Developing a Research Question

Choosing a topic is a great start, but developing a research question will enable you to write a thesis statement and guide the format of your paper, project, or presentation. A research question is a statement describing the topic of your inquiry, the issue, and why you’re researching it. The formation of a research question guides the sources you will choose, methods you will use, and outcome you will create. The following steps will guide you through forming a research question.

Step 1: Naming the Topic

The first step is naming your topic. This step helps you define your project by identifying a specific topic of focus. For instance, if the assignment asks you to focus on the topic of public education, the research question should describe a specific focus.

Example: Access to a free and appropriate public education


The next step is identifying the “why” of your topic. This step defines what you need to find out or explain about your assignment topic. For instance, if we continue with the topic of public education, we need to answer “why” we’re interested in access to free public education.

Example: I want to know how public education differs between areas of poverty versus areas of wealth.


The final step in developing a research question is to identify the purpose. This step helps frame the topic in a way that will engage the audience. For instance, using the public education topic, we need to identify the purpose behind our inquiry. 

Example: To identify areas where children do not have access to a free and appropriate public education

Step 4: Finalized Research Question

Once you’ve identified the topic and purpose of your research, you can utilize your research question in your assignment. 

Example: How does access to free and appropriate public education differ between areas of poverty versus areas of wealth, and where are these locations?


These steps were adapted from the GVSU Subject Guides, which adapted the steps from The Craft of Research by William C. Booth

Meet with a Consultant

Have other questions? Research consultants can help! We specialize in brainstorming topics, finding sources, reading scholarly materials, and evaluating research. 

Stop by the Knowledge Market during open hours or make an appointment to talk with a research consultant.

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Page last modified August 24, 2022