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.

Forming Research Questions

Resources and information on how to form clear, focused, and answerable questions for research

Topic vs. Question

Once a topic is identified, it must be narrowed into a question. We do this because a topic includes many issues and perspectives. This can make the search difficult. A question is easier to search with because it

  • looks one issue and/or perspective of a topic; is specific;
  • will likely have an answer;
  • helps narrow the search process; and
  • helps to identify relevant sources.


Broad Topic Research Question
nurses and communication How can communication be improved between hospital nurses during handover?
students and exam anxiety What strategies are can help reduce exam anxiety for university students in their first year?

Questions Frameworks

Identifying the main concepts of your research topic will help you develop a research question which is focused, clear and answerable. There are different question frameworks that can help in this process depending on what kind of research topic you have. 

Question Framework Used for Topics of Investigation
5Ws Any research question
  • any topic; any subject area
PICOT Nursing questions Quantitative 
  • investigate cause and effect relationships by comparing individuals or populations and a intervention or exposure factor 
  • are measurable in nature and often involve some kind of statistical analysis or standardized measurement
PS Nursing questions Qualitative 
  • ask about an individual's or population's experience of situations or circumstances
  • investigate meaning and/or experiences of a phenomena