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The Research Question

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What is and what isn’t a good research question? Discover how to develop an impactful and significant research question by asking the right questions related to your field and area of study. This is a presentation developed through the Graduate Resource Center at the University of New Mexico.

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The Research Question

  1. 1. The Research Question RWJF | GRC | CAPS
  2. 2. The Research QuestionThe first thing to know is what is and is not aresearch question.
  3. 3. The Research QuestionA research question isnot data.
  4. 4. The Research QuestionA research question is not statistical analysis.
  5. 5. The Research Question A research question is not knowing theliterature of your field.
  6. 6. The Research Question Data, analysis, and literature are allimportant things.But only so far as they support the argumentyou want to make.
  7. 7. The Research QuestionThe argument is the answer you willpromote for the research question.
  8. 8. The Research QuestionThe research question comes before theargument, before the data, and beforeanalysis.For example:
  9. 9. Dinosaurs!For decades, there was lively debate aboutwhat killed the dinosaurs.
  10. 10. Dinosaurs!Some argued that cold blooded dinosaurscouldn’t compete with warm bloodedmammals.
  11. 11. Dinosaurs!Others argued that a gradual release ofgasses from the Deccan traps polluted theatmosphere.
  12. 12. Dinosaurs!Others argued thata Maastrischtiansea level regressiondestroyed manyhabitable areas.
  13. 13. Dinosaurs!But there was a thin black layer of sedimentthat appeared world-wide, known as the K-Tboundary.
  14. 14. Dinosaurs!The K-T boundary, by itself, doesn’t doanything without an argument.
  15. 15. Dinosaurs!A specific type of element, iridium, wasfound in high concentrations in this layer.Iridium is commonly found on asteroids.
  16. 16. Dinosaurs!Then, this massive crater was found in theYucatan Peninsula.
  17. 17. DinosaursThen a better argument came into play thatcombined these types of analysis.
  18. 18. Dinosaurs!Break down the research question “What killedthe dinosaurs?” Time - is it an event or a process? Why just the dinosaurs?
  19. 19. The Research QuestionBy breaking down the implications andassumptions of your research question, you canbetter understand it’s most significant parts.
  20. 20. Dinosaurs!So the research question “what killed thedinosaurs” is answered by the argument “anasteroid!” with data collected from theYucatan peninsula and from the K-Tboundary.
  21. 21. The Research QuestionA good argument should ask more questionsthan it answers. For example:
  22. 22. Dinosaurs!“Why didn’t dinosaurs evolve after theasteroid?”“Why did mammals survive?”“Why did crocodiles and turtles survive?”“Birds descended from dinosaurs, why werethey different?”
  23. 23. The Research QuestionIn other words, the research question shouldpass the “so what?” test without the need forelaboration.
  24. 24. The Research QuestionA key element, and a word that should beused: is the question compelling?
  25. 25. The Research Question What about yourquestion is compelling?What makes itinteresting?
  26. 26. The Research QuestionParts of a #winning research question: Does it address outstanding theoretical issues in your field? Does it have significance? Can it be solved?
  27. 27. The Research QuestionTo get at these broader issues, you need to dothese things:
  28. 28. The Research QuestionSurvey the top papers inyour field First, look at the 20 most cited papers Then, look at the 20 most recent papers
  29. 29. The Research QuestionAfter reading the literature in your field, askyourself: Is there an aspect to your subject of interest that hasn’t been explored yet? Is there something in your data that could address multiple questions?
  30. 30. The Research QuestionSignificance Why does your research matter? Who does it matter to? (audience)
  31. 31. The Research QuestionCan it be solved? Can you address the research question? What kind of data do you need to gather? What kind of analysis do you need?
  32. 32. The Research QuestionIMPORTANT Can you frame your research question in a way that you can test before you have data?
  33. 33. The Research QuestionResearchQuestionH1: There is a H0: It’s RandomRelationship Data Collection Data Validatio Analysis n
  34. 34. Important PointsIs your question too broad? Too narrow? A question that is too broad will not be answerable. A question that is too narrow will not be compelling or generalizable.
  35. 35. Important PointsCan the topic be researched? Can your research question be answered by you? Otherwise it will be very hard to form an argument.
  36. 36. Important PointsIs the question timely? Is your question implied in current literature? Does it engage contemporary researchers in your field?
  37. 37. Important PointsIs the research question reasonable? Does your research question have a clear answer? Can you be the one to answer it?
  38. 38. Too Broad?Let’s try to narrow it. Can you focus on a specific region? Can you focus on a specific population?
  39. 39. Too Narrow?Let’s broaden it. Are their implications to your study that extend past the sample you are looking at?
  40. 40. The Research QuestionGood research questions strike a balancebetween broad implications that are attractiveto general audiences, and specific studies thatbuild confidence and significance by using amanageable population.
  41. 41. The Research QuestionIn other words... A good researcher thinks globally, acts locally.
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What is and what isn’t a good research question? Discover how to develop an impactful and significant research question by asking the right questions related to your field and area of study. This is a presentation developed through the Graduate Resource Center at the University of New Mexico.


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