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Formulating a Research Question

What makes a good research question?

Good research questions are:

Focused - They address a single problem or issue and can be answered in the length of the assignment

Complex - They are not answerable with a "yes" or "no," but involve analysis, synthesis, or experimentation

Arguable and/or Subjective - They are not answerable with objective facts, but require the writer to take and possibly defend a position

How to develop a good research question?

  1. Select a general topic that interests you - It is always easier to write about a topic you actually care about
  2. Do some basic research on this topic -  Be sure to use more than just Google.  Google will likely not show you the scholarly conversation happening around your topic.  Use a mix of online sources and research databases you access through Albertsons Library
  3. Think about your audience and the type of writing - In business your audience may not be strictly academic.  Consider how an executive board, research and development department, or human resources department might react to your research question
  4. Ask questions - Now that you have a little background, start to ask open-ended questions.  Use "How" and "Why" to formulate your questions
  5. Evaluate your question(s) - Now that you have some potential questions, go back and review whether the questions are focused, complex, and arguable.  If not, can you adjust the question to better meet this criteria? 
  6. Start researching! - Now that you have a question, brainstorm keywords, identify potential databases, and get researching.  If you haven't confirmed your topic with your professor, don't be afraid to adjust your research question a little as you learn more about it.

Sample Research Questions

Unfocused: How does leadership impact employees?
Focused: How does servant leadership affect employee morale in companies with more than 500 employees?

The unfocused question sounds like a chapter in a textbook, not a research paper.  The focused question identifies a specific type of leadership, a specific aspect of employee engagement, and a specific type of company.  A researcher could create a survey or observational study to answer their question.

Too simple and objective: What types of employee incentive programs do companies use?
Complex and arguable: How does the use of employee incentive programs influence employee retention and how can knowledge of that influence affect the types of programs companies choose to offer?

The simple question could be answered with a quick online search and a list of options, whereas the complex question involves multiple aspects that must be analyzed and then synthesized together.  The simple question can be answered with objective facts, companies use x, y, and z, but the complex question requires the writer to take a subjective position.

Beware of assumptions!

When evaluating your research question, pay attention to any assumptions your question makes.  For example, the Complex question, "How does the use of employee incentive programs influence employee retention..." assumes incentive programs influence retention.  If you don't know if the assumption is true, you will need to do background research to confirm the assumption before you try to answer your question.

Common Knowledge and Professional Experience

How to Read an Academic Paper

How to Spot Fake News

How to Spot Fake News Infographic

IFLA, CC BY 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Text version of infographic chart

Consider the Source

Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info. 

Read Beyond

Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What's the whole story?

Check the Author

Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?

Supporting Sources?

Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story?

Check the Date

Reposting old news stories doesn't mean they're relevant to current events. 

It Is a Joke?

If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure. 

Check Your Biases

Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgement. 

Ask the Experts

Ask a Librarian, or consult a fact-checking site.