Creating and Editing a Research Question

In this post, we are going to talk about steps involved in creating and editing a research question. Depending on what type of research method or approach you are using for a study or research project, establishing a research question (or a research objective) is one of the most important and challenging aspects of your research. This post will use the term research question; however, if you are creating a research objective or statement, the same information and process apply. Establishing a good, useful and accurate research question or research objective requires a great deal of careful thought, consideration and editing to get it right.

Up to this point, we have discussed research by asking  What is Research?  and looked at many of the Characteristics of Scientific Research. In detail, we examined Parts of the Scientific Method. If you missed any of our previous posts simply click the links above and get caught up.


It is helpful to think of the process of creating and editing your research question as having five distinct steps:

1. Start by thinking about your research topic from a broad perspective and move to a more specific focus

2. State the issue or problem you are going to investigate in your research study

3. Ask a question

4. Edit and refine

5. Edit refine and then when you think you have a good research question edit and refine again along with asking for feedback!



Let’s Examine The 5 Steps in Greater Detail



Start by thinking about your research topic from a broad perspective and move to a more specific focus

What are you going to investigate in your study? During the beginning of step one, keep your focus broad as it is imperative that you understand and are familiar with your topic in an overall sense. At this stage, the goal is to do a basic or exploratory review of significant research in your area of study.


At this point, you’re aiming for a good grasp of:

a) what is known about your topic to date?

b) any relevant issues other researchers are discussing

c) familiarity with dependable and credible theories or evidence associated with your topic.


It is helpful to use the a,b and c list above to organize what you discover during your review. Also, be sure to keep a good list of the process you use in gathering the information you read and collect.  Create a list of resources you reviewed in this step as you will want to reference your work going forward [Our Next Post: Literature Reviews].

There are a number of academic databases such as PubMed you may use to review your topic and for everyone affiliated with an institution, you will have your own credentials for access. For those of you who need research information from the public domain, SNJ Associates has provided some resources that are available to all. To read more about open access journals and publications visit our Journal Articles  and get started researching your topic.



State the issue or problem you are going to investigate in your study

Step 2 is the process of identifying the issue or problem that your study is specifically going to investigate. You may see this referred to elsewhere in the literature as the ‘gap’. Now you begin to focus more specifically and move from an overall perspective in your literature review to the specifics of the problem or issue in the literature associated with your study. By asking what it is that you would like to find out during the course of your study and describing how the existing literature either states an issue  or identifies a question, you will find the gap to focus on in your work. Use your a, b, and c headers above to add issues and questions to your notes.



Ask a question

The third step may seem obvious at first but it is worth repeating. Make sure you are asking a question rather than stating a description of the problem or explaining a process in the study. If you have a well-constructed research question, other people will know what you are investigating and can often determine the type of research design you are using just by reading a clear precise research question [More about study designs in upcoming posts].



Edit, Refine, and Ask Others

The fourth step requires you to step away from your task. An excellent approach is to leave time between the steps of the process while you are creating your research question. Once you have a good understanding of your topic area and have identified your issue or asked your question, write out your research question in as many ways as you can think of until the concept becomes clearer to you. Once you’ve gone through this step you, will have a copy of your first draft. Look back at your a, b and c-notes to ensure it makes sense with what you’ve researched and you can ‘see’ the process you took in creating this draft version.

Use this draft to get input from your peers. It is very helpful to have to explain your process and research information to others out loud. Explaining and defending your thoughts will add to the organization and automatically lead you to refine your research question. Take notes while you are getting any feedback on the draft of your research question and use that information to make edits as you get closer to a final version.



Edit your research question one more time into a final draft and ask for feedback

The last step is basically a do-over of step 4; however, it is important and precisely where leaving some time between steps will prove very useful. Once you have your final draft ask a trusted friend, colleague or instructor for one last round of feedback. Be sure to present this as your final draft (don’t be wishy-washy) as it will give you an opportunity to ‘defend’ your thought process and decision(s) about the research question for your study.


Classification of Research

Checklist For A good Research Question

  Is your research question well defined?

Does your research question focus on a specific issue or problem to investigate?

Can the people you ask for feedback from understand what you’re going to do in your study?

Be sure in your notes to state whether the literature suggests the issue you’ve chosen requires an investigation or if you are asking a question that is currently absent from the body of literature you reviewed.

Does your research question highlight how you are going to address the problem, for example, does it suggest an intervention such as a program, treatment etc.?

Is your research question answerable using data that you either collect yourself or have access to for your study?


Use the checklist above and consider each point as you edit your research question into the final draft. You may also provide the checklist to people you’ve asked to provide feedback about your research question. If your reviewers can answer the above questions, there is a good chance you are well on your way to a final question.


Examples Of A Few Research Questions?

? Among adolescents 12-15 years old in Sussex, England has the number of new cases of Type 2 Diabetes increased over past 5 years?

? Do nurse practitioner healthy eating and lifestyle visits in the family practice setting reduce obesity among women ages 19 to 25 in rural Quebec, Canada?

? Does a 12-month community-based street program for people who are homeless in Hopewell Township, New Jersey, impact health outcomes?  


In closing…

The single best piece of advice is to leave yourself time. You must take the time to review your topic area of study, keep meticulous notes of your literature review, create your initial drafts, obtain feedback and write a final research question. If you’re pressed for time, you’ll rush your review and likely skip the feedback – both disastrous in creating a good research question.This is not a task that can be rushed or done quickly. Remember do not get discouraged as creating and editing a research question is a challenging process and takes practice along with good mentors to learn how to do well.

Creating and editing a research question goes hand-in-hand with performing a literature review. Our next two posts will discuss completing a literature review and help get you started on the whole process.


Next Post:  Literature Review: A How-To Part 1

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