2.1 Formulating a research question

2.1.3 Scope of the question

On the previous page, it was suggested that the 'scope' of a research question can determine its success. What is meant by ‘scope’? Scope, in this context, refers to the range of topics, theory and knowledge that must be explored in order to offer a relevant, pertinent and focused response to your question. If the scope of your question is too narrow, you will have difficulty writing 4,000 words. If the scope is too broad, then 4,000 words is not enough. The trick is to phrase a question that is focused, relevant and pertinent. See examples, tips and activities below. 

Subject: Business Management
Too narrow: What is it like to drive for Uber?

Too broad: How has Uber disrupted the taxi market?

Focused: To what degree has the introduction of Uber in Amsterdam challenged employment laws in the Netherlands? 

Subject: Music
Too narrow: Can The Lion King be considered an opera?

Too broad: To what extent is opera a popular medium? 

Focused: To what extent do the musical language and structures of Andrew Lloyd Webber take inspiration from classical opera of the seventeenth century? 

Subject: History

Too narrow: To what extent did French colonialism cause the rise of the Khmer Rouge?

Too broad: Is there a correlation between colonialism and genocide? 

Focused: To what extent were foreign influences the main cause in the Khmer Rouge’s rise in power in Cambodia in 1975?

Finding focus

So how does one write a question that is sufficiently focused? Notice some of differences between the narrow, broad and focused questions above: "Opera as a popular medium" (too broad) becomes "classical opera of the seventeenth century" (narrower). When refining your research question you can play with different variables in your question to find the perfect scope. As you can read on the following page (2.1.4 Phrasing your question), the wording of your question will help define your scope. 


Read the three questions below. They are either too narrow or too broad. How would you rewrite these into better research questions?

  1. How does fruit ripen?
  2. How can B.F. Skinner's concepts of 'intermittent reinforcement' and 'conditioning' explain an addiction to the game of golf? 
  3. Should the Beijing National Stadium be considered the eighth wonder of the world? 
Figure 2.1.3a - Tunnel vision
If your research question is too narrow, you may suffer from tunnel vision.


Let others read rough versions of your research questions. Ask them what they think your essay will be about. If you are surprised by their responses, your question may be too broad or narrow.