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10 Research Question Examples to Guide your Research Project

Published on October 30, 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on October 19, 2023.

The research question is one of the most important parts of your research paper , thesis or dissertation . It’s important to spend some time assessing and refining your question before you get started.

The exact form of your question will depend on a few things, such as the length of your project, the type of research you’re conducting, the topic , and the research problem . However, all research questions should be focused, specific, and relevant to a timely social or scholarly issue.

Once you’ve read our guide on how to write a research question , you can use these examples to craft your own.

Note that the design of your research question can depend on what method you are pursuing. Here are a few options for qualitative, quantitative, and statistical research questions.

Other interesting articles

If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Methodology

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Research bias

  • Optimism bias
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How to Write a Research Question: Types and Examples 

research quetsion

The first step in any research project is framing the research question. It can be considered the core of any systematic investigation as the research outcomes are tied to asking the right questions. Thus, this primary interrogation point sets the pace for your research as it helps collect relevant and insightful information that ultimately influences your work.   

Typically, the research question guides the stages of inquiry, analysis, and reporting. Depending on the use of quantifiable or quantitative data, research questions are broadly categorized into quantitative or qualitative research questions. Both types of research questions can be used independently or together, considering the overall focus and objectives of your research.  

What is a research question?

A research question is a clear, focused, concise, and arguable question on which your research and writing are centered. 1 It states various aspects of the study, including the population and variables to be studied and the problem the study addresses. These questions also set the boundaries of the study, ensuring cohesion. 

Designing the research question is a dynamic process where the researcher can change or refine the research question as they review related literature and develop a framework for the study. Depending on the scale of your research, the study can include single or multiple research questions. 

A good research question has the following features: 

  • It is relevant to the chosen field of study. 
  • The question posed is arguable and open for debate, requiring synthesizing and analysis of ideas. 
  • It is focused and concisely framed. 
  • A feasible solution is possible within the given practical constraint and timeframe. 

A poorly formulated research question poses several risks. 1   

  • Researchers can adopt an erroneous design. 
  • It can create confusion and hinder the thought process, including developing a clear protocol.  
  • It can jeopardize publication efforts.  
  • It causes difficulty in determining the relevance of the study findings.  
  • It causes difficulty in whether the study fulfils the inclusion criteria for systematic review and meta-analysis. This creates challenges in determining whether additional studies or data collection is needed to answer the question.  
  • Readers may fail to understand the objective of the study. This reduces the likelihood of the study being cited by others. 

Now that you know “What is a research question?”, let’s look at the different types of research questions. 

Types of research questions

Depending on the type of research to be done, research questions can be classified broadly into quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-methods studies. Knowing the type of research helps determine the best type of research question that reflects the direction and epistemological underpinnings of your research. 

The structure and wording of quantitative 2 and qualitative research 3 questions differ significantly. The quantitative study looks at causal relationships, whereas the qualitative study aims at exploring a phenomenon. 

  • Quantitative research questions:  
  • Seeks to investigate social, familial, or educational experiences or processes in a particular context and/or location.  
  • Answers ‘how,’ ‘what,’ or ‘why’ questions. 
  • Investigates connections, relations, or comparisons between independent and dependent variables. 

Quantitative research questions can be further categorized into descriptive, comparative, and relationship, as explained in the Table below. 

  • Qualitative research questions  

Qualitative research questions are adaptable, non-directional, and more flexible. It concerns broad areas of research or more specific areas of study to discover, explain, or explore a phenomenon. These are further classified as follows: 

  • Mixed-methods studies  

Mixed-methods studies use both quantitative and qualitative research questions to answer your research question. Mixed methods provide a complete picture than standalone quantitative or qualitative research, as it integrates the benefits of both methods. Mixed methods research is often used in multidisciplinary settings and complex situational or societal research, especially in the behavioral, health, and social science fields. 

What makes a good research question

A good research question should be clear and focused to guide your research. It should synthesize multiple sources to present your unique argument, and should ideally be something that you are interested in. But avoid questions that can be answered in a few factual statements. The following are the main attributes of a good research question. 

  • Specific: The research question should not be a fishing expedition performed in the hopes that some new information will be found that will benefit the researcher. The central research question should work with your research problem to keep your work focused. If using multiple questions, they should all tie back to the central aim. 
  • Measurable: The research question must be answerable using quantitative and/or qualitative data or from scholarly sources to develop your research question. If such data is impossible to access, it is better to rethink your question. 
  • Attainable: Ensure you have enough time and resources to do all research required to answer your question. If it seems you will not be able to gain access to the data you need, consider narrowing down your question to be more specific. 
  • You have the expertise 
  • You have the equipment and resources 
  • Realistic: Developing your research question should be based on initial reading about your topic. It should focus on addressing a problem or gap in the existing knowledge in your field or discipline. 
  • Based on some sort of rational physics 
  • Can be done in a reasonable time frame 
  • Timely: The research question should contribute to an existing and current debate in your field or in society at large. It should produce knowledge that future researchers or practitioners can later build on. 
  • Novel 
  • Based on current technologies. 
  • Important to answer current problems or concerns. 
  • Lead to new directions. 
  • Important: Your question should have some aspect of originality. Incremental research is as important as exploring disruptive technologies. For example, you can focus on a specific location or explore a new angle. 
  • Meaningful whether the answer is “Yes” or “No.” Closed-ended, yes/no questions are too simple to work as good research questions. Such questions do not provide enough scope for robust investigation and discussion. A good research question requires original data, synthesis of multiple sources, and original interpretation and argumentation before providing an answer. 

Steps for developing a good research question

The importance of research questions cannot be understated. When drafting a research question, use the following frameworks to guide the components of your question to ease the process. 4  

  • Determine the requirements: Before constructing a good research question, set your research requirements. What is the purpose? Is it descriptive, comparative, or explorative research? Determining the research aim will help you choose the most appropriate topic and word your question appropriately. 
  • Select a broad research topic: Identify a broader subject area of interest that requires investigation. Techniques such as brainstorming or concept mapping can help identify relevant connections and themes within a broad research topic. For example, how to learn and help students learn. 
  • Perform preliminary investigation: Preliminary research is needed to obtain up-to-date and relevant knowledge on your topic. It also helps identify issues currently being discussed from which information gaps can be identified. 
  • Narrow your focus: Narrow the scope and focus of your research to a specific niche. This involves focusing on gaps in existing knowledge or recent literature or extending or complementing the findings of existing literature. Another approach involves constructing strong research questions that challenge your views or knowledge of the area of study (Example: Is learning consistent with the existing learning theory and research). 
  • Identify the research problem: Once the research question has been framed, one should evaluate it. This is to realize the importance of the research questions and if there is a need for more revising (Example: How do your beliefs on learning theory and research impact your instructional practices). 

How to write a research question

Those struggling to understand how to write a research question, these simple steps can help you simplify the process of writing a research question. 

Sample Research Questions

The following are some bad and good research question examples 

  • Example 1 
  • Example 2 

References:  

  • Thabane, L., Thomas, T., Ye, C., & Paul, J. (2009). Posing the research question: not so simple.  Canadian Journal of Anesthesia/Journal canadien d’anesthésie ,  56 (1), 71-79. 
  • Rutberg, S., & Bouikidis, C. D. (2018). Focusing on the fundamentals: A simplistic differentiation between qualitative and quantitative research.  Nephrology Nursing Journal ,  45 (2), 209-213. 
  • Kyngäs, H. (2020). Qualitative research and content analysis.  The application of content analysis in nursing science research , 3-11. 
  • Mattick, K., Johnston, J., & de la Croix, A. (2018). How to… write a good research question.  The clinical teacher ,  15 (2), 104-108. 
  • Fandino, W. (2019). Formulating a good research question: Pearls and pitfalls.  Indian Journal of Anaesthesia ,  63 (8), 611. 
  • Richardson, W. S., Wilson, M. C., Nishikawa, J., & Hayward, R. S. (1995). The well-built clinical question: a key to evidence-based decisions.  ACP journal club ,  123 (3), A12-A13 

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Education Scholarship in Healthcare pp 41–50 Cite as

Designing a Research Question

  • Ahmed Ibrahim 3 &
  • Camille L. Bryant 3  
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This chapter discusses (1) the important role of research questions for descriptive, predictive, and causal studies across the three research paradigms (i.e., quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods); (2) characteristics of quality research questions, and (3) three frameworks to support the development of research questions and their dissemination within scholarly work. For the latter, a description of the P opulation/ P articipants, I ntervention/ I ndependent variable, C omparison, and O utcomes (PICO) framework for quantitative research as well as variations depending on the type of research is provided. Second, we discuss the P articipants, central Ph enomenon, T ime, and S pace (PPhTS) framework for qualitative research. The combination of these frameworks is discussed for mixed-methods research. Further, templates and examples are provided to support the novice health scholar in developing research questions for applied and theoretical studies. Finally, we discuss the Create a Research Space (CARS) model for introducing research questions as part of a research study, to demonstrate how scholars can apply their knowledge when disseminating research.

  • Research purpose
  • Research objective
  • Question formation
  • Research question
  • PICO framework
  • PPhTS framework

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How to Develop a Good Research Question? — Types & Examples

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Cecilia is living through a tough situation in her research life. Figuring out where to begin, how to start her research study, and how to pose the right question for her research quest, is driving her insane. Well, questions, if not asked correctly, have a tendency to spiral us!

Image Source: https://phdcomics.com/

Questions lead everyone to answers. Research is a quest to find answers. Not the vague questions that Cecilia means to answer, but definitely more focused questions that define your research. Therefore, asking appropriate question becomes an important matter of discussion.

A well begun research process requires a strong research question. It directs the research investigation and provides a clear goal to focus on. Understanding the characteristics of comprising a good research question will generate new ideas and help you discover new methods in research.

In this article, we are aiming to help researchers understand what is a research question and how to write one with examples.

Table of Contents

What Is a Research Question?

A good research question defines your study and helps you seek an answer to your research. Moreover, a clear research question guides the research paper or thesis to define exactly what you want to find out, giving your work its objective. Learning to write a research question is the beginning to any thesis, dissertation , or research paper. Furthermore, the question addresses issues or problems which is answered through analysis and interpretation of data.

Why Is a Research Question Important?

A strong research question guides the design of a study. Moreover, it helps determine the type of research and identify specific objectives. Research questions state the specific issue you are addressing and focus on outcomes of the research for individuals to learn. Therefore, it helps break up the study into easy steps to complete the objectives and answer the initial question.

Types of Research Questions

Research questions can be categorized into different types, depending on the type of research you want to undergo. Furthermore, knowing the type of research will help a researcher determine the best type of research question to use.

1. Qualitative Research Question

Qualitative questions concern broad areas or more specific areas of research. However, unlike quantitative questions, qualitative research questions are adaptable, non-directional and more flexible. Qualitative research question focus on discovering, explaining, elucidating, and exploring.

i. Exploratory Questions

This form of question looks to understand something without influencing the results. The objective of exploratory questions is to learn more about a topic without attributing bias or preconceived notions to it.

Research Question Example: Asking how a chemical is used or perceptions around a certain topic.

ii. Predictive Questions

Predictive research questions are defined as survey questions that automatically predict the best possible response options based on text of the question. Moreover, these questions seek to understand the intent or future outcome surrounding a topic.

Research Question Example: Asking why a consumer behaves in a certain way or chooses a certain option over other.

iii. Interpretive Questions

This type of research question allows the study of people in the natural setting. The questions help understand how a group makes sense of shared experiences with regards to various phenomena. These studies gather feedback on a group’s behavior without affecting the outcome.

Research Question Example: How do you feel about AI assisting publishing process in your research?

2. Quantitative Research Question

Quantitative questions prove or disprove a researcher’s hypothesis through descriptions, comparisons, and relationships. These questions are beneficial when choosing a research topic or when posing follow-up questions that garner more information.

i. Descriptive Questions

It is the most basic type of quantitative research question and it seeks to explain when, where, why, or how something occurred. Moreover, they use data and statistics to describe an event or phenomenon.

Research Question Example: How many generations of genes influence a future generation?

ii. Comparative Questions

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

Example: Do men and women have comparable metabolisms?

iii. Relationship-Based Questions

This type of research question answers influence of one variable on another. Therefore, experimental studies use this type of research questions are majorly.

Example: How is drought condition affect a region’s probability for wildfires.  

How to Write a Good Research Question?

good research question

1. Select a Topic

The first step towards writing a good research question is to choose a broad topic of research. You could choose a research topic that interests you, because the complete research will progress further from the research question. Therefore, make sure to choose a topic that you are passionate about, to make your research study more enjoyable.

2. Conduct Preliminary Research

After finalizing the topic, read and know about what research studies are conducted in the field so far. Furthermore, this will help you find articles that talk about the topics that are yet to be explored. You could explore the topics that the earlier research has not studied.

3. Consider Your Audience

The most important aspect of writing a good research question is to find out if there is audience interested to know the answer to the question you are proposing. Moreover, determining your audience will assist you in refining your research question, and focus on aspects that relate to defined groups.

4. Generate Potential Questions

The best way to generate potential questions is to ask open ended questions. Questioning broader topics will allow you to narrow down to specific questions. Identifying the gaps in literature could also give you topics to write the research question. Moreover, you could also challenge the existing assumptions or use personal experiences to redefine issues in research.

5. Review Your Questions

Once you have listed few of your questions, evaluate them to find out if they are effective research questions. Moreover while reviewing, go through the finer details of the question and its probable outcome, and find out if the question meets the research question criteria.

6. Construct Your Research Question

There are two frameworks to construct your research question. The first one being PICOT framework , which stands for:

  • Population or problem
  • Intervention or indicator being studied
  • Comparison group
  • Outcome of interest
  • Time frame of the study.

The second framework is PEO , which stands for:

  • Population being studied
  • Exposure to preexisting conditions
  • Outcome of interest.

Research Question Examples

  • How might the discovery of a genetic basis for alcoholism impact triage processes in medical facilities?
  • How do ecological systems respond to chronic anthropological disturbance?
  • What are demographic consequences of ecological interactions?
  • What roles do fungi play in wildfire recovery?
  • How do feedbacks reinforce patterns of genetic divergence on the landscape?
  • What educational strategies help encourage safe driving in young adults?
  • What makes a grocery store easy for shoppers to navigate?
  • What genetic factors predict if someone will develop hypothyroidism?
  • Does contemporary evolution along the gradients of global change alter ecosystems function?

How did you write your first research question ? What were the steps you followed to create a strong research question? Do write to us or comment below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Research questions guide the focus and direction of a research study. Here are common types of research questions: 1. Qualitative research question: Qualitative questions concern broad areas or more specific areas of research. However, unlike quantitative questions, qualitative research questions are adaptable, non-directional and more flexible. Different types of qualitative research questions are: i. Exploratory questions ii. Predictive questions iii. Interpretive questions 2. Quantitative Research Question: Quantitative questions prove or disprove a researcher’s hypothesis through descriptions, comparisons, and relationships. These questions are beneficial when choosing a research topic or when posing follow-up questions that garner more information. Different types of quantitative research questions are: i. Descriptive questions ii. Comparative questions iii. Relationship-based questions

Qualitative research questions aim to explore the richness and depth of participants' experiences and perspectives. They should guide your research and allow for in-depth exploration of the phenomenon under investigation. After identifying the research topic and the purpose of your research: • Begin with Broad Inquiry: Start with a general research question that captures the main focus of your study. This question should be open-ended and allow for exploration. • Break Down the Main Question: Identify specific aspects or dimensions related to the main research question that you want to investigate. • Formulate Sub-questions: Create sub-questions that delve deeper into each specific aspect or dimension identified in the previous step. • Ensure Open-endedness: Make sure your research questions are open-ended and allow for varied responses and perspectives. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." Encourage participants to share their experiences, opinions, and perceptions in their own words. • Refine and Review: Review your research questions to ensure they align with your research purpose, topic, and objectives. Seek feedback from your research advisor or peers to refine and improve your research questions.

Developing research questions requires careful consideration of the research topic, objectives, and the type of study you intend to conduct. Here are the steps to help you develop effective research questions: 1. Select a Topic 2. Conduct Preliminary Research 3. Consider Your Audience 4. Generate Potential Questions 5. Review Your Questions 6. Construct Your Research Question Based on PICOT or PEO Framework

There are two frameworks to construct your research question. The first one being PICOT framework, which stands for: • Population or problem • Intervention or indicator being studied • Comparison group • Outcome of interest • Time frame of the study The second framework is PEO, which stands for: • Population being studied • Exposure to preexisting conditions • Outcome of interest

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Home » Research Questions – Types, Examples and Writing Guide

Research Questions – Types, Examples and Writing Guide

Table of Contents

Research Questions

Research Questions

Definition:

Research questions are the specific questions that guide a research study or inquiry. These questions help to define the scope of the research and provide a clear focus for the study. Research questions are usually developed at the beginning of a research project and are designed to address a particular research problem or objective.

Types of Research Questions

Types of Research Questions are as follows:

Descriptive Research Questions

These aim to describe a particular phenomenon, group, or situation. For example:

  • What are the characteristics of the target population?
  • What is the prevalence of a particular disease in a specific region?

Exploratory Research Questions

These aim to explore a new area of research or generate new ideas or hypotheses. For example:

  • What are the potential causes of a particular phenomenon?
  • What are the possible outcomes of a specific intervention?

Explanatory Research Questions

These aim to understand the relationship between two or more variables or to explain why a particular phenomenon occurs. For example:

  • What is the effect of a specific drug on the symptoms of a particular disease?
  • What are the factors that contribute to employee turnover in a particular industry?

Predictive Research Questions

These aim to predict a future outcome or trend based on existing data or trends. For example :

  • What will be the future demand for a particular product or service?
  • What will be the future prevalence of a particular disease?

Evaluative Research Questions

These aim to evaluate the effectiveness of a particular intervention or program. For example:

  • What is the impact of a specific educational program on student learning outcomes?
  • What is the effectiveness of a particular policy or program in achieving its intended goals?

