Writing research questions


It is time to write your student thesis soon. Maybe you have started thinking about which research questions you want to study in your thesis. It is usually difficult to formulate good research questions. The idea is to formulate questions which will give you meaningful and relevant results and also to describe your work in a consist manner. Research questions can be descriptive (what is happening, what exists), relational (relationship between two or more variables) or causal (whether one or more variables causes one or more outcome variables) and methods can be quantitative or qualitative.

Research questions should be neutral and you should try to forget what you know and try to be objective. The questions should be written in a way so that the answers are meaningful. Time is also a factor. There is not enough time to gather a lot of empirical data and therefore it is important that the questions are possible to answer and the study is feasible. Questions should also be short and unambiguous to minimize the risk for misinterpretations.

Björn Lundgren from Malmö University gives some tips in a video but it is in Swedish. Therefore, I have summarized the film here.

First decide what you are interested of, maybe social media and teaching. Then the following question could be written: “How is teaching improved when social media is used?” The problems with the question are than improvement is presumed and that social media is a broad concept.

If the question is written “Is teaching improved when social media is used?” it becomes more neutral but the problem is how to study improvement? What is meant by it?

What about “Does the students think that the usage of social media improves teaching?” This is a more neutral question; you are also studying improvement from the students’ point of view. They are defining improvement. The problem is that improvement implies a change for the better and a positive attitude towards social media although your research questions should be neutral.

If the question is written “Do the students think that the usage of social media has a positive, negative or no effect on teaching?”. Here you give the impression that you are interested of the change in teaching when using social media but the problem is that the answer could be very short “Usage of social media has effect on teaching.” Therefore some follow-up questions are needed, e.g. ”In what way are the students effected?”

To be able to answer this question some background information is needed, the context where the students are need to be described. The follow-up could be written like this: “Which social media is used in teaching, how often and in what way?” The problem here is that the question contains more than one question which will create a problem later on in your thesis when you try to answer the question. Therefore you should write the questions separately: “Which social media is used in teaching?”, “How often social media is used in teaching?” and “In what way is social media used in teaching?”. A student thesis should have one or more main questions which are complemented by some sub-questions.

Find our books on research methods.

Read an article on how to choose a good research questions.

Text: Pieta Eklund