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Writing 117 (Pravin): Research Questions

Writing for the Social Sciences and Humanities

Characteristics of Good Research Questions

Ask a question of interest.

By asking a research question, you are keeping an open mind about what the research may reveal. 

See if your question is TRUE for these five criteria.  If so, then your research question is probably workable.  You will likely have to do some preliminary research to really discover if all of these statements are TRUE for your proposed research question.

  1. It cannot simply be answered with a yes/no. 
  2. It involves investigating a problem or interpreting/analyzing. 
  3. It has significance.
  4. There is reliable evidence available to address it.
  5. It has appropriate scope.

Note:  Be careful about investigating questions that you think you already have the answer to.

Sample Research Questions

Below are examples of research questions investigated by researchers and written about in scholarly journal articles.

Political Science / History / Geography

Christensen, Darin. "The geography of repression in Africa." Journal of Conflict Resolution (2017): DOI: 10.1177/0022002716686829.

Q: How do the locations of protests in African countries between 1990 and 2012 affect how forcefully a government will crack down?


Jones, Elizabeth. "Racism, fines and fees and the US carceral state." Race & Class 59.3 (2018): 38-50.

Q: Does the practice of collecting fines and fees for low-level offences in the United States increase poverty and produce and reinforce race and class inequalities?


Ghiso, María Paula & Campano, Gerald. "Ideologies of Language and Identity in U.S.Children's Literature." Bookbird: A Journal of International Children's Literature, vol. 51 no. 3, 2013, pp. 47-55. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/bkb.2013.0057

Q:  How are language ideologies represented in U.S. children's literature representing immigrant and migrant youth's language experiences both in and out of school? (See the article for additional research questions.)

Asking Questions to Develop a Research Question

Developing a Research Question (6:25) Laurier Library  While this video also focuses on the 5W, it shows examples of creating a question and reiterates that good research questions require analysis (not answered by yes/no), are focused (meet assignment requirements), and are clear (no vague words).