Formulating Research Questions: A Guide for Developing Excellent Research Questions

Translating your original ideas to feasible academic research involves an iterative process. It can only be completed correctly by using different stages and formulating research questions is one of them. The questions provide a guide for the project research, and thus they should be appropriately written. They also narrow down the scope of the study and guide the readers on what they should expect from the study.

Crucial steps for Formulating research questions

Choose an interesting topic– even directed research should be focused on the subject of the project which the writer has somehow invested in. You should, therefore, come up with a general topic that you would like to know more about. An excellent example of a research topic could be “slavery in South Africa” or “films of the 1920s.”

Carry out preliminary research on the topic-search the current journals and periodicals for any information related to your topic. You will see what others have done before, and therefore your focus will be narrowed. What questions can the early research raise?

Consider your target audience– for the college papers; the target audience is always academic. You should, however, remember your audience when formulating research questions or narrowing your topic. Will your research question interest your specific audience?

Begin asking questions– Formulating research questions can be a daunting task. After taking into consideration the above-discussed steps, ask yourself “why” and “how” open-ended questions to about your topic. For instance, “how did the slave trade start in South Africa.”

Evaluate your question- now that you have an answer or maybe several questions down the paper, evaluate them to determine if they would be compelling enough or they need to be revised.

  • Is the question clear? Since a single topic requires a lot of research, you should keep it as clear the question as clear as possible.
  • Is the research question focused? Should be as specific enough to fit in the available space.
  • Is your question complex? Typically, a research question should not be open for just a simple no or yes. Instead. It requires both analysis and research on the writer part.

Hypothesize- once you have developed a research question, it’s vital to think about the possible path the answer will follow. Where will the research take you? What argument do you want to make/support? What will happen if the study disputes the planned argument? You should now be ready to construct a reasonable hypothesis, concentrate on the research and write down your argument.               

Your research questions should be:


Your research questions will be used for both intellectual and academic interests by readers in your field of study. You should, therefore, establish a straightforward reason that is in line with the study.


The scale and scope of your project should be realistic. The choice of questions should be within an area that you can tackle efficiently. For instance, can you access statistics, people, or documents that you will use when collecting data for your research? Can you relate them to your research question concepts to the variable, indicators, and phenomena you that you can access? Sometimes the research question looks feasible but proves otherwise when you start your library or fieldwork study. In this situation, you should honestly write down the problems and reflect on what will be learned.

Substantial and original

Your research question should not just copy the questions in the final year modules or the previously taken modules. It shows your level imagination and how you can develop and construct such research issues/ it, therefore, needs to have adequate scope to grow into a dissertation.

Consistent with the assessment requirements

The research question should provide scope for you to satisfy the outcomes of the learning process. For instance, you can decide to do a theoretical study that does not have empirical analysis. In this situation, it will be crucial to think before making such a decision carefully. You will be required to give a clear account of your methodology and state why the theoretical analysis is the best way of addressing your question.

Simple and clear

A complicated question hides the thoughts and leads to the unclear research process. An elaborate question or the one that is not differentiated into several parts may conceal the concepts that are not relevant. The best way to present your research question, therefore, is by dividing your research questions into sub-components to guide you through the research.


This is vital. Your research question should intrigue to maintain your main question thought the projects.

Ensure that you have a well-grounded interest in your research question. This will increase your confidence in case of an intellectual or academic debate.

Sample research questions

Now that you have understood the process of formulating research questions check out these samples.

  • Unclear: why are many social networking sites dangerous?
  • Clear: how do the social online users address the issue of privacy on the major social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace?

The unclear version does not specify the social network sites or state the harm that they cause. It assumes that the “harm” is accepted or proven. The explicit version gives more detailed information of the specific social network sites (Facebook and MySpace). It also shows the harm (privacy issues) they cause and the affected people (users). A good research question should not leave any room for interpretation or ambiguity.

  • Unfocused: what are the effects of global warming on the environment?
  • Focused: how are Arctic Circle penguins affected by glacial melting?

The unfocused question is extensive such that it might require a book-length answer; leave alone the standard college paper. The focused version specifies the primary cause (glacial melting) as well as a specific area (the Arctic Circle). It has also narrowed down a particular affected group (penguins). To reduce doubts when formulating research questions, stay focused by narrowing your question as much as possible.

To makes sure that your academic research contributes positively to the educational knowledge, ensure that you are creative as much as possible. Don’t replicate the work that has already been done. Also, try to be specific and straight to the forward as this will direct you to the research and also direct the readers.

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