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Process: Asking Questions

Closed Questions

Answered with a one word response, such as yes or no. Typically, answers are:

  • Quick
  • Clear
  • Minimal
  • Specific

Phrased: Is? Are? Do? Can?

 Open Questions

Answered with a more in-depth response and explanation. Typically, answers are

  • Unpredictable
  • Thorough
  • Multi-sided
  • Interesting
  • Complex
  • Catalysts for dialog
  • Ignition for new questions

Phrased Why? How?


Question: Is Industrial Agriculture better than more sustainable agriculture?

Revised questions:  How has industrial agriculture impacted weed resistance in crops and how could this be a problem for American farmers in coming decades? ​


Decorative bookshelf

As Bruce Ballenger has said " A good question is the tool that makes the world yield to wonder, and knowing this is the key to being a curious researcher." Questions will guide you in your research --- your initial questions will inevitably lead to new and unanticipated questions. Stay Curious!

A Few Steps


Developing Research Questions: Your Curiosity

Clarifying your question(s) pinpoints what it is that you are curious about and will guide your research forward.  Strong research questions:

Seek complex answers

Require analysis, synthesis, comparison, and critical thinking

Matter to you and your audience

Mountain Top By Alice Noir for the Noun ProjectTip: Conduct some background reading on the topic; brainstorm as many questions as you can about your topic; rephrase your questions to begin with How or Why; prioritize those that intrigue you.



Developing Research Questions: Your Purpose

Consider where your questions will lead you. Will your questions: 

Compare and contrast (How is X like or unlike Y?)

Associate your topic with another (How did X happen in relation to Y?)

Interpret the state of your topic (How can we measure the significance of X?)

Explore possibilities or outcomes (How can we identify the consequences of X?)

Lead to a call for action or change (How can we change X?)

Argue for a particular stance (What case can be made for or against X?)



Developing Research Questions: Your Scope & Feasibility

Another important aspect of determining your research question is scope. What is feasible for you to answer within your time, your access, your economic, and other constraints? Have you chosen a question that acknowledges those limitations.

Mountain Top By Alice Noir for the Noun ProjectTips:  Many of us start with a very broad question in mind. Try these steps to narrow:

  • State your research interest
  • Think of a narrower scope
  • Brainstorm questions 
  • Pick the question you are most interested in
  • Rephrase the question to be narrower in scope
  • Repeat as needed


 Mountains by Alice Noir from the Noun Project 

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