How to formulate a research question

How to formulate a research question

There are three different dimensions you have to take into account when formulating a research question: the topic you have chosen, the career you aspire to, your personal interests and all not necessarily in that order.

The topic you have chosen should already be one that you interests you — enough to keep yourself motivated during your studies.

This then leads us to a more specific understanding as to what constitutes the “right” research question: it should be relevant to your major to give you a certain standing within the academic community, it also should be able to be accomplished within the allotted time, it should be novel in the sense of allowing you to add your own spin on the current academic discourse. And apart from all its substantive weight it should be simple and clear to formulate.


  1. Make a list of topics you find most interesting which you would like to deal with or to investigate. Try to find out as precisely as possible what you like about your subject. This will help you define a general research interest.
  2. Let’s say you are dealing with media studies and you are interested in movies. What kind of movies do you enjoy and why? What would you like to know about them? Are you interested in production, distribution, reception, technical or narrative details, scripts or acting?

  3. Find the thing that you are most interested in, enough to dedicate a good part of your near future to dealing with. Be sure about your interest and your motivation and then start by formulating an initial question.
  4. Analyze it: can it be answered? What do you need to answer it? Do you need empirical research, content analysis, interviews, participant observation, or can all the information you need be gathered from literary sources?
  5. Write it down, design a matrix that includes all the questions you have formulated and all you need to answer them: the method, the time they would take to be answered, the money it may cost to answer them, as well as any other factors that may influence their practicality. Also add a column for the people who may benefit from the answer to your question and the relevance to the career you aspire to.

This is already a good exercise to give you an idea about how easy it is for you to work systematically especially if you’re still not sure about it.

Choose the question that speaks to you the most. Then work on it if necessary, until you are sure that the question is relevant enough, interesting enough, practicable and has all the potential to inspire you to write a thesis that will have the impact you want it to have.