As you prepare to write your essay or thesis, use these examples of good and bad research questions to make sure you are on the right track. Start with a problem statement about the area you want to study, and then create research questions and hypotheses to learn more. These good and bad examples will demonstrate the qualities you need for an effective research question.
A simple question gets a simple answer. And a simple answer will not be enough information for a thesis. How you ask the question is important. Avoid questions that can be answered with "yes" or "no" or a single word or phrase.
- Bad: Does owning a pet improve quality of life for older people?
- Good: In what ways does owning a pet improve quality of life for older people?
With this "bad" question, the answer is a simple "yes" or "no." However, when you ask about the specific ways a pet can improve the quality of life for its owner, you get a much more detailed and interesting answer. This type of answer allows you create a thesis statement.
A good research question should be focused on a single topic or on several closely related ideas. If it isn't, you won't end up with a good thesis. If a question is too general or doesn't stay on one topic, you can fix it by deciding which part of the topic you want to research.
- Bad: Does medication help alleviate attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms? And do kids need more exercise?
- Good: How effective are the various types of medication in treating elementary students with ADHD?
Instead of covering both ADHD medication and exercise as topics, the good question focuses on medication only. It's also more specific about the age of the students. The answer to this question will provide a good thesis.
It's possible to ask a really interesting question and not be able to find the answer. Don't forget that your reason for asking this question is to come up with a really great answer - one on which you'll be able to build a paper or project. If you can't answer it, you can't write a paper or do the project.
- Bad: Is there a higher power in the universe?
- Good: What factors affect people's belief in a higher power?
You can keep the same topic but change the question to be something you have the ability to answer within the time period and using the resources available to you.
As you write your question, think about the answer you want to receive. An opinion or value judgement isn't a good start for a strong research paper or project. Instead, you want to create a thesis based on data and objective evidence.
- Bad: Which national park is the best?
- Good: What features do the most popular national parks have in common?
Asking which national park is the best does not provide a thesis that can serve as the basis for a project or essay. It only asks for an opinion. However, you can use visitor data and lists of park features to answer the better version of this question.
As you write your question, make it as specific as possible. This will give you a more detailed answer - one that is strong enough to be the topic of your project or paper.
- Bad: How do artificial sweeteners affect people?
- Good: How does aspartame affect post-menopausal women who suffer from migraines?
By specifying which artificial sweetener and which people, the question is easier to answer with facts. These facts help form a strong, focused thesis and they also lend support to your work.
If you ask a question that's already been answered a thousand times before, you're only doing research that someone else has already done. This doesn't provide you with a good thesis. Instead, ask a question with an original slant to it.
- Bad: What are the advantages and disadvantages of cell phone use in schools?
- Good: How does restricting cell phone use in school affect student social interaction?
Many people have studied the topic of cell phone use in schools, and it's easy to find information about the advantages and disadvantages. A more interesting perspective on the same topic is to examine how the restriction of cell phones affects students' interactions with one another.
If you're writing interview questions or planning to talk with a source for a feature article, "why" questions are great because of how open-ended they are. However, when you're writing a research question, that open-endedness is the opposite of what you need. You need a question that has a clear and specific answer.
- Bad: Why do some corporations pollute the water if they aren't regulated?
- Good: How do government regulations prevent corporations from polluting the water?
By changing the "why" question to a "how" question, you're asking for specifics instead of a vague opinion. This will help you create a much stronger thesis statement for your research paper.
If you can answer a research question without doing much research, it's a bad question. It's better to formulate your question so that you need to dig a little to answer it. If you can answer with a simple web search, you need a more complex question.
- Bad: Has the population of the world increased in the past century?
- Good: What factors have influenced population growth in the fastest growing countries?
A quick search can answer the initial question here. The revised question, by contrast, requires more digging around to find an adequate answer.
It's easy to write a research paper or do a project about something that isn't controversial, but you likely won't be creating anything new. Instead, ask a research question about something that has multiple sides. That way, the research you do and details you include will have more impact.
- Bad: Are illicit drugs bad for kids?
- Good: Which effective education strategies prevent drug abuse in teens?
Everyone knows illicit drugs are bad for kids, but people will disagree about which education strategies actually help. You'll need to dig for data to back up your answer to this question, since some people will not agree with you.
A good research question can be answered with primary sources or secondary sources. It doesn't ask for an opinion or require a guess. If you look for support for the answer, the research is out there.
- Bad: Are white mice better than gray mice?
- Good: When tested for intelligence and longevity, how do white mice and gray mice compare?
Testing mice for intelligence will give you a primary source for answering this question, and looking at records summarizing longevity will provide a secondary source. Because the question is specific, you can answer it with good research sources.
Whether you're writing an APA-style research paper, planning a project for a class, or simply practicing creating research questions and hypotheses, it's important to brush up on your academic writing skills. Effective academic writing will help you answer your research question in a way that is compelling to the reader or audience, giving you the best grade possible.