How to turn your research idea into a research question

Once you find a research idea following the questions suggested in previous posts, it is time to turn such idea into a research question. Here are suggested a number of steps you may follow:

1º Identify what scope or organization your research involves. After identifying a sub-branch or area of knowledge you should choose an organization or scope you want to research on. Following the example given in the previous post about the microeconomic sub-branch “unemployment”, you might be interested in the unemployment in the European Union, or in the European Union and China. Maybe you just want to research on your city or region.

2º Formulate a general focus research question. The research question is likely to change over the rest of the research process but now you just need to formulate the question that flows from your research idea. Generally, these questions are headed by an interrogative particle such as what, why or how. Choosing one or another is not trivial. The questions headed by what like “what has been the evolution of  unemployment in the European Union over last decade?” are usually descriptive researches as they consist of a description of a number of collected data.

Some authors like Philip and Pugh (2005) refrain from consider descriptive research (called by them “intelligence gathering”) as properly research although it may form part of your research project. Actually, the answer of this question is commonly the first step in the research process.

Unemployment rates of EU members as of October...

What Philip and Pugh consider research properly is usually headed by the particle “why” (also how). An example of this second question would be: “why do European northern countries register a lower unemployment rate than southern countries?” These questions go beyond descriptive research and require analysis or, in other words, they look for “explanations, relationships, comparisons, predictions, generalizations”. Therefore, the why question part of your research could lead you to work at the theoretical level (you can visit this link to understand what exactly mean theoretical level.

In short, below you can see synthetically the three components of any research question:

Interrogative particle + research idea or sub-branch + scope or organization involved = RESEARCH QUESTION


What has been the unemployment rate in European Union throughout the last decade?

Why have northern European countries registered lower unemployment rate than southern countries?



Lewis, P., Saunders, M. N. K., & Thornhill, A. (2009). Research methods for business students Pearson.


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