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This is the "Topic" page of the "The research process" guide.
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This Libguide provides a systematic guide to the different phases and activities of a master's or doctoral research project and introduces the researcher and research student to relevant Library sources, tools and services offered along the way.
Last Updated: Jun 6, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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The research question

When considering the research topic, it is good to create a series of questions you would like answered that relate to the topic. This will help you focus your research topic and provide clear indicators for what you hope to achieve through your investigation. Ultimately, this will lead you to one or more research questions, that will form the objective of your research project. Searching the literature will help inform the development of these questions.

The next stage in expanding your research question will depend on what type of research you are conducting.

Quantitative research generally seeks to answer close-ended questions and will generally include a hypothesis. A hypothesis takes the question and expresses it as a statement, that your research will prove (or disprove).

Qualitative research focuses on open-ended questions. Instead you will seek to explore, describe and explain, and the focus may well evolve and change during the study.

Source: University of Curtin


Importance of a good research question

Knowing clearly what your research question is, will guide your literature search, the selection of a model and/or methodology, your research and data collection, and finally your writing. While you may refine your question over the course of things, it is impossible to write a good dissertation without a clear research question (or thesis statement).

Before getting too far into things you should:

  • Define a specific issue to investigate
    • It must be unique yet manageable
  • Write your issue as a complete question or statement
  • Consider what the research will be carried out on
    • For humanities research, what primary documents or objects will you be analysing?
    • For social scientists, what population will you be working with?
    • For scientists, what exact and measurable phenomena will you examine?
  • Make sure that the issue can be addressed with the resources you can reasonably get!

You will redefine as you find things that fit your needs better, but starting with a specific question or statement is the best way to lay a good foundation for any research.


Tips for creating a research topic

  1. Perform a systematic literature review (if one has not been done) to increase knowledge and familiarity with the topic and to assist with research development.
  2. Learn about current trends and technological advances on the topic.
  3. Seek careful input from experts, mentors, colleagues and collaborators to refine your research question as this will aid in developing the research question and guide the research study.
  4. Use the FINER criteria in the development of the research question
    (FINER = feasible, interesting, novel, ethical, relevant)
  5. Ensure that the research question follows PICOT format
    ( PICOT = population (patients), intervention (for intervention studies only), comparison group, outcome of interest, time)
  6. Develop a research hypothesis from the research question.
  7. Develop clear and well-defined primary and secondary (if needed) objectives.
  8. Ensure that the research question and objectives are answerable, feasible and clinically relevant.

Source: Farrugia, P., Petrisor, B.A., Farrokhyar, F. & Bhandari, M. Research questions, hypotheses and objectives. Canadian Journal of Surgury [Online] 53(4). Available at:


Selecting a topic

The ability to develop a good research topic is an important skill. It involves finding a topic among your interests, narrowing it down to a manageable scope en questioning it to find the makings of a problem that can guide your research. Developing a question and problem is essential for focusing your research and will save you from collecting irrelevant data.


Hypothesis vs research question

Research Question Hypothesis

Qualitative approaches to research design generally use questions as their focus.

Because qualitative studies start an investigation with a concept, but use inductive methods to reach a final conclusion about the research, most qualitative designs do not start with a hypothesis.

Writing a research question is usually the better choice for this kind of study.

Quantitative approaches to research design generally use the test of a hypothesis as the frame for the methodology.

Because quantitative studies use deductive reasoning through scientific methods to test a hypothesis, questions may be appropriate to focus a study, but a clear hypotheses should be included in the actual thesis/dissertation.


Narrowing down the topic

One way of narrowing down a topic is by adding actions or relationships related to  conflict, description, contribution, development.


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