How to Ask Effective Research Questions

What is an effective research question?

Critical questioning skills are very important the age of AI that we live in. High-quality prompts for AI and open-ended social inquiries are crucial to social progression and individual enrichment.

We live in an inquiry-driven culture, in the sense that our social activities are driven by a search culture that relies on high-quality queries. If you have ever used digital maps to look up directions or traffic patterns, used Google to find credible sources to help you answer some questions, or used conversation-based generative artificial intelligence, you are part of this query-driven culture.

Critical questioning skills are the first step towards independent research. Licensed from Adobe Stock Images.

In this chapter, we will learn how to formulate effective research questions, which is the foundation for critical thinking.

Inquiries lead to new data and new knowledge about the world we live in. Questions are as valuable as traditional data points, because questions are data as well.

The first step to formulating effective research questions is to carefully read the assigned article or to watch the film twice. Ask yourself: What have I learned? How has this piece or film challenged what I thought I knew about a topic? Put this into bullet points. This summary could provide a foundation for more in-depth questions later. For example, we can progress from a summary of what a piece is about to questions about larger histories or cultural experiences the piece gestures toward but does not fully explore.

Sample Research Questions

There are five types of questions you can ask.

  • First, the HIDDEN questions.

We can look for questions that the writer and filmmaker allude to but do not pursue. We can elaborate on one of these “hidden” questions. Scholarship often begins by posing questions, explicitly or implicitly, about current conversations about a topic.

  • The second type of research questions concerns KEYWORDS.

Identify some keywords in the reading or key themes in a film. Do they propose innovative definitions for familiar concepts? Are there gaps in their definitions? Might you add nuance to a concept or theme being portrayed?

  • The third type of research questions is called the LARGER ISSUE question.

Read the piece carefully in order to identify larger issues the piece addresses. Ask yourself this: Do I accept their challenge to the conventional wisdom? What are the intellectual stakes of their claims? What are the practical implications of their challenge? For example, if a piece uses a feminist lens to examine representations of white women, you may raise intersectional questions about the theory’s implication on, or exclusion of, women of color.

  • The fourth type of research question is all about making connections.

As you read, try to draw connections among different pieces. Ask questions that link them together. This is called the cross-pollination of ideas, which is a key factor that drives intellectual growth. We may ask: How do the readings or films complement each other? How do they speak to each other? Do you see unexpected convergences among them? Or unexpected divergences?

  • The fifth type is the personal experience based question.

Last, but not least, there is the research question that draws on your personal experiences. Scholarship is not produced in a vacuum, and your personal experience can be very valuable and a good place to start. What do you know about the topic before reading this piece? After reading it, how does the piece change your view on the topic? What experiences have you been working with that might speak to our readings?

Give it a try yourself

In summary, in this unit, we have learned about

  • The inquiry driven culture we live in
  • Five types of effective research questions –
  • The hidden questions
  • Questions about keywords
  • The larger issue questions
  • Questions that make connections
  • Questions that draw upon your personal experiences

Now, it is your turn. Read the assigned text. Draft a research question to the best of your ability. To beta-test it, you may use a generative AI tool to see how might your question be answered and how you might fine tune your question. 

Please play the role of a college professor to give me feedback on the quality of my research questions. This is for a humanities course. I have to come up with open-ended, sophisticated research questions about the assigned readings. Please provide possible answers to my draft question. Then, please provide three alternative, more open-ended versions of my question.

For example, you can use this prompt in the freely accessible version of ChatGPT:

Please play the role of a college professor to give me feedback on the quality of my research questions. This is for a humanities course. I have to come up with open-ended, sophisticated research questions about the assigned readings. Please provide possible answers to my draft question. Then, please provide three alternative, more open-ended versions of my question. My research question is … 

When a student tested their draft question of “When film adaptations update Shakespeare’s plays to appeal to contemporary audiences, are they being unfaithful to the original content?” They received the following output.

=============

Your research question, “When film adaptations update Shakespeare’s plays to appeal to contemporary audiences, are they being unfaithful to the original content?” is a strong starting point. It addresses a relevant and intriguing topic that has been widely debated in both academic and popular circles. Here are a few thoughts on its quality:

 

Feedback on Your Research Question:

  • Strengths:
    • It tackles a specific and relevant topic.
    • It invites analysis and discussion, rather than a simple yes/no answer.
    • It engages with the theme of adaptation, which is rich in academic discourse.
  • Areas for Improvement:
    • The term “unfaithful” can be subjective and might need clarification within your research.
    • The question presupposes a binary (faithful/unfaithful) that might limit the depth of exploration.

Possible Answers:

  1. Yes, they are unfaithful: Film adaptations often make significant changes to language, setting, and character motivations to appeal to contemporary audiences, thus diverging from the original text’s intent and nuances.
  2. No, they are not unfaithful: These adaptations can be seen as a continuation of Shakespeare’s work, bringing his themes and stories to new audiences in a manner that preserves the essence of the original plays.
  3. It depends: The faithfulness of an adaptation can vary depending on the director’s vision, the context of the adaptation, and the specific elements of the play that are changed or preserved.

Alternative, More Open-Ended Versions:

  1. How do contemporary film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays reinterpret the original texts to reflect modern societal values and issues?
    • This version invites a broader exploration of how adaptations reflect contemporary culture and values, rather than focusing solely on fidelity to the original.
  2. In what ways do film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays navigate the balance between staying true to the source material and making the story accessible to modern audiences?
    • This question allows for a discussion on the creative process behind adaptations and the various factors that influence how the source material is transformed.
  3. What are the impacts of updating Shakespeare’s plays in film adaptations on our understanding and appreciation of the original works?
    • This invites a broader analysis of the consequences of adaptations on the reception of Shakespeare’s plays, encouraging exploration of both positive and negative impacts.
These alternative questions aim to open up a wider range of discussions and perspectives, allowing for a deeper and more nuanced exploration of the topic.