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Education Research: Before You Search

Moodle companion

About this page

Need to review what a research question is? Want additional help finding key terms or crafting a research question? The resources on this page supplement the Moodle module, "Before You Search".

Book, question mark, student writing

The Research Question

What is a research question?

A research question is your research topic or thesis in the form of a question. It will often change as you learn more about your topic.

Example research question: "How does homework affect the standardized test scores of elementary school students?"

Why do I need a research question?

A research question provides your research process with direction. It helps you to locate appropriate sources because you can evaluate your source according to whether or not it answers your research question in some way.

Let's say your research question is, "How does homework affect the standardized test scores of elementary school students?". In Google Scholar, you find an article from an author who created a study to compare the standardized test scores of students who completed a homework assignment to read one book with a parent two nights per week to students who did not complete the homework assignment. You decide to include this source in your paper because it is focused on your population (elementary school children) and topic (homework and standardized test scores).

After reading this source, you might even change your research question to focus specifically on reading assignments as homework rather than homework in general.

What should a research question do?

A research question should articulate your information need, and it should be critical. A "critical" research question is one that cannot be answered with "yes" or "no". A "critical" research question will require you to seek out multiple perspectives about your topic and synthesize those perspectives to develop an "answer" to your question

Example critical research question: "How does homework affect the standardized test scores of elementary school students?"

Uncritical research question: "What is the mean test standardized test score of third grade children?"

What should a research question NOT do?

A research question should not include bias language. A bias research question assumes a specific outcome.

An example bias research question: "How does homework improve the standardized test scores of elementary school students?".

By asking how homework improves, rather than affects or influences, the test scores, the researcher is making an assumption. An unbiased research question should encourage the researcher to seek out any study of the connection between homework and test scores, not just those that affirm or contradict an assumption.

Once I have a research question, what's my next step?

Once you have articulated your information need in the form of a critical and unbiased question, select the most important 2-3 concepts or terms in it. These concepts or terms will serve as your initial keywords at the beginning of your search. Your keywords will change as you learn more about how to use the database and your topic, but they are a good starting point.

Example research question: "How does homework affect the standardized test scores of elementary school students?"

The most important topics or concepts in this research question are, "homework", "standardized test scores", and "elementary school students". These could serve as your first keywords when searching a database. You'll learn how to refine your key terms in the "Searching ERIC module".

 

Hold for writing a research question video

Research questions can be difficult to write. Follow these strategies from the Carl B. Ylvisaker Library for help turning your research topic into a research question.

Choosing and Using Key Terms

Not sure how to choose key terms? This 3-minute video from the John M. Fau Library demonstrates a method for selecting key terms from your research question.