How to Choose Research Questions

Choosing research questions is an essential part of the research process and involves careful consideration of the research problem, objectives, and design. Here are some steps to consider when choosing research questions:

  • Identify the research problem: Start by identifying the problem or issue that you want to study. This could be a gap in the literature, a social or economic issue, or a practical problem that needs to be addressed.
  • Conduct a literature review: Conducting a literature review can help you identify existing research in your area of interest and can help you formulate research questions that address gaps or limitations in the existing literature.
  • Define the research objectives : Clearly define the objectives of your research. What do you want to achieve with your study? What specific questions do you want to answer?
  • Consider the research design : Consider the research design that you plan to use. This will help you determine the appropriate types of research questions to ask. For example, if you plan to use a qualitative approach, you may want to focus on exploratory or descriptive research questions.
  • Ensure that the research questions are clear and answerable: Your research questions should be clear and specific, and should be answerable with the data that you plan to collect. Avoid asking questions that are too broad or vague.
  • Get feedback : Get feedback from your supervisor, colleagues, or peers to ensure that your research questions are relevant, feasible, and meaningful.

How to Write Research Questions

Guide for Writing Research Questions:

  • Start with a clear statement of the research problem: Begin by stating the problem or issue that your research aims to address. This will help you to formulate focused research questions.
  • Use clear language : Write your research questions in clear and concise language that is easy to understand. Avoid using jargon or technical terms that may be unfamiliar to your readers.
  • Be specific: Your research questions should be specific and focused. Avoid broad questions that are difficult to answer. For example, instead of asking “What is the impact of climate change on the environment?” ask “What are the effects of rising sea levels on coastal ecosystems?”
  • Use appropriate question types: Choose the appropriate question types based on the research design and objectives. For example, if you are conducting a qualitative study, you may want to use open-ended questions that allow participants to provide detailed responses.
  • Consider the feasibility of your questions : Ensure that your research questions are feasible and can be answered with the resources available. Consider the data sources and methods of data collection when writing your questions.
  • Seek feedback: Get feedback from your supervisor, colleagues, or peers to ensure that your research questions are relevant, appropriate, and meaningful.

Examples of Research Questions

Some Examples of Research Questions with Research Titles:

Research Title: The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health

  • Research Question : What is the relationship between social media use and mental health, and how does this impact individuals’ well-being?

Research Title: Factors Influencing Academic Success in High School

  • Research Question: What are the primary factors that influence academic success in high school, and how do they contribute to student achievement?

Research Title: The Effects of Exercise on Physical and Mental Health

  • Research Question: What is the relationship between exercise and physical and mental health, and how can exercise be used as a tool to improve overall well-being?

Research Title: Understanding the Factors that Influence Consumer Purchasing Decisions

  • Research Question : What are the key factors that influence consumer purchasing decisions, and how do these factors vary across different demographics and products?

Research Title: The Impact of Technology on Communication

  • Research Question : How has technology impacted communication patterns, and what are the effects of these changes on interpersonal relationships and society as a whole?

Research Title: Investigating the Relationship between Parenting Styles and Child Development

  • Research Question: What is the relationship between different parenting styles and child development outcomes, and how do these outcomes vary across different ages and developmental stages?

Research Title: The Effectiveness of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy in Treating Anxiety Disorders

  • Research Question: How effective is cognitive-behavioral therapy in treating anxiety disorders, and what factors contribute to its success or failure in different patients?

Research Title: The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity

  • Research Question : How is climate change affecting global biodiversity, and what can be done to mitigate the negative effects on natural ecosystems?

Research Title: Exploring the Relationship between Cultural Diversity and Workplace Productivity

  • Research Question : How does cultural diversity impact workplace productivity, and what strategies can be employed to maximize the benefits of a diverse workforce?

Research Title: The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare

  • Research Question: How can artificial intelligence be leveraged to improve healthcare outcomes, and what are the potential risks and ethical concerns associated with its use?

Applications of Research Questions

Here are some of the key applications of research questions:

  • Defining the scope of the study : Research questions help researchers to narrow down the scope of their study and identify the specific issues they want to investigate.
  • Developing hypotheses: Research questions often lead to the development of hypotheses, which are testable predictions about the relationship between variables. Hypotheses provide a clear and focused direction for the study.
  • Designing the study : Research questions guide the design of the study, including the selection of participants, the collection of data, and the analysis of results.
  • Collecting data : Research questions inform the selection of appropriate methods for collecting data, such as surveys, interviews, or experiments.
  • Analyzing data : Research questions guide the analysis of data, including the selection of appropriate statistical tests and the interpretation of results.
  • Communicating results : Research questions help researchers to communicate the results of their study in a clear and concise manner. The research questions provide a framework for discussing the findings and drawing conclusions.

Characteristics of Research Questions

Characteristics of Research Questions are as follows:

  • Clear and Specific : A good research question should be clear and specific. It should clearly state what the research is trying to investigate and what kind of data is required.
  • Relevant : The research question should be relevant to the study and should address a current issue or problem in the field of research.
  • Testable : The research question should be testable through empirical evidence. It should be possible to collect data to answer the research question.
  • Concise : The research question should be concise and focused. It should not be too broad or too narrow.
  • Feasible : The research question should be feasible to answer within the constraints of the research design, time frame, and available resources.
  • Original : The research question should be original and should contribute to the existing knowledge in the field of research.
  • Significant : The research question should have significance and importance to the field of research. It should have the potential to provide new insights and knowledge to the field.
  • Ethical : The research question should be ethical and should not cause harm to any individuals or groups involved in the study.

Purpose of Research Questions

Research questions are the foundation of any research study as they guide the research process and provide a clear direction to the researcher. The purpose of research questions is to identify the scope and boundaries of the study, and to establish the goals and objectives of the research.

The main purpose of research questions is to help the researcher to focus on the specific area or problem that needs to be investigated. They enable the researcher to develop a research design, select the appropriate methods and tools for data collection and analysis, and to organize the results in a meaningful way.

Research questions also help to establish the relevance and significance of the study. They define the research problem, and determine the research methodology that will be used to address the problem. Research questions also help to determine the type of data that will be collected, and how it will be analyzed and interpreted.

Finally, research questions provide a framework for evaluating the results of the research. They help to establish the validity and reliability of the data, and provide a basis for drawing conclusions and making recommendations based on the findings of the study.

Advantages of Research Questions

There are several advantages of research questions in the research process, including:

  • Focus : Research questions help to focus the research by providing a clear direction for the study. They define the specific area of investigation and provide a framework for the research design.
  • Clarity : Research questions help to clarify the purpose and objectives of the study, which can make it easier for the researcher to communicate the research aims to others.
  • Relevance : Research questions help to ensure that the study is relevant and meaningful. By asking relevant and important questions, the researcher can ensure that the study will contribute to the existing body of knowledge and address important issues.
  • Consistency : Research questions help to ensure consistency in the research process by providing a framework for the development of the research design, data collection, and analysis.
  • Measurability : Research questions help to ensure that the study is measurable by defining the specific variables and outcomes that will be measured.
  • Replication : Research questions help to ensure that the study can be replicated by providing a clear and detailed description of the research aims, methods, and outcomes. This makes it easier for other researchers to replicate the study and verify the results.

Limitations of Research Questions

Limitations of Research Questions are as follows:

  • Subjectivity : Research questions are often subjective and can be influenced by personal biases and perspectives of the researcher. This can lead to a limited understanding of the research problem and may affect the validity and reliability of the study.
  • Inadequate scope : Research questions that are too narrow in scope may limit the breadth of the study, while questions that are too broad may make it difficult to focus on specific research objectives.
  • Unanswerable questions : Some research questions may not be answerable due to the lack of available data or limitations in research methods. In such cases, the research question may need to be rephrased or modified to make it more answerable.
  • Lack of clarity : Research questions that are poorly worded or ambiguous can lead to confusion and misinterpretation. This can result in incomplete or inaccurate data, which may compromise the validity of the study.
  • Difficulty in measuring variables : Some research questions may involve variables that are difficult to measure or quantify, making it challenging to draw meaningful conclusions from the data.
  • Lack of generalizability: Research questions that are too specific or limited in scope may not be generalizable to other contexts or populations. This can limit the applicability of the study’s findings and restrict its broader implications.

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Research Aims, Objectives & Questions

The “Golden Thread” Explained Simply (+ Examples)

By: David Phair (PhD) and Alexandra Shaeffer (PhD) | June 2022

The research aims , objectives and research questions (collectively called the “golden thread”) are arguably the most important thing you need to get right when you’re crafting a research proposal , dissertation or thesis . We receive questions almost every day about this “holy trinity” of research and there’s certainly a lot of confusion out there, so we’ve crafted this post to help you navigate your way through the fog.

Overview: The Golden Thread

  • What is the golden thread
  • What are research aims ( examples )
  • What are research objectives ( examples )
  • What are research questions ( examples )
  • The importance of alignment in the golden thread

What is the “golden thread”?  

The golden thread simply refers to the collective research aims , research objectives , and research questions for any given project (i.e., a dissertation, thesis, or research paper ). These three elements are bundled together because it’s extremely important that they align with each other, and that the entire research project aligns with them.

Importantly, the golden thread needs to weave its way through the entirety of any research project , from start to end. In other words, it needs to be very clearly defined right at the beginning of the project (the topic ideation and proposal stage) and it needs to inform almost every decision throughout the rest of the project. For example, your research design and methodology will be heavily influenced by the golden thread (we’ll explain this in more detail later), as well as your literature review.

The research aims, objectives and research questions (the golden thread) define the focus and scope ( the delimitations ) of your research project. In other words, they help ringfence your dissertation or thesis to a relatively narrow domain, so that you can “go deep” and really dig into a specific problem or opportunity. They also help keep you on track , as they act as a litmus test for relevance. In other words, if you’re ever unsure whether to include something in your document, simply ask yourself the question, “does this contribute toward my research aims, objectives or questions?”. If it doesn’t, chances are you can drop it.

Alright, enough of the fluffy, conceptual stuff. Let’s get down to business and look at what exactly the research aims, objectives and questions are and outline a few examples to bring these concepts to life.

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Research Aims: What are they?

Simply put, the research aim(s) is a statement that reflects the broad overarching goal (s) of the research project. Research aims are fairly high-level (low resolution) as they outline the general direction of the research and what it’s trying to achieve .

Research Aims: Examples  

True to the name, research aims usually start with the wording “this research aims to…”, “this research seeks to…”, and so on. For example:

“This research aims to explore employee experiences of digital transformation in retail HR.”   “This study sets out to assess the interaction between student support and self-care on well-being in engineering graduate students”  

As you can see, these research aims provide a high-level description of what the study is about and what it seeks to achieve. They’re not hyper-specific or action-oriented, but they’re clear about what the study’s focus is and what is being investigated.

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research and developing questions

Research Objectives: What are they?

The research objectives take the research aims and make them more practical and actionable . In other words, the research objectives showcase the steps that the researcher will take to achieve the research aims.

The research objectives need to be far more specific (higher resolution) and actionable than the research aims. In fact, it’s always a good idea to craft your research objectives using the “SMART” criteria. In other words, they should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound”.

Research Objectives: Examples  

Let’s look at two examples of research objectives. We’ll stick with the topic and research aims we mentioned previously.  

For the digital transformation topic:

To observe the retail HR employees throughout the digital transformation. To assess employee perceptions of digital transformation in retail HR. To identify the barriers and facilitators of digital transformation in retail HR.

And for the student wellness topic:

To determine whether student self-care predicts the well-being score of engineering graduate students. To determine whether student support predicts the well-being score of engineering students. To assess the interaction between student self-care and student support when predicting well-being in engineering graduate students.

  As you can see, these research objectives clearly align with the previously mentioned research aims and effectively translate the low-resolution aims into (comparatively) higher-resolution objectives and action points . They give the research project a clear focus and present something that resembles a research-based “to-do” list.

The research objectives detail the specific steps that you, as the researcher, will take to achieve the research aims you laid out.

Research Questions: What are they?

Finally, we arrive at the all-important research questions. The research questions are, as the name suggests, the key questions that your study will seek to answer . Simply put, they are the core purpose of your dissertation, thesis, or research project. You’ll present them at the beginning of your document (either in the introduction chapter or literature review chapter) and you’ll answer them at the end of your document (typically in the discussion and conclusion chapters).  

The research questions will be the driving force throughout the research process. For example, in the literature review chapter, you’ll assess the relevance of any given resource based on whether it helps you move towards answering your research questions. Similarly, your methodology and research design will be heavily influenced by the nature of your research questions. For instance, research questions that are exploratory in nature will usually make use of a qualitative approach, whereas questions that relate to measurement or relationship testing will make use of a quantitative approach.  

Let’s look at some examples of research questions to make this more tangible.

Research Questions: Examples  

Again, we’ll stick with the research aims and research objectives we mentioned previously.  

For the digital transformation topic (which would be qualitative in nature):

How do employees perceive digital transformation in retail HR? What are the barriers and facilitators of digital transformation in retail HR?  

And for the student wellness topic (which would be quantitative in nature):

Does student self-care predict the well-being scores of engineering graduate students? Does student support predict the well-being scores of engineering students? Do student self-care and student support interact when predicting well-being in engineering graduate students?  

You’ll probably notice that there’s quite a formulaic approach to this. In other words, the research questions are basically the research objectives “converted” into question format. While that is true most of the time, it’s not always the case. For example, the first research objective for the digital transformation topic was more or less a step on the path toward the other objectives, and as such, it didn’t warrant its own research question.  

So, don’t rush your research questions and sloppily reword your objectives as questions. Carefully think about what exactly you’re trying to achieve (i.e. your research aim) and the objectives you’ve set out, then craft a set of well-aligned research questions . Also, keep in mind that this can be a somewhat iterative process , where you go back and tweak research objectives and aims to ensure tight alignment throughout the golden thread.

The importance of strong alignment 

Alignment is the keyword here and we have to stress its importance . Simply put, you need to make sure that there is a very tight alignment between all three pieces of the golden thread. If your research aims and research questions don’t align, for example, your project will be pulling in different directions and will lack focus . This is a common problem students face and can cause many headaches (and tears), so be warned.

Take the time to carefully craft your research aims, objectives and research questions before you run off down the research path. Ideally, get your research supervisor/advisor to review and comment on your golden thread before you invest significant time into your project, and certainly before you start collecting data .  

Recap: The golden thread

In this post, we unpacked the golden thread of research, consisting of the research aims , research objectives and research questions . You can jump back to any section using the links below.

As always, feel free to leave a comment below – we always love to hear from you. Also, if you’re interested in 1-on-1 support, take a look at our private coaching service here.

research and developing questions

Psst… there’s more (for free)

This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project. 

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38 Comments

Isaac Levi

Thank you very much for your great effort put. As an Undergraduate taking Demographic Research & Methodology, I’ve been trying so hard to understand clearly what is a Research Question, Research Aim and the Objectives in a research and the relationship between them etc. But as for now I’m thankful that you’ve solved my problem.

Hatimu Bah

Well appreciated. This has helped me greatly in doing my dissertation.

Dr. Abdallah Kheri

An so delighted with this wonderful information thank you a lot.

so impressive i have benefited a lot looking forward to learn more on research.

Ekwunife, Chukwunonso Onyeka Steve

I am very happy to have carefully gone through this well researched article.

Infact,I used to be phobia about anything research, because of my poor understanding of the concepts.

Now,I get to know that my research question is the same as my research objective(s) rephrased in question format.

I please I would need a follow up on the subject,as I intends to join the team of researchers. Thanks once again.

Tosin

Thanks so much. This was really helpful.

Ishmael

I know you pepole have tried to break things into more understandable and easy format. And God bless you. Keep it up

sylas

i found this document so useful towards my study in research methods. thanks so much.

Michael L. Andrion

This is my 2nd read topic in your course and I should commend the simplified explanations of each part. I’m beginning to understand and absorb the use of each part of a dissertation/thesis. I’ll keep on reading your free course and might be able to avail the training course! Kudos!

Scarlett

Thank you! Better put that my lecture and helped to easily understand the basics which I feel often get brushed over when beginning dissertation work.

Enoch Tindiwegi

This is quite helpful. I like how the Golden thread has been explained and the needed alignment.

Sora Dido Boru

This is quite helpful. I really appreciate!

Chulyork

The article made it simple for researcher students to differentiate between three concepts.

Afowosire Wasiu Adekunle

Very innovative and educational in approach to conducting research.

Sàlihu Abubakar Dayyabu

I am very impressed with all these terminology, as I am a fresh student for post graduate, I am highly guided and I promised to continue making consultation when the need arise. Thanks a lot.

Mohammed Shamsudeen

A very helpful piece. thanks, I really appreciate it .

Sonam Jyrwa

Very well explained, and it might be helpful to many people like me.

JB

Wish i had found this (and other) resource(s) at the beginning of my PhD journey… not in my writing up year… 😩 Anyways… just a quick question as i’m having some issues ordering my “golden thread”…. does it matter in what order you mention them? i.e., is it always first aims, then objectives, and finally the questions? or can you first mention the research questions and then the aims and objectives?

UN

Thank you for a very simple explanation that builds upon the concepts in a very logical manner. Just prior to this, I read the research hypothesis article, which was equally very good. This met my primary objective.

My secondary objective was to understand the difference between research questions and research hypothesis, and in which context to use which one. However, I am still not clear on this. Can you kindly please guide?

Derek Jansen

In research, a research question is a clear and specific inquiry that the researcher wants to answer, while a research hypothesis is a tentative statement or prediction about the relationship between variables or the expected outcome of the study. Research questions are broader and guide the overall study, while hypotheses are specific and testable statements used in quantitative research. Research questions identify the problem, while hypotheses provide a focus for testing in the study.

Saen Fanai

Exactly what I need in this research journey, I look forward to more of your coaching videos.

Abubakar Rofiat Opeyemi

This helped a lot. Thanks so much for the effort put into explaining it.

Lamin Tarawally

What data source in writing dissertation/Thesis requires?

What is data source covers when writing dessertation/thesis

Latifat Muhammed

This is quite useful thanks

Yetunde

I’m excited and thankful. I got so much value which will help me progress in my thesis.

