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What is a good research question? Formulating the Research Question1 Introduction In the previous section we talked about ways to define your topic, but there is a difference between a topic and a question. You may have found your topic, but within that topic you must find a question, which identifies what you hope to learn. Finding a question sounds serendipitous, but research questions need to be shaped and crafted. It is important to start your thinking about the dissertation with a question rather than simply a topic heading. The question sets out what you hope to learn about the topic.

This question, together with your approach, will guide and structure the choice of data to be collected and analysed. Some research questions focus your attention onto the relationship of particular theories and concepts: ‘how does gender relate to career choices of members of different religions? Some research questions aim to open an area to let possible new theories emerge: ‘what is going on here? For an undergraduate dissertation, your question needs to be more targeted than either of these.

Creating a research question is a task. Good research questions are formed and worked on, and are rarely simply found. You start with what interests you, and you refine it until it is workable. There is no recipe for the perfect research question, but there are bad research questions.