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Formulate Questions

The first step when conducting research is formulating a research question. The research question is the query that drives the research's focus. All other research steps, like developing the methodology, collecting data, and analyzing findings, are done to answer the research question. 

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Formulate Questions


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The first step when conducting research is formulating a research question. The research question is the query that drives the research's focus. All other research steps, like developing the methodology, collecting data, and analyzing findings, are done to answer the research question.

Since the research question is so important, researchers must understand how to formulate a substantial question. Keep reading for tips, examples, and more.

Formulate Questions Meaning

Formulating questions in research means coming up with a question to investigate through the research process. A research question is the starting point for a research project. The question should be one the researcher wants to know the answer to and believes can be found through research or experimentation.

The term research question is often abbreviated to RQ.

Formulate Questions, Person with question marks above his head, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Formulating questions means developing an inquiry to investigate through research.

Formulate Questions Technique

Research questions are not just any questions. They need to be complex, detailed questions, and the answers require evidence and argumentation. For example, consider the following simple yes or no question:

Did Emily Dickinson have children?

This is not a research question because it is a question that a researcher can easily find an answer to with a quick internet search. A research question needs to be more open-ended. To craft a more nuanced question, researchers should follow the steps in the example below.

Writers should also avoid questions that include subjective language, such as "good" or "bad." These are broad adjectives that researchers cannot investigate.

Formulate Questions Example

Instead of immediately attempting to write a research question, readers should follow these pre-writing steps.

1. Brainstorm

When given a research assignment, researchers should start by brainstorming how they will approach the task. The brainstorming process will depend partly on the task at hand, but it is always useful to consult notes and jot down the first ideas that come to mind. For example, imagine an English professor instructs students to research Emily Dickinson. This is a broad topic, so readers should brainstorm sub-topics to research by noting what they already know about Dickinson and what they want to know more about.

2. Do a Little Research

Next, researchers should look into the broad topic and see what information interests them. For example, a student assigned to research Emily Dickinson might do an internet search about her life and learn that she was an influential female poet. This might spark the reader's interest in what Dickinson's impact was.

Formulate Questions, Books and Magnifying Glass with Question Mark in it resembling background research, StudySmarterFig. 2. - Background research on a broad topic can help researchers fine-tune a research question.

3. Fine Tune the Topic

Next, researchers need to focus their research to narrow their assignment to a specific domain of interest. For instance, the student from the above example might decide to focus on the impact of Emily Dickinson's poetry. "What was Emily Dickinson's impact?" is still too broad of a question because her influence might be quite extensive and, therefore, too difficult to discuss within one essay. The student should work on whittling the topic down even more, perhaps to Dickinson's impact on one group of people, like other female poets from her time period.

4. Craft an Original Question

Once the researcher has decided on their specific topic, they should work on crafting a concise, straightforward question that sums up what they are interested in researching. The student from the example might ask:

To what extent did Emily Dickinson influence the style of other 19th-century American female poets?

This is a more complex question that the researcher will need to design a research project to answer. The answer to this question will require the researcher to make an evidence-based claim using comparisons between texts.

Formulate Questions, Person writing, StudySmarterFig. 3 - The second sample question about Emily Dickinson is a more nuanced, focused research question.

Research questions like the one above will shape the researcher's methodology. For instance, since the above student is looking into Emily Dickinson's impact specifically on other female poets, they will have to consult the poetry of various 19th-century female poets and compare the texts for stylistic similarities and differences.

Formulate Questions Topic

The topic of a research question should align with the class or field of study. For example, imagine a student is tasked with writing a research paper about 18th-century Romantic poets. The student's research question should be about a topic within this field. Discussing Victorian playwrights, even as an anecdote, would be off-topic and unhelpful.

The most crucial point to remember about a research question is that it should be specific. For example, consider the following research question:

What were the lives of the Romantic poets like?

This research question is far too broad for a researcher to address in a paper for English class. Instead, the researcher should try to find a specific topic within the required field so that they can address it in their papers. For example, the researcher could use one of the following research questions:

What do the themes of William Wordsworth's poetry reveal about the worldview of 18th-century Romantic poets?

This research question is more specific because it focuses on a single sub-topic within the broad topic of 18th-century Romantic poetry. It also limits the scope to discussing a single poet's body of work, which is much more reasonable than trying to encompass the entire Romantic movement. The researcher could address this question by investigating Wordsworth's poetry and then craft a unique, defensible claim about the implications of Wordsworth's themes.

Guidelines for Formulating Questions

When crafting a research question, researchers should follow the following guidelines.

Be Original

When choosing a specific topic, one should read what other people have written about the general topic. However, do not simply use the same research questions that someone has asked before. This would be plagiarism, the act of pretending someone else's work is one's own. Plagiarism is disrespectful to other writers and can result in losing academic credibility, as well as failure or suspension in an academic environment. Even if you do not plagiarize, your work will simply be retreading common ground. Creating something new means adding new discussion to the field.

Don't let the fear of plagiarism stop you from using outside sources! When readers use other sources on a similar topic to inspire or educate them about their topic, they just have to cite them to avoid plagiarism. To cite something, writers create a citation for the source, which is a statement of information about the source that can help readers identify it. Writers cite their sources according to a required citation style, such as MLA or APA. Ask your professor if there is a required style guide for citations, look up that style guide, cite your sources according to it, and you will avoid plagiarism!

Address the Intended Audience

Researchers should keep in mind who will be reading their paper. For example, if they are writing an essay for English class, they should keep in mind that their instructor will read it. Thus, the research question should address the instructor's prompt. Researchers should also consider what their audience would want to know about. For example, if a student asks a research question that their English professor has already answered in a lecture, the professor will not be as impressed with the student's work as they would be if the research question was original.

Formulate Questions, Audience, StudySmarterFig. 4. - Researchers should consider the interest of their intended audience when formulating a research question.

Make Sure the Question is Clear

A reader should be able to read a research question and understand the intention of the researcher's research. This means that the author should use clear, direct language. They should avoid esoteric and technical vocabulary and make it as short and to the point as possible.

Researchers should also consider their interests when formulating a research question! When people research topics they are passionate about investigating, they are more motivated to conduct in-depth research.

Formulate Questions - Key takeaways

  • Formulating a question in research means writing a research question to answer in the research project.
  • Researchers need to craft a research question before planning their research process.
  • Research questions should be complex questions that open the door to an evidence-based research project.
  • When formulating questions, researchers should be a specific topic that they can address in the scope of their project.
  • Researchers should formulate questions that are clear and concise.

Frequently Asked Questions about Formulate Questions

To formulate a good research question, writers should write a specific, defensible claim that is clear and concise. 

Researchers formulate questions to guide their research. 

To formulate a question in English, researchers should fine-tune their topic and choose a specific, relevant one that they can address within their project. 

When formulating a question, researchers should consider what specific, relevant topic they are interested in learning about and how they can make it as specific and clear as possible. 

Formulating a question in research means coming up with a question to research the answer to. 

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