Millsaps College

Finding your research question
William B. Badke in his book, Research Strategies Finding your Way through the Information Fog, says this about the research question.

Finding a Good Question

Research is not research until you have focused it around a solid research question that addresses a
problem or issue. But how do you come up with a question that is going to work?

  • Narrow your Topic to one aspect. A big reason why research can fail is that the researcher is trying to conquer the world with one project. You simply cannot cover everything about the topic of teen suicide or abortion or the causes of World War One or why the moon isn’t made of green cheese. You have to choose an aspect that is distinct enough that you can really work with it.
  • Identify Controversies or Questions related to your narrowed approach.

Thesis Statements

Research questions and thesis statements are actually two sides of the same coin. A research question addresses a problem to be solved. A thesis statement is a tentative answer to a research question. It is tentative in that your written research project is going to have to test your thesis and hopefully show it to be correct.

The thesis statement route does have a tendency to create a bias, so that it’s tempting to overlook or minimize evidence that does not support your case.

Research Questions—the Bad and the Ugly

Some research questions simply won’t work. They are doomed to failure and will produce research projects that are walking disasters, if they can walk at all.

1. The Question that Isn’t There. Imagine the horror of someone reading your “research” paper and looking desperately but in vain for a question, only to discover that there is none or the question you do have only asks you to compile existing data.

2. The Fuzzy Question. Sure, there’s a question, but it isn’t defined or focused enough to make it possible to answer.

3. The Multi-part Question. You must never let more than one research question intrude into a research project.

4. The open-ended question. This is often expressed as, What are the implications of … or What were the results of … followed by an expected list of possible outcomes. Open-ended questions tend to be troublesome simply because they fragment your conclusion into many conclusions and thus destroy the single focus you needed to seize upon.

5. The Question that Will Not Fly. Some questions are amazingly inventive, but try to answer questions that the data simply will not answer.

In my experience, the best research questions are simple ones that require a good deal of analysis
to answer.