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How do you formulate a research question?

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Quick Answer

Students formulate research questions by choosing a general topic of interest, determining the audience and conducting preliminary research to determine what questions the topic generates. Research questions should be neither too broad nor too narrow.

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Research questions must be arguable and have unanswered issues. Strong research questions have one topic and at least two major concepts within the topic. The questions should answer open-ended questions such as what, how and why. Students must challenge, examine and analyze research questions, and they can focus on causes, effects or solutions to problems.

Students can narrow broad research question topics by time, geographic location, demographics and viewpoints. Time narrows topics to specific time periods. Place narrows topics by specific regions, countries or cities. Demographics can include sex, occupation, age, educational level or ethnicity. Students' social and economic statuses affect their viewpoints when narrowing or focusing their research questions. Other factors that affect research questions include the students' psychological, philosophical and moral beliefs.

Research questions must address variables in experiments or research and how the variables relate to each other. Students shape research questions into testable hypotheses and then report results of the tested hypotheses, including both qualitative and quantitative data. Answers to research questions become students' thesis statements in research papers.

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