How is a research question like a red wheelbarrow? No, not because it’s something your older brother promised to give you a ride in only to dump you on a cow patty; rather, it’s that so much depends upon it. Everything, in fact.
A research question is exactly what it sounds like: a question, just one sentence, that captures the essence of what you’re trying to figure out in your research. Think of it as a smart tweet with a question mark on the end.
Why is your research question so important? Because it’s the engine of your project: it drives everything you do, from the sources you search out to the methodology you employ. Ultimately, your thesis statement will directly answer your research question, and then the rest of your discussion will defend this answer.
In short, your research question is the boss of your paper or thesis. Everything you write has to report to that research question, so to speak. Everything has to further its aims. Everything has to be explicitly relevant to it. Everything has to do what it needs done.
As subject-matter experts, your professors and advisor(s) are always the go-to resource for guidance on research questions. They’re probably not going to formulate one for you, though; to help you get started, our "Constructing Research Questions" workshop will walk you through the process of selecting a rich, trenchant research question. View the video and slides here or register for the next live session: workshops are offered in the first four weeks of each quarter; you can sign up during workshop season through WCOnline. See the whole workshop list here.
Then dig into our other links for more dirt on research questions!
Research Questions Links
- Video (8:04): “Research Questions Worth Answering,” University of Maryland, Baltimore Writing Center
- Video (6:25): “Developing a Research Question,” Laurier Library
- Video (7:23): “Developing a Research Question,” Academic Skills at the University of Melbourne
- Webpage: “How to Write a Research Question,” George Mason University Writing Center
- Video (31:19) focusing on quantitative and experimental research, with detailed information applicable across fields: “Research Questions,” Dr. Melanie Maggard
The following index makes searching for a specific topic easier and links to the appropriate place in the sequenced material. We think we have most of them, but please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if we are missing something!