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Developing and framing a Research Question for different types of studies

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Developing and framing your Research Question for different types of studies

An original and well-defined research question gives your work direction and is a crucial factor that determines publication success. This article discusses how you can develop and frame your research question for different types of studies.

Purpose of a research question

The fundamental objective of a research project is to answer one or more research questions. A research question emerges from a gap in the existing knowledge. Thus, the formulation of a research question is one of the first steps in a study.

Apt number of questions for a study

A research project will typically have one main question and a few specific sub-questions. The number of questions and sub-questions depends on:

  • Type of study
  • Available funds and resources
  • Time and feasibility

Background work for developing a research question

The broad research topic is the starting point from which to formulate a worthwhile research question. To generate a unique research question, you need to collate information from the relevant literature, conflating it with your own thoughts to produce an argument. 

Before drafting the questions, you should identify the type of study (quantitative, qualitative or mixed-method), because the questions govern the research methodology, design, variables, etc.

Developing a research question: Quantitative studies

In quantitative research, the question deals with cause and effect and therefore includes independent and dependent variables. The question will aim at comparing or finding connections among variables.

Examples of quantitative research questions are:

How do the frequency and intensity of food cravings differ between diabetic teenagers and non-diabetic teenagers?

Does exposure to famine in childhood affect cognition in later life?

Developing a research question: Qualitative studies

In qualitative research, the question deals with ‘what’ or ‘how’; you identify the central issue you intend to describe, explore or understand.

Examples of qualitative research questions are:

What are farmers’ perceptions of climate change? 

How do farmers in Burkina Faso value drought-resistant crop varieties?

Developing a research question: Healthcare studies

In healthcare research, you need to structure your research questions using frameworks such as:

  • FINER (questions that are Feasible, Interesting, Novel, Ethical and Relevant)
  • PICO (to define the Population, Intervention, Comparator and Outcome).

Tip: In fact, you may use some of the pointers in these frameworks for any field of research.

Formulating your research question

The problem statement, rationale, research question and hypothesis all appear in the Introduction section, usually in the following order.

  1. The statement of a problem is a declarative statement acknowledging a gap that exists in the literature or a problem in the concerned field of study for which a solution is imperatively needed, along with evidence for and likely causes of the problem. The problem is typically one which the present study undertakes to solve at least in part.
  2. The rationale of the study provides a justification for and contextualises the study in terms of its significance.
  3. A research question expresses the gap or area of concern in interrogative form.
  4. A hypothesis is a prediction based on the research question. 

For more help with designing your research question, read: Tips for designing your research question

Final note: Stay focused

It is important to stay focused when coming up with research questions. You might find that one question leads to one or more questions, each leading to even more questions, ad infinitum! To stay on course, consider the FINER framework when finalising your questions.


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