So you’ve carefully read your professor’s instructions and picked your research topic. Awesome — but now what?
The long and winding road to a great research paper starts with a strong thesis statement, but theses don’t grow on trees! You must first come up with a great research question, which will act like your paper’s compass — follow it to the right answers, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a solid research essay thesis.
In this blog post, I’ll give you some useful tips on how to write a research question so you can start your research paper the right way!
Research Question vs. Thesis Statement
You mean there’s a difference?
You bet your sweet jelly donut there is!
A research question is NOT a thesisstatement. A research question guides your research process — it doesn’t make a claim. Instead, a research question seeks information on a specific subject. But your research paper still needs a thesis statement, which will be your answer to this question.
That said, both the research question and the thesis statement have some things in common.
You may already know that a thesis statement should be specific, and a research question is no different. Learning how to write a research question means learning how to explore a complex issue and craft a strong, specific argument within that issue.
Dipping Your Toe Into the Water
You may not decide on a specific topic right away, and that’s okay! Nobody just wakes up and says, “Eureka! I have my research topic, question, and thesis all figured out. Time to write!”
Writing a research paper is a process, and even just deciding on what area or discipline you’re going to research and write about is a major part of this process.
Don’t get bored! Make sure that you’re researching within a field that interests you.
Begin by doing a little detective work. That’s right, Sherlock! Time to get on Google, visit your university’s library, or use their website and databases to start gathering ideas about your topic. It’s a good idea to brush up on your topic before diving right into your paper so that you understand the past and current research and arguments in your field.
But if you’re having trouble finding a place to start, this blog on research essay topics can help get those creative juices flowing!
Important Elements of How to Write a Research Question
Now that you have an understanding of your topic, you’re ready to start drafting up that research question! But you want to make sure you get it right. Following is a list of the six most important elements that make up a good research question.
- Innovation – Your research question should focus on a fresh perspective. You want to investigate an issue and come up with your own ideas about it, not just report on someone else’s findings.
- Ethos – Ideally, you should be an expert in your field if you’re conducting research on a certain topic. That said, you’re most likely a college student still coming up in the world, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write a strong research paper! In lieu of expertise, make sure that your sources are credible and that you are genuinely interested in and familiar with your topic.
- Specific Aim – Why are you doing this research? What benefit will it have if your findings are valid? Your research question should consider an important topic and aim to have a significant effect on the academic community. Avoid frivolous topics such as this silly one: “Shakespeare’s plays weren’t actually written by Shakespeare.”
- Testability –Make sure that your question is measurable. You must be able to support your argument logically with statistics, studies, and other evidence that aren’t just anecdotal.
- Practicality – While it makes for an exciting movie, we’re probably never getting a Jurassic Park on this planet, ever. With this in mind, you should make sure that your research question will lead to findings based in reality.
- Relevance– Your research question should be based on current information and technologies. The issue should have a history, but should also be relevant to current concerns. And finally, think about the future — your research shouldn’t end the conversation within your topic, rather it should add to it and offer room to grow.
Good vs. Bad Research Questions
From reading the list above, you know that a good research question is specific and digs beyond the surface of an issue. You don’t want to start with a question that can be answered with just a single factual sentence.
For example, bad research question looks like this:
“How far is Mars from Earth?”
A simple Google search can tell you the answer in mere seconds: 140,000,000 miles. There isn’t any room for detailed analysis of your topic here.
But say you’re interested in space travel — a more interesting question might look like this:
“Can humans ever colonize Mars?”
This question allows for more research, but it’s still a bit broad and can probably be answered in a few short sentences to a paragraph. So let’s dig a little deeper and focus on a good question that can lead to great research and a strong thesis that you’ll be able to argue and support throughout your paper!
“What is the best way for humans to travel to and colonize Mars?”
This question is much more specific but still gives you plenty of room to provide interesting evidence — both about current technology and theoretical methods — that can be applied to supporting your thesis.
All right, now that you’ve got the basic idea of what makes for a good research question, let’s look at some examples.
5 Examples of Good Research Questions
If you really want to know how to write a good research question, you should review examples of what makes a good one. Here are 5 ideas to get you started:
“How can students’ reading comprehension problems be effectively addressed?”
This research question is specific in that it addresses a single problem that is current and has implications for the future. It touches on all the aspects in the elements list above and can be easily researched.
Check out this sample research essay on student reading comprehension strategies.
“How do consumer attitudes affect the market?”
This research question targets a specific topic, but is broad enough to allow for thorough research that could lead to several interpretations. If you were writing on this topic, then the thesis you came up with would depend on both your perceptions and findings within the research process.
Here is a great sample essay about how consumer attitudes affect the market.
“What are the implications of vivisection – do the harms outweigh the benefits?”
This research question is particularly strong because it addresses a very specific issue within a certain industry — animal research. Both a logical and moral approach can be applied to this question, making it great for research and the corresponding argument.
See this sample research essay onvivisection implications.
“How does poverty affect an entire society?”
This research question is broad enough to allow for the exploration of multiple responses — depending on the research findings. You can write about different aspects of society and narrow your focus further, but if you were looking at the broad effects of poverty on a society as a whole, then you’d be in good shape because this question focuses on a single important issue with many present and future implications.
This sample research essay of poverty and society offers a convincing viewpoint on this topic.
“Does the principal-agent framework cause corruption in democratic governments?”
This research question is very strong, and while it’s much more specific than the others, it’s a good idea to review a question that has been carefully thought-out by a writer with apparent experience in his or her field. The more you know about your topic, the better. This knowledge can lead to strong papers that delve deeper into an issue than others.
Look at this smart and thorough research essay on political systems and corruption.
Now you have an idea of how to write a research question, and you’re ready to venture out on your own. Find a research topic that interests you, and get cracking on your initial research. When you’ve done all that, you’ll be ready to start thinking about creating your research question.
Just remember that a research question should have the following:
Before jumping right in, you may also want to take a look at these awesome Kibin blog posts on crafting a research paper outline and writing a research paper to help you get started.
Also be sure that you know the difference between a research question and thesis.
And of course, when you’ve finished your draft, Kibin is ready to proofread your work to make it really shine!
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
A thesis statement is a short, direct sentence -- or sometimes 1-3 concise sentences -- that summarize the main point or claim of an essay or research paper. In a thesis statement, the author is making a specific claim or assertion about a topic that can be debated or challenged.
A thesis statement is developed, supported, and explained in the body of the essay or research report by means of examples and evidence. Student essays and papers should contain a thesis statement.
Example of weak thesis statement:
- Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the best American authors in the last half century.
Example of a strong thesis statement:
- Ursula K. Le Guin's ability to subvert cultural and social expectations makes her one of the best authors of the last century.
A research question indicates the direction of your research. It is an open-ended query, not a final claim or conclusion about an idea. A good research question should act as the focus of a study. It helps the author decide on the methodology she will use as well as guide all subsequent stages of inquiry, analysis, and reporting.
Example of a weak research question:
- How does science fiction literature affect our understanding of other cultures?
Example of a strong research question:
- Can science fiction literature that focuses on fundamental issues such as gender and race deepen our ability to empathize with cultures different from our own?
These links will provide you with more information.