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What Makes a
Good Research
Question?
What is a Research Question?
A research question guides and centers your research. It should be clear and focused, as well as synthesize
multiple sources to present your unique argument. Even if your instructor has given you a specific
assignment, the research question should ideally be something that you are interested in or care about. Be
careful to avoid the “all-about” paper and questions that can be answered in a few factual statements.
Examples:
1. For instance, the following question is too broad and does not define the segments of the analysis:
Why did the chicken cross the road?
(The question does not address which chicken or which road.)
2. Similarly, the following question could be answered by a hypothetical Internet search:
How many chickens crossed Broad Street in Durham, NC, on February 6, 2014?
(Ostensibly, this question could be answered in one sentence and does not leave room for analysis. It
could, however, become data for a larger argument.)
3. A more precise question might be the following:
What are some of the environmental factors that occurred in Durham, NC between January and February
2014 that would cause chickens to cross Broad Street?
(This question can lead to the author taking a stand on which factors are significant, and allows the writer
to argue to what degree the results are beneficial or detrimental.)
How Do You Formulate A Good Research Question?
Choose a general topic of interest, and conduct preliminary research on
this topic in current periodicals and journals to see what research has
already been done. This will help determine what kinds of questions the
topic generates.
Once you have conducted preliminary research, consider: Who is the
audience? Is it an academic essay, or will it be read by a more general
public? Once you have conducted preliminary research, start asking openended “How?” “What?” and Why?” questions. Then evaluate possible
responses to those questions.
Duke Writing Studio
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Examples:
Say, for instance, you want to focus on social networking sites. After reading current research, you want
to examine to what degree social networking sites are harmful. The Writing Center at George Mason
University provides the following examples and explanations:
Possible Question: Why are social networking sites harmful?
An evaluation of this question reveals that the question is unclear: it does not specify which social
networking sites or state what harm is being caused. Moreover, this question takes as a given that this
“harm” exists. A clearer question would be the following:
Revised Question: How are online users experiencing or addressing privacy issues on such social
networking sites as Facebook and Twitter?
This version not only specifies the sites (Facebook and Twitter), but also the type of harm (privacy issues)
and who is harmed (online users).
While a good research question allows the writer to take an arguable position, it DOES NOT leave room
for ambiguity.
Checklist of Potential Research Questions in the Humanities (from the Vanderbilt University Writing
Center):
1) Is the research question something I/others care about? Is it arguable?
2) Is the research question a new spin on an old idea, or does it solve a problem?
3) Is it too broad or too narrow?
4) Is the research question researchable within the given time frame and location?
5) What information is needed?
Research Question in the Sciences and Social Sciences
While all research questions need to take a stand, there are additional requirements for research questions
in the sciences and social sciences. That is, they need to have repeatable data. Unreliable data in the
original research does not allow for a strong or arguable research question.
In addition, you need to consider what kind of problem you want to address. Is your research trying to
accomplish one of these four goals?1
1) Define or measure a specific fact or gather facts about a specific phenomenon.
2) Match facts and theory.
3) Evaluate and compare two theories, models, or hypotheses.
4) Prove that a certain method is more effective than other methods.
Moreover, the research question should address what the variables of the experiment are, their
relationship, and state something about the testing of those relationships. The Psychology department at
California State University, Fresno, provides the following examples and explanations:
1
David Porush, A Short Guide to Writing About Science. (New York: Harper Collins, 1995), 92-93.
Duke Writing Studio
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Examples:
Possible research question: Are females smarter than males?
This question delineates the variables to be measured: gender and intelligence. Yet, it is unclear how they
will be evaluated: What method will be used to define and measure intelligence?
Revised question: Do females age 18-35 score higher than adult males age 18-35 on the WAIS-III? (The
WAIS-III is a standardized intelligence test.)
This research question produces data that can be replicated. From there, the author can devise a question
that takes a stand.
In essence, the research question that guides the sciences and social sciences should do the following
three things:2
1) Post a problem.
