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Get Your Research Started: The Basic Steps: Develop Research Questions

The Research question

In order to do real research, it is vital to start with research questions based on your topic. Research requires a question for which no ready answer is available. What do you want to know about a topic? Turning a topic into a question (or series of related questions) has several advantages:

1. Questions require answers. A topic is hard to cover completely because it typically encompasses too many related issues; but a question has an answer, even if it is ambiguous or controversial.



Drugs and crime

Could liberalization of drug laws reduce crime in the U.S.?

2. Questions give you a way of evaluating the evidence. A clearly stated question helps you decide which information will be useful. A broad topic may tempt you to stash away information that may be helpful, but you're not sure how. A question also makes it easier to know when you have enough information to stop your research and draft an answer.

3. A clear open-ended question calls for real research and thinking. Asking a question with no direct answer makes research and writing more meaningful to both you and your audience. Assuming that your research may solve significant problems or expand the knowledge base of a discipline involves you in more meaningful activity of community and scholarship.

4. The answer to your research question can provide the basis for your thesis. "Why should Marlow side with Kurts?" --> "To fully understand his alliance with Kurtz, one must look carefully at Marlow's feelings about the enterprise at the outset and at the impact of several significant situations and two individuals he encounters before reaching Kurtz."

Research Question Examples

A good research question is focused -- not too broad, specific, fuzzy, or random.


  • Is there a link between anorexia nervosa in adolescent girls and media-images of thin women?
  • Do infants of teen mothers benefit from adoption?
  • Why has the death penalty been reinstated despite the fact that most research suggests it has little if any deterrent effect on crime?


  • What were the effects of World War II?"
  • What is the best way to address homelessness, cut down on the drug trade, and to keep law abiding citizens safe?
  • What happened in New York on Sept. 11, 2001?

Excercises and Checklists