Amer Al-Rashid

where are the locations of the reserch statement, research objective and research question in a reserach paper? Can you write an ouline that defines their places in the researh paper?

Webby

Very helpful and important tips on Aims, Objectives and Questions.

Refiloe Raselane

Thank you so much for making research aim, research objectives and research question so clear. This will be helpful to me as i continue with my thesis.

Annabelle Roda-Dafielmoto

Thanks much for this content. I learned a lot. And I am inspired to learn more. I am still struggling with my preparation for dissertation outline/proposal. But I consistently follow contents and tutorials and the new FB of GRAD Coach. Hope to really become confident in writing my dissertation and successfully defend it.

Joe

As a researcher and lecturer, I find splitting research goals into research aims, objectives, and questions is unnecessarily bureaucratic and confusing for students. For most biomedical research projects, including ‘real research’, 1-3 research questions will suffice (numbers may differ by discipline).

Abdella

Awesome! Very important resources and presented in an informative way to easily understand the golden thread. Indeed, thank you so much.

Sheikh

Well explained

New Growth Care Group

The blog article on research aims, objectives, and questions by Grad Coach is a clear and insightful guide that aligns with my experiences in academic research. The article effectively breaks down the often complex concepts of research aims and objectives, providing a straightforward and accessible explanation. Drawing from my own research endeavors, I appreciate the practical tips offered, such as the need for specificity and clarity when formulating research questions. The article serves as a valuable resource for students and researchers, offering a concise roadmap for crafting well-defined research goals and objectives. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced researcher, this article provides practical insights that contribute to the foundational aspects of a successful research endeavor.

yaikobe

A great thanks for you. it is really amazing explanation. I grasp a lot and one step up to research knowledge.

UMAR SALEH

I really found these tips helpful. Thank you very much Grad Coach.

Rahma D.

I found this article helpful. Thanks for sharing this.

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1-Research Questions

6. Developing Your Research Question

Because of all their influence, you might worry that research questions are very difficult to develop. Sometimes it can seem that way. But we’ll help you get the hang of it and, luckily, none of us has to come up with perfect ones right off. It’s more like doing a rough draft and then improving it. That’s why we talk about developing research questions instead of just writing them.

Steps for Developing a Research Question

The steps for developing a research question, listed below, can help you organize your thoughts.

Step 1: Pick a topic (or consider the one assigned to you).

Step 2: Write a narrower/smaller topic that is related to the first.

Step 3: List some potential questions that could logically be asked in relation to the narrow topic.

Step 4: Pick the question that you are most interested in.

Step 5: Change the question you’re interested in so that it is more focused and specific.

MOVIE: Developing Research Questions

As you view this short video on how to develop research questions, think about the steps. Which step do you think is easiest? Which do you think is the hardest?  

Once you know the steps and their order, only three skills are involved in developing a research question:

  • Imagining narrower topics about a larger one,
  • Thinking of questions that stem from a narrow topic, and
  • Focusing questions to eliminate their vagueness.

Every time you use these skills, it’s important to evaluate what you have produced—that’s just part of the process of turning rough drafts into more finished products.

Start with a narrow topic, think of questions, and then focus those questions.

ACTIVITY:  Developing a Research Question

Maybe you have a topic in mind but aren’t sure how to form a research question around it. The trick is to think of a question related to your topic but not answerable with a quick search. Also, try to be specific so that your research question can be fully answered in the final product for your research assignment.

ACTIVITY: Thinking of Questions

For each of the narrow topics below, think of a research question that is logically related to that topic. (Remember that good research questions often, but not always, start with “Why” or “How” because questions that begin that way usually require more analysis.)

  • U.S. investors’ attitudes about sustainability
  • College students’ use of Snapchat
  • The character Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Nature-inspired nanotechnologies
  • Marital therapy

After you think of each research question, evaluate it by asking whether it is:

  • Logically related to the topic
  • In question form
  • Not answerable with a quick Google search
  • Specific, not vague

Sometimes the first draft of a research question is still too broad, which can make your search for sources more challenging. Refining your question to remove vagueness or to target a specific aspect of the topic can help.

ACTIVITY: Focusing Questions

The first draft research questions below are not focused enough. Read them and identify at least one area of vagueness in each. Check your vagueness with what we identified. It’s great if you found more than we did because that can lead to research questions of greater specificity. See the bottom of the page for our answers.

First Drafts of Research Questions:

  • Why have most electric car company start-ups failed?
  • How do crabapple trees develop buds?
  • How has NASA helped America?
  • Why do many first-time elections soon after a country overthrows a dictator result in very conservative elected leaders?
  • How is music composed and performed mostly by African-Americans connected to African-American history?

ANSWER TO ACTIVITY: Focusing Questions

Some answers to the “Focusing Questions” Activity above are:

Question 1: Why have most electric car company start-ups failed? Vagueness: Which companies are we talking about? Worldwide or in a particular country?

Question 2: How do crabapple trees develop buds? Vagueness: There are several kinds of crabapples. Should we talk only about one kind? Does it matter where the crabapple tree lives?

Question 3: How has NASA helped America? Vagueness: NASA has had many projects. Should we should focus on one project they completed? Or projects during a particular time period?

Question 4: Why do many first-time elections soon after a country overthrows a dictator result in very conservative elected leaders? Vagueness: What time period are we talking about? Many dictators have been overthrown and many countries have been involved. Perhaps we should focus on one country or one dictator or one time period.

Question 5: How is music composed and performed mostly by African-Americans connected to African-American history? Vagueness: What kinds of music? Any particular performers and composers? When?

Choosing & Using Sources: A Guide to Academic Research Copyright © 2015 by Teaching & Learning, Ohio State University Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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research and developing questions

  • Developing a Research Question

by acburton | Mar 22, 2024 | Resources for Students , Writing Resources

Selecting your research question and creating a clear goal and structure for your writing can be challenging – whether you are doing it for the first time or if you’ve done it many times before. It can be especially difficult when your research question starts to look and feel a little different somewhere between your first and final draft. Don’t panic! It’s normal for your research question to change a little (or even quite a bit) as you move through and engage with the writing process. Anticipating this can remind you to stay on track while you work and that it’ll be okay even if the literature takes you in a different direction.

What Makes an Effective Research Question?

The most effective research question will usually be a critical thinking question and should use “how” or “why” to ensure it can move beyond a yes/no or one-word type of answer. Consider how your research question can aim to reveal something new, fill in a gap, even if small, and contribute to the field in a meaningful way; How might the proposed project move knowledge forward about a particular place or process? This should be specific and achievable!

The CEWC’s Grad Writing Consultant Tariq says, “I definitely concentrated on those aspects of what I saw in the field where I believed there was an opportunity to move the discipline forward.”

General Tips

Do your research.

Utilize the librarians at your university and take the time to research your topic first. Try looking at very general sources to get an idea of what could be interesting to you before you move to more academic articles that support your rough idea of the topic. It is important that research is grounded in what you see or experience regarding the topic you have chosen and what is already known in the literature. Spend time researching articles, books, etc. that supports your thesis. Once you have a number of sources that you know support what you want to write about, formulate a research question that serves as the interrogative form of your thesis statement.

Grad Writing Consultant Deni advises, “Delineate your intervention in the literature (i.e., be strategic about the literature you discuss and clear about your contributions to it).”

Start Broadly…. then Narrow Your Topic Down to Something Manageable

When brainstorming your research question, let your mind veer toward connections or associations that you might have already considered or that seem to make sense and consider if new research terms, language or concepts come to mind that may be interesting or exciting for you as a researcher. Sometimes testing out a research question while doing some preliminary researching is also useful to see if the language you are using or the direction you are heading toward is fruitful when trying to search strategically in academic databases. Be prepared to focus on a specific area of a broad topic.

Writing Consultant Jessie recommends outlining: “I think some rough outlining with a research question in mind can be helpful for me. I’ll have a research question and maybe a working thesis that I feel may be my claim to the research question based on some preliminary materials, brainstorming, etc.” — Jessie, CEWC Writing Consultant

Try an Exercise

In the earliest phase of brainstorming, try an exercise suggested by CEWC Writing Specialist, Percival! While it is normally used in classroom or workshop settings, this exercise can easily be modified for someone working alone. The flow of the activity, if done within a group setting, is 1) someone starts with an idea, 2) three other people share their idea, and 3) the starting person picks two of these new ideas they like best and combines their original idea with those. The activity then begins again with the idea that was not chosen. The solo version of this exercise substitutes a ‘word bank,’ created using words, topics, or ideas similar to your broad, overarching theme. Pick two words or phrases from your word bank, combine it with your original idea or topic, and ‘start again’ with two different words. This serves as a replacement for different people’s suggestions. Ideas for your ‘word bank’ can range from vague prompts about mapping or webbing (e.g., where your topic falls within the discipline and others like it), to more specific concepts that come from tracing the history of an idea (its past, present, future) or mapping the idea’s related ideas, influences, etc. Care for a physics analogy? There is a particle (your topic) that you can describe, a wave that the particle traces, and a field that the particle is mapped on.

Get Feedback and Affirm Your Confidence!

Creating a few different versions of your research question (they may be the same topic/issue/theme or differ slightly) can be useful during this process. Sharing these with trusted friends, colleagues, mentors, (or tutors!) and having conversations about your questions and ideas with other people can help you decide which version you may feel most confident or interested in. Ask colleagues and mentors to share their research questions with you to get a lot of examples. Once you have done the work of developing an effective research question, do not forget to affirm your confidence! Based on your working thesis, think about how you might organize your chapters or paragraphs and what resources you have for supporting this structure and organization. This can help boost your confidence that the research question you have created is effective and fruitful.

Be Open to Change

Remember, your research question may change from your first to final draft. For questions along the way, make an appointment with the Writing Center. We are here to help you develop an effective and engaging research question and build the foundation for a solid research paper!

Example 1: In my field developing a research question involves navigating the relationship between 1) what one sees/experiences at their field site and 2) what is already known in the literature. During my preliminary research, I found that the financial value of land was often a matter of precisely these cultural factors. So, my research question ended up being: How do the social and material qualities of land entangle with processes of financialization in the city of Lahore. Regarding point #1, this question was absolutely informed by what I saw in the field. But regarding point #2, the question was also heavily shaped by the literature. – Tariq

Example 2: A research question should not be a yes/no question like “Is pollution bad?”; but an open-ended question where the answer has to be supported with reasons and explanation. The question also has to be narrowed down to a specific topic—using the same example as before—”Is pollution bad?” can be revised to “How does pollution affect people?” I would encourage students to be more specific then; e.g., what area of pollution do you want to talk about: water, air, plastic, climate change… what type of people or demographic can we focus on? …how does this affect marginalized communities, minorities, or specific areas in California? After researching and deciding on a focus, your question might sound something like: How does government policy affect water pollution and how does it affect the marginalized communities in the state of California? -Janella

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Research leap

Developing a research question: The key to a successful research project

If you are embarking on a research project, the first step is to develop a clear and effective research question. A well-crafted research question serves as a guide for your project and ensures its success. In this article, we will discuss the best practices for crafting a research question that will help you develop a successful research project.

Understand the Purpose of a Research Question

Before we dive into the process of developing a research question, it’s important to understand its purpose. A research question is the foundation of your project. It helps you to focus your research, determine your methodology, and evaluate your findings. A good research question should be specific, clear, and answerable.

Brainstorm Ideas

The first step in developing a research question is to brainstorm ideas. Start by identifying the general topic or area of interest for your research project. Write down any questions that come to mind related to your topic. Try to think of questions that are open-ended and can be answered through research.

Narrow Your Focus

Once you have a list of potential research questions, it’s time to narrow your focus. Consider the scope of your project , the available resources, and your research interests. Narrow your list down to one or two questions that are specific enough to guide your research but broad enough to allow for a comprehensive analysis.

Conduct a Literature Review

Before finalizing your research question, it’s important to conduct a literature review . A literature review helps you to identify the existing research in your field and assess the gaps in the research. It also helps you to refine your research question and ensure that it is relevant and answerable.

Refine Your Research Question

Based on your literature review, you may need to refine your research question. Consider the following questions:

Does your research question address a gap in the existing research?

Is your research question specific enough to guide your research?

Can your research question be answered through research?

Make sure your research question is clear, concise, and answerable.

Test Your Research Question

Once you have a refined research question, it’s time to test it. Share your research question with colleagues or peers in your field and ask for feedback. Consider the following questions:

Does your research question make sense?

Is your research question relevant to your field?

Is your research question answerable through research?

Based on the feedback you receive, you may need to refine your research question further.

Use Your Research Question to Guide Your Project

Once you have a clear and effective research question, use it to guide your project. Your research question should serve as a guide for your methodology, data collection, and analysis . It should also be used to evaluate your findings and draw conclusions.

Developing a clear and effective research question is the key to a successful research project. A well-crafted research question helps you to focus your research, determine your methodology, and evaluate your findings. By following these best practices for crafting a research question, you can ensure that your project is relevant, answerable, and successful. So, take the time to develop a clear and effective research question, and use it to guide your project to success.

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Research Writing

Developing a research question.

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In order to develop a research question, one useful method is to develop “working questions” of all shapes and sizes pertinent to your topic. As you can see below, you can start with a handful of simple working questions that will eventually lead to a viable research question. (Note that these examples also are precursors to the three-tiered, strongest type of thesis, as shown in the revised research questions.)

As you hone your path of inquiry, you may need to zoom in or out in terms of scope. Often, a narrower scope is easier to work with than a broader scope. You will be able to write more and write better if your question calls for more complex thinking.

inverted triangle with 5 bands: Top/widest band labeled "Topic", descending to "Working Knowledge," "Working Questions," "Research Question(s)" and "Working Thesis (Hypothesis)." Text running along side triangle lists activities in sequence, moving from Topic stage to Working Thesis stage. Re: Topic - Idea generation exercises, preliminary research, free-writing. RE: Working Knowledge - Talking to peers, instructor, and Writing Center, ongoing research. RE: Working Questions and Research Question(s) - Narrowing scope: finding connections, drawing boundaries in time/space, complicating questions, ongoing research. RE: Research Question(s) and Working Thesis (Hypothesis) - Drafting and Revising, ongoing research

Consider the diagram above.  As you build a working knowledge of your topic (e.g., as you get a feel for the conversation that began before you arrived at the party), you might complicate or narrow your working questions. Remember to be flexible as you research; you might need to pivot, adjust, re-focus, or replace your research question as you learn more. Consider this imaginary case study as an example of this process:

Jacob began his project by identifying the following areas of interest: racism in the U.S., technology in medicine and health care, and independent film-making. After doing some prewriting and preliminary research on each, he decided he wanted to learn more about racially motivated police violence. He developed working questions:

  • Are police officers likely to make judgments about citizens based on their race?
  • Have police forces instituted policies to avoid racism?
  • Who is most vulnerable to police violence?
  • Who is responsible for overseeing the police?

He realized that he needed to narrow his focus to develop a more viable path of inquiry, eventually ending up with the research question:

  • Over the last 30 years, what populations are most likely to experience police violence in the U.S.?

However, after completing more research, Jacob discovered that his answers came quite readily and consistently: young black men are significantly more vulnerable to become victims of police violence. He realized that he’s not really saying anything new, so he had to tweak his path of inquiry.

Jacob did more freewriting and research to find sources that disagreed with this conclusion or added new layers to his answers. He discovered eventually that there are a handful of police organizations that have made genuine efforts to confront racism in their practices. These groups were working actively against racial violence. He reoriented his research question as follows:

  • Have anti-racist police trainings and strategies been effective in reducing individual or institutional racism over the last 30 years?

Learn more about focusing a research question from the following videos.

Now, try the practice exercise on research questions and working thesis statements.

Practice: Research Questions and Working Thesis Statements

1. Which of the following is the better research question?

  • How does trash pollute the environment?
  • What is the environmental impact of plastic water bottles?
  • What is the impact of bottled water on the environment?

2. Decide whether or not the following working thesis statements are good or bad:

  • Man has had a major impact on the environment.
  • Marijuana use in Mishawaka, Indiana, has been a problem for law enforcement since the 1970s.
  • Miley Cyrus is a horrible singer.
  • Profilers have played a necessary role in catching serial killers.

a. Bad. This statement is way too vague and broad. What constitutes “major impact”? What aspects of the environment are we talking about? What century are we talking about?

b. Bad. Even if it is true, it is too local and narrow to be supported with national or scholarly research. Sources would probably be limited to local newspaper articles and personal interviews. Can you make those sources “stretch” across a 10 page research paper? Not likely.

c. Bad, because the statement is largely an unfocused opinion. What exactly is “horrible”? How does Miley Cyrus fall into that category? Do you think there are many books or research articles that could support this topic? Probably not.

d. Good. Using this statement for a paper allows you to skip over the sources that do not deal with profiling, that do not deal with the apprehension of serial killers, and that deal only with the injustices of “racial profiling.”  A good working thesis statement saves you time and keeps you focused.

  • Developing a Research Question. Revision and adaptation of pages 249-251 (301-303) of Section 3: Research and Argumentation at https://content.library.pdx.edu/files/PDXScholar/empoword/301/#zoom=z . Authored by : Susan Oaks. Provided by : Empire State College, SUNY OER Services. Project : College Writing. License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • pages 249-251 (301-303) Section 3: Research and Argumentation. Authored by : Shane Abrams. Provided by : Portland State University. Located at : https://content.library.pdx.edu/files/PDXScholar/empoword/301/#zoom=z . Project : EmpoWord: A Student-Centered Anthology and Handbook for College Writers. License : CC BY-NC: Attribution-NonCommercial
  • Practice: Research Questions and Working Thesis Statements from the page The Research Process. Provided by : Lumen Learning. Located at : https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wm-englishcomposition1/chapter/text-the-research-process/ . Project : English Composition I. License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • image of colorful question marks. Authored by : geralt. Provided by : Pixabay. Located at : https://pixabay.com/en/question-mark-note-duplicate-2110767/ . License : CC0: No Rights Reserved
  • video Developing a Research Question. Provided by : Laurier Library, YouTube. Located at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oJNO6PYZe4&amp=&feature=youtu.be . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
  • video How to Find a Research Topic & Question. Provided by : Bethel University Library, YouTube. Located at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26vpgBTnlA4 . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
  • Library Guides
  • Literature Reviews

Developing a Research Question

Literature reviews: developing a research question, developing a research question.

