Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Research Help: Developing the Research Question

What is an Essential Question?

Formulating Your Research Question

What is a research question?
A research question is a question around which you center your research. It should be:

You should ask a question about an issue that you are genuinely curious and/or passionate about.

The question you ask should be developed for the discipline you are studying. A question appropriate for Biology, for instance, is different from an appropriate one in Political Science or Sociology. If you are developing your question for a course other than first-year composition, you may want to discuss your ideas for a research question with your professor.

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 habitats that are in danger of extinction.
  • at one point bald eagles and grizzly bears were on the list.
  • there has been a lot of controversy about adding polar bears to the list.

I don't know:

  • what it takes for an animal to be removed from the list.
  • what the penalties are for violating this act.
  • if it protects only habitats within the U.S.

Research Questions

  • What was the ESA designed to protect -- animals only or ecosystems, too?
  • What animals/habitats outside of the United States 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?

What are Supporting Questions?

Your supporting questions guide you as you work so you will read and take notes only on what is needed for your project.

Example 1:  Topic = Steroids

Issue = Steroids and Professional Athletes

Essential Question = Should steroids be banned from professional sports?

Supporting Questions:

  • Why do professional athletes take steroids?
  • What are the harmful effects of steroid use?
  • What are the current laws/rules of using steroids in professional sports?
  • Where do athletes get steroids?

Example 2:  Topic = Skateboarding

Issue = Skateboarding and Helmets

Essential Question = Should skateboarders be required by law to wear helmets?

   Supporting Questions:

  • Why don't some skateboarders wear helmets?
  • What injuries do skateboarders suffer most often?
  • How many skateboarders are seriously injured each year?
  • How do skateboarding injuries affect the lives of skateboarders?