How are research questions formulated?

research Nov 13, 2023
Question mark on a chalk board

Research questions are the lifeblood of academic inquiry. They guide the direction of your research and provide a clear focus for your study. For researchers, understanding how research questions are formulated is a crucial step in embarking on your research journey. In this article, we'll delve into the process of crafting research questions to help you navigate this fundamental aspect of postgraduate studies.

1. Identify Your Research Area: The first step in formulating research questions is to pinpoint your area of interest or field of study. What topic or subject matter are you passionate about? International postgraduate students often choose areas that align with their previous academic experiences or career goals.

2. Literature Review: Conduct a thorough literature review to explore existing research in your chosen field. This step helps you identify gaps, controversies, or unanswered questions in the current body of knowledge. Look for recent publications, seminal works, and key theories related to your area of interest.

3. Narrow Down Your Focus: Based on your literature review, narrow down the scope of your research. Focus on a specific aspect or dimension of your chosen topic. The goal is to make your research question precise and manageable.

4. Define Your Research Objectives: What do you hope to achieve with your research? Your research objectives should be clear and specific. Consider what you want to discover, explore, or understand through your study.

5. Consider Feasibility: Evaluate the feasibility of your research question. Are the resources, time, and access to data or participants readily available? Ensure that your research question is realistic and achievable within the constraints of your postgraduate program.

6. Avoid Yes/No Questions: Effective research questions are open-ended and do not have simple "yes" or "no" answers. They invite critical thinking, analysis, and exploration. Instead of asking, "Is X better than Y?" consider asking, "What are the advantages and disadvantages of X compared to Y?"

7. Use Clear and Precise Language: Craft your research question using clear and concise language. Avoid vague or ambiguous terms. Ensure that anyone reading your question can understand its intent without confusion.

8. Consider the Research Design: Think about the research design or methodology you plan to use. Different research designs, such as qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods, may require different types of research questions. Tailor your question to align with your chosen research approach.

9. Seek Feedback: Don't hesitate to seek feedback from your academic advisor or mentors. They can provide valuable insights and help refine your research question. Discussing your ideas with others can also lead to new perspectives and refinements.

10. Revise and Refine: Formulating research questions is an iterative process. Be prepared to revise and refine your questions as your understanding of the topic evolves. It's perfectly normal to make adjustments along the way.

Example of Research Question Formulation: Let's say you're interested in studying the impact of climate change on a specific species of endangered birds in your home country. After conducting a literature review, you've narrowed down your focus and identified gaps in knowledge. Your research question might evolve from a broad interest in climate change to a more specific question like: "How does changing temperature patterns affect the nesting behavior and reproductive success of [bird species] in [geographic area]?"

This research question is clear, specific, and open-ended. It addresses a specific aspect of the broader topic and sets the stage for a research project focused on gathering data, conducting analyses, and contributing to the understanding of climate change's impact on this bird species.

Formulating research questions is a foundational step in postgraduate studies for international students. It involves a systematic process of identifying a research area, conducting a literature review, narrowing down the focus, and crafting clear and specific questions. By following these steps and seeking guidance when needed, researchers can create research questions that drive their studies forward and contribute meaningfully to their chosen fields of inquiry.