Research paper tips: you should have a clear research question

Students that find they’re having difficulty in getting started on their research are more likely than not suffering from the lack of a clear research question or set of clear research questions. Clarifying your research question can make finding source material with which to support your thesis a far simpler matter. The tips we’ve collected here can help.

Determine what question your thesis answers.

The easiest way to figure out your research question is to think of your thesis as being the answer to that question. If your thesis is the answer, then what would the question be? This isn’t a failsafe method, of course, because not every thesis can be reversed in this way. Another issue might be that your thesis itself is flawed. If you’re having serious problems figuring out a research question based on your thesis as an answer, considering tweaking your thesis until you can is a good first step.

See what sort of content you find when you research this question.

When you start searching for source material to answer the question, take a closer look at what you find and consider the following:

  • Does the available source material seem to go off in too many different directions?
  • If every source seems to go in a wildly different direction, then you need to consider the possibility that your research question is too broad. If that’s the case, look at a handful of the sources you’ve found and generate more specific questions based on their main ideas.

  • Does every source seem to be the same?
  • If every source you find is from the same research body, if you see that many of the same contributors are often repeated, or if the sources just seem to contain a lot of redundant material, then your topic is probably too specific. If that seems to be what the problem is, then make a list of questions that the authors of the source material probably asked themselves to lead to their own theses.

Make a list of three refined research questions

Once you’ve identified the issue with your initial question, formulate three new potential questions that seem to avoid the same problems, and go through the process again. Once your searches generate sufficient material that shows plenty of focus and variety alike, you’ve found a clear research question to work with.