Formulating the Research Question
- Write a preliminary research question. Try to incorporate an IB command term in the student research question.
- Make a list of the steps necessary to carry out the research required for writing the IB Extended Essay - choosing the subject and topic, doing the required reading of IB rules and guidelines, writing the initial research question, and more.
Developing a Research Question
The chosen a subject and topic that interests the student and carried out some preliminary reading. What are the next steps?
- Consider the emerging questions. The student should now begin posing open-ended questions about the student topic. These questions will usually be framed "how", "why", or "to what extent."
- Evaluate the question. Once the student has posed possible research questions the student should evaluate them. This evaluation should be based on whether the question is clear, focused, and arguable.
- Clear - Will the reader understand the nature of my research? Will it direct the research being undertaken?
- Focused - Will the research question be specific enough to allow for exploration within the scope of the task (that is, the number of words and time available)?
- Arguable - Does the research question allow for analysis, evaluation and the development of a reasoned argument?
- Consider research outcomes. Once the student has decided on a research question, the student should start thinking about the direction the research might take. The student could do this by:
- suggesting possible outcomes of the student research
- outlining the type of argument, the student might make and how the student research might support this
- considering options if the research available is not sufficient to support a sustained argument
Sample Research Questions The table below gives some examples showing the difference between unclear and unfocused research.
Unclear, unfocused, and unarguable research questions
Clear, focused, narrow research questions lending themselves to in-depth research
What was the impact of Ho Chi Minh's allegiance to Lenin?
To what extent was nationalism the guiding factor in Ho Chi Minh's adoption of Leninism in 1920?
What is the history of Chinese theatre?
How does the legacy of Mei Lan Fang contribute to modern Jingju?
How important is chlorophyll to plant life?
What is the effect of different concentrations of kinetin on leaves aging and the biosynthesis of chlorophyll?
How can the US government's spending policy be reformed?
To what extent did the rising COE prices affect the demand for new and used cars by the consumer population and hence affect the revenue generated by the Singaporean economy for the period 2012-16?
Practice exercise: Formulating well-focused research questions
Developing a narrow, focused research question is an integral part of the extended essay process. A research question will provide a path to guide the student through the student research and writing.
Step 1. Choose the student subject area
Which subject area is of most personal interest to the student? Is there something the student are especially curious about in one of the IB courses? Did one of the questions from an earlier class spark an idea that can be researched?
Step 2. Choose a topic that interests the student
Describe the student work in one sentence.
I want to learn about __________________________.
Example: I want to learn about public funding for the arts.
Step 3. Suggest a question
Try to describe the student research by developing a question that specifies something about the student topic.
I am studying ______________________ because I want to find out (who, what, when, where, whether, why or how) ___________________________.
Example: I am studying public funding for the arts because I want to find out how accessible the arts are to those people who are on low incomes.
Direct question: To what extent are the arts accessible to people who belong to the class of the working poor?
Include a command term from the student subject area to help form the research question.
Will the student be able to argue a specific position? What are some possible issues or arguments?
Step 4. Evaluate the question
Answer the questions:
Is there a range of perspectives on this topic?
Does the research question allow for analysis, evaluation and the development of a reasoned argument?
I am studying __________________ because I want to find out ____________________________ in order to understand (how, why or whether) ________________________________________________.
Example: I am studying public funding for the arts because I want to find out how accessible the arts are to the working poor, so I can determine whether tax dollars support cultural enrichment for all citizens regardless of their socio-economic status.
Step 5. Restate the question using a different command term
Asking the question in a different way might help the student view the topic in a different way.
How does analyzing …
To what extent …
Step 6. Review with the supervisor
Is the supervisor able to understand the nature of the research?
Is it clear to the supervisor how and why the topic is relevant in the subject area?
Step 7. Reflection
If the student can adequately respond to the “so what?” question, the student may be on the way to a clear and focused research question using the initial topic idea.
The student must now start some preliminary reading around the issue or topic. Remember that the student will most likely need to revise the research question once the student start to undertake the research. In this sense the research question should always be considered provisional until the student has enough research data to make a reasoned argument.