2) Shape the problem into a testable hypothesis.
3) Report the results of the tested hypothesis.
There are two types of data that can help shape research questions in
the sciences and social sciences: quantitative and qualitative data.
While quantitative data focuses on the numerical measurement and
analysis between variables, qualitative data examines the social
processes that give rise to the relationships, interactions, and
constraints of the inquiry.
Writing After the Research Question
The answer to your research question should be your thesis statement. Keep in mind that you will most
likely continue to refine your thesis statement as you conduct and write about your research. A good
research question, however, puts you well on your way to writing a strong research paper.
Helpful Links
2
•
http://writingcenter.gmu.edu/?p=307
•
http://vanderbilt.edu/writing/manage/wpcontent/uploads/2013/06/Formulating%20Your%20Research%20Question.pdf
•
http://www.esc.edu/online-writing-center/resources/research/research-papersteps/developing-questions/
•
http://psych.csufresno.edu/psy144/Content/Science/researchquestion.html
Lee Cuba, A Short Guide to Writing About Social Science, third edition. (New York: Addison-Wesley Educational
Publishers, Inc., 1997), 70-71.
Student Example
Annotated Bibliography
Abramovitz, Melissa. How Are Digital Devices Impacting Society? San Diego, CA,
ReferencePoint Press, 2015.
In How Are Digital Devices Impacting Society, Melissa Abramovitz analyzes two
different sides of an argument of the positives and negatives of digital devices’ impact on
society by putting together the work of academic, professionals, advocacy groups, etc.
The overall form of the book is that each chapter asks a question and Abramovitz
attempts to give a balanced view on the different perspectives. In chapter three,
Abramovitz finds that research shows the brain physically changes from our digital
devices. Video games have led to a few positive results while video game addiction and
internet addiction have led to negative results such as shrinking in the cortex responsible
for thinking and reasoning. Not only is addiction harmful, but overuse of technology
reduces people’s thinking capacity. Abramovitz also analyzes other effects such as the
diminished memory for basic facts and concentration issues. In chapter four, Abramovitz
covers the health impacts of digital devices. The physical health issues rise from the
sedentary nature of technology can lead to less exercise which cause health issues such as
obesity and heart disease among others. Also examined are the numerous mental health
issues that are related if not caused by technology, such as narcissism, adhd, stress,
depression.
“APA’s Survey Finds Constantly Checking Electronic Devices Linked to Significant
Stress for Most Americans.” APA, American Psychology Association, 23 Feb.
2017, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/02/checking-devices.aspx. Accessed
18 Mar. 2017.
The American Psychological Association conducted a survey of technological use in
America. According to the survey virtually all Americans are connected to technology
and almost ninety percent are connected to the Internet. According to the Stress In
America poll, “more than four out of five adults in the U.S. report that the constantly or
often check their email, texts, and social media accounts.” This behavior is associated
with higher stress levels in the country. Even though technology comes with many
benefits, this survey examines the negative impact it has on our lives. According to the
survey, those constant checkers ran on a higher stress level than those not connected to
technology as much. As well as there being a myriad of other issues “constant checkers”
are more susceptible to versus “non-constant checkers.” Of their children, many parents
say that their children are too attached to their devices and resort to disciplinary measures
on a constant basis. These negative effects necessitate the need to curb the negative
effects by taking a digital detox as the survey states
Ayas, Tuncay, and Mehmet Baris Horzum. “Relation between depression, loneliness,
self-esteem and internet addiction.” Education, vol. 133, no. 3, 2013, p. 283+.
Opposing Viewpoints in Context,
oaktonlibrary.oakton.edu:2048/login?url=http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A357
760558/OVIC?u=uiuc_oak&xid=77b3e7a8. Accessed 20 Mar. 2017.
In this article, Tuncay Ayas and Mehmet Baris Horzum conduct a research study
examining the link between depression, loneliness, self-esteem and internet addiction.
