How do I formulate a research question?

A research question is a question that investigates a specific phenomenon/problem - a question that tends to change frequently. It depends on your state of knowledge, and it isn't unusual to formulate your interest in acquiring knowledge in the form of an initial, general research question. In the course of your literature search, as your knowledge increases, you'll notice that your question will also become more clearly defined.

Here's an example of the steps taken in the course of a literature sear

  1. General initial question: What is racism?
  2. More precise question: What approach can a philosophy of racism pursue, and what effects can it have
  3. Focused question: How can the phenomenology of racism be described in terms of Sartre's 'Anti-Semite and Jew' and Fanon's 'Black Skin, White Masks'?

Whereas it is impossible to answer the first question in a bachelor's paper as there are many different explanations for racism, the third question is precise and focused. It narrows the topic of racism down to the concept of phenomenology and the authors Sartre and Fanon.

As a next step, try to formulate possible answers to your question(s). You can present them as conjectures in the beginning of your paper. Conjectures are thoughts that can serve as possible explanations for a problem/phenomenon. They provide the framework in which hypotheses and theses (claims) can be formulated. The advantage of formulating a conjecture is that this helps you check what limits result from the question. Conjectures help you to formulate hypotheses or theses (claims). Hypotheses are suppositions that seek to explain a causal relationship, and theses (claims) are assertions of a causal relationship.


When developing your research question, make sure that your question is:

  • specific (it examines a concrete phenomenon or problem);
  • precise (its wording should not be confusing and should leave no room for uncertainty);
  • complex (the answer to the question should not be “yes” or “no”);
  • machbar (you should be able to answer it in the context of your paper);
  • relevant (it must be part of your discipline).

Try asking WH questions (how, what, who, why, which, when) to enable a focus. We recommend asking the how question first.