Tips for designing your research question

Before you even undertake your research, let alone write up your research findings, your first objective will be to determine the actual research question that your article is designed to investigate and answer.

The importance of your research question (and research scope)

  • This will be the first thing a journal editor will look for.
  • It is the most important element for the paper to be meaningful.
  • It should be as explicit as possible.

Good and bad examples

  • Unfocused and too broad

‘What are the effects of childhood obesity?’

This is too broad because the effects of childhood obesity are many and varied – they could be physical, psychological, social, etc.

  • More focused

‘How does childhood obesity correlate with academic performance?’

This example is better because it specifies a correlation. However, it is still not ideally focused, because there is still very broad scope around the context of the academic performance.

  • Too narrow

‘What is the obesity rate in New York, USA?’

This example is too narrow, because it focuses on a very specific outcome and data set.

Also, taking this geographically-focused example, unless you are writing an article for a very specific regional journal, it would be too narrow to state: 

‘How does childhood obesity correlate with academic performance in teenagers in New York, USA?’

Such a research question would have more value if, for example, you are comparing populations or if the focus of research is on other aspects of the teenage population in this specific US location.

  • More focused

An example of a good research question would be one in which a sufficiently broad impact is analyzed, even if is related to a specific population. For example:

‘How does the education level of the parents impact childhood obesity rates in New York, USA?’

This is also good, because it sets a context for future comparative analysis or research on the education level of parents in other geographical locations and whether there are similarities or differences, and why.

Another good example would be the following:

‘How does childhood obesity correlate with academic performance in American teenagers?’

In this example, the research focuses on a specific population, but one which is sufficiently broad to provide meaningful context to the research results, and on a specific outcome (relating to academic performance).

 

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