While the regular paper starts with an outline, the research paper should begin with a research question. If you have managed to develop a proper research question, you already have 50% chances for success; however, if you haven’t dealt with it, your paper will definitely not receive a good grade. Luckily, developing an outstanding research question isn’t that hard, if you have an effective algorithm on how to do that.
Step 1. Choose your topic
As always, consider choosing the topic that interests you the most, even if the research paper is dedicated to one of your least favorite fields of studies. In such a case, it will be easier for you to show engagement in the topic, as well as possess enough interest to conduct fruitful research. Even if your research paper is totally out of your sphere of interest, try to find one aspect of it, which can be related to something you are keen on. Such a hint will also help you to cope with step 2, which is…
Step 2. Narrow your topic to one aspect
You can try several approaches here or combine all of them. As I have previously mentioned, you can stick to one point of your primary interest and discuss it in your research. If that is not your case, consider sticking to the specific period, particular person, or one case. Those are the easiest points that can help to narrow down almost every topic; however, you are not limited to them.
Step 3. Verify your topic
There are two things you should check here. First, look for the related sources and see if your research question can be fully covered by it. That is not obligatory if you are doing some experimental research; however, if your study is limited to literature analysis only, you should be sure that there is enough literature actually to do research. Secondly, consider your research question’s originality: it is useless if it merely repeats the well-known conclusions or the results of other, more profound studies.
Step 4. Check the relevance of the topic
Your topic will not be considered appropriate for the research if it is no longer relevant: researching the impact of mobile phones or remedy that is not currently prescribed by the doctors will add zero value and will make your paper useless. Therefore, always double-check if the topic of your research is presently discussed or is potentially used for the future.
Step 5. Put questions to your topic
You have chosen the topic — now it’s time to come up with the research question (cause that’s why we’re here, right?). To start, just put the regular questions to your topic, beginning with why/what/how/who, etc. The questions should be open-ended, so don’t use the easiest ones. Consider the most engaging options for you and continue with 1-2 versions that can be further examined.
Step 6. Evaluate your research question
Now when you have 1 or 2 options, evaluate them critically, and make sure that you have chosen the correct one. You might want to check whether your research question is clear, narrow, and complex enough to be suitable for the research. You should also consider your audience and the major arguments/points you are going to discuss within the chosen research question.
Research Question Example (Weak vs. Strong)
Formulating the research question is both essential and challenging, so you should practice a bit and write down several possible variations of the research question you have chosen. Let’s check some of the examples. So, here is an example of the weak research question:
What are the causes of anorexia?
What’s wrong with it? First of all, it’s extremely wide: you can speak about tens of anorexia causes, and within your words limit, you won’t be able to discuss any of it in-depth. Secondly, it’s not clear enough: what types of causes are you willing to discuss: the personal, the environmental, or the inherited? However, these research questions can be easily narrowed and rewritten to:
How relationships with peers affect the possibility of having anorexia among male college students?
Now we have a clear cause which is investigated (relationships with peers), its possible impact, and the affected social group (male college students). Moreover, we are adding a value here by examining not so typical social groups in regards to anorexia as usually, the majority of the studies focus on the female audience. Yet, we will be able to use those sources as a foundation for the research, as well as check on the studies that specialize in the male victims of anorexia.