Before searching for sources, you need to formulate a Research Question — this is what you are trying to answer using the existing academic literature. The Research Question pinpoints the focus of the review .

Your first step involves choosing, exploring, and focusing a topic. At this stage you might discover that you need to tweak your topic or the scope of your research as you learn more about the topic in the literature.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND: 

  • The question must be "researchable" — it can be answered with accessible facts and data
  • Questions often start with How, Why, What, Which
  • The question opens the door for other areas of inquiry — it identifies a gap in existing research
  • Questions should be open-ended and focus on cause and effect

TRY TO AVOID: 

  • Simple yes/no questions, or questions with an easy answer (what is the radius of the moon?)
  • Questions that can only be answered by an opinion (does it smell nice when it rains?)
  • Questions that involve secret information (what is the recipe for Coca-Cola?)
  • Questions that are too broad or too narrow

REFINING YOUR RESEARCH QUESTION

Two examples of refining research questions that could be considered either too broad or too narrow.

Finding Example Literature Reviews

Using database filter tools.

It can be helpful to read existing literature reviews on your topic to get an idea of major themes, how authors structure their arguments, or what reviews look like in your discipline.

DOCUMENT TYPE FILTERS

Many library databases have the option to highlight just Review Articles after you perform a search. Filters above show what the Document Type filter looks like, with a "Review" option. These examples are from Scopus and ProQuest. The "Review" filter here refers to free-standing, comprehensive Review Articles on a topic, as opposed to a shorter literature review inside a scholarly article.

LIT REVIEWS INSIDE ARTICLES

It is also worth taking a look at the shorter literature reviews inside scholarly articles. These can sometimes be called "Background" or "Background Literature." Look for a section typically following the Introduction that covers the history or gives context on the paper's topic.

research and developing questions

EXAMPLE REVIEW ARTICLES

Here are a few examples of Review Articles in different disciplines. Note sometimes an article can be a Review Article without the word "review" in the title.

  • HUMANITIES — Art — "Art and Crime: Conceptualising Graffiti in the City" from the journal Geography Compass
  • SCIENCES — Climate Change — "Mercury Isotopes in Earth and Environmental Sciences" from the journal Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • SOCIAL SCIENCES — Psychology — "Structural Competency and the Future of Firearm Research" from the journal Social Science & Medicine

Attribution

Thanks to Librarian Jamie Niehof at the University of Michigan for providing permission to reuse and remix this Literature Reviews guide.

Goldilocker Tool

research and developing questions

UM Librarians have developed a quick tool called Goldilocker  to help beginners who are struggling to refine their Research Question. 

  • Last Updated: Apr 4, 2024 4:51 PM
  • URL: https://info.library.okstate.edu/literaturereviews

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Before you select a topic or develop a research question, it is important to understand your assignment. Understanding your assignment from the outset will help you craft a re search question that you can adequately answer in the space and time allotted to you. In this section, we will look at some questions to ask when first decoding a prompt:  

  • What is the purpose of the assignment? Think about the goal of your assignment: Are you trying to persuade a reader? Explain an idea? Apply theories to a text? Tell a story? The purpose of your assignment will guide your research and writing.
  • What kind of writing am I doing? Look for words in the assignment that tell you about the type of writing you are being asked to produce. For example, there is a difference between being asked to summarize and being asked to analyze. Other verbs to look out for include, discuss, define, explain, evaluate, etc.
  • Who is my audience?  How will this affect the tone and content of my paper? What are the conventions of the discipline within which I am working?
  • What is the scope of the assignment? Determine what the purpose of the paper will be and how much ground you will need to cover. How many topics will you be looking at? How long should the paper be?
  • What is the topic of the assignment? Has the professor given you a specific topic? Will you need to find your own?
  • What are the requirements of the assignment? Familiarize yourself with the criteria of the prompt. It is easy to forget about details like number/types of sources, word counts, and formatting guidelines. Look at these early on so that you can better plan for the content and scope of your project.
  • Ask for clarification. Reach out to your professor, other instructors,  Writing Tutorial Services (WTS) , or the Learning Commons Research Desk , for assistance with understanding and getting started on an assignment.

Video: Understanding Assignments . UNC Writing Center (2018)

Adapted from: Swarthmore Writing Associates Program,  Understanding Your Assignment  (2023); Grinnell College,  Choosing A Research Topic ; The University of Arizona Global Campus Writing Center,  Understanding Your Assignment .

In some cases, an instructor may assign you a topic or a list of topics. In other cases, you might be asked to generate a topic on your own. An assignment may also fall somewhere between these two cases, asking you to pick a narrower topic from a broader one. In this section we will talk about strategies for selecting a topic that both interests you and helps you develop a research question. 

  • Think about the scope and content requirements of your assignment.
  • Consider topics or units which have come up in class.
  • Was there a reading you really enjoyed? A lecture that stuck with you? If you’re excited about your topic, others will be too! Plus, your research will be much more fun. 
  • Do you feel a personal or academic connection to any specific topic?
  • Generate a list of subtopics that relate to the broader topic.
  • Look at your class notes and syllabus for themes.
  • Find an interesting text on IUCAT , Indiana University's Library Catalog.
  • Scroll down on the catalog page to find the subject headings for this text, which may contain more specific topics of interest to you. Below is an example of subject headings for  Shadowlines: Women and Borders in Contemporary Asia :

Subject Headings: Women-Asian-Social Conditions-21st century; Women-Political activity-Asia; Sex role and globalization-Asia; Postcolonialism.

Video:   Picking a Topic is Research . University of Houston Libraries (2020).

Adapted from: Purdue Online Writing Lab, Choosing a Topic .

In this section we will discuss some exercises designed to help you generate topics for your paper:

  • Brainstorm with classmates, friends, and professors. This can help you develop ideas and explore topics you might not have considered on your own. 
  • Explore non-peer reviewed sources such as newspapers , blogs, and magazines. Looking at current events can help you identify topics that interest you and explore subtopics within those areas.
  • Free-write about the broader topic: Set a time limit and write about your topic. Even if you feel as though you have nothing else to say, keep writing! When you’re done, read over the text and look for patterns in your thoughts, ideas that stick out, and anything of interest that you want to explore some more.
  • Concept map : A concept map is a visual way to organize your thoughts and make connections between ideas. They can take the form of charts, graphic organizers, tables, flowcharts, Venn Diagrams, timelines, or T-charts. Concept mapping is similar to visual mapping, visual webbing, and mind mapping. You can draw a concept map on a piece of paper, reserve a space at the library to use a whiteboard, or use these websites to create concepts maps online: Miro , TheBrain , Lucidchart , Coggle . Below are concept maps for "Concept Mapping" and a "Personal Philosophy of Online Learning":

Chart :  Concept Mapping Concept Map . Teton Science Schools (TSS). This concept map depicts ideas related to the concept mapping technique.

Concept map of a personal philosophy for online learning.

Chart:  Personal philosophy concept map and rationale . Myles’ Blog (2016).

In the video below, English Literature PhD student Lucy Hargrave explains how graduate students in the humanities can use concept maps to help them organize their thoughts and notes:

Video:  How I Use MindMaps as a PhD Student: Organising my Research Notes . Lucy Hargrave (2021).

Now that you have narrowed down your topic, let's turn that topic into a research question. In this section we will talk about how to develop a question that sets you up for success. Keep in mind that your question may change as you gather more information and start writing—this is okay! Having a sense of your direction from the outset can help you evaluate sources and identify relevant information during the research process.

Explore your topic

  • Return to some of the articles/sources that you discussed in class or that you found when researching your topic—what questions do these sources raise? What are other researchers in this area writing about?
  • Ask open-ended “how” and “why” questions about your topic.
  • Consider the “so what?” of your topic. Why does this topic matter to you? Why should it matter to others?
  • What would you like to know more about? What do you think your audience would like to learn about?
  • Think about the value of focusing on a specific period of time, geographic location, organization, or group of people. Narrowing the scope of your paper can make it easier to find sources and develop a strong, concise argument.
  • What do you want to say in your assignment? What are the key points and arguments that you want to get across? Which subtopic, timeframe, or other limitation would allow you to make these points in the most effective way?
  • Try filling out a worksheet  to organize your thoughts.

Pick One Research Question

Evaluate the questions you’ve asked and pick one that speaks to you. If there are a few questions that interest you, focus and tailor their components into a singular research question which you can address in the space and time allotted for your paper. Consider the wording of the question and the scope of the assignment. A good research question is clear, focused, and has an appropriate level of complexity. Developing a strong question is a process, so you will likely refine your question as you continue to research and to develop your ideas. Use the following guidelines to evaluate whether or your question will be appropriate for your assignment:

Clarity. Is your question clear? Do you have a specific aspect of your general topic that you are going to explore further? 

Unclear: Why are social networking sites harmful sometimes? Clear: How are online users experiencing privacy issues on the social networking sites Facebook and TikTok?

Focus. Is your question focused? Will you be able to cover the topic adequately in the space available? 

Unfocused: How are Asian Americans represented in the media? Focused: How do television advertisements in the United States perpetuate the model minority stereotype?

Complexity. Is your question sufficiently complex? Can your question be answered with a simple yes/no response or does it requires research and analysis?

Too simple: Did COVID-19 affect parents? Appropriately Complex: How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact the mental health and work-life balance of teleworking parents with young children?

Video:   Developing a Research Question . Laurier Library (2017).

Adapted from: George Mason University Writing Center,  How to Write a Research Question  (2008); Monash University Library,  Developing research questions .

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Research questions, hypotheses and objectives

Patricia farrugia.

* Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, the

Bradley A. Petrisor

† Division of Orthopaedic Surgery and the

Forough Farrokhyar

‡ Departments of Surgery and

§ Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ont

Mohit Bhandari

There is an increasing familiarity with the principles of evidence-based medicine in the surgical community. As surgeons become more aware of the hierarchy of evidence, grades of recommendations and the principles of critical appraisal, they develop an increasing familiarity with research design. Surgeons and clinicians are looking more and more to the literature and clinical trials to guide their practice; as such, it is becoming a responsibility of the clinical research community to attempt to answer questions that are not only well thought out but also clinically relevant. The development of the research question, including a supportive hypothesis and objectives, is a necessary key step in producing clinically relevant results to be used in evidence-based practice. A well-defined and specific research question is more likely to help guide us in making decisions about study design and population and subsequently what data will be collected and analyzed. 1

Objectives of this article

In this article, we discuss important considerations in the development of a research question and hypothesis and in defining objectives for research. By the end of this article, the reader will be able to appreciate the significance of constructing a good research question and developing hypotheses and research objectives for the successful design of a research study. The following article is divided into 3 sections: research question, research hypothesis and research objectives.

Research question

Interest in a particular topic usually begins the research process, but it is the familiarity with the subject that helps define an appropriate research question for a study. 1 Questions then arise out of a perceived knowledge deficit within a subject area or field of study. 2 Indeed, Haynes suggests that it is important to know “where the boundary between current knowledge and ignorance lies.” 1 The challenge in developing an appropriate research question is in determining which clinical uncertainties could or should be studied and also rationalizing the need for their investigation.

Increasing one’s knowledge about the subject of interest can be accomplished in many ways. Appropriate methods include systematically searching the literature, in-depth interviews and focus groups with patients (and proxies) and interviews with experts in the field. In addition, awareness of current trends and technological advances can assist with the development of research questions. 2 It is imperative to understand what has been studied about a topic to date in order to further the knowledge that has been previously gathered on a topic. Indeed, some granting institutions (e.g., Canadian Institute for Health Research) encourage applicants to conduct a systematic review of the available evidence if a recent review does not already exist and preferably a pilot or feasibility study before applying for a grant for a full trial.

In-depth knowledge about a subject may generate a number of questions. It then becomes necessary to ask whether these questions can be answered through one study or if more than one study needed. 1 Additional research questions can be developed, but several basic principles should be taken into consideration. 1 All questions, primary and secondary, should be developed at the beginning and planning stages of a study. Any additional questions should never compromise the primary question because it is the primary research question that forms the basis of the hypothesis and study objectives. It must be kept in mind that within the scope of one study, the presence of a number of research questions will affect and potentially increase the complexity of both the study design and subsequent statistical analyses, not to mention the actual feasibility of answering every question. 1 A sensible strategy is to establish a single primary research question around which to focus the study plan. 3 In a study, the primary research question should be clearly stated at the end of the introduction of the grant proposal, and it usually specifies the population to be studied, the intervention to be implemented and other circumstantial factors. 4

Hulley and colleagues 2 have suggested the use of the FINER criteria in the development of a good research question ( Box 1 ). The FINER criteria highlight useful points that may increase the chances of developing a successful research project. A good research question should specify the population of interest, be of interest to the scientific community and potentially to the public, have clinical relevance and further current knowledge in the field (and of course be compliant with the standards of ethical boards and national research standards).

FINER criteria for a good research question

Adapted with permission from Wolters Kluwer Health. 2

Whereas the FINER criteria outline the important aspects of the question in general, a useful format to use in the development of a specific research question is the PICO format — consider the population (P) of interest, the intervention (I) being studied, the comparison (C) group (or to what is the intervention being compared) and the outcome of interest (O). 3 , 5 , 6 Often timing (T) is added to PICO ( Box 2 ) — that is, “Over what time frame will the study take place?” 1 The PICOT approach helps generate a question that aids in constructing the framework of the study and subsequently in protocol development by alluding to the inclusion and exclusion criteria and identifying the groups of patients to be included. Knowing the specific population of interest, intervention (and comparator) and outcome of interest may also help the researcher identify an appropriate outcome measurement tool. 7 The more defined the population of interest, and thus the more stringent the inclusion and exclusion criteria, the greater the effect on the interpretation and subsequent applicability and generalizability of the research findings. 1 , 2 A restricted study population (and exclusion criteria) may limit bias and increase the internal validity of the study; however, this approach will limit external validity of the study and, thus, the generalizability of the findings to the practical clinical setting. Conversely, a broadly defined study population and inclusion criteria may be representative of practical clinical practice but may increase bias and reduce the internal validity of the study.

PICOT criteria 1

A poorly devised research question may affect the choice of study design, potentially lead to futile situations and, thus, hamper the chance of determining anything of clinical significance, which will then affect the potential for publication. Without devoting appropriate resources to developing the research question, the quality of the study and subsequent results may be compromised. During the initial stages of any research study, it is therefore imperative to formulate a research question that is both clinically relevant and answerable.

Research hypothesis

The primary research question should be driven by the hypothesis rather than the data. 1 , 2 That is, the research question and hypothesis should be developed before the start of the study. This sounds intuitive; however, if we take, for example, a database of information, it is potentially possible to perform multiple statistical comparisons of groups within the database to find a statistically significant association. This could then lead one to work backward from the data and develop the “question.” This is counterintuitive to the process because the question is asked specifically to then find the answer, thus collecting data along the way (i.e., in a prospective manner). Multiple statistical testing of associations from data previously collected could potentially lead to spuriously positive findings of association through chance alone. 2 Therefore, a good hypothesis must be based on a good research question at the start of a trial and, indeed, drive data collection for the study.

The research or clinical hypothesis is developed from the research question and then the main elements of the study — sampling strategy, intervention (if applicable), comparison and outcome variables — are summarized in a form that establishes the basis for testing, statistical and ultimately clinical significance. 3 For example, in a research study comparing computer-assisted acetabular component insertion versus freehand acetabular component placement in patients in need of total hip arthroplasty, the experimental group would be computer-assisted insertion and the control/conventional group would be free-hand placement. The investigative team would first state a research hypothesis. This could be expressed as a single outcome (e.g., computer-assisted acetabular component placement leads to improved functional outcome) or potentially as a complex/composite outcome; that is, more than one outcome (e.g., computer-assisted acetabular component placement leads to both improved radiographic cup placement and improved functional outcome).

However, when formally testing statistical significance, the hypothesis should be stated as a “null” hypothesis. 2 The purpose of hypothesis testing is to make an inference about the population of interest on the basis of a random sample taken from that population. The null hypothesis for the preceding research hypothesis then would be that there is no difference in mean functional outcome between the computer-assisted insertion and free-hand placement techniques. After forming the null hypothesis, the researchers would form an alternate hypothesis stating the nature of the difference, if it should appear. The alternate hypothesis would be that there is a difference in mean functional outcome between these techniques. At the end of the study, the null hypothesis is then tested statistically. If the findings of the study are not statistically significant (i.e., there is no difference in functional outcome between the groups in a statistical sense), we cannot reject the null hypothesis, whereas if the findings were significant, we can reject the null hypothesis and accept the alternate hypothesis (i.e., there is a difference in mean functional outcome between the study groups), errors in testing notwithstanding. In other words, hypothesis testing confirms or refutes the statement that the observed findings did not occur by chance alone but rather occurred because there was a true difference in outcomes between these surgical procedures. The concept of statistical hypothesis testing is complex, and the details are beyond the scope of this article.

Another important concept inherent in hypothesis testing is whether the hypotheses will be 1-sided or 2-sided. A 2-sided hypothesis states that there is a difference between the experimental group and the control group, but it does not specify in advance the expected direction of the difference. For example, we asked whether there is there an improvement in outcomes with computer-assisted surgery or whether the outcomes worse with computer-assisted surgery. We presented a 2-sided test in the above example because we did not specify the direction of the difference. A 1-sided hypothesis states a specific direction (e.g., there is an improvement in outcomes with computer-assisted surgery). A 2-sided hypothesis should be used unless there is a good justification for using a 1-sided hypothesis. As Bland and Atlman 8 stated, “One-sided hypothesis testing should never be used as a device to make a conventionally nonsignificant difference significant.”

The research hypothesis should be stated at the beginning of the study to guide the objectives for research. Whereas the investigators may state the hypothesis as being 1-sided (there is an improvement with treatment), the study and investigators must adhere to the concept of clinical equipoise. According to this principle, a clinical (or surgical) trial is ethical only if the expert community is uncertain about the relative therapeutic merits of the experimental and control groups being evaluated. 9 It means there must exist an honest and professional disagreement among expert clinicians about the preferred treatment. 9

Designing a research hypothesis is supported by a good research question and will influence the type of research design for the study. Acting on the principles of appropriate hypothesis development, the study can then confidently proceed to the development of the research objective.

