The research question is one of the most important parts of your research project, thesis or dissertation. It’s important to spend some time assessing and refining your question before you get started.
The exact form of your question will depend on on the length of your project, the type of research, the topic, and the research problem. But all research questions should be focused, specific, appropriately complex, and relevant to a social or scholarly issue.
Once you’ve read our guide on how to write a research question, use these examples to work out if your question is strong enough.
Continue reading: Research question examples
A good research question is essential to guide your research paper, project or thesis. It pinpoints exactly what you want to find out and gives your work a clear focus and purpose. All research questions should be:
- Focused on a single problem or issue
- Researchable using primary and/or secondary sources
- Feasible to answer within the timeframe and practical constraints
- Specific enough to answer thoroughly
- Complex enough to develop the answer over the space of a paper or thesis
- Relevant to your field of study and/or society more broadly
In a research paper or essay, you will usually write a single research question to guide your reading and thinking. The answer that you develop is your thesis statement — the central assertion or position that your paper will argue for.
In a bigger research project, such as a thesis or dissertation, you might have multiple research questions, but they should all be clearly connected and focused around a central research problem.
There are many types of research question that correspond to different types of research.
Continue reading: Developing strong research questions
A research problem is a specific issue, difficulty, contradiction, or gap in knowledge that you will aim to address in your research. You might look for practical problems aimed at contributing to change, or theoretical problems aimed at expanding knowledge.
Bear in mind that some research will do both of these things, but usually the research problem focuses on one or the other. The type of research problem you choose depends on your broad topic of interest and the type of research you want to do.
This article helps you identify and refine a research problem. When writing your research proposal or introduction, you will have to formulate it as a problem statement and/or research questions.
Continue reading: How to define your research problem
After you have identified a research problem for your project, the next step is to write a problem statement. An effective problem statement is concise and concrete. It should:
- Put the problem in context (what do we already know?)
- Describe the precise issue that the research will address (what do we need to know?)
- Show the relevance of the problem (why do we need to know it?)
- Set the objectives of the research (what will you do to find out?)
Continue reading: How to write a problem statement
Deciding on a topic for your thesis, dissertation or research project is the first step in making sure your research goes as smoothly as possible. When choosing a topic, it’s important to consider:
- Your institution and department’s requirements
- Your areas of knowledge and interest
- The scientific, social, or practical relevance
- The availability of data and sources
- The length and timeframe of your dissertation
If you have no dissertation ideas yet, it can be hard to know where to start. Follow these steps to begin narrowing down your ideas.
Continue reading: Choosing a dissertation topic
The conclusion is the very last part of your thesis or dissertation. Its main purposes are to:
- Clearly state the answer to the main research question
- Summarize and reflect on the research
- Make recommendations for future work on the topic
- Show what new knowledge you have contributed
The conclusion should be concise and engaging. Aim to leave the reader with a clear understanding of the main discovery or argument that your research has advanced.
Continue reading: How to write a thesis conclusion
The discussion chapter is where you delve into the meaning, importance and relevance of your results. It should focus on explaining and evaluating what you found, showing how it relates to your literature review and research questions, and making an argument in support of your overall conclusion. There are many different ways to write this section, but you can focus your discussion around four key elements:
- Interpretations: what do the results mean?
- Implications: why do the results matter?
- Limitations: what can’t the results tell us?
- Recommendations: what practical actions or scientific studies should follow?
There is often overlap between the discussion and conclusion, and in some dissertations these two sections are included in a single chapter. Occasionally, the results and discussion will be combined into one chapter. If you’re unsure of the best structure for your research, look at sample dissertations in your field or consult your supervisor.
Continue reading: How to write a discussion section
An abstract is a short summary of a longer work (such as a dissertation or research paper). The abstract concisely reports the aims and outcomes of your research so that readers know exactly what the paper is about.
Write the abstract at the very end, when you’ve completed the rest of the text. There are four things you need to include:
- Your research problem and objectives
- Your methods
- Your key results or arguments
- Your conclusion
An abstract is usually around 150–300 words, but there’s often a strict word limit, so make sure to check the requirements of the university or journal.
In a dissertation or thesis, include the abstract on a separate page, after the title page and acknowledgements but before the table of contents.
Continue reading: How to write an abstract
The introduction is the first chapter of your thesis or dissertation and appears right after the table of contents. It’s essential to draw the reader in with a strong beginning. Set the stage for your research with a clear focus, purpose and direction. The introduction should include:
- Topic and context: what does the reader need to know to understand the dissertation?
- Focus and scope: what specific aspect of the topic will you address?
- Relevance and importance: how does the research fit into existing work on this topic?
- Questions and objectives: what does the research aim to find out and how?
- Overview of the structure: what does each chapter of the dissertation contribute to the overall aim?
Continue reading: How to write a dissertation introduction
In your thesis or dissertation, you will have to discuss the methods you used to do your research. The methodology chapter explains what you did and how you did it, allowing readers to evaluate the reliability and validity of the research. It should include:
The methodology section should generally be written in the past tense.
Academic style guides in your field may also provide detailed guidelines on what to include for different types of studies. For example, there are specific guidelines for writing an APA methods section.
Continue reading: How to write a research methodology