Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Roots of Contemporary Issues Writing and Citation Guides

Writing a Research Question

What is a research question? A research question is a clear, focused, concise, and arguable question on which you center your research and writing.

Here are six tips on how to prepare a research questions:

1. Make sure it is a question that you are genuinely interested in. You will be working on this question all semester; your work will be far more enjoyable and meaningful if you are interested in learning the answer.

2. Make sure that the question centers on a debatable point. It should not be simply factual. If the question can be answered with a simple search engine search, is it not a research question. Too Factual: “Who invented the light bulb?” Debatable: “How has the disparity in household energy use between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa over the past hundred years affected health in these two regions?”

3. Make sure that your question is focused enough that you will be able to be confident in your conclusions by the end of the semester. Too broad: “What caused the global prominence of the U.S. in the twentieth century?” More narrow: “Were military or economic factors of greater importance to U.S. global dominance starting after World War II?”

4. Make sure that your question is significant, not just to yourself, but to others. Unimportant: “Why is Mohammed such a common Arabic name?” Significant: “How has the relationship between pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism changed since 1800?” If you are not sure whether your question has historical significance, keep reading, or ask your instructor.

5. Make sure your question is researchable. That is, are you likely to be able to find evidence that can actually answer this question? Too vague: “Why is gender discrimination such a common phenomenon in the world?” Researchable: “How did women’s experiences of discrimination during the late nineteenth century affect when women learned the right to vote in the U.S. (1920), South Africa (1930), and Japan (1945)?”

6. Imagine a possible answer. Later this semester, your thesis statement will be your well-informed and thought-out answer to a research question. Don’t worry if your research slowly encourages you to revise your research question. But do make sure that your question is capable of being answered using a clear statement on a debatable issue. If you cannot imagine answers to your question that fit the bill, you might need to review your research question.