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Tackling Information Problems (TIP): Formulate your research question

Information Literacy tutorial for undergraduate students

Formulate your research question

Once you have picked a general topic, you are ready to narrow down your topic to a research question that is: 

  • clear and simple;
  • specific;
  • manageable (answering the research question must be doable in your paper's assigned length);
  • consistent with the assignment requirements.

Narrowing down your topic to a research question

Narrowing your topic to a research question takes a bit of research and thought. Ways to narrow your topic down include zooming in on a particular: 

  • aspect or angle; 
  • time period;
  • geographical location;
  • organization;
  • population;
  • gender;
  • age group.

The following examples illustrate how to narrow general topics to create focused research questions.  

General topic  Narrowed topic Focused topic Research question
Women's health Women and cancer Women smokers and breast cancer What is the impact of cigarette smoking on breast cancer risk in middle-aged women? 
Video games Video game violence Video game violence and aggression in children How does violence in video games affect aggression in adolescents? 
Eating disorders Teenagers and eating disorders  Teen peer pressure and anorexia What role, if any, does peer pressure play in the development of anorexia among teenage girls?
Leadership Leadership and gender Gender differences in leadership behavior  What are similarities and differences between male and female leadership behavior in multinational companies?  

More examples of research questions

Economics
How can virtual teams help multi-national companies increase their communication efficiency?

Sub-questions:

  1. What are best practices and benefits identified by other multi-national companies working in virtual teams?
  2. What are drawbacks of working in virtual teams?

Social sciences
How do socio-cultural factors influence the onset of anorexia in female adolescents?

Sub-questions:

  1. What are the signs and symptoms of anorexia?
  2. What does research say about the relation between socio-cultural factors and anorexia in female adolescents?
  3. Which female adolescents are most susceptible to the effects of these socio-cultural factors?

Law
How can work-related injuries in the Dutch building industry be reduced?

Sub-questions:

  1. What are the causes of injuries in the Dutch building industry?
  2. What laws and policies are currently in place?

Humanities
How do social media affect the dissemination of research?

Sub-questions:

  1. How are social media defined and what types of social media can be identified?
  2. How was research disseminated before the emergence of social media?