What is Research Question?
What is Research Question?


Research question is “clear, focused, concise, complex and arguable question around which you center your research” [1].


“A research question is the methodological point of departure of scholarly research in both the natural and social sciences” [3].


“A research question is a formal statement of the goal of a study” [2].

From the above three definitions, the first one is most comprehensive and it covers all the aspects of a good “Research Question”, so we will stick with the first definition and explain each part in detail.

Clear: Clear means that there should be no ambiguity in research question. Those words should not be used which make the reader double minded and reader himself can think about the discussion and result of the paper. Let’s understand this with an example.

Unclear question = How diseases are harmful?

Clear question = How diabetes is harmful for heart patient?

Now unclear version do not defines the word ‘harmful’. Harmful in what sense? Harmful to whom? What type of diseases? Here the reader can redirect his/her thinking to any possible harm due to any disease. So the clear version clearly indicates that how diabetes is harmful for heart patient?

Focused: The research question should be focused or should narrow down to the problem. The question should not cover vast area of research. For example,

Unfocused: How to secure computer networks?

Focused: How to secure data on computer networks?

As there are many aspects to be considered in computer network for security. Security could be the server security, user’s security or link security etc. So, the first question is not a focused question. It does not narrow down our research to a point. While the second one narrow down our research to one aspect of security in computer networks. So the focused version of question makes our focus narrow to data security in computer networks.

Concise: It should have to be concise, means not so lengthy. In other words, compact in size and a lot in meanings. For example,

Un concise = What are possible solutions to get rid of Eaves Dropping, Data Modification, IP Address Spoofing, Password Based Attacks, DOS attacks, Man-In-Middle attacks, Compromised-key attacks, Sniffer attacks, and Application layer attacks?

Concise: What are possible solutions to different software based attacks on computer networks?

First question is lengthy as it mentions all software types of attacks one by one to make it not concise. Second question is concise, because we encapsulate all attacks given in first question in “software base attacks on computer networks”.

Complex and Arguable: Research Question should be complex. If it is a simple question to answer, then there is no need to conduct research. If a question can be answered with some Google queries, then it will not be effective. So answer to research question should involve research, analysis and argument about your results. For Example,

Simple = How much money cost for a NASA mission?

Complex = On which aspect of a NASA mission, most money is spent?

Simple question can be answered with few queries, because it is easy to know that how much money is spent on a single NASA mission. But it is really hard to find out the aspect / area in a NASA mission where most of the money spent? First we have to find all the areas that are involved in a single mission and then the budget of each area. So second question is complex and need some research and analysis.


[1] http://writingcenter.gmu.edu/?p=307

[2] http://www.sahs.utmb.edu/pellinore/intro_to_research/wad/res_ques.htm

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_question#Related_Terms