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Research questions

Getting started

This section explores the phases of constructing a robust, feasible research question. What is a research question? See the FAQ below.

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Research Questions

How to construct a research question using the FINER framework

How to ensure your concepts are clear and searchable

How to structure your research question according to a framework

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At this point, consider the following:

  • Are the question's concepts clear?
  • Are there too many (or two few) concepts in the question?
  • Are the concepts too narrow or too broad? 
  • Does an initial or scoping search retrieve too many or too few results?

Adapted from McGowan, J., Sampson, M., Salzwedel, D. M., Cogo, E., Foerster, V., & Lefebvre, C. (2016). PRESS peer review of electronic search strategies: 2015 guideline statement. Journal of clinical epidemiology75, 40-46.

How to construct a research question

The FINER framework (Hulley, et al., 2013, pp.17-19) outlines some of the characteristics of a good research question. Review the FAQs below for more information. 

  • Feasible: consider the requirements of your research against available resources. Do you have enough time, funding, participants, or technical expertise to carry out the investigation?
  • Interesting: is the question of interest or relevance to your discipline community or the world at large? Discuss with mentors, funding organisations and colleagues to determine whether the investigation is worth pursuing. 
  • Novel: does the investigation add anything new to the literature? Research need not be entirely original, but can build on previous work by exploring a new angle or replicating the results of existing findings. 
  • Ethical: Pursue early consultation with your ethics committee if your study could cross ethical boundaries (e.g. putting participants at risk).
  • Relevant: what will be the impact, or ultimate result, of your research? In what ways will it advance the discipline, contribute to guidelines or policy, or prompt further study?

Hulley, S. B., Cummings, S. R., Browner, W. S., Grady, D. G., & Newman, T. B. (2013). Designing clinical research. Wolters Kluwer.

How to identify the searchable concepts in your research question

Once you have put your research question together, it is recommended that you perform a scoping search (see FAQ below) to get a sense of what already exists on your topic. To do this, it's important to identify the searchable concepts in your question. These are the parts of the question that will be translated into the actual search.

If our research question is:  

Does access to professional development opportunities improve morale in high school teachers?

The main concepts in this search are professional development, morale, and high school teachers, and you could start by searching just these terms in a general source like the Library's FiNDit.  Keeping the initial searches broad will help provide a sense of the breadth and depth of existing literature, or the absence of coverage. The terms "access", "opportunities" and "improve" are important parts of the question, but at this stage, they are not the searchable parts of the question. 

As you review the search results, you might notice synonyms that match your concepts. Note these terms down, as they will become useful as you perform more advanced searches. This table shows the initial concepts that were searched, and some synonyms that appeared in the results. 

  Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3
Concept professional development morale high school teachers   

career development

continuing education

vocational development







secondary school 

junior high school


How to structure your research question

Using a research question framework can help clarify and classify the concepts in your research question. There are many frameworks available, and which one you choose depends on the nature of your research. Frameworks are useful, but optional, as not all research aligns with the components. 

Popular frameworks include:

  • PICO(T): Population/Patient, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome and sometimes also Timeframe
  • SPICE: Setting, Perspective; Intervention/Interest, [Comparison], Evaluation
  • SPIDER: Sample, Phenomenon of Interest, Design, Evaluation, Research type

See our Evidence Based Practice guide for more research question structures and examples of how they can be used. 

  • Evidence-Based Practice
    Last Updated Apr 17, 2024 5972 views this year