Internet usage is extremely high among teenagers. And while increased internet usage
indicates benefits, there were other negatives as well. After examining the different
definitions of internet addiction, the authors conclude that it is a “psychiatric state which
harms individual’s social and professional life.” While internet use is high internet
addiction is between 4-14%. And those afflicted with addiction have had it negatively
impact their professional and social life, as well as their academic life, and their physical
and mental health. Some studies have shown a relation between internet addiction and
loneliness, depression, and self-esteem while others have no relation. The authors own
study has shown a positive and significant relation with internet addiction and loneliness,
depression, and self-esteem.
Cash, Hilarie, et al. “Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice.”
Current Psychiatry Reviews, Bentham Science Publishers, Nov. 2012,
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480687/. Accessed 21 Mar. 2017.
Internet addiction disorder (IAD) is a growing social use that causes neurological
complications, psychological disturbances, and social problems. The aim of the these
author’s paper is to give an overview of IAD research and consideration based on
working with affected individuals. As an idea IAD has gain a lot of traction but is not yet
included in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) nor is it given
formal government response in the U.S. The authors support its addition to the DSM-V
so that the disorder would receive more awareness. While there are different names and
criteria for the same disorder, the authors settle on IAD and five criteria on diagnosing
IAD. IAD has similar neurobiological issues as that of other addictions in that dopamine
is released and the feeling it gives is chased even though tolerance is built up. The
authors also point out that IAD co-occurs with other mental disorders which may be a
result of IAD. The rest of the paper goes into treatment by having balanced Internet use
rather than complete abstinence and strategies to complete that goal.
“Digital Hygiene: How We Might’ve Fucked Our Attention Spans.” Youtube, uploaded
by Exurb1a, 8 Mar. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpHyLG-sc4g.
In this Youtube video, youtube user exurb1a covers his personal account of his addiction
to the internet as well as what negative effects results from that addiction. While the
uploader plans on having a productive day, instead he gets captivated by a wide variety of
activities on the Internet, and he ends up getting nothing productive done. He argues that
it’s because the internet is a medium for a huge assortment of activities and so results in
being extremely addictive. It is a remarkable advancement of technology; however, it
results in overuse and became less of a powerful tool and more of a way to distract
ourselves and immediately gratify our reward centers in short constant bursts all day. As
most of us are all connected permanently to the Internet through our portable devices
which result in us (at least for himself) having difficulty doing things that aren’t short
term and instant gratification. Recognizing the issue he has with internet addiction, the
uploader decides to do something about it. However, since he needs to be connected to
the Internet for things like work and youtube uploading, he couldn’t simply abstain,
instead he limits his time online a thing he called practicing his “digital hygiene”. A
method that has helped him personally be more productive and avoid negative effects of
his addiction.
Konnikova, Maria. “Internet Addiction Is a Legitimate Mental Condition.” The Internet,
edited by Jack Lasky, Greenhaven Press, 2016. Opposing Viewpoints. Opposing
Viewpoints in Context,
oaktonlibrary.oakton.edu:2048/login?url=http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ30
10236275/OVIC?u=uiuc_oak&xid=6ae2af98. Accessed 20 Mar. 2017. Originally
published as “Is Internet Addiction a Real Thing?” New Yorker, 26 Nov. 2014.
In this article, Maria Konnikova argues that internet addiction is mental condition not too
different from other more serious addictions as that of drug addictions. According to
Konnikova, Marc Potenza a psychiatrist at Yale has treated addiction disorders for years
and in more recent years, internet addiction has become an issue for his patients. While
drug addiction and internet addiction are not equal disorders, Potenza claims that core
features exist in the disorders. However internet addiction is different in that a
quantifiable, negative effect is hard to accurately isolate. The idea of internet addiction as
a mental disorder has gained increasing traction since the earlier days of the Internet.
Now more studies are being performed relevant to internet addiction which discover the
connection between harmful internet use and its impact. Lastly, Konnikova argues that
while internet addiction is similar to behavioral addictions, internet addiction is much
harder to regulate or cut out of one’s life completely due to its ubiquity. Konnikova
muses that perhaps technology may even become the solution, if one were able to
program computer functions to be disabled with the help of a therapist.
