Crafting a Research Question

Alvesson and Sandberg note in their book, Constructing Research Questions: Doing Interesting Research (2013), that ‘constructing and formulating research questions is perhaps the most critical aspect of all research’ (p. 1). It’s important to recognise this aspect of any proposal before submission, and as I’ve said, it’s something I learned the hard way.  A research question, for any research may alter over the course of our study, because the more we learn, the clearer and more focused the question(s) become.

Webb et al. suggests in her book, Researching Creative Writing, several key elements a research question should have;

‘The likely success of the project, and its capacity to contribute new knowledge, depends on the quality and clarity of the research question’ (Webb et al. 2015, p. 34).

Some ‘suggest beginning with the literature review, because this will help you frame and refine your research question’ (Webb et al. 2015, p. 34).

I like the idea of the literature review because things became clearer when I wrote mine for my exegesis.  Webb et al. notes ‘many emergent researches feel edgy embarking upon a literature review’ (2015, p. 34), but if you’ve read the literature, then a review is not that harrowing. Writing up what you’ve learned from the literature you’ve researched is easier when you keep a journal and write a short paragraph for everything you read. Like an annotated bibliography. The one I wrote for my dissertation is been immensely helpful in looking for texts I might need to read again and the short review about what I found in each text, has also directed me to specific texts.

Webb et al. Goes on to encourage the ‘structured emergent approach’ (2015, p. 34) recommended by Andrews (Alvesson and Sandberg 2013), noting it would help to ‘shape and guide your project. (Webb et al. 2015, p. 34).

A research literature review is ‘a systematic, explicit, and reproducible method for identifying, evaluating and synthesizing the existing body of completed and recorded work produced by researchers, scholars and practitioners’.

Fink 2010, p. 3

Fink goes on to say that a ‘research question is a precisely stated question that guides the review’ (2010, P. 3).

The point of the literature review is to;

‘Identify the main lines of thought and argument in your topic,

and to identify what has not been well or thoroughly explored by previous researchers;

or how other creative writers have crafted works on a specific topic or theme’ (Webb et al. 2015, p. 35).

A research question is not;

‘An ordinary question;

A topic, and

Something drawn from more than just personal interest’ (Webb et al. 2015, p. 39).

If the question originates from a desire to ‘follow a personal curiosity, or, … to ‘prove’ your ideas or opinions (Webb et al. 2015, p. 39), then the question can lack stamina. Once you have your answer, where will you take it from there? If complex questions have simple answers, then there would be no need for research beyond a simple Google search (Page and Brin 1998).

Crafting a research question is one of the hardest things I’ll do, but there’s two other things, vitally important to the creation of the question and they are, subject and theme (Milhorn 2006, p. 14). I will talk about subject and theme in a later post, but without knowing the answer to these two questions, it’s near on impossible to create your research question.

I have been working on my research question for several weeks, and while what I have encapsulates many aspects of the research I intend to undertake, I know as it becomes more refined, as I read more from those who’ve come before me, with the knowledge I am writing for those who will come after me, the question will gain body, depth and become clear enough for anyone reading my research, to understand. It’s the hope of every researcher to provide a clear question and to have their research answer it succinctly, right down to the main point. Webb et al. goes on to give  more helpful advice on how to create your research question and I recommend if you’re able, get the book. Details are below.


Alvesson, M & Sandberg, J 2013, Constructing Research Questions: Doing Interesting Research, SAGE Publications Ltd, London, United Kingdom.

Fink, A 2014, Conducting research literature reviews: from the internet to paper Fourth edition., SAGE, Thousand Oaks, California.

Milhorn, HT 2006, Writing genre fiction: a guide to the craft, Universal Publishers, Boca Raton, Fla.

Page, L & Brin, S 1998, ‘Google, LLC‘, viewed 29 October 2020,

Webb et al. 2015, Researching creative writing, Frontinus Ltd, Suffolk, UK.