How to Write a Good Research Question? A Complete Analysis!
People out there who are finally doing your research, it is important that you develop a good research question.
A research question is a critical component of a well-written Ph.D. thesis. It helps define the direction of your research, limit your experiments, and plan your chapters.
But while it is very easy to decide on what you’re passionate about, developing a good research question can be a little daunting. It takes ingenuity and planning to craft a clear-cut research question that will guide you through the actual writing process.
So in this article, I am going to share a point-to-point guide on how to write a good research question that leads to a stellar Ph.D. thesis.
Tip 1: Choose a general topic, then identify specific issues within that topic
The very first step in developing a good research question is to think of something you’re personally invested. For example, if you’re getting a Ph.D. in biological science, try to focus on general ideas like molecular biology, genetics, or anatomy.
Then slowly probe specific issues within your chosen subject that you’re genuinely interested. Let’s say you’ve chosen molecular biology. Some research question examples that are specific enough for you to tackle on may include “enzyme reactions of using aspartame” or “characterization of point mutations in genetic disorders.”
The key is to make your research question as specific as it can be while considering the availability of research resources in your location.
Tip 2: Conduct a preliminary research on your chosen question
Make a few quick searches in the library for books and periodicals. Look for authors who have done similar research and find out what they have to say regarding your question.
Do these authors have similar opinions as you do? What questions did the researchers raise? How did the author address the question?
Then try to check back on your research question and determine what else you can do to make it more interesting. Perhaps, you can present an argument to challenge an old scientific assumption or make a comparative study between your research and the past research.
Tip 3: Consider your audience, especially your panel members
This is not college anymore where you need to level down your writing style to the understanding of the general public.
The audience in your Ph.D. thesis will comprise people from the academe – most of them are experienced scientists, professors, and Ph.D. degree holders. Everyone is an expert in his or her own field and you will be judged base on your thesis.
This time, you will have to transcend your own perspective to the level of a critical genius. So when you write a research question, don’t just ask “what is molecular biology”.
You need to identify an issue and challenge it by asking vital questions that will open the eyes of those who are in power.
The secret is to step up a little. Think like a science critic and judge your own question. Is it intelligent enough to demand an intellectual answer? Do you think the thesis committee will like the issues presented in your thesis? “Will your questions direct your thesis to uncover a novel issue in biological science?”
Tip 4: Keep asking questions until you find the perfect one
So here’s the truth… When you’re writing a thesis, you can’t expect to get your perfect question right away.
My advice is to write whatever you have. Start by writing simple until you come up with a good one. Then narrow them down to two or three choices.
These research questions may not be your final but having something is better than having nothing. As long as these questions can guide your experiments, then they’re good for now.
The key is to create a pattern. First, think of a broad question, then narrow it down, and then go deeper to a more focused question.
Here is an example of how you can create a pattern.
|Broad Question||Narrowed Question||Focused Question|
|What are the effects of spontaneous mutation?||What are the effects of spontaneous mutation in relation to DNA lesions?||What are the effects of spontaneous mutation on skin cells in relation to DNA lesions caused by UV light?|
Tip 5: Evaluate your own questions whether it is answerable
Once you have written down your questions, try to determine whether your questions can be answered by the research that you will be doing.
Sometimes, there are questions that are really impressive but are not feasible because of the lack of available materials. So, when you craft your questions try to ask a few more questions such as the following:
“Is there enough data that can support my answer to these questions?”
“Does my university have the proper laboratory equipment I can use to conduct my experiments?”
“Has there been a similar study in the past which I can use for the review of related literature in relation to how I should answer my questions?”
Tip 6: Learn the Triple “R” Process
Even when you’ve finally determined your research question, it doesn’t mean you’re done. Just like your hypothesis, your research question can change as well.
So the Triple “R” process that I’m talking about is Re-edit, Re-engage, and Re-define. As you proceed with the actual writing process you can continue to modify your question depending on your discoveries.
For example, you can add a few more questions which you are going to tackle further in the thesis’ chapters. Or you may actually withdraw some of them for being too vague or too ambitious.
Tip 7: Make sure your research question is not too broad nor too narrow
A good research question must strike a balance between being too broad and too narrow.
When your research question is too broad, you’ll find it hard to limit your resources. Everything will be all over the place and you won’t be able to focus on one particular problem.
If your research question is too narrow, your resources will be very limited. In fact, most students who have overly narrowed topics have found a hard time reaching the minimum page requirement of a thesis paper, which is commonly 50 to 100 pages.
The rule of the thumb is that your question must be thought-provoking and must be the kind that requires research for answers. If it is something that can be answered by merely researching through Google, then you still need more effort in refining it.
Tip 8: Consult your supervisor
The good news in thesis writing is that you are not alone. So when you feel like you’re in a dead end, don’t hesitate to contact your supervisor.
Your supervisor can give the best advice you need in crafting a good research question. In fact, you can schedule a meeting together and just discuss the possible scientific issues you can tackle in your research.
You can say all the excuses for not meeting with your supervisor. However, the initiative has to come from you. You can’t expect your supervisor to call you and ask how you are doing with your research. Instead, you must let him know when you’re encountering some difficulties.
So if you’re feeling edgy or timid about speaking with your supervisor, it’s time to step up now. Your supervisor will not judge you if you honestly admit that your research questions are too vague and you need a guide to develop them.
I understand that the crafting a research question can be brain dredging. But just be positive. I know that you will make it.
I hope that you find my tips helpful in your Ph.D. journey. Good luck in your endeavor and stay tuned for more tips about getting a Ph.D.