A research question is a vital component of many academic papers, from dissertations to theses to short research papers and research proposals. Writing a research question with a distinct focus can make all the difference between a mediocre research paper and a compelling one.
As you learn how to write a good research question, looking at a sample research question or two can often be beneficial. The list below can show you both what to do and what not to do.
List of research question examples
Let’s take a look at some bad and good research question examples to see their important traits. We’ll also look at how to write different types of research questions.
Key traits of good research questions
Specificity is a huge part of what makes a good research question. When your question is too general, it’s tough to add something new to your field because there’s too much information to sort through.
General: How do natural disasters affect the real estate market?
Specific: What factors influence the decision to buy a home among citizens in the Philippines?
Complexity matters because you’ll struggle to research or write much about a question that can be answered simply.
Simple: Does outsourcing affect US weapons production capacity?
Complex: Between 2000 and 2020, how did manufacturing and technology industry outsourcing affect the United States’ ability to match or exceed Russian and Chinese weapons stockpiles?
Objectivity is another important trait in academic writing, especially in scientific fields. An objective question looks for any possible answer, not a certain one. It also avoids assigning value or trying to support a specific solution to the problem before the research has been done.
Subjective: To what extent do Nigerian adults aged 50 to 60 exercise less than those aged 20 to 30?
Objective: How does the number of minutes per week spent exercising change in each decade of life for Nigerian adults between ages 20 and 60?
Relevance is also a feature of a well-written research question. Your research question should be relevant both to the field and to the society in which the research will be published. It should offer a new perspective, based on factual evidence, on a topic that people are interested in.
Irrelevant: Which bear is best?
Relevant: In what ways does feeding by humans affect the social organization of black bears in Mexico’s Sierra Nevada Occidental mountain range?
Concision makes research questions easier to read and understand. Too many words make a research question clunky, so a good one contains only the words needed to communicate clearly and precisely.
Wordy: How does holding down a part-time job while completing a high school education have an effect on the chance that a person will experience burnout during their adult life?
Concise: How does working part-time during high school affect the likelihood of burnout in adulthood?
Types of research questions
The type of research question you need to write depends on the type of research you’re doing and the methods you plan to use. The following are examples of some common types, and any research question can be more than one type.
Descriptive—Asks about the state of something.
Example: Does a marriage premium exist for men or women in major fields dominated by one gender?
Causal—Asks how one thing affects another.
Example: For lawyers in Washington, DC, how does studying critical race theory in law school affect their practice of law compared to those who did not study it?
Relational—Asks whether or how two things are connected.
Example: What relationship exists between an Australian adult’s level of education and the work model in which they spend most of their working years (traditional employment, entrepreneurship, part-time work, or freelancing)?
Quantitative vs. qualitative—A quantitative research question is answered by gathering numerical data, while the answer to a qualitative research question is found by gathering personal views.
Quantitative: Among US adults aged 18 to 60, how many changed their preference for either capitalism or socialism from 2019 to 2023?
Qualitative: How have US workers’ views of capitalism changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Empirical vs. non-empirical—Empirical research focuses on collecting and drawing conclusions from observable data. Non-empirical research, on the other hand, makes arguments based on practices or theories.
While empirical research can be qualitative or quantitative, non-empirical research does not use these data collection methods. Instead of collecting new data, the researcher gathers existing documents or studies and analyzes them.
Empirical: What factors affect California residents’ support for the Inflation Reduction Act, particularly its provisions to address climate change?
Non-empirical: How do Ayn Rand’s race, culture, socioeconomic class, and religion affect her perspective on individualism and collectivism?
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Can a research question be both qualitative and empirical?
Yes, an empirical study may be either qualitative (based on subjective data) or quantitative (based on objective, usually numerical, data).
What makes a good research question?
A good research question is specific, complex, unbiased, relevant, and concise. It draws from existing research to highlight a knowledge gap in the field.
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