determine what additional information you would like to know about the topic.  You may discover that your question has already been researched exhaustively, or you may discover some aspect of the topic that has never been considered by any researcher before.

After your preliminary literature review, you need to take some issues into consideration.  A good research question:

  • Is testable.  You are capable of exploring and finding answers to the question.  The equipment or the supplies or the skills that you need are at your disposal or can be acquired.  It requires scientific techniques that are reproducible at the facility where you will be performing them.
  • Is of interest, either to you, somebody else, or a group or organization.  The work you will do will require resources, effort and time.  Will it provide information that will be beneficial or worth the expenditure of time/resources?
  • Has relevance to you or to the scientific world.  Would anybody have use for the information that you discover?   Could anybody use your discovered data as a scaffold to build even further knowledge?
  • Does not cross any ethical boundaries.  Does your study involve humans?  Will you make them fully aware of how they are being used?  Is there potential for any injury or damage?  Does your study adhere to all laws that are applicable to your region?  Does your study require any materials or actions that are illegal?  Would the results of your study create any circumstances that would be harmful to another population or the environment.

Research Question Resources.

"Narrowing a Topic and Developing a Research Question" from the University of Indiana

"The Research Question Generator" from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor