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The Research Process

A guide to help develop skills in how to develop a research question and find resources to support your thesis.

Develop a Research Question

After choosing a topic and foundational searching, add focus with a research question.

  • Apply the Five Ws & H framework to your topic:
    • Who am I researching?  (Age group, gender, profession, ethnicity, organization, etc.)
    • What am I researching? (Trend, event, social problem cause and effect, etc.)
    • When is/was the time period? (Specified year or range, significant event, historical vs. current, etc.)
    • Where is my topic taking place? (Geographical location, a particular environment, etc.)
    • Why does my topic matter? (What makes the topic important to you, your peers, your community, etc.)
    • How will I approach my topic? (A historical look, philosophical approach, certain point of view, etc.)
  • Determine and evaluate your research question.
    • What aspect of the general topic will you explore?
    • Is the question clear and focused?
    • Is it complex to warrant researching it?
  • Hypothesize about the direction your answer might take.
    • If you are making an argument, what will you say?
    • Why does your argument matter?
    • How will other researchers challenge your argument?
    • What kind of sources will you need to support your argument?

Sample Research Questions

Attributes to consider when developing your research question:


  • Unclear: Why are social networking sites harmful?
  • Clear: How are online users experiencing or addressing privacy issues on social networking sites like Facebook and SnapChat?


  • Unfocused: What is the effect of global warming on environment?
  • Focused: How is glacial melting affecting penguins in Antarctica?

Simple vs. Complex

  • Too simple: How are doctors addressing diabetes in the U.S.?
  • Appropriately complex: What are common traits of those suffering from diabetes in America and how can these commonalities be used to aid the medical community in the prevention of the disease?
Adapted from: George Mason University Writing Center. (2008) How to write a research question. Retrieved from http://writingcenter.gmu/?p=307.

More Examples:

Research Topic: Social determinants of health in the United States

Research Question 1: Does mental health care providers' perception of patients' social status influence the quality of mental health care service?

  • Too broad:
    • How do you assess social status?
    • How will the quality of mental health care be measured?
    • Which group of patients and which types of mental health care providers?

Research Question 2: What is the relationship between the mental health profile of female high school students in Raleigh, North Carolina and their level of physical activity?

  • Too specific:
    • When there isn't demographic data on your specific social group, you may have to extrapolate to a larger sample or collect the data yourself.

Research Question 3: How do social determinants of health in the United States, such as poverty (assessed based on income), affect the likelihood and severity of clinical depression in men and women over 50 years of age?

  • Thesis Statement: Social determinants of health in the United States have a moderate effect on the likelihood and severity of clinical depression in men and women over 50 years of age.