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Forming Research Questions

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

Narrow topics using 5Ws


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Research questions focus on a specific part of a topic. To narrow a topic into a research question, start by identifying the main concepts. Your main concepts will likely be answers to the 5Ws - who, what, when, where and why.


The 5Ws will help you identify the specific details about your topic that are important and form a focused and clear research question.

  • Who - person or population of interest
  • What - what is happening to the person/population; what is the thing related to your population that you want to study?
  • Where - is there a particular place where your question occurs? (A country, city or organization, etc.).
  • When – is there a time period that is important to your question?
  • Why - has this question been answered before? Is it a question worth asking?



Broad Topic  Main Concepts     Research Question
Surgery and anxiety Who – surgery patients  What – music
What –  anxiety
When – pre-operative 
Among patients undergoing surgery, does listening to music in the pre-operative period have an effect on reported anxiety?


Walker, J. C., & McNaughton, A. (2018). Does listening to music preoperatively reduce anxiety? An evidence-based practice process for novice researchers. British Journal of Nursing27(21), 1250–1254.