Author: Ana Pérez-Escoda Translation: Erika-Lucia Gonzalez-Carrion

When starting a new research project, it is important to develop a solid research question. This is a crucial step in the process, as it will guide all research activity, which means taking the necessary time and ensuring the right approach.

A correctly written research question has several characteristics that we must take into account to know that we have succeeded:

  • It must be clearly defined, avoiding the use of technical language.
  • It must be adequately focused to direct the research towards a logical conclusion. It should summarize a pending issue or problem that you wish to investigate through research, through a review of the literature or an experimental study or a theoretical exercise.
  • It should be approached plausibly and realistically within a schedule taking into account the available resources (for example, money, equipment, assistants, etc.).

Main steps to write a research question

Frequently, each researcher has a broad topic that interests him/her, an area of ​​disciplinary interest for which he/she feels motivated. However, this is not enough, it is essential to focus more rigorously. The following steps can help to organize the necessary priorities to find the meaningful research question we are looking for:

  • Step 1: Limit the general idea to a topic that can be investigated, bounded within the area. It is easier to do this by following your own curiosity about a particular research problem.
  • Step 2: To get the context of this general topic. It is essential to make preliminary readings, which enrich the previous knowledge of the subject. In this process, it is vital to ask questions such as: What has been done before, and more recently? How were these studies conducted? What hypotheses were tested? After these reflections, without doubt, new questions will arise. There may also be conflicting evidence or inconsistencies in the literature, which in one way or another will lead the researcher to find his/her questions.
  • Step 3: Refine the subject, as if using an even more powerful lens. In this step of the process other actors, team colleagues or from renowned prestige come into action to consult and with whom to comment impressions. This exchange of ideas is always enriching and helps to acquire a different perspective.
  • Step 4: To recap, in the final step, you should analyze the list of research questions, be critical of the process performed. It is essential to ask: Can I really find and/or collect the necessary data to address this question or problem? Will the method be feasible? Is my question too broad or narrow, or too subjective or objective?

In short, a useful practical rule to know if a research question is well formulated is to follow the “FINER” method: Feasible, Interesting, Novel, Ethical and Relevant (O’Brien & Broughton, 2017).

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