Research objective

The primary objective should be coupled with the hypothesis of the study. Study objectives define the specific aims of the study and should be clearly stated in the introduction of the research protocol. 7 From our previous example and using the investigative hypothesis that there is a difference in functional outcomes between computer-assisted acetabular component placement and free-hand placement, the primary objective can be stated as follows: this study will compare the functional outcomes of computer-assisted acetabular component insertion versus free-hand placement in patients undergoing total hip arthroplasty. Note that the study objective is an active statement about how the study is going to answer the specific research question. Objectives can (and often do) state exactly which outcome measures are going to be used within their statements. They are important because they not only help guide the development of the protocol and design of study but also play a role in sample size calculations and determining the power of the study. 7 These concepts will be discussed in other articles in this series.

From the surgeon’s point of view, it is important for the study objectives to be focused on outcomes that are important to patients and clinically relevant. For example, the most methodologically sound randomized controlled trial comparing 2 techniques of distal radial fixation would have little or no clinical impact if the primary objective was to determine the effect of treatment A as compared to treatment B on intraoperative fluoroscopy time. However, if the objective was to determine the effect of treatment A as compared to treatment B on patient functional outcome at 1 year, this would have a much more significant impact on clinical decision-making. Second, more meaningful surgeon–patient discussions could ensue, incorporating patient values and preferences with the results from this study. 6 , 7 It is the precise objective and what the investigator is trying to measure that is of clinical relevance in the practical setting.

The following is an example from the literature about the relation between the research question, hypothesis and study objectives:

Study: Warden SJ, Metcalf BR, Kiss ZS, et al. Low-intensity pulsed ultrasound for chronic patellar tendinopathy: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Rheumatology 2008;47:467–71.

Research question: How does low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) compare with a placebo device in managing the symptoms of skeletally mature patients with patellar tendinopathy?

Research hypothesis: Pain levels are reduced in patients who receive daily active-LIPUS (treatment) for 12 weeks compared with individuals who receive inactive-LIPUS (placebo).

Objective: To investigate the clinical efficacy of LIPUS in the management of patellar tendinopathy symptoms.

The development of the research question is the most important aspect of a research project. A research project can fail if the objectives and hypothesis are poorly focused and underdeveloped. Useful tips for surgical researchers are provided in Box 3 . Designing and developing an appropriate and relevant research question, hypothesis and objectives can be a difficult task. The critical appraisal of the research question used in a study is vital to the application of the findings to clinical practice. Focusing resources, time and dedication to these 3 very important tasks will help to guide a successful research project, influence interpretation of the results and affect future publication efforts.

Tips for developing research questions, hypotheses and objectives for research studies

  • Perform a systematic literature review (if one has not been done) to increase knowledge and familiarity with the topic and to assist with research development.
  • Learn about current trends and technological advances on the topic.
  • Seek careful input from experts, mentors, colleagues and collaborators to refine your research question as this will aid in developing the research question and guide the research study.
  • Use the FINER criteria in the development of the research question.
  • Ensure that the research question follows PICOT format.
  • Develop a research hypothesis from the research question.
  • Develop clear and well-defined primary and secondary (if needed) objectives.
  • Ensure that the research question and objectives are answerable, feasible and clinically relevant.

FINER = feasible, interesting, novel, ethical, relevant; PICOT = population (patients), intervention (for intervention studies only), comparison group, outcome of interest, time.

Competing interests: No funding was received in preparation of this paper. Dr. Bhandari was funded, in part, by a Canada Research Chair, McMaster University.

Research Topics & Questions

Main navigation, exquisite corpse topic narrowing activity.

In this activity, students engage in an "exquisite corpse"-style activity, where they will get to pass around their research topic idea and see how other students in the room understand, interpret, illustrate, and expand upon it. 

Crafting Insightful Research Questions

Through this activity, students examine what constitutes a strong research question and then, through peer workshopping, start to develop a question to guide their own project.

Crowdsourcing Research Topics and Paths

This discussion-board-based activity helps students narrow down their final RBA research topic by encouraging students to collaborate with each other at the initial stage of conceiving of their RBA projects. 

Metonyms and Lenses - Focusing Your Research

This topic helps students narrow and focus their research topics by having them consider them in reference to the idea of the metonym.

The Reflexivity Memo: Developing Student Researcher Identity through Writing

This writing activity asks students to understand their various positionalities as researchers/writers and to recognize how their embodied socialized practices shape their research questions and practices.

Jumbo ‘Spectra’ Worksheets for Narrowing Topics and Locating Positions

In this activity, students use a pair of worksheets to create a visual mapping of research questions to help them focus their topic and their inquiry and identify positions beyond "yes" and "no."

Accordion Pre-Write

Students create an "accordion" of these questions to see the full spectrum of possibilities for their research, developing greater insight into the pitfalls of overly-specific or overly-general questions and the advantages of carefully-focused inquiry.

Research Topic Brainstorm

This asynchronous activity follows a class discussion in which students brainstorm different topics; it asks students to submit their own ideas to Canvas and receive instructor feedback. 

Research Question Generator with Padlet

This asynchronous activity uses Padlet to help students generate research questions with a rhetorical approach. Students not only craft research questions with different emphases, they also critically reflect on critical rhetorical concepts and the purpose of their research. 

Research Question Framing

This asynchronous activity helps students think through the process of framing their research questions at the early stage of their RBA by asking them to consider different ways of framing their research questions. It also encourages students to work with each other in the process of finalizing their research questions.

Research Proposal Planning Table

This asynchronous activity helps students thoroughly examine their research proposals with a rhetorical approach. Students not only look at different components of the research question itself, but also critically reflect on their audience and the purpose of their research to prepare for an excellent oral delivery of their research proposals.

Online Research Mixer

Instructors designed a 60-minute online workshop (research mixer) between freshmen composition students two different universities. During the session, students have the opportunity to introduce their research projects and provide and receive feedback on their drafts. 

Collaborative invention: working with research topics

This collaborative activity invites students to help their classmates to narrow and focus their research topics by taking turns contributing to a shared worksheet that asks them to engage with the topic in different ways.  

These activities are licensed under  CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 . Please remember to attribute all activities to their original authors (even if with an “adapted from”) on any handouts, webtexts, slides, or assignments sheets you generate from them.

If you have any activities of your own that you’d like to share, please send them  here .

Future of evaluation: Charting a path in a changing development landscape

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Join us for a series of virtual conversations from April 8 to 10, 2024, on the future direction of the independent evaluation practice, the questions it will have to answer, and the impact of new technologies for ever greater data gathering and analysis.

To tackle these issues, the Future of Evaluation will bring together practitioners and scholars from across the evaluation field, together with users of evaluative evidence from both development and government circles.

The event will also feature the announcement and presentation of the winner of the Young and Emerging Evaluators essay competition on culturally responsive evaluation.

Hosted by the Independent Evaluation Group and the Global Evaluation Initiative, this will be the culminating event of the IEG@50 celebrations.

Please save the dates!

Monday, April 8, 2024

9:00 – 10:00 AM ET |  REGISTER Session 1: The Role of Evaluation in a Changing Global Context How can evaluation remain relevant and provide policymakers with reliable evidence on global issues such as climate change, fragility, and pandemics, among others?

  • Welcome:  Sabine Bernabè , Vice President and Director-General, Evaluation, Independent Evaluation Group.
  • Opening Remarks:  Raj Kumar , Founding President and Editor-in-Chief, Devex.
  • Speakers:  Andrea Cook , Executive Director, Sustainable Development Goals System-Wide Evaluation Office, United Nations;  Juha Ilari Uitto , former Director, Independent Evaluation Office, Global Environment Facility;  Patricia Rogers , Founder, Better Evaluation, former Professor of Public Sector Evaluation, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
  • Moderator:  Marie Gaarder , Executive Director, 3ie.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

9:00 AM – 10:00 AM ET |  REGISTER Session 2: How is evaluation evolving as a practice? How is evaluation evolving as a practice between its professionalization with global standards and its use in different cultural contexts?

  • Welcome and announcement of winner of Young and Emerging Evaluators competition:  Sabine Bernabè , Vice President and Director-General, Evaluation, Independent Evaluation Group.
  • Opening Remarks: Culturally Responsive Evaluation (presentation of the winning essay of the Young and Emerging Evaluator competition.)
  • Speakers:  Elliot Stern , Editor, Evaluation - international journal of theory, research and practice, Emeritus Professor of Evaluation Research, Lancaster University;  Asela Kalugampitiya , former President, Asia Pacific Evaluation Association, Visiting Lecturer, University of Saarland and University of Sri Jayewardenepura;  Josephine Watera , Assistant Director, Research Services and former Head of Monitoring and Evaluation Division, Parliament of Uganda.
  • Moderator:  Jozef Vaessen , Adviser, Independent Evaluation Group.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

9:00 AM – 10:00 AM ET |  REGISTER Session 3: The Institutionalization of Evaluation What is the changing role of international organizations in fostering the institutionalization of evaluation across the globe?

  • Opening Remarks:  Ian Goldman , President, International Evaluation Academy, Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor, JET-IP Programme Management Unit, Presidency of South Africa.
  • Speakers:  Emmanuel Jimenez , Director General, Independent Evaluation Department, Asian Development Bank;  Geeta Batra , Director, Independent Evaluation Office, Global Environment Facility;  Howard White , Director, Evaluation and Evidence Synthesis, Global Development Network.
  • Moderator:  Dugan Fraser , Program Manager, Global Evaluation Initiative.

10:15 – 11:15 AM ET |  REGISTER Session 4: The Impact of New Data and Technology on Evaluation A range of new technologies, from geospatial analysis to mining social media, offers new ways of gathering data. Advances in machine learning have increased the amount of data that can be processed for evaluations. What opportunities does this present for evaluators in an increasingly complex development landscape?

  • Opening Remarks:  Veronica Olazabal , Chief Impact and Evaluation Officer, BHP Foundation, Lecturer, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.
  • Speakers:  Emmanuel Letouzé , Director, Data-Pop Alliance, Founder and Executive Director, Open Algorithms;  Nagaraja Rao Harshadeep , Disruptive Technology Global Lead, Sustainable Development Practice Group, World Bank;  Estelle Raimondo , Head, Methods, Independent Evaluation Group.
  • Moderator:  Deon Filmer , Director, Research Group, World Bank.
  • Closing Remarks:  Sabine Bernabè , Vice President and Director-General, Evaluation, Independent Evaluation Group.

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  • WHEN:  8-10 April, 2024
  • TIME:  9am to 11:15am
  • WHERE:  Online

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Libraries | Research Guides

Poli_sci_395: human rights and the environment (suiseeya), topics on human rights and the environment, background information, developing a question, selecting keywords for searching.

  • Evaluate Information
  • Find Scholarly Articles
  • Find Books, Book Chapters, etc.
  • Find Data and Statistics
  • Find News Sources
  • Government and IGO Resources
  • Think Tanks, NGOs, Advocacy Groups
  • Support and Resources about Research Methods
  • Cite Sources

Political Science Librarian

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Below are just a few places to browse recent news and topics related to human rights, indigenous rights, and the environment

  • Human Rights Watch: Environment and Human Rights
  • Amnesty International: Climate Justice
  • Amnesty International: Indigenous Rights
  • UN Environment Programme: News, Stories, Speeches
  • UN OHCHR, Climate Change: News, Reports, Stories, etc.
  • Sources for Background Information
  • Developing a Question
  • Videos: Choosing Keywords for Searching

Below is a sample list of background sources such as handbooks and encyclopedias that contain article entries on various topics of potential relevance to this course.  Feel free to browse or scan each book's table of contents in case of interest.

  • The Oxford Encyclopedia of Climate Change Communication
  • A Dictionary of Environment and Conservation
  • The Cambridge Handbook of New Human Rights
  • Routledge Handbook of Global Land and Resource Grabbing
  • The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Ethics
  • Human rights and the environment : legality, indivisibility, dignity and geography
  • Oxford Reference Online This link opens in a new window In Oxford Reference Online, you can search with keywords across many subject encyclopedias all at once. Includes reference works such as the Encyclopedia of Human Rights, among many others.

Use  NU Search  to browse for books, reference entries, and periodicals to build background information.

After you have an initial project idea, you can think deeper about the idea by developing a "Topic + Question + Significance" sentence. This formula came from Kate Turabian's  Student's Guide to Writing College Papers . Turabian notes that you can use it plan and test your question, but do not incorporate this sentence directly into your paper (p. 13):

TOPIC: I am working on the topic of __________, QUESTION: because I want to find out __________, SIGNIFICANCE: so that I can help others understand __________.

Turabian, Kate L.  Student's Guide to Writing College Papers . 4th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2010.

Another way to think about question development:

  • Which specific subset of the topic you can focus on? Specific demographic groups, people, places, times
  • Is there something about this topic that is not already addressed in scholarship?
  • cause/effect
  • compare/contrast
  • current/historical
  • group/individual
  • opinion/reason
  • problem/solution

How do you move from a research question to searching in a database? You first have to pick out keywords from your research question.

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  • Last Updated: Apr 5, 2024 2:40 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.northwestern.edu/humanrightsandtheenvironment

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics

  • 2022 - 2023
  • 2021 - 2022
  • 2020 - 2021
  • All previous cycle years

The Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development is an annual census of federal agencies that conduct research and development (R&D) programs and the primary source of information about U.S. federal funding for R&D.

Survey Info

  • tag for use when URL is provided --> Methodology
  • tag for use when URL is provided --> Data
  • tag for use when URL is provided --> Analysis

The Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development (R&D) is the primary source of information about federal funding for R&D in the United States. The survey is an annual census completed by the federal agencies that conduct R&D programs. Actual data are collected for the fiscal year just completed; estimates are obtained for the current fiscal year.

Areas of Interest

  • Government Funding for Science and Engineering
  • Research and Development

Survey Administration

Synectics for Management Decisions, Inc. (Synectics) performed the data collection for volume 72 (FYs 2022–23) under contract to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

Survey Details

  • Survey Description (PDF 127 KB)
  • Data Tables (PDF 4.8 MB)

Featured Survey Analysis

Federal R&D Obligations Increased 0.4% in FY 2022; Estimated to Decline in FY 2023.

Federal R&D Obligations Increased 0.4% in FY 2022; Estimated to Decline in FY 2023

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Survey of Federal Funds for R&D Overview

Methodology, survey description, survey overview (fys 2022–23 survey cycle; volume 72).

The annual Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development (Federal Funds for R&D) is the primary source of information about federal funding for R&D in the United States. The results of the survey are also used in the federal government’s calculation of U.S. gross domestic product at the national and state level, used for policy analysis, and used for budget purposes for the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer, the Small Business Innovation Research, and the Small Business Technology Transfer. The survey is sponsored by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) within the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Data collection authority

The information is solicited under the authority of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended, and the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010.

Major changes to recent survey cycle

Key survey information, initial survey year, reference period.

FYs 2022–23.

Response unit

Federal agencies.

Sample or census

Population size.

The population consists of the 32 federal agencies that conduct R&D programs, excluding the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Sample size

Not applicable; the survey is a census of all federal agencies that conduct R&D programs, excluding the CIA.

Key variables

Key variables of interest are listed below.

The survey provides data on federal obligations by the following key variables:

  • Federal agency
  • Field of R&D (formerly field of science and engineering)
  • Geographic location (within the United States and by foreign country or economy)
  • Performer (type of organization doing the work)
  • R&D plant (facilities and major equipment)
  • Type of R&D (research, development, test, and evaluation [RDT&E] for Department of Defense [DOD] agencies)
  • Basic research
  • Applied research
  • Development, also known as experimental development

The survey provides data on federal outlays by the following key variables:

  • R&D (RDT&E for DOD agencies)

R&D plant

Note that the variables “R&D,” “type of R&D,” and “R&D plant” in this survey use definitions comparable to those used by the Office of Management and Budget Circular A-11 , Section 84 (Schedule C).

Survey Design

Target population.

The population consists of the federal agencies that conduct R&D programs, excluding the CIA. For the FYs 2022–23 cycle, a total of 32 federal agencies (14 federal departments and 18 independent agencies) reported R&D data.

Sampling frame

The survey is a census of all federal agencies that conduct R&D programs, excluding the CIA. The agencies are identified from information in the president’s budget submitted to Congress. The Analytical Perspectives volume and the “Detailed Budget Estimates by Agency” section of the appendix to the president’s budget identify agencies that receive funding for R&D.

Sample design

Not applicable.

Data Collection and Processing

Data collection.

Synectics for Management Decisions, Inc. (Synectics) performed the data collection for volume 72 (FYs 2022–23) under contract to NCSES. Agencies were initially contacted by e-mail to verify the contact information of each agency-level survey respondent. A Web-based data collection system is used for the survey. Multiple subdivisions of some federal departments were permitted to submit information to create a complete accounting of the departments’ R&D funding activities.

Data collection for Federal Funds for R&D began in May 2023 and continued into September 2023.

Data processing

A Web-based data collection system is used to collect and manage data for the survey. This Web-based system was designed to help improve survey reporting and reduce data collection and processing costs by offering respondents direct online reporting and editing.

All data collection efforts, data imports, and trend checking are accomplished using the Web-based data collection system. The Web-based data collection system has a component that allows survey respondents to enter their data online; it also has a component that allows the contractor to monitor support requests, data entry, and data issues.

Estimation techniques

Published totals are created by summing respondent data, there are no survey weights or other adjustments.

Survey Quality Measures

Sampling error, coverage error.

Given the existence of a complete list of all eligible agencies, there is no known coverage error. The CIA is purposely excluded.

Nonresponse error

There is no unit nonresponse. To increase item response, agencies are encouraged to estimate when actual data are unavailable. The survey instrument allows respondents to enter data or skip data fields. There are several possible sources of nonresponse error by respondents, including inadvertently skipping data fields or skipping data fields when data are unavailable.

