The research question

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Getting your research project into focus
The first step in the research process is to identify the topic of study. The most effective way to do this is to work with a research question.

How does a research question evolve?

A researcher starts with an area of interest: a topic or subject. These areas may arise from confusion that the researcher has about a particular topic, from problems that need solving, or from simple intellectual curiosity. But topics and subjects are very broad, and the process of formulating a question is a way of narrowing and focussing the area of study until it becomes truly researchable.

Developing a good research question is an on-going and iterative process. As the researcher does the background work to understand the topic, the topic will modify and change until a searchable and meaningful question emerges that will then become the primary research focus.

A research question emerges and takes shape from the reading and enquiry that the researcher undertakes around your topic of interest. Steps in formulating a research question

1. Identify the general area of interest

2. Read and discuss the topic to build a deep knowledge base.

3. Reflect on what is already known about the topic, what remains to be explored, and what is of interest to the researcher.

4. Formulate an initial question.

5. Read, reflect and discuss the initial question further.

6. Refine the question and develop the research project

Developing a research question requires the researcher to engage with previous research and with other knowledgeable people in the discipline.

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Consider the following questions:
  • How refined is the question(s) you wrote down earlier?
  • In what ways do you think you can improve your research questions(s)
  • In your view, what are the requirements for a good research question?