A research question outlines the phenomena under study, who were studied, and what the researcher wanted to know about them. In any study, this includes the specific phenomena usually expressed as variables to be studied,the population studied, and the problem to be addressed (written in a question format) (Polit & Beck,2014). This should not be a broad, vague idea about the topic of interest. Novice researchers often need to narrow their focus to what can be accomplished in a particular study. Research questions are used when no specific direction is predicted. Some authors write a purpose statement rather than a question, but it has the same components of phenomena, population, and specific gap in knowledge to be addressed, written as a declarative statement. Large studies may have more than one research question that can range from simple to complex. Questions arise when a gap exists in the knowledge about a particular area of concern (Farrugia, Petrisor, Farrokhyar, & Bhandari, 2010). Having a current understanding of the field of study thus is imperative when developing a study. A research question might be used to direct a literature review (Nash, 2015) or a pilot study (Klaus & Steinwedel, 2015). A question is used when we do not have a particular hunch or hypothesis about the outcome of the study. The research question for Klaus and Steinwedel was, “Is there an effect on nurses’ intent to engage in personal preparedness after a disaster preparedness intervention?” This question did not predict if the effect would be positive (increase in intent to engage in personal preparedness) or negative (decrease in intent to engage in personal preparedness). Researchers just wanted to know if there would be any effect.
A good research question is feasible, interesting, novel, ethical, and relevant (Farrugia et al., 2010). As another example in a medical-surgical study on nurses’ knowledge of delirium, Baker, Taggart, Nivens, and Tillam (2015) offered four research questions:
1. What was nurses’ level of knowledge of delirium?
2. What was nurses’ level of knowledge of delirium risk factors?
3. Was there a correlation between nurses’ years of experience, education, and practice area, and their knowledge of delirium and its risk factors?
4. How did nurses perceive their own knowledge competency related to delirium? Of note, the third question did not predict the direction of the relationship between years of experience, education, and practice area, and nurses’ knowledge of delirium and its risk factors.