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Writing Strong Research Questions | Criteria & Examples

Published on October 26, 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on January 30, 2023.

A research question pinpoints exactly what you want to find out in your work. A good research question is essential to guide your research paper , dissertation , or thesis .

All research questions should be:

Writing Strong Research Questions

Table of contents

How to write a research question, what makes a strong research question, using sub-questions to strengthen your main research question, research questions quiz, frequently asked questions about research questions.

You can follow these steps to develop a strong research question:

The way you frame your question depends on what your research aims to achieve. The table below shows some examples of how you might formulate questions for different purposes.

Using your research problem to develop your research question

Note that while most research questions can be answered with various types of research , the way you frame your question should help determine your choices.

Research questions anchor your whole project, so it’s important to spend some time refining them. The criteria below can help you evaluate the strength of your research question.

Focused and researchable

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Chances are that your main research question likely can’t be answered all at once. That’s why sub-questions are important: they allow you to answer your main question in a step-by-step manner.

Good sub-questions should be:

Here are a few examples of descriptive and framing questions:

Keep in mind that sub-questions are by no means mandatory. They should only be asked if you need the findings to answer your main question. If your main question is simple enough to stand on its own, it’s okay to skip the sub-question part. As a rule of thumb, the more complex your subject, the more sub-questions you’ll need.

Try to limit yourself to 4 or 5 sub-questions, maximum. If you feel you need more than this, it may be indication that your main research question is not sufficiently specific. In this case, it’s is better to revisit your problem statement and try to tighten your main question up.

The way you present your research problem in your introduction varies depending on the nature of your research paper . A research paper that presents a sustained argument will usually encapsulate this argument in a thesis statement .

A research paper designed to present the results of empirical research tends to present a research question that it seeks to answer. It may also include a hypothesis —a prediction that will be confirmed or disproved by your research.

As you cannot possibly read every source related to your topic, it’s important to evaluate sources to assess their relevance. Use preliminary evaluation to determine whether a source is worth examining in more depth.

This involves:

A research hypothesis is your proposed answer to your research question. The research hypothesis usually includes an explanation (“ x affects y because …”).

A statistical hypothesis, on the other hand, is a mathematical statement about a population parameter. Statistical hypotheses always come in pairs: the null and alternative hypotheses . In a well-designed study , the statistical hypotheses correspond logically to the research hypothesis.

Writing Strong Research Questions

Formulating a main research question can be a difficult task. Overall, your question should contribute to solving the problem that you have defined in your problem statement .

However, it should also fulfill criteria in three main areas:

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Thesis Characteristics

Whenever you are writing to explain something to your reader or to persuade your reader to agree with your opinion, there should be one complete sentence that expresses the main idea of your paper. That sentence is often called the thesis, or thesis statement. (Some other names it goes by are "the main idea" and "the controlling idea.") Based on everything you've read, and thought, and brainstormed, the thesis is not just your topic, but what you're saying about your topic. Another way to look at it is, once you've come up with the central question, or organizing question, of your essay, the thesis is an answer to that question. Remember, though, while you are still writing your paper, to consider what you have to be a "working thesis," one that may still be "adjusted." As you continue to write, read, and think about your topic, see if your working thesis still represents your opinion.

Handy reminders about the thesis (on this page): 

Where to Put the Thesis

The thesis usually comes within the introductory paragraph, which prepares the reader to listen to your ideas, and before the body of the paper, which develops the thesis with reasons, explanations, and evidence or examples. In fact, if you examine a well-written thesis, you will find hidden in it the questions your reader will expect you to answer in the body. For example, if your thesis is "Cannibalism, if practiced tastefully, can be acceptable in extreme circumstances," the body of your essay will develop this idea by explaining HOW it can be practiced tastefully, WHY it would be acceptable, and WHAT you would consider extreme circumstances.

Put the Thesis as a Statement

Make sure your thesis is in the form of a statement, not a question. "Can we save the Amazon rain forest?" is an ear-catching question that might be useful in the introduction, but it doesn't express an opinion or perspective as the following statements do:

Don't go Overboard!

Make sure your thesis expresses your true opinion and not an exaggerated version of it. Don't say "Computers are wonderful" or "Computers are terrible" if what you really believe is "Computers do more good than harm" or "Computers do more harm than good." Why commit yourself to an extreme opinion that you don't really believe in, and then look like you're contradicting yourself later on?

Focus Further

Make sure your thesis covers exactly the topic you want to talk about, no more and no less. "Drugs should not be legalized" is too large a thesis if all you want to talk about is marijuana. "Boxing should be outlawed" is too small a thesis if you also want to discuss wrestling and football. Bite off as much as you can chew thoroughly--then chew it!

Choose the Right Shape

Shape your thesis to fit the question you wish to answer. A thesis can come in many forms, including the following:

Need Assistance?

Don't forget: if you would like assistance with this or any other type of writing assignment, learning coaches are available to assist you. Please contact Academic Support by emailing [email protected] .

Questions or feedback about SUNY Empire's Collegewide Writing Support?

Contact us at [email protected] .

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Management Writing Solutions

Oct 12, 2015

The Characteristics of a Good PhD Dissertation or Thesis

For a researcher pursing his PhD, his thesis is perhaps one of the most important things of his life, the cornerstone of his career. It presents, in most cases, the writer’s research in the written word. The thesis is compiled when certain research has been completed.

The Components of a Proper PhD thesis

Like its other academic writing siblings when one is writing a PhD, it is necessary for him to follow certain norms as far as the structure and format of the dissertation and thesis is concerned. However it is dependent on the specific academic institution and the topic of research. Awareness of the following components of a good thesis ensures that your work is up to the mark and goes a long way in determining its success and recognition.

• The Preliminary Info

The preliminary information required for a dissertation thesis includes the information such as information a title that is suitable, a proper abstract, a table of contents along with listing all the figures, tables as well as an acknowledgement.

• The Main or Primary Body

The primary part or main body of a dissertation thesis is inclusive of a well written general introduction, the objectives and aims of the writing, the hypothesis, how that hypothesis is justified and what is termed as the literature reviews which denotes a host of concepts such as the conceptual or theoretical framework as well as the research methodology including the interpretation and analysis of data, conclusions and target populations, procedures of sampling and even data collection methods. The body also usually consists of analysis of data and its interpretation. Even results and conclusion are also sometimes to be found here. However it must be kept in mind that the structure is something variable and as noted before depend on the specific area of research. The Distinguishing Marks of a Proper PhD Thesis There are some distinguishing features of a thesis; the one’s that separate the wheat from the chaff. All PhD Dissertations worth their salt should have a proper definition of the problem that is being attempted to be resolved by the thesis and how the problem really is, specifically define objectives, have the findings put down in the written word and finally have a conclusion. A proper PhD is characterized by the following: • The records of facts are done in a clear and objective manner making it accessible even to strangers of the nomenclature of the field. • The information is presented in a brief and concise manner. • The thesis should be complete, written well and should be free from grammatical error. • The information conveyed should be easy to understand and read. • A thesis’s structure should have clarity and should suit the topic of study at hand. • It should bear out the style of an academic writing.

Finding PhD Thesis Sources There are basically two sources of data that a researcher has access to. The primary sources denote the data gathered by the researcher from the field itself. The secondary sources consist of Magazines, Books, Journals, encyclopedias and the Internet.

Another Possibility Dissertation writing help is another possibility that might interest you. It is easy convenient and lets you get great grades too provided you approach the correct person or academic writing service provider.

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