A research question is the question that has to be answered when the research has finished.
A reserach question starts wit a problem statement
The basic idea of research is that a problem can be solved with it. Take notice, not the problem itself is solved, but the research should present a possible solution. An advice is given. This implicates the idea of a researcher as an advisor and not a problem solver. Read more about this on our page problem statement.
Problems can be small or very big. Ä big problem like "how can the earth pollution be reduced?, is far too big to be answered in one research question. It should be divided in several (a whole lot?) sub-questions. Each sub-question can become the main research question for that part of the research. If there are a lot of questions it is better to speak of a research programme.
Levels in the research question?
For a good research question some literature should be studied. It prevents the researcher from doing the same work others have done already. You can think of topics like: becoming aware of issues which might give problems in the research, or which instruments have been used to investigate the topic. This part of the research can best be seen as a separate research with research question of its own: what is known in literature about this subject.
What is a good research question?
The most important asoect is is: A good research question can be answered. Questions of which you cannot think of an answer, should be restated.
If it is clear from the beginning that a question cannot be answered, the research cannot be finished. This makes clear that research is a process with a clear beginning and an clear end. It ends when the answer is given.
Consequently, a good research question makes the research straight forward in the activities that should be applied to give the answer. All sideways can be cut away or postponed for further research. It limits the activities. It is clear to everyone – in science especially to the researcher; for companies in what time and what the money is spend on - what has to be done to answer the question.
Often there is lot of discussion about the research question. Well, that is necessary. A slight change in words might lead to quite a different kind of research.
Bad research questions
A research question that can be answered immediately, that is without gathering data, is not a good research question. It is more like a question in an exam: did you learn the lessons well.
A research question which could be answered after some brainstorming, should be reformulated.
Do not make a research question too big. There is only a little amount of money and time for finding an answer. It is better to give a clear answer on a restricted problem than giving a windy answer on a wuthering problem.
A final comment
These are is in short the most important aspects of formulating a good research question. Much more can be read in our manual: How to formulate a good research question.