Turning Your Research Topic into a Research Question


When you embark on researching a specific topic, it’s crucial to develop a strong research question that will guide your exploration and keep your focus intact. This research question is often referred to as the “BIG” or “ESSENTIAL” question, as it addresses the most significant aspects of your topic. So, how do you transform your topic into a compelling research question?

The Importance of a “BIG” Question

A research question differs from a thesis statement in that it allows room for discovery rather than providing a definitive answer. By starting with a question, you can delve into your topic more openly and comprehensively.

Creating a “BIG” QUESTION based on your topic serves several purposes:

  • It encourages deeper thinking about your subject matter.
  • It guides your search for relevant information.
  • It helps you stay focused on your topic.

Additionally, the “BIG” QUESTION gives rise to smaller, more specific questions that further refine your research. These “SMALL” QUESTIONS enable you to consider the who, what, where, when, why, and how aspects related to your topic.

Remember, a researchable question possesses the following characteristics:

  • It requires information from sources other than yourself.
  • Reputable sources exist to help you answer it.
  • It is neither too broad nor too narrow in scope.

Crafting a Good Research Question

To ensure your research question is effective, consider the following criteria:

  • Clear: It should be specific enough for your audience to understand its purpose without requiring additional explanation.
  • Focused: The question should be narrow enough to allow for a thorough answer within the confines of your writing task.
  • Concise: Express the question using as few words as possible.
  • Complex: Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Instead, your question should require synthesis and analysis of ideas and sources.
  • Arguable: The potential answers should be open to debate rather than accepted as facts.
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Let’s look at some examples of research questions and how they meet these criteria:

  • Unclear: How should social networking sites address the harm they cause?

    • Clear: What action should social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook take to protect users’ personal information and privacy? By specifying the sites, the type of harm, and the affected users, this question becomes clearer and more researchable.
  • Unfocused: What is the effect on the environment from global warming?

    • Focused: What is the most significant effect of glacial melting on the lives of penguins in Antarctica? The unfocused question is too broad to answer adequately, while the focused version narrows down the effects of global warming and specifies the location and the affected animal.
  • Too simple: How are doctors addressing diabetes in the U.S.?

    • Appropriately Complex: What main environmental, behavioral, and genetic factors predict whether Americans will develop diabetes, and how can these commonalities be used to aid the medical community in the prevention of the disease? The simple version of the question can be easily answered online, making it ineffective. The more complex question requires significant investigation and evaluation.

Remember, if your research question can be quickly answered with a Google search, it is likely not effective.

Finding the Right Balance

Striking the right balance with your research question is crucial. Avoid questions that are too broad or too narrow, as they can hinder your research and limit your ability to contribute new knowledge. Instead, opt for questions that are specific and allow for in-depth investigation and analysis.

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By crafting a strong research question, you will be well-equipped to embark on your research journey and make meaningful contributions to your field of study. Good luck!

Learn more about the 5 W’s (Who, What, Where, When, Why) and their importance in gathering information at 5 WS.

The 5 Ws and H are questions whose answers are considered basic in information gathering or problem solving. 5ws.wiki will best answer all your questions

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