Five steps to developing a research question
Choose a subject and topic that is of interest.
Deciding on a subject and topic that is of interest and in which the student is personally invested is important if their motivation is to be sustained throughout the process. The student should be able to identify, in a broad sense, what it is that they are interested in and why.
Carry out preliminary reading.
After deciding on a topic of interest students should undertake some general reading around the issue. Questions they must consider at this stage are:
What has already been written about this topic?
Was it easy to find sources of information?
Is there a range of different sources available?
Is there a range of views or perspectives on the topic?
What interesting questions have started to emerge from this reading?
Consider the emerging questions.
The student should now begin posing open-ended questions about their general topic. These questions will usually be framed using the terms “how”, “why” or “to what extent”.
Evaluate the question.
Once possible research questions have been posed they should be evaluated. This evaluation should be based on whether the research question is clear, focused, and arguable.
Clear: Will the reader understand the nature of my research? Will it direct the research being undertaken?
Focused: Will the research question be specific enough to allow for exploration within the scope of the task (that is, the number of words and time available)?
Arguable: Does the research question allow for analysis, evaluation and the development of a reasoned argument?
Consider research outcomes.
Once a provisional research question has been decided upon students should start thinking about the direction their research might take. This could be in terms of:
suggesting possible outcomes of the research
outlining the kind of argument they might make and how the research might support this
considering options if the research available is not sufficient to support a sustained argument.