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How to Design and Evaluate Research in Education

Characteristics of Good Research Questions

Research question is one of basic in educational research. When we want to do research, including educational research, we should know about characteristics of good research question. Once a research question has been formulated, we want to turn it into as good a question as possible.

More importantly, there are four essential characteristics of good research questions.

1. The question is feasible

The question should be feasible means that it can be investigated without expending a huge amount of time, energy, or money. Feasibility is an important thing in designing research studies. A feasible question is one that can be investigated with available resources. Most of the research that is done in schools or other educational institutions is likely to be done by “outsiders”, often university professors and their students, and usually is funded by temporary grants. Thus, lack of feasibility often seriously limits research efforts. Following are two examples of research questions, one feasible and one not so feasible.

Feasible: How do the students at Oceana High School feel about the new guidance program recently instituted in the district?

Not so feasible: How would achievement be affected by giving each student his or her own laptop computer to use for a semester?

2. The question is clear

The question should be clear means that  most people would agree as to what the key words in the question mean. It is particularly important that the question be clear, since the research question is the focus of a research investigation. What exactly is being investigated?

Following two examples of research questions that are not clear enough.

Example 1. “Is a humanistically oriented classroom effective?” Although the phrase humanistically oriented classroom may seem quite clear, many people may not be sure exactly what it means.  Another term in this question is also ambiguous. What does the term effective mean? Does it mean “results in increased academic proficiency,” “results in happier children,” “makes life easier for teachers,” or “costs less money”? Maybe it means all these things and more.

Example 2. “How do teachers feel about special classes for the educationally handicapped?” The first term that needs clarification is teachers. The phrase feel about is also ambiguous. The terms special classes and educationally handicapped also need to be clarified. Note that this definition itself contains some ambiguous words, which lend themselves to a wide variety of interpretations, which is not only ambiguous but also often offensive to members of ethnic groups to whom it is frequently applied.

The importance of us as a researcher being clear about the terms in our research questions cannot be overstated. We will have difficulty proceeding with plans for the collection and analysis of data if they do not know exactly what kind of data to look for. And they will not know what data to look for if they are unclear about the meaning of the key terms in the research question.

3. The question is significant

The question should be significant means that it is worth investigating because it will contribute important knowledge about the human condition. Research questions also should be worth investigating. In essence, we need to consider whether getting the answer to a question is worth the time and energy (and often money). What, we might ask, is the value of investigating a particular question? In what ways will it contribute to our knowledge about education? to our knowledge of human beings? Is such knowledge important in some way? If so, how? These questions ask us to think about why a research question is worthwhile, that is, important or significant.

4. The question is ethical

The question should be ethical means that it will not involve physical or psychological harm or damage to human beings or to the natural or social environment of which they are a part).

5.  The question often investigate relationships.

It is an additional characteristic of good research questions. They frequently (but not always) suggest a relationship of some sort to be investigated. A suggested relationship means that two qualities or characteristics are tied together or connected in some way.


Fraenkel, Jack R. Wallen. Hyun. 1990. How to Design and Evaluate Research in Education 8th ed. New York: McGraw Hill Companies.


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