Measurement error

Some measurement problems are known to exist in the Federal Funds of R&D data. Some agencies cannot report the full costs of R&D, the final performer of R&D, or R&D plant data.

For example, DOD does not include headquarters’ costs of planning and administering R&D programs, which are estimated at a fraction of 1% of its total cost. DOD has stated that identification of amounts at this level is impracticable.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the Department of Health and Human Services currently has many of its awards in its financial system without any field of R&D code. Therefore, NIH uses an alternate source to estimate its research dollars by field of R&D. NIH uses scientific class codes (based upon history of grant, content of the title, and the name of the awarding institute or center) as an approximation for field of R&D.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) does not include any field of R&D codes in its financial database. Consequently, NASA must estimate what percentage of the agency’s research dollars are allocated into the fields of R&D.

Also, agencies are required to report the ultimate performer of R&D. However, through past workshops, NCSES has learned that some agencies do not always track their R&D dollars to the ultimate performer of R&D. This leads to some degree of misclassification of performers of R&D, but NCSES has not determined the extent of the errors in performer misclassification by the reporting agencies.

R&D plant data are underreported to some extent because of the difficulty some agencies, particularly DOD and NASA, encounter in identifying and reporting these data. DOD’s respondents report obligations for R&D plant funded under the agency’s appropriation for construction, but they are able to identify only a small portion of the R&D plant support that is within R&D contracts funded from DOD’s appropriation for RDT&E. Similarly, NASA respondents cannot separately identify the portions of industrial R&D contracts that apply to R&D plant because these data are subsumed in the R&D data covering industrial performance. NASA R&D plant data for other performing sectors are reported separately.

Data Availability and Comparability

Data availability.

Annual data are available for FYs 1951–2023.

Data comparability

Until the release of volume 71 (FYs 2021–22) the information included in this survey had been unchanged since volume 23 (FYs 1973–75), when federal obligations for research to universities and colleges by agency and detailed field of science and engineering were added to the survey. Other variables (such as type of R&D and type of performer) are available from the early 1950s on. The volume 71 survey revisions maintained the four main R&D crosscuts (i.e., type of R&D, field of R&D [previously referred to as field of science and engineering], type of performer, and geographic area) collected previously. However, there were revisions within these crosscuts to ensure consistency with other NCSES surveys. These include revisions to the fields of R&D and the type of performer categories (see Technical Notes, table A-3 for a crosswalk of the fields of science and engineering to the fields of R&D). In addition, new variables were added, such as field of R&D for experimental development (whereas before, the survey participants had only reported fields of R&D [formerly fields of science] for basic research and applied research). Grants and contracts for extramural R&D performers and obligations to University Affiliated Research Centers were also added in volume 71.

Every time new data are released, there may be changes to past years’ data because agencies sometimes update older information or reclassify responses for prior years as additional budget data become available. For trend comparisons, use the historical data from only the most recent publication, which incorporates changes agencies have made in prior year data to reflect program reclassifications or other corrections. Do not use data published earlier.

Data Products

Publications.

NCSES publishes data from this survey annually in tables and analytic reports available at Federal Funds for R&D Survey page and in the Science and Engineering State Profiles .

Electronic access

Access to the data for major data elements are available in NCSES’s interactive data tool at https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/ .

Technical Notes

Survey overview, data collection and processing methods, data comparability (changes), definitions.

Purpose. The annual Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development (Federal Funds for R&D) is the primary source of information about federal funding for R&D in the United States. The results of the survey are also used in the federal government’s calculation of U.S. gross domestic product at the national and state level, for policy analysis, and for budget purposes for the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer, the Small Business Innovation Research, and the Small Business Technology Transfer. In addition, as of volume 71, the Survey of Federal Science and Engineering Support to Universities, Colleges, and Nonprofit Institutions (Federal S&E Support Survey) was integrated into this survey as a module, making Federal Funds for R&D the comprehensive data source on federal science and engineering (S&E) funding to individual academic and nonprofit institutions.

Data collection authority.  The information is solicited under the authority of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended, and the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010.

Survey contractor. Synectics for Management Decisions, Inc. (Synectics).

Survey sponsor. The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) within the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Frequency . Annual.

Initial survey year . 1951.

Reference period . FYs 2022–23.

Response unit. Federal agencies.

Sample or census. Census.

Population size. For the FYs 2022–23 cycle, a total of 32 federal agencies reported R&D data. (See section “ Survey Design ” for details.)

Sample size. Not applicable; the survey is a census of all federal agencies that conduct R&D programs, excluding the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Target population. The population consists of the federal agencies that conduct R&D programs, excluding the CIA. For the FYs 2022–23 cycle, a total of 32 federal agencies (14 federal departments and 18 independent agencies) reported R&D data.

Sampling f rame. The survey is a census of all federal agencies that conduct R&D programs, excluding the CIA. The agencies are identified from information in the president’s budget submitted to Congress. The Analytical Perspectives volume and the “Detailed Budget Estimates by Agency” section of the appendix to the president’s budget identify agencies that receive funding for R&D.

Sample design. Not applicable.

Data collection. Data for FYs 2022–23 (volume 72) were collected by Synectics under contract to NCSES (for a full list of fiscal years canvassed by survey volume reference, see Table A-4 ). Data collection began with an e-mail to each agency to verify the name, phone number, and e-mail address of each agency-level survey respondent. A Web-based data collection system is used for the survey. Because multiple subdivisions of some federal departments completed the survey, there were 72 agency-level respondents: 6 federal departments that reported for themselves, 48 agencies within another 8 federal departments, and 18 independent agencies. However, lower offices could also be authorized to enter data: in Federal Funds for R&D nomenclature, agency-level offices could authorize program offices, program offices could authorize field offices, and field offices could authorize branch offices. When these suboffices are included, there were 725 total respondents: 72 agencies, 95 program offices, 178 field offices, and 380 branch offices.

Since volume 66, each survey cycle collects information for 2 federal government fiscal years: the fiscal year just completed (FY 2022—i.e., 1 October 2021 through 30 September 2022) and the current fiscal year during the start of the survey collection period (i.e., FY 2023). FY 2022 data are completed transactions. FY 2023 data are estimates of congressional appropriation actions and apportionment and reprogramming decisions.

Data collection began on 10 May 2023, and the requested due date for data submissions was 5 August 2023. Data collection was extended until all surveyed agencies provided complete and final survey data in September 2023.

Mode. Federal Funds for R&D uses a Web-based data collection system. The Web-based system consists of a data collection component that allows survey respondents to enter their data online and a monitoring component that allows the data collection contractor to monitor support requests, data entry, and data issues. The Web-based system’s two components are password protected so that only authorized respondents and staff can access them. However, some agencies submit their data in alternative formats such as Excel files, which are later imported into the Web-based system. All edit and trend checks are accomplished through the Web-based system. Final submission occurs through the Web-based system after all edit failures and trend checks have been resolved.

Response rate. The unit response rate is 100%.

Data checking . Data errors in Federal Funds for R&D are flagged automatically by the Web-based data collection system: respondents cannot submit their final data to NCSES until all required fields have been completed without errors. Once data are submitted, specially written SAS programs are run to check each agency’s submission to identify possible discrepancies, to ensure data from all suboffices are included correctly, and to check that there were no inadvertent shifts in reporting from one year to the next. As always, respondents are contacted to resolve potential reporting errors that cannot be reconciled by the narratives. Explanations of questionable data are noted by the survey respondents for NCSES review.

Imputation . None.

Weighting. None.

Variance estimation. Not applicable.

Sampling error. Not applicable.

Coverage error. Given the existence of a complete list of all eligible agencies, there is no known coverage error. The CIA is purposely excluded.

Nonresponse error. There is no unit nonresponse. To increase item response, agencies are encouraged to estimate when actual data are unavailable. The survey instrument allows respondents to enter data or skip data fields; however, blank fields are not accepted for survey submission, and respondents must either populate the fields with data or with $0 if the question is not applicable. There are several possible sources of nonresponse error by respondents, including inadvertently skipping data fields, skipping data fields when data are unavailable, or entering $0 when specific data are unavailable.

Measurement error . Some measurement problems are known to exist in the Federal Funds of R&D data. Some agencies cannot report the full costs of R&D, the final performer of R&D, or R&D plant data.

For example, the Department of Defense (DOD) does not include headquarters’ costs of planning and administering R&D programs, which are estimated at a fraction of 1% of its total cost. DOD has stated that identification of amounts at this level is impracticable.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) currently has many of its awards in its financial system without any field of R&D code. Therefore, NIH uses an alternate source to estimate its research dollars by field of R&D. NIH uses scientific class codes (based upon history of grant, content of the title, and the name of the awarding institute or center) as an approximation for field of R&D.

Agencies are asked to report the ultimate performer of R&D. However, through past workshops, NCSES has learned that some agencies do not always track their R&D dollars to the ultimate performer of R&D. In the case of transfers to other federal agencies, the originating agency often does not have information on the final disposition of funding made by the receiving agency. Therefore, intragovernmental transfers, which are classified as federal intramural funding, may have some degree of extramural performance. This leads to some degree of misclassification of performers of R&D, but NCSES has not determined the extent of the errors in performer misclassification by the reporting agencies.

Differences in agency and NCSES classification of some performers will also lead to some degree of measurement error. For example, although many university research foundations are legally organized as nonprofit organizations and may be classified as such within a reporting agency’s own system of record, NCSES classifies these as component units of higher education. These classification differences may contribute to differences in findings by the Federal Funds for R&D and the Federal S&E Support Survey in federal agency obligations to both higher education and nonprofit institutions.

R&D plant data are underreported to some extent because of the difficulty some agencies, particularly DOD and NASA, encounter in identifying and reporting these data. DOD’s respondents report obligations for R&D plant that are funded under the agency’s appropriation for construction, but they are able to identify only a small portion of the R&D plant support that is within R&D contracts funded from DOD’s appropriation for research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E). Similarly, NASA respondents cannot separately identify the portions of industrial R&D contracts that apply to R&D plant because these data are subsumed in the R&D data covering industrial performance. NASA R&D plant data for other performing sectors are reported separately.

Data revisions. When completing the current year’s survey, agencies naturally revise their estimates for the last year of the previous report—in this case, FY 2022. Sometimes, survey submissions also reflect reappraisals and revisions in classification of various aspects of agencies’ R&D programs; in those instances, NCSES requests that agencies provide revised prior year data to maintain consistency and comparability with the most recent R&D concepts.

For trend comparisons, use the historical data from only the most recent publication, which incorporates changes agencies have made in prior year data to reflect program reclassifications or other corrections. Do not use data published earlier.

Changes in survey coverage and population. This cycle (volume 72, FYs 2022–23), one department, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), became the agency respondent instead of continuing to delegate that role to its bureaus; one agency was added as a respondent—the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Natural Resources Conservation Service; one agency, the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, resumed reporting; and two agencies, the Department of Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the independent agency the Federal Communications Commission, ceased to report.

Changes in questionnaire .

  • No changes were made to the questionnaire for volume 72.
  • The survey was redesigned for volume 71 (FYs 2021–22). The Federal S&E Support Survey was integrated as the final two questions in the Federal Funds for R&D questionnaire. (NCSES will continue to publish these data separately at https://ncses.nsf.gov/surveys/federal-support-survey/ .)
  • Four other new questions were added to the standard and DOD versions of the questionnaire; the questions covered, for the fiscal year just completed (FY 2021), R&D deobligations (Standard and DOD Question 4), nonfederal R&D obligations by type of agreement (Standard Question 10 and DOD Question 11), R&D obligations provided to other federal agencies (Standard Question 11 and DOD Question 12), and R&D and R&D plant obligations to university affiliated research centers (Standard Question 17 and DOD Question 19). One new question added solely to the DOD questionnaire (DOD Question 6) was about obligations for Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer for the fiscal year just completed and the current fiscal year at the time of collection (i.e., FYs 2021 and 2022). Many of the other survey questions were reorganized and revised.
  • For volume 71, some changes were made within the questions for consistency with other NCSES surveys. Among the performer categories, federally funded R&D centers (FFRDCs), which in previous volumes were included among the extramural performers, became one of the intramural performers. Other changes include retitling of certain performer categories, where “industry” was changed to “businesses” and “universities and colleges” was changed to “higher education.”
  • For volume 71, “field of R&D” was used instead of the former “field of science and engineering.” The survey started collecting field of R&D information for experimental development obligations; previously, field of R&D information was collected only for research obligations.
  • For volume 71, federal obligations for research performed at higher education institutions, by detailed field of R&D was asked of all agencies. Previously these data had only been collected from the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, HHS, and Homeland Security; NASA; and NSF. 
  • For volume 71, geographic distribution of R&D obligations was asked of all agencies. Previously, these data had only been collected from the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, HHS, Homeland Security; NASA; and NSF. Agencies are asked to provide the principal location (state or outlying area) of the work performed by the primary contractor, grantee, or intramural organization; assign the obligations to the location of the headquarters of the U.S. primary contractor, grantee, or intramural organization; or, for DOD agencies, list the funds as undistributed for classified funds.
  • For volume 71, collection of data on funding type (stimulus and non-stimulus) was limited to Question 5 on type of R&D.
  • For volume 71, grants and contracts for extramural R&D performers and obligations to University Affiliated Research Centers were added.
  • For volume 70 (FYs 2020–21), agencies were requested to report COVID-19 pandemic-related R&D from the agency’s initial appropriations, as well as from any stimulus funds received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, plus any other pandemic-related supplemental appropriations. Two tables in the questionnaire were modified to collect the stimulus and non-stimulus amounts separately (tables 1 and 2), and seven tables in the questionnaire (tables 6.1, 6.2, 7.1, 11.1, 11.2, 12.1, and 13.1) were added for respondents to specify stimulus and non-stimulus funding by various categories. The data on stimulus funding is reported in volume 70’s data table 132. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority accounted for 66% of all COVID-19 R&D in FY 2020; these obligations primarily include transfers to the other agencies to help facilitate execution of contractual awards under Operation Warp Speed.
  • For volume 70 (FYs 2020–21), the optional narrative tables that ask for comparisons of the R&D obligations reported in Federal Funds for R&D with corresponding amounts in the Federal S&E Support Survey (standard questionnaire only) were renumbered from tables 6B and 6C to tables 6A and 6B.
  • In volumes 68 (FYs 2018–19) and 69 (FYs 2019–20), table 6A, which collected information on federal intramural R&D obligations, was deactivated, and agencies were instructed not to complete it.
  • For volumes 66 (FYs 2016–17) and 67 (FYs 2017–18), table 6A (formerly table VI.A) was included, but it was modified so that it no longer collected laboratory names.
  • Starting with volume 66 (FYs 2016–17), the survey collects 2 federal government fiscal years—actual data for the fiscal year just completed and estimates for the current fiscal year. Previously, the survey also collected projected obligations for the next fiscal year based on the president’s budget request to Congress. For volume 66, data were collected for only 2 fiscal years due to the delayed FY 2018 budget formulation process. However, after consultation with data users, NCSES determined that the projections were not as useful as the budget authority data presented in the budget request.
  • In volume 66, the survey table numbering was changed from Roman numerals I–XI and, for selected agencies, the letters A–E, to Arabic numerals 1–16. The order of tables remained the same.
  • In the volume 66 DOD-version of the questionnaire, the definition of major systems development was changed to represent DOD Budget Activities 4 through 6 instead of Budget Activities 4 through 7, and questions relating to funding for Operational Systems Development (Budget Activity 7) were added to the instrument. The survey’s narrative tables 6 and 11 were removed from the DOD-version of the questionnaire.
  • For volume 65 (FYs 2015–17), the survey reintroduced table VI.A to collect information on federal intramural R&D obligations, including the names and addresses of all federal laboratories that received federal intramural R&D obligations. The table was included in both the standard and DOD questionnaires.
  • For volume 62 (FYs 2012–14), the survey added table VI.A to the standard questionnaire for that volume only to collect information on FY 2012 federal intramural R&D obligations, including the names and addresses of all federal laboratories that received federal intramural R&D obligations.
  • In volumes 59 (FYs 2009–11) and 60 (FYs 2010–12), questions relating to funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) were added to the data collection instruments. The survey collected separate outlays and obligations for ARRA and non-ARRA sources of funding, by performer and geography for FYs 2009 and 2010.
  • Starting with volume 59 (FYs 2009–11), federal funding data were requested in actual dollars (instead of rounded in thousands, as was done through volume 58).

Changes in reporting procedures or classification.

