A research process begins with choosing a feasible and general topic in the area of study. Once the topic is selected, the next step is to define the specific issue within the chosen topic. Formulating a research question is an arduous task. A good research question is rarely formed and worked upon.
Some of the features of a perfect research question include:
Relevant - A good research question should establish the purpose of the study in relation to the field of study. The question must arise from the existing literature and should intellectually interest the readers.
Manageable - The question must be realistic, manageable and should scale the study. It must enable you to relate with the observations, indicators, phenomena and variables of the study. It should also allow you to collect the necessary data within the given time.
Substantial - The question must be unique and original. It should not be a copy of the question taken from the existing study modules.
Clear & simple - A perfect research question shouldn’t hide the unclear or contradictory aspects.
Analytical - The research question should result in the analysis of a problem rather than producing a simple description.
There is no Universal set of rules to develop a perfect research question. A question formulated for sociology may be inappropriate for biology.
Below are the steps involved in developing a research question
Identify the requirements of the study - Before beginning with developing a research question, identify the requirements of your study. Determine ‘what is the purpose of the study?’, ‘does it evaluates a set of data?’, ‘does it test a proportion?’, or ‘ does it defend an argument?’. Identifying these aspects will let you shape the question in an appropriate manner.
Choose a relevant topic - Select a topic that is genuine and interesting. Choose a broader topic and gather sufficient information to explore new possibilities. The topic must be feasible, unique, manageable and relevant to your field of study.
Perform preliminary research - Go through a good number of published periodicals, journals and other academic sources (latest) and identify what has already been done in your chosen topic. Focus on the critical ideas and arguments (place in the introduction and conclusion). Identify the issues that have been discussed and determine the subtopics that can be related to your topic.
Narrow down the topic - Preliminary research is followed by getting over the broader topic and focusing on the specific issue with the broader topic. This enables you to cover the single dimension of the issue in-depth rather than skimming the surface of many issues. The process involved in narrowing down the topic is: determining the key debates/issues or subtopics within the broader topic and identifying the potential value of the subtopics.
Develop the questions - After narrowing down the topic, analyze the issue/problem. Ask open-ended questions such as ‘why’, ‘what’, and ‘how’ about the focused topic. Reflect on the questions and identify one or two research questions which can be further explored.
Evaluate the questions - Evaluate the chosen questions and determine which question requires a certain amount of refining and revising. Figure out if the question if clear & concise, is focused and is complex. Ensure that the question cannot be answered using easily available facts or by simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. After coming up with the question, consider the type of sources required to support your argument and the possible challenges faced while seeking the solutions to your question.
Sample research questions
1. Unclear question
How should social media platforms address the possible harm they induce?
What measures should social media platforms take to protect the location and personal data of the users?
In the unclear version, the question does not suggest what type of harm the platforms are causing. It can also be assumed that ‘harm’ is proven and accepted. In the clear version, the type of harm and who are facing the harm are specified. The clear version doesn’t give an opportunity for interpretation.
2. Simple question
How are the doctors in UK addressing cancer in individuals?
Appropriately complex question
What genetic and environmental factors predict if UK citizens will develop cancer, and how can these factors be used to prevent the deadly disease?
In the simple version, the question doesn’t provide scope for analysis and can be answered in a couple of factual sentences. In the appropriately complex version, the question includes two parts and requires in-depth investigation and analysis.
A well-developed research question helps you get through the research process seamlessly and also lets you work towards supporting the arguable research document.