What makes a good research question?

Not all research questions are good ones in other words, not all questions can be answered through qualitative and quantitative research methodology.  A good research question needs to:

  • Make sense:  In other words, you must clearly define your terms using known definitions outlined in the literature. For example, a poor research question would be:  How do people’s lives improve after surgery?  Not only does this research question fail to specify the study population, it contains the vague term improve.  The researcher must specify what he/she means by this term does it involve a physical improvement or rather an improvement in mental state?  The more specific your research question, the better.
  • Address an important and relevant issue:  Scientific research is done to increase knowledge, not simply for a single researchers personal satisfaction.  Whatever question the researcher sets out to solve must have some beneficial implications.  With this in mind, the researcher may continue narrowing the study focus to an area that can be addressed as a single question.  For example, now that the researcher has chosen proper eye care and how it affects individuals, the topic can be further focused to be about “basic eye care and how it affects individual work productivity. A good research question will also always have relevance to the time, place, and population of the study.  For example, a study of Vitamin A deficiency in Southern India would be a poor choice as this is not a particularly significant problem in the area.
  • Not already have been done:  A good research study will be novel.  This means that there will be some new aspect of the study that has never before been examined.  However, this does not mean that you should avoid replicating past research.  In fact, not only is replication a good way to get a research methodology, it is how science is supposed to advance knowledge.  When replicating a pervious study, it is best to add or change one or two things to increase the novelty of the research.
  • Be operationalizable: Oftentimes, beginning researchers pose questions that cannot be operationalized, or assessed methodologically with research instruments.  From the example above, the idea of life improvement could be operationalized by a Quality of Life survey well known and validated research tool. In general, the more abstract the idea, the harder it is to operationalize.
  • Be within a reasonable scope: A good research project will be manageable in depth and breadth.  The scope will depend on the amount of time and the availability of resources you have for your study.  In general, the more focused the research question the more likely it will be a successful project.  For example, a study that seeks to identify the prevalence eye disease in a specific village is more likely to succeed than a comparable study that seeks to identify eye disease prevalence in the world population.