How to Write a Research Question
What is a research question?
A research question is a question around which you center your research. It should be:
clear: it provides enough specifics that your audience can easily understand its purpose
without needing additional explanation.
focused: it is narrow enough that it can be answered thoroughly.
concise: it is expressed in the fewest possible words.
complex: it is not answerable with a simple “yes” or “no,” but rather requires synthesis
and analysis of ideas and sources prior to giving an answer.
arguable: its potential answers are open to debate rather than accepted facts.
You should ask a question about an issue that you are genuinely curious and/or passionate about.
The question you ask should be developed for our Advertising and Public Relations Assignment.
Why is a research question essential to the research process?
Research questions help writers focus their research by providing a path through the research and
writing process. The specificity of a well-developed research question helps writers avoid the
“all-about” paper and work toward supporting a specific, arguable thesis.
Steps to developing a research question:
1. Choose an interesting general topic. You should choose an Advertising or P.R.
related topic that you genuinely want to know more about.
2. Do some preliminary research on your general topic. Do a few quick searches in
current periodicals and journals on your topic to see what has already been done and
to help you narrow your focus. What issues are researchers, Advertisers, Branders,
Public Relations Experts discussing, when it comes to your topic? What questions
occur to you as you read these articles?
3. Consider your audience. For this project, consider me, Aj. Daved, your Boss and
your role as a researcher for the question that needs addressed. Keep your
audience in mind—clients, suppliers, Marketing Teams, etc.— when narrowing your
topic and developing your question. Would that particular audience be interested in
the question you are developing?
4. Start asking questions. Taking into consideration all of the above, start asking
yourself open-ended “how” and “why” questions about your general topic.
5. Evaluate your question. After you’ve put a question or even a couple of questions
down on paper, evaluate these questions to determine whether they would be
effective research questions or whether they need more revising and refining.
o Is your research question clear? With so much research available on any given
topic, research questions must be as clear as possible in order to be effective in
helping the writer direct his or her research.
o Is your research question focused? Research questions must be specific
enough to be well covered in the space available.
o Is your research question complex? Research questions should not be
answerable with a simple “yes” or “no” or by easily-found facts. They should,
instead, require both research and analysis on the part of the writer. They often
begin with “How” or “Why.”
6. Begin your research. After you’ve come up with a question, think about the possible
paths your research could take. What sources should you consult as you seek
answers to your question? What research process will ensure that you find a variety
of perspectives and responses to your question?
Sample Research Questions
Unclear: How should social networking sites address the harm they cause?
Clear: What action should social networking sites like Instagram and Facebook take to protect
users’ personal information and privacy?
The unclear version of this question doesn’t specify which social networking sites or suggest
what kind of harm the sites might be causing. It also assumes that this “harm” is proven and/or
accepted. The clearer version specifies sites (Instagram and Facebook), the type of potential
harm (privacy issues), and who may be experiencing that harm (users). A strong research
question should never leave room for ambiguity or interpretation.
Unfocused: What is the effect on the environment from global warming?
Focused: What is the most significant effect of glacial melting on the lives of penguins in
The unfocused research question is so broad that it could easily be a book! The focused version
narrows down to a specific effect of global warming (glacial melting), a specific place
(Antarctica), and a specific animal that is affected (penguins). It also requires the writer to take a
stance on which effect has the greatest impact on the affected animal. When in doubt, make a
research question as narrow and focused as possible.
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