  • FY 2022. During the volume 72 cycle (FYs 2022–23), NASA revised its FY 2021 data by field of R&D and performer categories based on improved classification procedures developed during the volume 72 reporting period.
  • FY 2021. During the volume 71 cycle (FYs 2021–22), NCSES decided to remove “U.S.” from names like “U.S. Space Force” to conform with other surveys. For Federal Funds for R&D, this change will first appear in the detailed statistical tables.
  • FY 2020. For volume 70 (FYs 2020 and 2021), data include obligations from supplemental COVID-19 pandemic-related appropriations (e.g., CARES Act) plus any other pandemic-related supplemental appropriations.
  • FY 2020. The Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Naval Reactor Program reclassified some of its R&D obligations from industry-administered FFRDCs to the industry sector.
  • FY 2020. The Department of the Air Force (AF) and the DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) partially revised their FY 2019 data. AF revised its operational system development classified program numbers for businesses excluding business or industry-administered FFRDCs, and EERE revised its outlay numbers.
  • FY 2019. For volume 69 (FYs 2019–20), FY 2020 preliminary data do not include obligations from supplemental COVID-19 pandemic-related appropriations (e.g., CARES Act).
  • FY 2019. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority began reporting. For volume 69 (FYs 2019–20), it could not submit any geographical data, so its data were reported as undistributed on the state tables.
  • FY 2019. The U.S. Agency for Global Media (formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors), which did not report data between FY 2008 and FY 2018, resumed reporting.
  • FY 2018. The HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) funding was reported by the CMS Office of Financial Management at an agency-wide level instead of by the CMS Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation and its R&D group, the Office of Research, Development, and Information, which used to report at a component level.
  • FY 2018. The Department of State added the Global Health Programs R&D funding.
  • FY 2018. The Department of Veterans Affairs added funds for the Medical Services support to the existing R&D funding to fully report the total cost of intramural R&D. Although the Medical Services do not directly fund specific R&D activities, they host intramural research programs that were not previously reported.
  • FY 2018. DHS’s Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Office was established on 7 December 2017. CWMD consolidated primarily the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) and a majority of the Office of Health Affairs, as well as other DHS elements. Prior to FY 2018, data reported for the CWMD would have been under the DNDO.
  • FY 2018. DOE revised its FYs 2016 and 2017 data after discovering its Office of Fossil Energy reported “in thousands” instead of actual dollars for volumes 66 (FYs 2016–17) and 67 (FYs 2017–18).
  • FY 2018. USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) partially revised its FYs 2009 and 2010 data during the volume 61 (FYs 2011–13) cycle. NCSES discovered a discrepancy that was corrected during the volume 68 cycle, completing the revision.
  • FY 2018. DHS’s Transportation Security Administration, which did not report data between FY 2010 and FY 2017, resumed reporting for volume 68 (FYs 2018–19).
  • FY 2018. DHS’s U.S. Secret Service, which did not report data between FY 2009 and FY 2017, resumed reporting for volume 68 (FYs 2018–19).
  • FY 2018. NCSES discovered that in some past volumes, the obligations reported for basic research in certain foreign countries were greater than the corresponding obligations reported for R&D; the following data were corrected as a result: DOD and Chemical and Biological Defense FY 2003 data, defense agencies and activities FY 2003 and FY 2011 data, AF FY 2009 data, and Department of the Navy FY 2005, FY 2011, and FY 2013 data; DOE and Office of Science FY 2009 data; HHS and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) FY 2008 and FY 2017 data; and NSF FY 2001 data. NCSES also discovered that some obligations reported for academic performers were greater than the corresponding obligations reported for total performers, and DOD and AF FY 2009 data, DOE and Fossil Energy FY 1999 data, and NASA FY 2008 data were corrected. Finally, NCSES discovered a problem with FY 2017 HHS CDC personnel costs data, which were then also corrected.
  • FY 2017. The Department of the Treasury’s IRS performed a detailed evaluation and assessment of its programs and determined that none of its functions can be defined as R&D activity as defined in Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-11. The review included discussions with program owners and relevant contractors who perform work on behalf of the IRS. The IRS also provided a negative response to the OMB data call on R&D under Circular A-11 for the same reference period (FYs 2017–18). Despite no longer having any R&D obligations, the IRS still sponsors an FFRDC, the Center for Enterprise Modernization.
  • FY 2017. NASA estimated that the revised OMB definition for "experimental development" reduced its reported R&D total by about $2.7 billion in FY 2017 and $2.9 billion in FY 2018 from what would have been reported under the previous definition prior to volume 66 (FYs 2016–17).
  • FY 2017. The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund (PCORTF) was established by Congress through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, signed by the president on 23 March 2010. PCORTF began reporting for volume 67 (FYs 2017–18), but it also submitted data for FYs 2011–16.
  • FY 2017. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which did not report data between FY 1999 and FY 2016, resumed reporting for volume 67 (FYs 2017–18).
  • FY 2017. The U.S. Postal Service, which did not report data between FY 1999 and FY 2016, resumed reporting for volume 67 (FYs 2017–18) and submitted data for FYs 2015–16.
  • FY 2017. During the volume 67 (FYs 2017–18) data collection, DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate revised its FY 2016 data.
  • FY 2016. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts began reporting as of volume 66 (FYs 2016–17).
  • Beginning with FY 2016, the totals reported for development obligations and outlays represent a refinement to this category by more narrowly defining it to be “experimental development.” Most notably, totals for development do not include the DOD Budget Activity 7 (Operational System Development) obligations and outlays. Those funds, previously included in DOD’s development totals, support the development efforts to upgrade systems that have been fielded or have received approval for full rate production and anticipate production funding in the current or subsequent fiscal year. Therefore, the data are not directly comparable with totals reported in previous years.
  • Prior to the volume 66 launch, the definitions of basic research, applied research, experimental development, R&D, and R&D plant were revised to match the definitions used by OMB in the July 2016 version of Circular A-11, Section 84 (Schedule C).
  • FYs 2016–17. Before the volume 66 survey cycle, NSF updated the list of foreign performers in Federal Funds R&D to match the list of countries and territories in the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research fact sheet of Independent States in the World and fact sheet of Dependencies and Areas of Special Sovereignty. Country lists in volume 66 data tables and later may differ from those in previous reports.
  • FY 2015. The HHS Administration for Community Living (ACL) began reporting in FY 2015, replacing the Administration on Aging, which was transferred to ACL when ACL was established on 18 April 2012. Several programs that serve older adults and people with disabilities were transferred from other agencies to ACL, including a number of programs from the Department of Education due to the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act.
  • FY 2015. The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which did not report data between FY 1999 and FY 2014, resumed reporting.
  • In January 2014, all Research and Innovative Technology Administration programs were transferred into the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology in the Office of the Secretary of Transportation.
  • FY 2014. DHS’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office began reporting for FY 2014.
  • FY 2014. The Department of State data for FY 2014 were excluded due to their poor quality.
  • FY 2013. NASA revamped its reporting process so that the data for FY 2012 forward are not directly comparable with totals reported in previous years.
  • FY 2012. NASA began reporting International Space Station (ISS) obligations as research rather than R&D plant.
  • Starting with volume 62 (FYs 2012–14), an “undistributed” category was added to the geographic location tables for DOD obligations for which the location of performance is not reported. It includes DOD obligations for industry R&D that were included in individual state totals prior to FY 2012 and DOD obligations for other performers that were not reported prior to FY 2011. This change was applied retroactively to FY 2011 data.
  • Starting with volume 61 (FYs 2011–13), DOD subagencies other than the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency were reported as an aggregate total under other defense agencies to enable complete reporting of DOD R&D (both unclassified and classified). Consequently, DOD began reporting additional classified R&D not previously reported by its subagencies.
  • FY 2011. USDA’s ERS partially revised its data for FYs 2009 and 2010 during the volume 61 (FYs 2011–13) cycle.
  • FY 2010. NASA resumed reporting ISS obligations as R&D plant.
  • FYs 2000–09. Beginning in FY 2000, AF did not report Budget Activity 6.7 Operational Systems Development data because the agency misunderstood the reporting requirements. During the volume 57 data collection cycle, AF edited prior year data for FYs 2000–07 to include Budget Activity 6.7 Operational Systems Development data. These data revisions were derived from FY 2007 distribution percentages that were then applied backward to revise data for FYs 2000–06.
  • FYs 2006–07. NASA’s R&D obligations decreased by $1 billion. Of this amount, $850 million was accounted for by obligations for operational projects that NASA excluded in FY 2007 but reported in FY 2006. The remainder was from an overall decrease in obligations between FYs 2006 and 2007.
  • FY 2006. NASA reclassified funding for the following items as operational costs: Space Operations, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, and the James Webb Space Telescope. This funding was previously reported as R&D plant.
  • FYs 2005–07. Before the volume 55 survey cycle, NSF updated the list of foreign performers in Federal Funds R&D to match the list of countries and territories in the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research fact sheet of Independent States in the World and fact sheet of Dependencies and Areas of Special Sovereignty. Area and country lists in volume 55 data tables and later may differ from those in previous reports.
  • FYs 2004–06. NASA implemented a full-cost budget approach, which includes all of the direct and indirect costs for procurement, personnel, travel, and other infrastructure-related expenses relative to a particular program and project. NASA’s data for FY 2004 and later years may not be directly comparable with its data for FY 2003 and earlier years.
  • FY 2004. NIH revised its financial database; beginning with FY 2004, NIH records no longer contain information on the field of S&E. Data for FY 2004 and later years are not directly comparable with data for FY 2003 and earlier years.
  • Data for FYs 2003–06 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are estimates based on SAMHSA's obligations by program activity budget and previously reported funding for development.
  • FY 2003. SAMHSA reclassified some of its funding categories as non-R&D that had been considered to be R&D in prior years.
  • On 25 November 2002, the president signed the Homeland Security Act of 2002, establishing DHS. DHS includes the R&D activities previously reported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Science and Technology Directorate, the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Secret Service.
  • FY 2000. NASA reclassified the ISS as a physical asset, reclassified ISS Research as equipment, and transferred funding for the program from R&D to R&D plant.
  • FY 2000. NIH reclassified as research the activities that it had previously classified as development. NIH data for FY 2000 forward reflect this change. For more information on the classification changes at NASA and NIH, refer to Classification Revisions Reduce Reported Federal Development Obligations (InfoBrief NSF 02-309), February 2002, available at https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf02309 .
  • FYs 1996–98. The lines on the survey instrument for the special foreign currency program and for detailed field of S&E were eliminated beginning with the volume 46 survey cycle. Two tables depicting data on foreign performers by region, country, and agency that were removed before publication of volume 43 were reinstated with volume 46.
  • FYs 1994–96. During the volume 44 survey cycle, the Director for Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) at DOD requested that NSF further clarify the true character of DOD’s R&D program, particularly as it compares with other federal agencies, by adding more detail to development obligations reported by DOD respondents. Specifically, DOD requested that NSF allow DOD agencies to report development obligations in two separate categories: advanced technology development and major systems development. An excerpt from a letter written by Robert V. Tuohy, Chief, Program Analysis and Integration at DDR&E, to John E. Jankowski, Program Director, Research and Development Statistics Program, Division of Science Resources Statistics, NSF, explains the reasoning behind the DDR&E request: “The DOD’s R&D program is divided into two major pieces, Science and Technology (S&T) and Major Systems Development. The other federal agencies’ entire R&D programs are equivalent in nature to DOD’s S&T program, with the exception of the Department of Energy and possibly NASA. Comparing those other agency programs to DOD’s program, including the development of weapons systems such as F-22 Fighter and the New Attack Submarine, is misleading.”
  • FYs 1990–92. Since volume 40, DOD has reported research obligations and development obligations separately. Tables reporting obligations for research, by state and performer, and obligations for development, by state and performer, were specifically created for DOD. Circumstances specific to DOD are (1) DOD funds the preponderance of federal development and (2) DOD development funded at institutions of higher education is typically performed at university-affiliated nonacademic laboratories, which are separate from universities’ academic departments, where university research is typically performed.

Agency and subdivision. An agency is an organization of the federal government whose principal executive officer reports to the president. The Library of Congress and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts are also included in the survey, even though the chief officer of the Library of Congress reports to Congress and the U.S. Courts are part of the judicial branch. Subdivision refers to any organizational unit of a reporting agency, such as a bureau, division, office, or service.

Development . See R&D and R&D plant.

Fields of R&D (formerly fields of science and engineering ) . A list of the 41 fields of R&D reported on can be found on the survey questionnaire. In the data tables, the fields are grouped into 9 major areas: computer and information sciences; geosciences, atmospheric sciences, and ocean sciences; life sciences; mathematics and statistics; physical sciences; psychology; social sciences; engineering; and other fields. Table A-3 provides a crosswalk of the fields of science and engineering used in volume 70 and earlier surveys to the revised fields of R&D collected under volume 71.

Federal obligations for research performed at higher education institutions , by detailed field of R&D . As of volume 71, all respondents were required to report these obligations. Previously, this information was reported by seven agencies (the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security; NASA; and NSF).

Geographic distribution of R&D obligations. As of volume 71, all respondents were required to respond to this portion of the survey. Previously, the 11 largest R&D funding agencies responded to this portion (the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, the Interior, and Transportation; the Environmental Protection Agency; NASA; and NSF). Respondents are asked to provide the principal location (state or outlying area) of the work performed by the primary contractor, grantee, or intramural organization, assign the obligations to the location of the headquarters of the U.S. primary contractor, grantee, or intramural organization, or list the funds as undistributed.

Obligations and outlays. Obligations represent the amounts for orders placed, contracts awarded, services received, and similar transactions during a given period, regardless of when funds were appropriated and when future payment of money is required. Outlays represent the amounts for checks issued and cash payments made during a given period, regardless of when funds were appropriated.

Performer. A group or organization carrying out an operational function or an extramural organization or a person receiving support or providing services under a contract or grant.

  • Intramural performers are agencies of the federal government, including federal employees who work on R&D both onsite and offsite and, as of volume 71, FFRDCs.
  • Federal. The work of agencies of the federal government is carried out directly by agency personnel. Obligations reported under this category are for activities performed or to be performed by the reporting agency itself or are for funds that the agency transfers to another federal agency for performance of R&D (intragovernmental transfers). Although the receiving agency may obligate these funds to extramural performers (businesses, universities and colleges, other nonprofit institutions, FFRDCs, nonfederal government, and foreign) they are reported as part of the federal sector by the originating agency. Federal activities cover not only actual intramural R&D performance but also the costs associated with administration of intramural R&D programs and extramural R&D procurements by federal personnel. Intramural activities also include the costs of supplies and off-the-shelf equipment (equipment that has gone beyond the development or prototype stage) procured for use in intramural R&D. For example, an operational launch vehicle purchased from an extramural source by NASA and used for intramural performance of R&D is reported as a part of the cost of intramural R&D.
  • Federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) —R&D-performing organizations that are exclusively or substantially financed by the federal government and are supported by the federal government either to meet a particular R&D objective or in some instances to provide major facilities at universities for research and associated training purposes. Each center is administered by an industrial firm, a university, or another nonprofit institution (see https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/ffrdclist/ for the Master Government List of FFRDCs maintained by NSF).
  • Extramural performers are organizations outside the federal sector that perform R&D with federal funds under contract, grant, or cooperative agreement. Only costs associated with actual R&D performance are reported. Types of extramural performers:
  • Businesses (previously “ Industry or i ndustr ial firms ”) —Organizations that may legally distribute net earnings to individuals or to other organizations.
  • Higher education institutions (previously “ Universities and colleges ”) —Institutions of higher education in the United States that engage primarily in providing resident or accredited instruction for a not less than a 2-year program above the secondary school level that is acceptable for full credit toward a bachelor’s degree or that provide not less than a 1-year program of training above the secondary school level that prepares students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation. Included are colleges of liberal arts; schools of arts and sciences; professional schools, as in engineering and medicine, including affiliated hospitals and associated research institutes; and agricultural experiment stations. Other examples of universities and colleges include community colleges, 4-year colleges, universities, and freestanding professional schools (medical schools, law schools, etc.).
  • Other nonprofit institutions —Private organizations other than educational institutions whose net earnings do not benefit either private stockholders or individuals and other private organizations organized for the exclusive purpose of turning over their entire net earnings to such nonprofit organizations. Examples of nonprofit institutions include foundations, trade associations, charities, and research organizations.
  • State and local governments —State and local government agencies, excluding state or local universities and colleges, agricultural experiment stations, medical schools, and affiliated hospitals. (Federal R&D funds obligated directly to such state and local institutions are excluded in this category. However, they are included under the universities and colleges category in this report.) R&D activities under the state and local governments category are performed either by the state or local agencies themselves or by other organizations under grants or contracts from such agencies. Regardless of the ultimate performer, federal R&D funds directed to state and local governments are reported only under this sector.
  • Non-U.S. performers (previously “Foreign performers”) —Other nations’ citizens, organizations, universities and colleges, governments, as well as international organizations located outside the United States, that perform R&D. In most cases, foreigners performing R&D in the United States are not reported here. Excluded from this category are U.S. agencies, U.S. organizations, or U.S. citizens performing R&D abroad for the federal government. Examples of foreign performers include the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and the World Health Organization. An exception in the past was made in the case of U.S. citizens performing R&D abroad under special foreign-currency funds; these activities were included under the foreign performers category but have not been collected since the mid-1990s.
  • Private individuals —When an R&D grant or contract is awarded directly to a private individual, obligations incurred are placed under the category businesses.

R &D and R&D plant. Amounts for R&D and R&D plant include all direct, incidental, or related costs resulting from, or necessary to, performance of R&D and costs of R&D plant as defined below, regardless of whether R&D is performed by a federal agency (intramurally) or by private individuals and organizations under grant or contract (extramurally). R&D excludes routine product testing, quality control, mapping and surveys, collection of general-purpose statistics, experimental production, and the training of scientific personnel.

  • Research is defined as systematic study directed toward fuller scientific knowledge or understanding of the subject studied. Research is classified as either basic or applied, according to the objectives of the sponsoring agency.
  • Basic research is defined as experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundations of phenomena and observable facts. Basic research may include activities with broad or general applications in mind, such as the study of how plant genomes change, but should exclude research directed toward a specific application or requirement, such as the optimization of the genome of a specific crop species.
  • Applied research is defined as original investigation undertaken in order to acquire new knowledge. Applied research is, however, directed primarily toward a specific practical aim or objective.
  • Development , also known as experimental development, is defined as creative and systematic work, drawing on knowledge gained from research and practical experience, which is directed at producing new products or processes or improving existing products or processes. Like research, experimental development will result in gaining additional knowledge.

For reporting experimental development activities, the following are included:

The production of materials, devices, and systems or methods, including the design, construction, and testing of experimental prototypes.

Technology demonstrations, in cases where a system or component is being demonstrated at scale for the first time, and it is realistic to expect additional refinements to the design (feedback R&D) following the demonstration. However, not all activities that are identified as “technology demonstrations” are R&D.

However, experimental development excludes the following:

User demonstrations where the cost and benefits of a system are being validated for a specific use case. This includes low-rate initial production activities.

Pre-production development, which is defined as non-experimental work on a product or system before it goes into full production, including activities such as tooling and development of production facilities.

To better differentiate between the part of the federal R&D budget that supports science and key enabling technologies (including technologies for military and nondefense applications) and the part that primarily supports testing and evaluation (mostly of defense-related systems), NSF collects development dollars from DOD in two categories: advanced technology development and major systems development.

