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Types of research questions

Knowing the different types of research question that exist can help us when writing our own. We look a six common types.
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© Rory Lindsay, University of Westminster

There are lots of different types of research and projects you could be undertaking. Whether you are developing your own questions to answer or are trying to answer someone else’s question then you will likely be working with one of the six main types of research question. These are:

Descriptive questions

As the most basic type of quantitative research question, descriptive questions seek to explain when, where, why, or how something occurred. They use data and statistics to describe an event or phenomenon.

Research Topic Example #1: What percentage of college students have felt depressed in the last year?

Research Topic Example #2: How likely is it for mice with dominant traits to have offspring with recessive traits?

Comparative questions

Sometimes it’s beneficial to compare one occurrence with another. Comparative questions are especially helpful when studying groups with dependent variables.

Research Topic Example #1: Why is it easier for men to lose weight than it is for women?

Research Topic Example #2: Which painkiller is more effective for headaches?

Relationship-based questions

If you’d like to know how one variable affects or influences another, use a relationship-based question. These questions are common in quasi-experimental and experimental studies.

Research Topic Example #1: How does the number of drought days in a year affect a region’s likelihood for wildfires?

Research Topic Example #2: Do high school grades have an impact on future success?

Exploratory questions

Questions that are designed to understand more about a topic are exploratory questions. The objective of asking an exploratory question is to learn more about a topic without attributing bias or preconceived notions to it.

Research Topic Example #1: What is the effect of personal technology on today’s youth?

Research Topic Example #2: How do students at our school spend their weekends?

Predictive questions

If you’re wondering about the future outcome of an action, you’ll use predictive questions. These types of questions use past information to predict reactions to hypothetical events.

Research Topic Example #1: Are people more likely to buy a product after a celebrity promotes it?

Research Topic Example #2: Would people in our town enjoy an ice-skating rink?

Interpretive questions

Interpretive research studies people in their natural settings. They interpret how a group makes sense of shared experiences and attributes meaning to various phenomena. These studies gather feedback on a group’s behaviour without affecting the outcome.

Research Topic Example #1: How do preschoolers in a play-based program handle transitions between activities?

Research Topic Example #2: What is the historical significance of currency to the Lakota Nation?

Knowing the different types of questions you might be able to ask will help as you develop your topic into a question.

© University of Westminster
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