“When curiosity turns to serious matters, it's called research.”
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
All the latest inventions that humans are enjoying today are the results of curiosity that intrigued the mind of brilliant geniuses around the globe. In every sector, whether it is technology, healthcare, manufacturing, or education, research has been the cornerstone that made all the advancements possible and subsequently every sector is flourishing today.
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Another crucial fact that’s worth our attention is that research is never a one-day task. It requires constant effort and determination to look into different field subjects and understand the concepts in a way no one did. Most works of research that have added value to the world or have reshaped the world took years or even decades to conclude.
Let’s give you an example, do you know the annual budget that the US allocates to NASA for research and exploration in the field of outer space? The allocated budgetary resources of NASA for the FY 2022 stands at a whopping USD 10.4 billion. This shows the importance research holds at a global level.
Here, we also need to take the fact into consideration that such important works of research involving multi billion dollar investments cannot be conducted haphazardly, right? When it comes to research, there is a proper framework that exists inclusive of research questions, research problems, research methodologies and hypotheses. Besides, while some aspects are explored with quantitative research, others are described by the end results of qualitative research.
Speaking of research questions in particular, they mark the beginning of works of research that can reshape the world and its ways. But research questions also need to be framed in a systematic way so that you can carry out your whole research smoothly. In fact, for students and researchers, research questions hold immense importance in dissertation research or writing.
Do you face difficulties as a student to frame research questions? Do you often get confused when it comes to brainstorming research questions and formulating them? This is your ultimate guide to framing effective research questions.
This guide will effectively highlight meticulous information about the research question along with mentioning some of its key examples that can assist you in comprehending the concept more precisely. Starting off, the first section sheds light on providing information about what is a research question.
What is a research question?
The research question refers to the specific inquiry that the researcher aims to answer throughout the whole research process. Based on the research question, the researcher tends to decide the methodology, hypothesis, and collecting data that defines the ultimate research process. Hence, the research question is the cornerstone on which the whole research process relies.
To continue, the research process cannot be started without formulating a good research question. Hence, the next section sheds light on how to write a research question. So, let’s dive right in without further ado.
Formulating a research question
A good research question basically assists the researcher in narrowing down the research from its broad domain. Prominent researchers have highlighted some effective ways for budding researchers to pass down the legacy of formulating a good research question (Fandino, 2019). One effective method is to follow the framework of FINERMAPS which is an acronym for:
The feasibility of a research question refers to the ability of the researcher to carry out the research. This implies that you should always frame a research question as per your feasibility to carry out the research. While framing a research question, you have to ensure that you have good access to the data, documents, or the people you want to involve in the research.
The next qualifying criterion is that your question should be interesting. It should be intriguing enough to keep you motivated throughout your whole research process.
In this, you will ensure that your research question should not be similar to any other published research question or research. This implies that it should offer something new to the readers or fellow researchers interested in your subject field.
A good thumb rule of a good research question is that you should ensure that your research question should not hurt the sentiments of anyone. Considering the ethical aspect of a research question does not only involve your readers but also the people that are concerned with your research in one way or another.
You have to make sure that your RQ should not involve any such element that ends up hurting the sentiments of any of the stakeholders of your research. You need to be considerate of the ethical issues in research at all times.
The relevancy of your research should appeal to the other intellectuals interested in your field of study. The relevance of your research should be directly related to your field of subject. You will only be able to create a relevant RQ when you offer something that adds value to the current state of the art of your subject field.
For example, you identified a gap in the existing research topics of your subject field and after conducting a gap analysis, you will be able to identify the relevant gap. A question that intends to fill a gap would be a relevant research question.
The manageable section of the FINERMAPS is quite similar to the feasibility part through which the researcher rectifies whether the research question is manageable enough to be carried forward through the whole research process or not. In this, you have to consider different constraints of time and accessibility of resources for yourself to manage the whole research process effectively.
In this section, you will relate the appropriateness of your RQ with its value in your subject field by adhering to its logical and practical approach. You can identify the appropriateness of your research question by supporting your RQ with enough substantial evidence.
8. Potential value and publishability
Research papers are often written to get them published in academic journals. Hence, you have to ensure that your research questions offer something that has the potential to get published. This can be identified by ensuring that your research question is relevant or interesting enough to intrigue the curiosity of your fellow or budding researchers.
A systematic RQ refers to the question where the researchers can systematically carry the research from the beginning to the end in order to successfully attain the goals of your research process.
In this, you will ensure that you have a systematic approach or method to carry out your research through all the phases beforehand. Otherwise, a lack of clarity in a systematic approach will lead to confusion throughout your research.
Common errors while framing research question
A simple mistake in a research question can adversely affect your whole research process and can also result in different conclusions than your expectation. Hence, it is essential to avoid some of the common errors researchers make while formulating their research questions. That being the case, this section will shed light on a few common errors of researchers while framing research questions.
1. The question remains vague
A research question often starts with a simple question that arises in the mind of the researchers. However, this does not imply that the same can be your research question throughout the research process. A vague question often gets quickly answered in the yes or no form.
2. Uncontrollable parameters to cover
whenever researchers frame a research question, it is essential to also keep in mind that your research question should have certain parameters. These parameters will define the aspects in which you will thoroughly conduct your research.
But sometimes, researchers choose a topic that sometimes has uncontrollable parameters to cover. With uncontrollable parameters, it gets difficult for researchers to conduct in-depth research and get relevant information and results.
3. Un-researchable problems
Lastly, another common mistake that occurs while framing research questions is that research questions often reflect unresearchable problems. With un-researchable questions, it often gets difficult for researchers to adequately answer the research questions using the available methods and processes. Let’s take a look at an example for better comprehension. Let’s assume that we framed a research question:
“Does CSR impact business performance?”
