2.2 From question to method

2.2.1 Unpacking the question

Once you have formulated a possible research question, you will want to explore all of its potential. A good research question is a like a suitcase, it contains more than appears. In order to fully understand it, you should 'unpack' it. There are several ways of doing this, two of which are described below. You may want to create a mind map or question the question. 

Questioning the question

Imagine you are exploring the research questions below. Now imagine you could ask questions of this question. What would you ask? You might come up with a list like the one below. 

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

      1. Which countries influenced the Khmer Rouge? 
      2. How were the Khmer Rouge influenced by foreign ideologies? 
      3. Which events led to the Khmer Rouge's rise in power? 
      4. Who were the Khmer Rouge? 
      5. What were their main reasons for taking power? 
      6. Why is this important to the history of Cambodia? 

Mind maps

Creating a mind map of your question is a useful way of exploring all of its potential. This strategy helps to see what you already know - and what you may need to find out (more) about. Here is an example of a mind map that is based the research question from above. Can you make one based on your research question?

Figure 2.2.1b - Questioning the question
Often times the simplest questions are the most effective in revealing the multiple layers of a research question. 


  1. Question your research question. Use the example on this page as a model for your brainstorming. 
  2. Study the mind map of the history question on this page. Could you make a similar mind map for your research question? This is a useful method for seeing what you already know and discovering blind spots that need researching. 


  • This mind map was made with SimpleMind, which is useful software for creating your own mind maps.
  • Ask your supervisor to question your question. Your supervisor may see possibilities that you had not previously seen.