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Starting Your Research Series

Research Question Criteria

To Do: Watch this video (3:28) for an introduction to what makes a good research question.



Sheridan Library, University of Cincinnati Libraries 3:28

Let’s review key criteria from the video. Then you will apply these criteria to sample research questions to determine whether they are strong or weak research questions.

#1 Create a research question that is not easily answered or over-simplified. It has substance, requiring explanation and analysis. You don’t want it answered with a simple yes or no.

The question, “Should Americans avoid eating fast food daily?” feels like it lacks substance or true debate. If you asked your peers this question, most would likely respond with “Yes, eating fast food every day isn’t good for anyone!”

The question, “What do North American airline companies currently charge for baggage in domestic flights?” also seems weak.  Though it will require you to search for information to answer it, your response will not require any deep analysis.

#2 Create a research question that poses a genuine question and aims for neutrality.  Avoid using loaded language or suggesting a pre-determined answer.

In this question, How can massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) be banned to avoid future violence?, the questioner seems to suggest that MMOGs are causing violence. However, this may be up for debate.

This second question seems more neutral. What warnings, if any, should massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) have for users under the age of 13?

#3 Create a research question that can be answered with reliable and credible evidence. Make sure it is re-searchable!

If you are interested in, “How has the paparazzi impacted the mental health of California’s elite?”, you would have to also ask yourself if there is sufficient, reliable and credible evidence to answer this question. 

#4 Create a research question that is manageable, with appropriate scope for your paper or project. You want a question that is not too narrow, nor too broad; you don't want to be overwhelmed with too much information or left with too little information.

For instance, “How might the United States government address the nation’s food insecurity?” is a HUGE question while “How might non-profits address the food insecurity of men aged 50 and older in Merced?“ is extremely narrow.  

#5 Lastly, create a research question that is interesting to you and relevant to others. Your question should be important and meaningful to someone other than just you!

“Why does my family love quinoa so much?” might be an interesting question to you, but is it meaningful to anyone else??? 

However, “How has the popularity of quinoa impacted the food security of those in Bolivia and Peru?” could interest you AND have relevance to others too.

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