Effective Guide to Good & Bad Research Questions

Writing a research question is challenging and requires much more time and thought than you might think.

You cannot write a good thesis if you don’t develop a good research question first. But what makes a research question “good” or “bad?” This article is a practical guide to help you understand the qualities of good and bad research questions. The research question is what guides your research strategy.

Knowing the difference between good and bad research questions will help you stay on the right track as you write your thesis. A simple question that demands a straightforward answer will not be enough for a research question.

Let’s learn more about research questions and what makes them good or bad.

What Is a Research Question?

Research questions are one of the most important components of your research paper, thesis, or dissertation. Drafting a research question may initially appear to be the simplest step in conducting research.

But beginning to write a research question without a clear focus can cost you valuable time. A research question is:

  • The first step of the research process
  • Specific and directs you through the research
  • Iterative and subject to change as your research and writing progress.
Photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash

Compare Good and Bad Research Questions

Different opinions exist on what makes a research question good or bad. There is no universal way to word the best research questions. However, some elements give your research question greater substance.

Here are some key factors to help you draft an effective research question by comparing qualities between the good and bad ones.

Questions Should Have in-Depth Answers

It makes sense that a simple question would have an equally simple answer, but this is inadequate for a research paper. Formulate the right questions and steer clear of those requiring a simple “yes” or “no” response or a few simple phrases.

Bad: Do the US and UK have superior healthcare systems?

Good: How do the healthcare systems in the US and UK vary for treating chronic diseases?

Good Research Questions Must Have a Narrow Focus

A good research question should be narrowly focused on one subject or a group of concepts that are conceptually related.

If a topic is too broad, you must decide on which part of the topic you want to research for a clear focus. Otherwise, you won’t be able to develop a strong thesis paper.

Bad: Does medication help cure ADHD symptoms in elementary students? And do they need a regular exercise routine?

Good: How well do the various medications work for treating ADHD in elementary school students?

Instead of combining ADHD medication and exercise into the research topic, it’s best to focus solely on medication. As the question hints at the students’ age (elementary students), answering this question will make up a good thesis.

Don’t Ask for Opinions in Your Research Question

Consider the response you wish to receive as you write your research question. Expressing an opinion or value judgment in your research paper or project is not a good idea. Instead, you should develop a thesis based on statistics and objective evidence.

Bad: Which is the best tourist place?

Good: What features do the most popular tourist places have in common?

The first question only asks for an opinion and cannot serve as an appropriate research question. However, the second question asks for features, and you can use data or a list of features to answer this question better.

Research Questions Should Be Precise

You must make your research question as specific as possible. This will provide you with a more thorough answer that is compelling enough to serve as the subject of your thesis.

Bad: What are the effects of meds on people?

Good: What effects does aspirin have on people with low heart pressure?

By explicitly mentioning aspirin and low heart pressure people, you make the question easier to answer with facts and statistics. These details will help you develop a solid and more focused thesis.

A Good Research Question Avoids the Why Question

“Why” questions are open-ended queries, the ideal choice for interview sessions or featured articles. However, its open-ended nature is the exact opposite of what you need when formulating a research question. You need to ask a question that has a clear, concise answer.

Bad: Why do industries contaminate the groundwater?

Good: How do government-enforced regulations prevent industries from contaminating the water?

Great Questions Require Research to Answer

A research question is flawed if you can answer it without additional research. It’s best to ask a question that takes a little research to answer. You need a more challenging question if you can find the solution to a research question with a quick web search.

Bad: Has the world’s population increased in the last century?

Good: What factors have contributed to population growth in the past century?

A quick web search can answer the first question. However, the second question necessitates additional research to uncover a suitable response.

Best Research Questions Are Debatable

It’s simple to research a topic that isn’t controversial, but you won’t likely be contributing anything unique. Instead, pose a research question that is complex and has different aspects. This will help you get more detailed and compelling answers to your question.

Bad: Are illegal drugs harmful to teenage students?

Good: What effective educational measures can prevent drug abuse in teenage students?


Good research questions are open to debate and search for thorough answers. These questions allow people to discuss the subject matter. Compared to good questions, bad research questions are closed off and ask for a specific answer.

They have a very narrow perspective and are focused on one single point of the problem. This article lists the key features of good and bad research questions to help you formulate an effective one for your thesis paper.

Abir is a data analyst and researcher. Among her interests are artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. As a humanitarian and educator, she actively supports women in tech and promotes diversity.

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