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Research Without Pain: 1d. Develop Research Questions

Research can be fun if you follow these simple steps.

Example: Endangered Species Act

What do or don't I know about the Endangered Species Act (ESA)?

I know it's a law that protects animals, and their habitats, that are in danger of extinction. I believe the law only protects habitats that are within the U.S. boundaries. I know at one point bald eagles and grizzly bears were on the list, but I thought they had been removed. I know there has been a lot of controversy recently about adding polar bears to the list. I don't what it takes for an animal to be removed from the list and I don't know what the penalties are for violating this act.

Research Questions

  • What was the Endangered Species Act (ESA) designed to protect -- animals only or ecosystems too?
  • What animals/habitats outside of the United States boundaries are covered by the act?
  • What other countries have legislation to protect animals/habitats?
  • What animals are currently on the endangered species list?
  • How does an animal get added/removed from the list?
  • What penalities are imposed on those who violate the act?

Develop Research Questions

Statement of Purpose, Essential Question, Thesis Statement: They all amount to the same thing – a clear statement outlining your main idea and what you are trying to accomplish.

How to Develop Good Questions

Not all questions will lead to equally good research. The graphic on this page illustrates a 5-level taxonomy of increasing sophistication in research. The lower levels describe basic research. The highest levels of the taxonomy contain the higher-order questions requiring critical thinking. These questions lead to the creation of new knowledge.

  1. Fact-finding, or "journalism questions" -- Who, What, When, Where and How?
  2. Comprehension Questions These questions require awareness of a work’s organization and pertinent ideas and facts, and require the information to be examined and organized.
  3. Compare and Contrast Questions require the separation of the whole into parts, and the analysis of information.
  4. Synthesis Questions combine those parts into a meaningful whole. Synthesis is especially effective when it results in new insights.
  5. Evaluation Questions lead to research resulting in the development of opinions, judgments, criticisms, or decisions.

You will want to target your questions at least at the level of compare and contrast, and preferably at the fourth or fifth level.