DOD uses RDT&E Budget Activities 1–7 to classify data into the survey categories. Within DOD’s research categories, basic research is classified as Budget Activity 1, and applied research is classified as Budget Activity 2. Within DOD’s development categories, advanced technology development is classified as Budget Activity 3. Starting in volume 66, major systems development is classified as Budget Activities 4–6 instead of Budget Activities 4–7 and includes advanced component development and prototypes, system development and demonstration, and RDT&E management support; data on Budget Activity 7, operational systems development, is collected separately. (Note: As a historical artifact from previous DOD budget authority terminology, funds for Budget Activity categories 1 through 7 are sometimes referred to as 6.1 through 6.7 monies.)

  • Demonstration includes amounts for activities that are part of R&D (i.e., that are intended to prove or to test whether a technology or method does in fact work). Demonstrations intended primarily to make information available about new technologies or methods are excluded.
  • R&D plant is defined as spending on both R&D facilities and major equipment as defined in OMB Circular A-11 Section 84 (Schedule C) and includes physical assets, such as land, structures, equipment, and intellectual property (e.g., software or applications) that have an estimated useful life of 2 years or more. Reporting for R&D plant includes the purchase, construction, manufacture, rehabilitation, or major improvement of physical assets regardless of whether the assets are owned or operated by the federal government, states, municipalities, or private individuals. The cost of the asset includes both its purchase price and all other costs incurred to bring it to a form and location suitable for use.
  • For reporting construction of R&D facilities and major moveable R&D equipment, include the following:

Construction of facilities that are necessary for the execution of an R&D program. This may include land, major fixed equipment, and supporting infrastructure such as a sewer line, or housing at a remote location. Many laboratory buildings will include a mixture of R&D facilities and office space. The fraction of the building that is considered to be used for R&D may be calculated based on the percentage of square footage that is used for R&D.

Acquisition, design, or production of major movable equipment, such as mass spectrometers, research vessels, DNA sequencers, and other movable major instrumentation for use in R&D activities.

Programs of $1 million or more that are devoted to the purchase or construction of R&D major equipment.

Exclude the following:

Construction of other non-R&D facilities.

Minor equipment purchases, such as personal computers, standard microscopes, and simple spectrometers (report these costs under total R&D, not R&D Plant).

Obligations for foreign R&D plant are limited to federal funds for facilities that are located abroad and used in support of foreign R&D.

Technical Tables

Questionnaires, view archived questionnaires, key data tables.

Recommended data tables

Research, development, and R&D plant

Research and experimental development, research obligations, geographic distribution of obligations, data tables, research, development, test, and evaluation (rdt&e), intramural obligations for research and experimental development and r&d plant, basic research obligations, applied research obligations, experimental development obligations, obligations to university affiliated research centers: fy 2022, research obligations to higher education performers, basic research obligations to higher education performers, applied research obligations to higher education performers, experimental development obligations to higher education performers, foreign performer obligations, by region, country or economy, and agency, geographic distribution of department of defense rdt&e obligations, outlays, by agency, obligations, by agency, obligations, by performer: fys 1967–2023, obligations, by detailed field of science and engineering, obligations, by state or location, general notes.

These tables present the results of volume 72 (FYs 2022–23) of the Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development. This annual census, completed by the federal agencies that conduct research and development (R&D) programs, is the primary source of information about federal funding for R&D in the United States. Actual data are collected for the fiscal year just completed; estimates are obtained for the current fiscal year.

Acknowledgments and Suggested Citation

Acknowledgments, suggested citation.

Christopher V. Pece of the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) developed and coordinated this report under the guidance of Amber Levanon Seligson, NCSES Program Director, and the leadership of Emilda B. Rivers, NCSES Director; Christina Freyman NCSES Deputy Director; and John Finamore, NCSES Chief Statistician. Gary Anderson and Jock Black (NCSES) reviewed the report.

Under contract to NCSES, Synectics for Management Decisions, Inc. conducted the survey and prepared the statistics for this report. Synectics staff members who made significant contributions include LaVonda Scott, Elizabeth Walter, Suresh Kaja, Peter Ahn, and John Millen.

NCSES thanks the federal agency staff that provided information for this report.

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). 2024. Federal Funds for Research and Development: Fiscal Years 202 2 –2 3 . NSF 24-321. Alexandria, VA: National Science Foundation. Available at  https://ncses.nsf.gov/surveys/federal-funds-research-development/2022-2023#data

Featured Analysis

Definitions of research and development, related content, related collections, survey contact.

For additional information about this survey or the methodology, contact

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medRxiv

Widespread recessive effects on common diseases in a cohort of 44,000 British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis with high autozygosity

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  • ORCID record for Teng Hiang Heng
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Genetic association studies have focused on testing additive models in cohorts with European ancestry. Little is known about recessive effects on common diseases, specifically for non-European ancestry. Genes & Health is a cohort of British Pakistani and Bangladeshi individuals with elevated rates of consanguinity and endogamy, making it suitable to study recessive effects. We imputed variants into 44,190 genotyped individuals, using two imputation panels: a set of 4,982 whole-exome-sequences from within the cohort, and the TOPMed-r2 panel. We performed association testing with 898 diseases from electronic health records. We identified 185 independent loci that reached standard genome-wide significance (p<5×10 −8 ) under the recessive model and had p-values more significant than under the additive model. 140 loci demonstrated nominally-significant (p<0.05) dominance deviation p-values, confirming a recessive association pattern. Sixteen loci in three clusters were significant at a Bonferroni threshold accounting for multiple phenotypes tested (p<5.5×10 −12 ). In FinnGen, we replicated 44% of the expected number of Bonferroni-significant loci we were powered to replicate, at least one from each cluster, including an intronic variant in PNPLA3 (rs66812091) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a previously reported additive association. We present novel evidence suggesting that the association is recessive instead (OR=1.3, recessive p=2×10 −12 , additive p=2×10 −11 , dominance deviation p=3×10 −2 , FinnGen recessive OR=1.3 and p=6×10 −12 ). We identified a novel protective recessive association between a missense variant in SGLT4 (rs61746559), a sodium-glucose transporter with a possible role in the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, and hypertension (OR=0.2, p=3×10 −8 , dominance deviation p=7×10 −6 ). These results motivate interrogating recessive effects on common diseases more widely.

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Competing Interest Statement

The authors have declared no competing interest.

Funding Statement

This research was funded in part by Wellcome (grant no. 220540/Z/20/A, Wellcome Sanger Institute Quinquennial Review 2021–2026). For the purpose of open access, the authors have applied a CC–BY public copyright licence to any author accepted manuscript version arising from this submission. Genes & Health is/has recently been core–funded by Wellcome (WT102627, WT210561), the Medical Research Council (UK) (M009017, MR/X009777/1, MR/X009920/1), Higher Education Funding Council for England Catalyst, Barts Charity (845/1796), Health Data Research UK (for London substantive site), and research delivery support from the NHS National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network (North Thames). Genes & Health is/has recently been funded by Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Genomics PLC; and a Life Sciences Industry Consortium of Astra Zeneca PLC, Bristol–Myers Squibb Company, GlaxoSmithKline Research and Development Limited, Maze Therapeutics Inc, Merck Sharp & Dohme LLC, Novo Nordisk A/S, Pfizer Inc, Takeda Development Centre Americas Inc. T. H. Heng is supported by the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A∗STAR) National Science Scholarship. The FinnGen project is funded by two grants from Business Finland (HUS 4685/31/2016 and UH 4386/31/2016) and the following industry partners: AbbVie Inc., AstraZeneca UK Ltd, Biogen MA Inc., Bristol Myers Squibb (and Celgene Corporation & Celgene International II Sarl), Genentech Inc., Merck Sharp & Dohme LCC, Pfizer Inc., GlaxoSmithKline Intellectual Property Development Ltd., Sanofi US Services Inc., Maze Therapeutics Inc., Janssen Biotech Inc, Novartis Pharma AG, and Boehringer Ingelheim International GmbH.

Author Declarations

I confirm all relevant ethical guidelines have been followed, and any necessary IRB and/or ethics committee approvals have been obtained.

The details of the IRB/oversight body that provided approval or exemption for the research described are given below:

The London South East NRES Committee of the Health Research Authority gave ethical approval for the G&H work (14/LO/1240, dated 16 September 2014). The Coordinating Ethics Committee of the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS) gave ethical approval for the FinnGen work (Nr HUS/990/2017).

I confirm that all necessary patient/participant consent has been obtained and the appropriate institutional forms have been archived, and that any patient/participant/sample identifiers included were not known to anyone (e.g., hospital staff, patients or participants themselves) outside the research group so cannot be used to identify individuals.

I understand that all clinical trials and any other prospective interventional studies must be registered with an ICMJE-approved registry, such as ClinicalTrials.gov. I confirm that any such study reported in the manuscript has been registered and the trial registration ID is provided (note: if posting a prospective study registered retrospectively, please provide a statement in the trial ID field explaining why the study was not registered in advance).

I have followed all appropriate research reporting guidelines, such as any relevant EQUATOR Network research reporting checklist(s) and other pertinent material, if applicable.

Data and code availability

G&H data is available for analysis in a secure Trusted Research Environment. Application can be made to the G&H executive: https://www.genesandhealth.org/research/scientists-using-genes-health-scientific-research

Information on how to access FinnGen data can be found here: https://www.finngen.fi/en/access_results

Software used in the data analysis are publicly available and have been cited. Code written to run these algorithms is available upon reasonable request to the authors.

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IMAGES

  1. How to Develop a Strong Research Question

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  2. How to Develop a Strong Research Question

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  3. How to Develop a Strong Research Question

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  4. 6. Developing Your Research Question

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  5. Research Questions

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  6. Developing Research Questions

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VIDEO

  1. PANEL DISCUSSION Il STRENCTHENING RESEARCH &DEVELOPING INDIGENOUS TECHNOLOGIES FOR VIKSITBHARAT@2047

  2. Maths Literacy Grade 11 Developing Questions,CollectingData,Classifying&Organising Video 1 Segment

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COMMENTS

  1. Writing Strong Research Questions

    A good research question is essential to guide your research paper, dissertation, or thesis. All research questions should be: Focused on a single problem or issue. Researchable using primary and/or secondary sources. Feasible to answer within the timeframe and practical constraints. Specific enough to answer thoroughly.

  2. 10 Research Question Examples to Guide your Research Project

    The first question asks for a ready-made solution, and is not focused or researchable. The second question is a clearer comparative question, but note that it may not be practically feasible. For a smaller research project or thesis, it could be narrowed down further to focus on the effectiveness of drunk driving laws in just one or two countries.

  3. How to Write a Research Question in 2024: Types, Steps, and Examples

    The second research question is more complicated; to answer it, the researcher must collect data, perform in-depth data analysis, and form an argument that leads to further discussion. Important Points to Keep in Mind in Creating a Research Question. Developing the right research question is a critical first step in the research process.

  4. How to Write a Research Question: Types and Examples

    Such questions do not provide enough scope for robust investigation and discussion. A good research question requires original data, synthesis of multiple sources, and original interpretation and argumentation before providing an answer. Steps for developing a good research question . The importance of research questions cannot be understated.

  5. Designing a Research Question

    Developing quality research questions is a skill that requires practice. The PICO and PPhTS frameworks help scholars develop research questions for a variety of research purposes across the three research paradigms. The generic template for each question type is especially useful for novice researchers who are new to developing research questions.

  6. Research Question Examples ‍

    Examples: Education. Next, let's look at some potential research questions within the education, training and development domain. How does class size affect students' academic performance in primary schools? This example research question targets two clearly defined variables, which can be measured and analysed relatively easily.

  7. The Writing Center

    Steps to developing a research question: Choose an interesting general topic. Most professional researchers focus on topics they are genuinely interested in studying. Writers should choose a broad topic about which they genuinely would like to know more. An example of a general topic might be "Slavery in the American South" or "Films of ...

  8. How to Develop a Good Research Question?

    Moreover, these questions seek to understand the intent or future outcome surrounding a topic. Research Question Example: Asking why a consumer behaves in a certain way or chooses a certain option over other. iii. Interpretive Questions. This type of research question allows the study of people in the natural setting.

  9. Research Questions

    Applications of Research Questions. Here are some of the key applications of research questions: Defining the scope of the study: Research questions help researchers to narrow down the scope of their study and identify the specific issues they want to investigate.; Developing hypotheses: Research questions often lead to the development of hypotheses, which are testable predictions about the ...

  10. Research Question 101

    Types of research questions. Now that we've defined what a research question is, let's look at the different types of research questions that you might come across. Broadly speaking, there are (at least) four different types of research questions - descriptive, comparative, relational, and explanatory. Descriptive questions ask what is happening. In other words, they seek to describe a ...

  11. Research Questions, Objectives & Aims (+ Examples)

    The research aims, objectives and research questions (collectively called the "golden thread") are arguably the most important thing you need to get right when you're crafting a research proposal, dissertation or thesis.We receive questions almost every day about this "holy trinity" of research and there's certainly a lot of confusion out there, so we've crafted this post to help ...

  12. 6. Developing Your Research Question

    The steps for developing a research question, listed below, can help you organize your thoughts. Step 1: Pick a topic (or consider the one assigned to you). Step 2: Write a narrower/smaller topic that is related to the first. Step 3: List some potential questions that could logically be asked in relation to the narrow topic.

  13. Developing a Research Question

    Example 1: In my field developing a research question involves navigating the relationship between 1) what one sees/experiences at their field site and 2) what is already known in the literature. During my preliminary research, I found that the financial value of land was often a matter of precisely these cultural factors. So, my research ...

  14. Formulation of Research Question

    Abstract. Formulation of research question (RQ) is an essentiality before starting any research. It aims to explore an existing uncertainty in an area of concern and points to a need for deliberate investigation. It is, therefore, pertinent to formulate a good RQ. The present paper aims to discuss the process of formulation of RQ with stepwise ...

  15. Developing qualitative research questions: a reflective process

    A research question does fulfill this function, but I propose here that much more is involved in creating and using research questions in qualitative studies. The reflective and interrogative processes required for developing research questions can give shape and direction to a study in ways that are often underestimated.

  16. PDF Narrowing a Topic and Developing a Research Question

    Narrowing a Topic and Developing a Research Question Reference Sources Reference sources are a great place to begin your research. They provide: • a way to identify potential research ... You may not know right away what your research question is. Gather information on the broader topic to explore new possibilities and to help narrow your topic.

  17. Developing a research question: The key to a successful research

    Brainstorm Ideas. The first step in developing a research question is to brainstorm ideas. Start by identifying the general topic or area of interest for your research project. Write down any questions that come to mind related to your topic. Try to think of questions that are open-ended and can be answered through research.

  18. Developing research questions

    Developing research questions. It is likely that at some point during your degree you will be required to create your own research question. The research question states the specific issue or problem that your assignment will focus on. It also outlines the task that you will need to complete. There is no universal set of criteria for a good ...

  19. Develop a Question

    A good research question is clear, focused, and has an appropriate level of complexity. Developing a strong question is a process, so you will likely refine your question as you continue to research and to develop your ideas. Clarity. Unclear: Why are social networking sites harmful?

  20. Developing a Research Question

    In order to develop a research question, one useful method is to develop "working questions" of all shapes and sizes pertinent to your topic. As you can see below, you can start with a handful of simple working questions that will eventually lead to a viable research question. (Note that these examples also are precursors to the three ...

  21. Guides: Literature Reviews: Developing a Research Question

    DEVELOPING A RESEARCH QUESTION. Before searching for sources, you need to formulate a Research Question — this is what you are trying to answer using the existing academic literature. The Research Question pinpoints the focus of the review. Your first step involves choosing, exploring, and focusing a topic. At this stage you might discover ...

  22. Developing a Research Question

    Consider the wording of the question and the scope of the assignment. A good research question is clear, focused, and has an appropriate level of complexity. Developing a strong question is a process, so you will likely refine your question as you continue to research and to develop your ideas. Use the following guidelines to evaluate whether ...

  23. Research questions, hypotheses and objectives

    The development of the research question is the most important aspect of a research project. A research project can fail if the objectives and hypothesis are poorly focused and underdeveloped. Useful tips for surgical researchers are provided in Box 3. Designing and developing an appropriate and relevant research question, hypothesis and ...

  24. Research Topics & Questions

    Students create an "accordion" of these questions to see the full spectrum of possibilities for their research, developing greater insight into the pitfalls of overly-specific or overly-general questions and the advantages of carefully-focused inquiry. ... Students not only look at different components of the research question itself, but also ...

  25. PDF Developing research questions

    Research question - desirable features. Novel - should address a question/problem fully or sufficiently addressed. Arguable - not answerable with a simple repetition. Objective - should not rely on "good", "bad", judgement words. Appropriate - question and answer should resources.

  26. Future of evaluation: Charting a path in a changing development landscape

    Future of evaluation: Charting a path in a changing development landscape. April 8-10, 2024. Online. Add to calendar. Join us for a series of virtual conversations from April 8 to 10, 2024, on the future direction of the independent evaluation practice, the questions it will have to answer, and the impact of new technologies for ever greater ...

  27. Research Guides: POLI_SCI_395: Human Rights and the Environment

    After you have an initial project idea, you can think deeper about the idea by developing a "Topic + Question + Significance" sentence. This formula came from Kate Turabian's Student's Guide to Writing College Papers.Turabian notes that you can use it plan and test your question, but do not incorporate this sentence directly into your paper (p. 13):

  28. Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development 2022

    These tables present the results of volume 72 (FYs 2022-23) of the Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development. This annual census, completed by the federal agencies that conduct research and development (R&D) programs, is the primary source of information about federal funding for R&D in the United States.

  29. Meet The Team and Contact Information

    Meet the Research Development team, Gwynne Grasberger, Charlie Fraioli, Sarah Schwartz, and Jennifer Gregory. On this page you can link to team bios and find Research Development contact information. ... For questions, please e-mail [email protected] All team members can be reached individually via Teams message or e-mail. Contact ...

  30. Widespread recessive effects on common diseases in a cohort of 44,000

    Genetic association studies have focused on testing additive models in cohorts with European ancestry. Little is known about recessive effects on common diseases, specifically for non-European ancestry. Genes & Health is a cohort of British Pakistani and Bangladeshi individuals with elevated rates of consanguinity and endogamy, making it suitable to study recessive effects. We imputed variants ...