Preparing for and Developing Research Questions in Five Easy Steps:
Conducting Proper Research is a Valuable Skill
Your kid wants to learn how to ride a bike, and you’re wondering which training bicycle you should purchase. The new boss at your job asks you to figure out a way to reduce the spending budget without sacrificing quality. You and your friend are having a heated debate about a polarizing topic, and you need evidence to support your point.
What do all these scenarios have in common? They require research. Not just any research, but credible research. Wrong information can lead you to a lousy bicycle, an inadequate budgeting plan, or the losing end of a discussion.
Many learn how to research at school and then use those skills in other areas of their lives. Below, we’re going to dive into why research is important and teach you how to prepare for a research project in five easy steps.
Why Is Research Important?
Knowing how to properly conduct research is crucial because it ensures accuracy, credibility, and depth in your findings. Effective research skills help you sift out questionable sources, so you can focus on reliable information. Moreover, strong research skills allow you to evaluate different perspectives to make informed decisions and contribute to academic or professional discourse.
Preparing for research is just as important as the research itself. Following the steps listed below ensures that you have everything you need to begin researching for an assignment or project.
1. Carefully Analyze the Research Assignment
Often, a professor will allow students to pick their research topics. If you find yourself in this scenario, you may be overwhelmed by the seemingly endless subjects you can write about.
Consider the following questions to help you decide on a research topic:
- What subjects are you already informed on and would like to explore more fully?
- Are there any subjects you’re passionate about or would like to become an expert on?
- Which subjects evoke a strong reaction from you?
When choosing a topic, make sure to narrow it down as much as possible. For instance, a research paper on climate change may be too broad, but one on how climate change disproportionately affects poor communities is more manageable.
If a topic is assigned to you, carefully read the instructions and focus on the keyword. Is your professor asking that you describe, analyze, persuade, explore, compare, or something else?
Once you have a grasp on the topic of your research project, there are other important aspects to consider.
- Who will your audience be?
- What do they know, and what will they want to know?
- What response are you looking for from them?
- What type of evidence will be most effective in getting them to see your perspective?
- What does your professor expect?
- What’s the goal? What would you like to accomplish with your writing?
Your Stance on the Topic
- How do you feel about the topic?
- What are your viewpoints, and what has influenced them?
Once you consider all this, it’s time to move on to the second step of preparing for research.
2. Craft a Research Question and Hypothesis
Before we explain how to develop a research question, let’s first cover a common query: What is a research question?
A research question is a focused and specific inquiry that defines the purpose of your research project. Its purpose is to identify the main problem or issue to be explored. Think of the research question as your guide while writing—it helps clarify the objective, serves as a foundation for the research process, and provides a framework for data collection, analysis, and interpretation.
Remember, it’s critical to choose a topic and narrow the focus to develop a research question. Once you have done this, gather the information you already have about the subject or conduct preliminary research. This helps you familiarize yourself with the topic, refresh your memory, or explore new perspectives that will then guide you in crafting the research question.
A good research question should be:
- Specific and concise: A long-winded research question will lead to a research project that’s too broad and therefore hard to answer.
- Clear, yet complex: The purpose of your research should be clear to understand, but complex enough in that it needs to be investigated.
- Answerable: Ensure that your question can be answered using evidence and credible sources.
- Aligned with the purpose of your research project: The research question you develop should go hand in hand with the assignment.
- Possible to be answered within the specific time allotted for your project: Don’t formulate a research question that cannot be answered by the deadline.
Why are college students stressed?
The example above is not an effective research question because it’s too general and unfocused. A better, more narrow-scoped alternative can be found below.
What effect do mindfulness and meditation have on stress reduction among college students?
The question above is specific and can be answered using measurable data and evidence.
Once you have developed a research question, you should tentatively answer it with a hypothesis—a statement of what you believe your research will lead you to. Having a hypothesis is important because it will:
- Further guide your research project
- Formulate a testable prediction
- Help you map out your research (which we’ll get to in the next step)
It’s important to remember that a hypothesis isn’t final. It’ll grow and change as you research and learn new information.
Here’s an example of a hypothesis:
Mindfulness and meditation techniques significantly reduce self-reported stress levels among college students compared to those who do not practice mindfulness and meditation.
3. Map Out Your Research
Once you have your hypothesis, it’s time to start planning your research. Ask yourself, “What do I already know that can help prove my hypothesis, and where did I learn that information?” This is a good starting point, as it can help lead you to where you need to look.
Then, ask yourself the following questions:
- What kind of sources do you need to consult that’ll best help you gain an understanding of your topic? (Books, articles, websites, students, etc.)
- How many sources will you have to refer to in order to have enough credible evidence?
Remember: During your research, you must develop a working bibliography and take detailed notes.
4. Create a Research Log
A research log is a record-keeping tool used to document various aspects of the research process, which will make writing and documenting your sources much easier and more accurate. A research log can help you:
- Stay organized
- Keep track of ideas
- Track progress
- Reflect and refine
There are many ways to create a research log. You can:
- Create a physical log using a notebook or binder.
- Opt for a digital version using a spreadsheet or software, like Obsidian.
- Create a folder on your laptop, desktop, or tablet, then create subfolders within each to help you stay organized.
It’s a good idea to date and timestamp entries to provide a chronological record of your research process.
5. Transform Your Hypothesis into a Working Thesis
After some research, you will probably have to refine your hypothesis or change it altogether. Don’t panic! This is a normal part of the research process and a natural result of learning and gathering new information.
In fact, transforming your hypothesis into a working thesis is an integral part of conducting research. A working thesis can be written only after you’ve evaluated, refined, and revised your initial hypothesis based on evidence.
Let’s use the example of the hypothesis mentioned above to create a working thesis:
Implementing a mindfulness and meditation program for college students will lead to a significant reduction in self-reported stress levels, as evidenced by lower stress scores and improved well-being measures.
The hypothesis has grown from merely referencing that mindfulness and meditation may be beneficial to college students to strongly suggesting that a program should be put in place to help college students deal with stress.
Slow and Steady Wins the (Research) Race
Writing an effective, clear, and high-quality research paper takes time and effort. That’s why preparing for it is a vital, albeit tedious, process. Following the steps mentioned above ensures that you will properly conduct research that will help you write a strong research project.
Even when you’re just getting ready for research, it’s important that all your text is free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, or you risk spreading those same errors to your final project. LanguageTool is a multilingual writing assistant that helps students and scholars write error-free academic texts. Give it a try!
Lunsford, Andrea A. The Everyday Writer, 2010.
Library. “Developing Research Questions,” n.d. https://www.monash.edu/library/help/assignments-research/developing-research-questions.