A research question is a clear, focused and complex question which provides a path through the research process.
Steps to developing a research question:
Is it clear? A strong research question should never leave room for ambiguity or interpretation.
Unclear: Why are social networking sites harmful?
Clear: How are online users experiencing or addressing privacy issues on Facebook?
The unclear version of this question assumes that this “harm” is proven and/or accepted. The clearer version specifies a site (Facebook) and the type of harm (privacy issues).
Is it focused? When in doubt, make a research question as narrow and focused as possible.
Unfocused: What is the effect on the environment from global warming?
Focused: How is glacial melting affecting penguins in Antarctica?
The unfocused research question is so broad that it can’t be answered in a book. The focused version narrows down to a specific cause (glacial melting), a specific place (Antarctica), and a specific group that is affected (penguins).
Is it complex? If a quick Google search can answer a research question, it’s not effective.
Too simple: What is the current rate of childhood obesity?
Appropriately Complex: What is the relationship between video gaming and childhood obesity?
The simple version of this question can be looked up online and answered in a few factual sentences; it leaves no room for analysis. The more complex version is thought provoking and requires both significant investigation and evaluation from the writer.
This is a simplified version of the Writing Center website at George Mason University:
Are you used to using Google? You should know that academic tools such as the Library catalog and research databases need different search techniques. Let's use a simple example. If your research question is:
What are the public health consequences of legalizing marijuana?
In Google, you could just type in the entire question and get pretty good results. But if you are going to search the online catalog or research databases, you'll need to simplify your query. Focus on the most important words in your query and search using only them. Make it simple:
"public health" legal* marijuana
Notice that I put quotes around the phrase. I also put an asterisk (*) at the end of legal. That way, I'll get articles that have the word legal, legalize, legalizing, and any other word that begins with the letters l e g a l.
It's also useful to think of other words that mean similar things, in case your first query doesn't bring back what you want. For example, here are some other queries that might work:
epidemiology law* cannabis
"mental health" tetrahydrocannabinol