19 Craft the Perfect Question

Ask the Right Questions

Why should you take the time to craft a perfect question before searching for information?

Scope is defined as the extent of the area or subject matter of an investigation. Scope determines how large or small your investigation will be. Determining the scope of an investigation is the critical first step in the research process because you need to explore how far and how deep to look for answers. This module will teach you how to develop a research question as a way to determine the scope of an investigation.

“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”

—Thomas Berger (16)

Topic vs. Question

Many people use the terms research topic and research question interchangeably, but there is an important difference between these terms.

research topic is defined as a broad topic or subject matter.

  • A research topic is a subject that you are interested in investigating.
  • For example, flu shots or vaccines are research topics.

research question narrows the focus of your topic and the scope of investigation.

  • A research question drives your investigation. It is something that you want to know about your topic; something you will explore and try to answer.
  • For example, “Does a delayed distribution timeline for childhood vaccines increase the likelihood that a child will contract a vaccine-preventable illness in the United States?” is a research question. (16)
Example of a broad research topic- vaccines and influenza- at the center of the circle. Outer layer of circle lists possible research questions to narrow scope of investigation, for example: 'Is the flu shot effective?' or 'In teenagers, what is the effect of hand washing for flu prevention compared with vitamin supplements?'
Figure 4-4: Topics vs. Questions by New Literacies Alliance is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 .

Consider the Scope of Your Topic

Have you ever used Google to search for a topic and was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information available? A Google search for the topic vaccines can return over 40 million results. Even if your task is to write a complete history of vaccines, 40 million results are too many to sift through. Refining your investigation through a research question can help you get the information you want faster and with less frustration.

“Getting information off the Internet is like trying to take a drink from a hydrant.”

—Mitch Kapor (16)

Young man spraying water out of a fire hydrant on a city street.
Image: Directing the hydrant’s spray by Timothy Krause is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .


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