Research questions in the empirical process set the stage for an entire study. For this reason, it is critically important that the research questions of any study are worded in away that allows a researcher to answer the questions clearly and succinctly. In this post, we will look at general guidelines for forming research questions as well as look at three common formats that are used when making research questions.
Below are some common traits of research questions in quantitative studies. Naturally, this list is not exhaustive.
- With sounding redundant, research questions pose a question. This is in contrast to hypotheses which make a statement.
- Common first words in research questions are “how,” “why,” or “what.”
- Indicate what are the independent, dependent, and if necessary the mediating and intervening variables.
- It is important to also include the participants and location of a study in the question(s)
- Lastly, common verbs used in research question(s) include describe, compare, and relate
The last bullet in the list above is of particular importance because it leads into the next section.
Types of Questions
There are at least three types of research questions in quantitative studies and the are
- descriptive questions
- comparison questions
- relationship questions
Descriptive questions identify a participants response to a question/variable. One possible template of a descriptive question is below. The underlined portion needs to be completed for each study. The template is followed by an example.
How often do (participants) (variable) at (research location)?
How often do students exercise at the university level?
In this question the participants are students, the variable is amount of exercise, and the research location is university level. Descriptive questions strictly describe a variable. Higher level inferences is not a part of this approach. If you look carefully you will notice there is no independent or dependent variable because we are not looking for any relationship. There is only a variable that we describe.
Comparison questions seek to understand if two groups are different on one or more dependent variables. We will modify the previous example on exercise and students for this question. The underlined portion needs to be completed for each study. The template is followed by an example.
How are/is (group 1) different from (group 2) in terms of (dependent variable) for (participants) at (research location)?
How are men different from women in terms of exercise amount for students at university?
The groups are men and women, the dependent variable is the amount of exercise, participants are students, and the research location is university. This type of question only points out difference but does not explain. For explanation we need to use relationship questions as describe next.
Relationship questions try to answer the question of the strength of a relationship between two or more variables. One possible template of a relationship question is below. The underlined portion needs to be completed for each study. The template is followed by an example.
How does (independent variable) relate to/influence (dependent variable) for (participants) at (research location)?
How does exercise influence GPA for students at the university level?
In this question the independent variable is exercise, the dependent variable is GPA, the participants are students, and the research location is university. The goal is to see the strength of the relationship. This information can be used to explain exercises influence on GPA or to predict potential GPAs of students based on the amount of exercise the get or vice versa.
Good questions lead to good answers. This is one reason why research questions matter so much. They must be clearly set forth at the beginning of any study. The examples above are not the only way to approach this. However, they do provide a starting point for those who are new to research.