Formulating a Research Question
Some Guidelines & Considerations
- Does my Research Question pass the “So What” test? Think about the potential impact of the research you are proposing. What is the benefit of answering your research question? Who will it help and how? You should be able to make a definitive statement about the purpose of your research and why it is helpful for decision making.
- Is My Topic Researchable? Don’t pick a topic where data will be difficult if not impossible to obtain. For example, if you are interested in examining the market strategies of competing clothing companies targeting a similar demographic group (e.g., Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic, etc.) you need to be sure to phrase your question in such a way that you will not be required to get any sensitive company information. Consider at the onset, how you will go about collecting the data, and if data access will be feasible.
If you are conducting a survey, consider questions that may be sensitive in nature that respondents may be reluctant in answering. For example, if you are interested in a research topic which requires that respondents divulge financial information or spending patterns, you may not get back the type of responses that you desire. Always consider the feasibility of the data you are trying to obtain.
- What is the Scope of my Project (Is it narrow enough? Is it too broad?) The research focus should be narrow, not too broad-based. This ties in with item #2 above, which asks whether or not your topic is researchable. If the question is too broad based, then it will undoubtedly be difficult to obtain the information needed to answer the question. If the question is too narrow, then you will have a hard time passing the “so what” test.
- Have I Sufficiently Defined My Variables? In developing your research question, make sure that you carefully define your variables. Here is an example of a research topic that is ambiguous and poorly phrased:
* What is the best restaurant in Seattle?
The above question fails at several different levels in qualifying as an adequate topic for research. First, it is much too narrow in scope. The questionnaire which the student may design for such a question would at best include a couple of questions and is too ambiguous to pass the “so what test” (see question 1 above).
Second, the variables are poorly defined. What does the student mean by “best?” We have no idea what standards are placed, and so the people participating in the survey will undoubtedly provide their own criteria for what defines “best” – hence the results will be skewed.
- Do I have a Hypothesis Statement? A well-thought-out and focused research question leads directly into your hypotheses. What predictions would you make about the phenomenon you are examining?
- Give insight into a research question;
- Are testable and measurable by the proposed data collection and analysis.
- What are My Specific Objectives? What are the steps you are going to take to test your hypotheses? Make sure:
- Your objectives are measurable and highly focused;
- Each hypothesis is matched with a specific aim.
- The aims are feasible, given the time and other resources.
- What are My Long-Term Goals?
- Why are you doing this research?
- What are the long-term implications?
- What other avenues are open to explore?
- What is the ultimate application or use of the research?
Evaluating Your Own Research Question
(This form is not an assignment. It is designed to help jog your thinking concerning your research project. This form is not graded.)
My Proposed Research Topic:
The following website provides some information on formulating a research question: http://www.esc.edu/htmlpages/writerold/menus.htm#exer1 (Empire College in New York). The following questions from this site will help you to evaluate your research question:
1) Does the question deal with a topic or issue that interests me enough to spark my own thoughts and opinions?
2) Is the question easily and fully researchable?
3) What type of information do I need to answer the research question?
e.g., The research question, “What impact has deregulation had on commercial airline safety?,” will obviously require certain types of information:
- statistics on airline crashes before and after
- statistics on other safety problems before and after
- information about maintenance practices before and after
- information about government safety requirements before and after
3) Is the scope of this information reasonable? (e.g., can I really research 30 on-line writing programs developed over a span of 10 years?)
4) Given the type and scope of the information that I need, is my question too broad, too narrow, or o.k.?
5) What sources will have the type of information that I need to answer the research question (journals, books, internet resources, government documents, people)?
6) Can I access these sources?
7) Given my answers to the above questions, do I have a good quality research question that I actually will be able to answer by doing research?