2.1 Formulating a research question

2.1.4 Phrasing your question

The IB requires that all research questions are phrased as actual questions. Statements, claims, titles or subtitles will score poorly on Criterion A on focus and method. Statement titles often lead to unfocused  essays, and that will affect your marks for Criteria B and C as well. In order to communicate the relevance, pertinence and focus of your research question to your reader (the examiner), it is recommended that you phrase your question effectively. In other words, the wording of your question matters. It sets expectations and captures the essence of your research. So which words should you include, and which phrases are better to avoid? 

Useful phrases for the RQ Phrases to avoid in your RQ
  • To what extent / degree...
  • How effective is...
  • How have the decisions of... affected...
  • What is the role and significance of...
  • What is the best / cheapest / quickest method for....
  • In light of... how can one understand...
  • What has been the influence of... on...
  • Can you prove...
  • Is... to blame for...
  • Are we better off without...
  • What if everyone were to...
  • Could....possibly be the most....
  • Is it true that...
  • What is the history of...

Tips

  • Avoid questions that can be answered with 'yes' or 'no'.
  • Avoid inaccuracies, such as 'very long' or 'far away'.
  • Avoid poorly defined pronouns such as 'you' or 'we'.
  • Avoid sweeping generalisations, such as 'since the dawn of man'.
  • Avoid weasel words, such as 'some people say...'
  • Avoid questions that cannot be answered - or at least, argued. 

Activity

Here are three research questions that are close to being good, but they need a little re-wording. How would you change these to make them for effective?

  1. What can we learn from Dick Fosbury about the ability of mankind to jump high? (Sports, Exercise and Health Science)
  2. Why is it important for children to have a good father figure? (Psychology)
  3. Why is Marjana Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis banned in Iran? (Studies in Language and Literature)
Figure 2.1.4a - Traits of a good research question
What other traits might be considered effective for a research question?