What is a Research Question?
A research question guides and centers your research. It should be clear and focused, as well as synthesize multiple sources to present your unique argument. Even if your instructor has given you a specific assignment, the research question should ideally be something that you are interested in or care about. Be careful to avoid the “all-about” paper and questions that can be answered in a few factual statements.
How Do You Formulate A Good Research Question?
Choose a general topic of interest, and conduct preliminary research on this topic in current periodicals and journals to see what research has already been done. This will help determine what kinds of questions the topic generates.
Once you have conducted preliminary research, consider: Who is the audience? Is it an academic essay, or will it be read by a more general public? Once you have conducted preliminary research, start asking open ended “How?” “What?” and Why?” questions. Then evaluate possible responses to those questions.
Say, for instance, you want to focus on social networking sites. After reading current research, you want to examine to what degree social networking sites are harmful. The Writing Center at George Mason University provides the following examples and explanations:
Possible Question: Why are social networking sites harmful?
An evaluation of this question reveals that the question is unclear: it does not specify which social networking sites or state what harm is being caused. Moreover, this question takes as a given that this “harm” exists. A clearer question would be the following:
Revised Question: How are online users experiencing or addressing privacy issues on such social
networking sites as Facebook and Twitter?
This version not only specifies the sites (Facebook and Twitter), but also the type of harm (privacy issues) and who is harmed (online users).
While a good research question allows the writer to take an arguable position, it DOES NOT leave room for ambiguity.