How to find the best research question

A focused research question should help to guide you through your research project. However, finding the right question can be challenging, because a research question that is too broad can become unmanageable, while a research scope that's too narrow may not yield enough to meet the requirements of your institution. The available time frame and resources are also key factors to consider when developing your research question.

The question itself should be clearly written without any extra padding, and it should clearly summarise the problem that you want to research.

How to narrow down a research question

Take a broad topic area that interests you and consider the directions you could take it in to narrow it down. I was very interested in language acquisition for my masters dissertation, but that was too broad, so I tried to find the most efficient ways of language acquisition in the literature. I eventually focused on the use of a vocabulary notebook that simply has four different methods to remember a new word using the most effective learning styles for the individual learner. This topic was appropriate for me, because it interested me for my own language learning, as well as the success of my students too.

It's always best to speak to your supervisor, because they may have ideas that will influence your question development, as well as feedback on the quality of your questions.

Try to identify gaps in the knowledge

Conducting research can be a long and tiring process, so it's important to stay motivated and feel as if your research could make a difference. By finding gaps in the knowledge, you'll be able to potentially secure a place in that subject area for your work, which should help to keep your motivation levels up!

Gaps don't necessary mean new questions. You may find inconsistencies in the literature that you feel should be investigated further, or you may think that a study is flawed and want to reinvestigate it with a different methodology.

Choosing your final research question

Writing down a list of potential research questions can be useful. Critically analyse each question to see if there would be the right amount of research scope and the right levels of objectivity. Don't forget to consider any costs in terms of time, labour or equipment. Remember that your question can evolve as you build your research, so it's not the end of the world if your question is tweaked a little bit during the research project.

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