Asking Research Questions

Whether you’re writing a paper for a university class or doing workplace research, you’ll be more efficient if you begin with a clear research question.  That’s because research questions are more than handy tools; they are essential to the research process. By defining exactly what the researcher is trying to find out, these questions influence most of the rest of the steps taken to conduct the research.

For instance, if you’re seeking information about a health problem in order to learn whether you have anything to worry about, research questions will make it possible for you to more effectively decide whether to seek medical help–and how quickly. Or, if you’re researching a potential employer, having developed and used research questions will mean you’re able to more confidently decide whether to apply for an internship or job there.

The confidence you’ll have when making such decisions will come from knowing that the information they’re based on was gathered by conscious thought rather than luck.

Most of us look for information to answer questions every day, and we often act on the answers to those questions. Are research questions any different from most of the questions for which we seek information? Yes.


Regular Question: What time is my movie showing at Silver City Richmond on Friday?
Research Question: How do “sleeper” films end up having outstanding attendance figures?
Regular Question: What can I do about my insomnia?
Research Question: How do flights more than 16 hours long affect the reflexes of commercial jet pilots?
Regular Question: How many children in Canada have allergies?
Research Question: How does his or her country of birth affect a child’s chances of developing asthma?

Research questions cannot be answered by a quick web search. Answering them involves using more critical thinking than answering regular questions because they seem more debatable. Research questions require more sources of information to answer and, consequently, take more time to answer. They, more often than regular questions, start with the word “How” or “Why.”

That’s why research questions are so key to workplace research. If the answer was easy to find, no one would pay you to find it.

To test your knowledge, sort the following questions into “research questions” and “not research questions.”



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Business Writing For Everyone Copyright © 2021 by Arley Cruthers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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