Now as per the FINERMAPS formulation framework, this question is appropriate, but a mistake in the above-given question that it reflects vagueness as it can easily be answered in the yes or no form. Additionally. It has multiple parameters that could be considered while conducting research on this question.
In order to avoid such instances, it is really important to refine your research question to get the most efficient results for your research process. That being the case, the next section will effectively illustrate a step-wise approach to how you can refine your research question.
How to refine your research question?
Refining a research question is a crucial element that defines the successful accomplishment of the research process. Refining a question assists you in narrowing down your broader topic of research to a specific subject field. The more refined your research question will be, the more smoothly you will be able to carry out your research.
The reason is, that when you limit your research question to a certain subject field, you can go more in-depth and effectively fill out the gaps in the current state of the art of the subject. Otherwise, covering a broader topic will not allow you to go in-depth because the broader the topic, the more aspects it will cover. To effectively refine your research question, you need to follow 5 steps.
Step 1: Area of research
The very first step is to select a broad topic subject of your interest in which you wish to research. This will be the major domain in which you will choose to carry out your research. You can select your RQ from any domain such as IT, management, medical sciences, or humanities. Let’s take the same example, “Does CSR impact business performance?”
As per the above-given question, the chosen area of research is management.
Step 2: Narrow the area
After selecting the domain, the next step is to narrow down your domain into a subdomain. In this, you will focus on the specific field you wish to conduct research on. Taking the same example, in order to narrow it down, with the addition of a subdomain, the question will become, “Does CSR impact brand equity?”.
Step 3: Identify gaps
After choosing the topic, it is essential to know the current state of the art by conducting a literature review and identifying the relevant gaps through an effective gap analysis. After identifying the gap, the last step would be to focus the narrowed topic on a final research question.
Step 4: Focus
Following the clarity on domain and subdomain and finding the key gaps, you will now highlight the major focus of your research question by considering the following points.
Do I have any time constraints that I can add to make RQ more specific?
Do I need to add any geographical dimensions to the RQ?
Do I need to add any specific event or aspect in the RQ to make it more definite?
Finally, following the same example, the final focused research question will be, “Is there any correlation between CSR spending and brand equity?"
Step 5: research question
The last step considering all the above-given aspects is to create a specific research question following the framework of FINERMAPS. Further, based on this research question, you will conduct the whole research.
After you have effectively understood the effective guide to formulate and refine the research question, now it’s time to look at some of the research question examples.
Research question examples
Example 1. Research question about the impact of covid 19 on education.
In this, we have chosen the impact of covid on education as a major topic around which we wish to conduct research through a good research question. Now to refine this question,
Area of research- The impact of Covid 19 on Education.
Narrow- Impact of covid 19 on international students
Identify gaps- After conducting a literature review we found that we do not have enough literature to understand the impact of Covid 19 on the student's mobility to different countries.
Focus- In this, as per the preference, we would like to add the specificity of Canada.
Research question- By considering every factor given above and refining it, the final research question will be:
What is the impact of covid19 on international students' mobility to Canada?
Example 2. Research question on the present scenario of Breast Cancer Care Centre.
Another example of a research question would cover the condition of the Breast Cancer Care Centre in medical science.
Area of research- The present scenario of the Breast Cancer Care Centre for women.
Narrow- By narrowing the topic of research, we will focus on the present scenario of the Breast Cancer Care Centre for women suffering from breast cancer.
Identify gaps- Through effective gap analysis, we concluded that there were very few resources that covered the current condition of the Breast Cancer Care Centre for women suffering from breast cancer. As the number of breast cancer is increasing, we would conduct research to find the current scenario of the Breast Cancer Care Centre.
Focus- In order to make this research more focused, the specificity we would like to add is that we would like to conduct research on a particular country i.e. India.
Research question- By considering every section discussed above, the final research question would be:
What is the present scenario of the Breast Cancer Care Center for women in India?
The difference between research problem & research question
Research problem refers to specific gaps or issues in the current state of the art that researchers intend to address through their research. A well-identified research problem will assist you in creating a focused and manageable research paper.
Whereas a research question refers to a question that is formed to narrow down the border topic of research to specify to the researcher what all research is about. There can be one single or multiple research questions that would be addressed through a whole research paper.
Moreover, there is a key difference between the nature of the research problem and the research question because the research problem focuses on the key gaps that are to be analyzed in the research paper. Furthermore, the research problem also focuses on highlighting the significance of the topic and how this topic will add more value to the subject field.
On the other hand, the research question explores the research topics and elaborates on the different aspects that will be covered in the research.
To conclude everything given above, a research question is one of the crucial elements that need to be effectively formulated and refined to carry out meaningful research. It is really essential to understand the importance of research questions and formulate them systematically. Hence, the above guide will effectively assist you in formulating a good research question.
What is the difference between a research question and a research objective?
A research question is an inquiry that seeks to be answered through the study, while research objectives are specific, measurable goals that outline what the study aims to achieve.
Can a research question be revised or refined during the research process?
Yes, research questions can be refined or revised based on emerging findings, new insights, or changes in the research focus. Flexibility is essential during the research journey.
How can I frame research questions for qualitative research?
For qualitative research, use open-ended and exploratory language in your research questions to elicit detailed responses and capture the richness of participants' experiences.
Fandino, W. (2019). Formulating a good research question: Pearls and pitfalls. Indian Journal Of Anaesthesia, 63(8), 611. doi: 10.4103/ija.ija_198_19