Deriving a research question

Now that you have identified some of the pressing contemporary issues in the industry, how do you formulate this into a question worthy of further analysis?

Research questions form the basic foundation of all research. They comprise ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions, which help tease out answers from our investigation and curiosity. There is also the ‘so what’ question, which assigns criticality to the meaning of our answers and its implications.

Research questions can be derived from reviewing the literature around your subject area or from following up on an investigation or event. So, let’s explore the purpose of the different types of questions.

‘What’ questions

‘What’ questions require a descriptive answer and identify characteristics or patterns.

For example:

  • What is the nature of trust in organisation A?
  • What is the relationship between corporate governance and strategic human resource management?

‘Why’ questions

‘Why’ questions address the causes, rationale, characteristics or regularities in a particular phenomenon.

For example:

  • Why do some organisations remain trustworthy over time?
  • Why do firms exist?

The ‘why’ question helps in identifying the knowledge gap, the benefits, and the contributions from conducting the research.

‘How’ questions

‘How’ questions are concerned with bringing about change.

For example:

  • How do you interpret soil data to design a pile foundation?
  • How do you draw a shear force and bending moment diagram?
  • How do managers change organisational cultures?

‘So what’ questions

Why is your question important? ‘So what’ questions are concerned with the implication and the critical meaning of the research activity.

The implied meaning of any research activity justifies the importance of its purpose. This implication of either practice or policy will bring about the change that the research sets out to achieve.


Your task

Think about the contemporary issues we’ve discussed in the previous steps.

From the question types outlined above, which type of research question are you thinking of exploring further?

What is your draft question and why is it important? (So what?)

Think about how it relates to your own experience and share your choice with your fellow learners in the comments section.

Don’t forget to capture your thinking in your learning log or portfolio.

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Global Issues in the Construction Industry

Coventry University