Evaluating Your Research Question

How do you know when you have posed a good research question? Below we discuss several criteria for evaluating your research question. Keep reworking your research question until it meets all the criteria.

Evaluating Your Research Question[1]

The spectrum of inquiry ranges from asking simple questions that depend upon basic recapitulation of knowledge to increasingly sophisticated abilities to refine research questions, use more advanced research methods, and explore more diverse disciplinary perspectives.[2] 

Key Concepts

  • Is your question clear, complex, and focused?
  • Is your answer arguable?

Once you have developed a workable research question, the next step is to ensure that it’s clear, complex, focused, and that the answer is arguable. This brings us back to the conversation analogy: Will others in your field – your audience – want to discuss your question? Will your findings add anything meaningful to the discourse and keep the conversation going?

Evaluating Your Research Question

  • Are you filling a gap or solving a problem? (Either is fine – just know which direction your research is going)
  • Is your question loaded or leading? (If so, keep refining your question)
  • Is your question too broad or narrow? (If so, keep refining your question)
  • Is the scope of your project realistic and researchable within the given timeframe? (If not, keep refining your question)
  • Do you have the tools &/or technology needed to accomplish your task? (If not, keep refining your question)
  • Do you have access to the information and resources you will need? (If not, keep refining your question)

Let’s watch Jada discuss how she evaluated the question she discussed in the last section:

A key point is to avoid questions with easy ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Those kinds of questions generally end the discussion and the goal of your research should be to add to the discussion by making an arguable claim. At the time Jada wrote her paper, her research question centered around why James Baldwin and “Sonny’s Blues” are still relevant today. However, now that we’ve been through the refining and evaluation process, we see that she could further narrow her question to focus on topics such as as urbanization, race, and addiction. For instance, how did urbanization after World War II affect the lives of black people? Did changes in urban life lead to more addiction among black people? What does Baldwin’s story teach us about these issues and what can we learn from them about urbanization, race, and addiction today?

As we discussed in the Scholarship as Conversation section, the issues addressed by Baldwin are largely unsolved problems that are part of a productive paradigm that continues to engage researchers from many fields. Jada could expand on what she started here by adding her personal perspective with her findings from her research in literature and sociology.

If you are still unsure if your question is refined enough, Wendy Belcher, author of Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, suggests talking through your research question with a friend or advisor. She also suggests writing an abstract and sending it to a friend or advisor for review. Even if an abstract is not required for your assignment, consider writing one and soliciting feedback as Belcher suggests. Feedback can be invaluable since at this point you are looking for your place to jump into the conversation.

In the “Back Matter” of this book, you will find a page titled “Rubrics.” In that page, we provide a rubric for the research question.

Evaluating Your Research Question Refresher


Exercises

  1. What is your research question?
  2. Does it meet all the criteria for a good research question listed in the page?
    • Is your question clear, complex, and focused?
    • Is your answer arguable?
    • Are you filling a gap or solving a problem? (Either is fine – just know which direction your research is going)
    • Is your question loaded or leading? (If so, keep refining your question)
    • Is your question too broad or narrow? (If so, keep refining your question)
    • Is the scope of your project realistic and researchable within the given timeframe? (If not, keep refining your question)
    • Do you have the tools &/or technology needed to accomplish your task? (If not, keep refining your question)
    • Do you have access to the information and resources you will need? (If not, keep refining your question)
  3. Using the criteria in this page, try to assess one or more of these research questions:
    • “Will ‘Sonny’s Blues’ will help us solve the problem of racism today?”
    • “Why should we teach ‘Sonny’s Blues’ in the classroom?”
    • “Does ‘Sonny’s Blues’ encourage people to appreciate Black culture?”
    • “How did ‘Sonny’s Blues’ change the conversation about race and addiction?”
  4. If you have read “Sonny’s Blues,” posit a research question that might work better than those above.
  5. What was the most important lesson you learned from this page? What point was confusing or difficult to understand?

Write your answers in a webcourse discussion page.

Go to the discussion area and find Positing and Evaluating Your Research Question. Participate in the discussion.


  1. In the “Back Matter” of this book, you will find a page titled “Rubrics.” On that page, we provide a rubric for Creating a Research Question
  2. Association of College and Research Libraries. "Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education." 2016. https://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework

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