Writing Across the Social Sciences

Developing Good Research Questions

The difference between a research paper and other forms of writing apparent within the definition of a Research Paper.

A research paper is a document that explores the knowledge that is available within a particular field of study and presents that knowledge in the effort to answer a particular research question.

The point is that you are looking at a body of knowledge in a field, such as psychology, sociology, or communication, and you are trying to find out what we already know about the question you have.

How you phrase that question is key to getting at the right information!

Coming up with questions...

There are all sorts of interesting things to think about in the Social Sciences...really, we deal with everyday life and the extremes of human behavior.

However, we have been at this for quite some time so some of the basic questions such as "What is abnormal?", or "How do people communicate?", or even, "What is Schizophrenia?" have been written about enough and the answers to these questions are either easy to find with simple searchers or they are very complex and beyond the scope of a research paper.

You want to focus you paper on a very specific question that is important to you...that will not only narrow down your search for answers, but it will also motivate you to do the paper.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Good research try to answer "real" questions...not just definitions like you might do in an expository paper. Since so much research has already been done you have to narrow your topic and focus your research.


Here are some examples of how you transform an interesting TOPIC into a researchable QUESTION

TOPIC: Differences between the genders in communication
RESEARCHABLE QUESTION: What strategies can couples use to mitigate the different styles of communication between men and women?
RESEARCHABLE QUESTION: How do men and women's communication styles differ in the context of a Muslim community?
RESEARCHABLE QUESTION: How do men and women interpret "assertiveness" and "aggressiveness" in interpersonal communication?

TOPIC: Autism
RESEARCHABLE QUESTION: Which behavior modification techniques are best for use with a child with moderate Autism in the home?
RESEARCHABLE QUESTION: What is the impact of having a sibling with Autism on perceived sense of responsibility in the home?

TOPIC: Religion or prayer or meditation
RESEARCHABLE QUESTION: What are the potential physiological benefits of deep prayer and/or meditation?
RESEARCHABLE QUESTION: What is the relationship between religious belief and happiness in marriage?

As you can see...these questions are MUCH more precise and they answer REAL WORLD questions!

Your task is to move from TOPIC to RESEARCHABLE QUESTION

Sometimes you need to go ahead and begin searching on Google or within the Online Databases to find out what may be interesting to study!