“Media Addiction.” Media Psychology 101, Christopher Ferguson, Springer Publishing
Company, 2015. Credo Reference,
http://oaktonlibrary.oakton.edu:2048/login?url=http://literati.credoreference.com/c
ontent/entry/spmedia/media_addiction/0. Accessed 21 Mar 2017.
In Media Psychology 101, Christopher Ferguson, a clinical psychologist who has done a
range of research on the effects of media, covers a wide range of issues and effects of
media. The primary chapter of focus is the “Media Addiction” chapter. He states that any
activity has potential for people to be addicted to such as sex, gambling, food. In the
realm of media addiction in that people spend too much time watching television or
playing video games, he recognizes that those things may be people’s hobbies and so
isn’t an addiction but simple something that a person likes to do in their spare time.
Covering the definition of addiction, Ferguson argues that media addiction is simply
someone using media to the point where it interferes with their functioning in other more
essential activities and being unable to cut down on use. Ferguson shows that the verdict
on prevalence varies wildly, and so media addiction is simply media use to the point
where it has negative consequences. He also covers what seems to be evidence that media
addiction is an issue of underlying mental issues but not the inverse. Ferguson concludes
that media addiction seems to be a issue however rare, but not at an “epidemic” level and
maybe indicative of an underlying mental issue.
White, Dominic, director. DSKNECTD: Is Technology Changing Us? John Hunerlach,
Sideways Film, 2014, oaktonlibrary.oakton.edu:3277/view/work/2723909.
Accessed 20 Mar. 2017.
This documentary, while maybe cherry-picking and being a tad dramatic, states that
advancements in technology have brought us social media and the Internet and the
documentary investigates how technology has impacted our lives and changed us as well
as investigating whether it was a good change*. The documentary interviews experts who
say that there may be a problem with some individuals and who emphasize the need to
disconnect and detox for a while. Technology may be keeping us from face-to-face
communicating and we should not allow technology to change us that way. Instead,
digital communication should be used to express ourselves in new ways, but it should
become our primary source of communication and define who we are. Hunerlach states
that the way forward should be by looking within ourselves and recognizing that
technology will not be able to express what amazing beings we are.
Annotated Bibliography
Assignment: An annotated bibliography is, quite simply, a bibliography with annotations. In
other words, you start with your standard bibliography—one that should be in MLA format—and
you add 150-200 word summaries of each source listed.
Annotated bibliographies really serve two primary purposes. First, and most importantly, it helps
you begin to understand, evaluate, and organize the resources you are collecting for your research
project. The annotated bibliography is a good way for you to begin collecting “notes” for
yourself—notes that will help guide the way you use the resources later on in the project.
Annotated bibliographies also show me, your instructor, that you have made a sincere attempt to
evaluate each source. As we’ve discussed already this semester, our research projects are not
about cherry-picking select quotations from each source as a way to satisfy the “research”
requirement. Instead, I’m expecting you to spend a great deal of time reading through and
thinking about the various resources you end up citing in the final bibliography. Your final
research essay should evidence deep and sincere engagement with the ideas found in your
sources, and this can only happen if you begin reading and note-taking right now.
So, for this assignment, you must create an annotated bibliography with no fewer than six
citations. At least two of these citations must come from scholarly (i.e. academic and peerreviewed) sources. Remember, online databases will be your best bet when searching for these
kinds of resources. All web-based sources that don’t come from library databases (popular
articles, videos, etc.) must be approved by me before you include them.
Each citation must have a 150-200 word summary that explains what the main idea of the source
is, a summary that evaluates the source in terms of credibility, and one that begins to make
connections among other sources. This means, of course, that you will need to spend a good deal
of time reading through your resources before you begin typing your bibliography.
Requirements: typed, MLA format
6 resources minimum, including at least 1 scholarly source

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