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Searching for your literature review: Your question

Develop your question

Before you start searching the literature, you should finalise your research question(s) or hypothesis(es). Research degree students should do this in consultation with supervisors.

Strategies for getting started:

  1. Identify a broad topic area of interest to help you start thinking about what you might want to research.
     
  2. Do some preliminary searches and background reading to discover more about your topic area including whether it is appropriate, gaps and terminology used.
     
  3. Focus your topic into a research question. Ask who, what, when, why and how questions.
    • Who does this affect?
    • What do people think about this?
    • What is the benefit or harm or what works better?
    • When is the best time to do this?
    • Why is this important?
    • How does this work or how can this be fixed?
 Make sure your question is:
Answerable

Can you investigate or measure it? Is it an actual question and not just a statement?

Your research can be framed as a problem, hypothesis or objectives and aims.

Clear

Consider wording carefully, will your audience understand exactly what you are researching?

Remember, every word has meaning and slight changes in wording can change the meaning of your research question.

Focused

Your question needs to be a foreground question (see below) that is manageable.

Too broad and you will have trouble answering it, too narrow and you will not have enough to explore. Getting the balance just right can take time.

Relevant

Are you interested in it? Is there an audience for it?

Adapted from Developing a research question, University of Melbourne, 2018.

What is a foreground question? Slide the bar across to see the difference.

Watch

The following videos go through strategies to help you develop a research question.

Watch for more guidance:


For more help see:

Frameworks

Using a question framework can help you develop an answerable research question. Some frameworks used within health that may be useful for other disciplines include:

PICO - effectiveness questions

Population (who?), Intervention (program, activity, event or initiative), Comparison (if needed) and Outcome (what?)
PICo - qualitative or policy questions Population (who?), Interest area (event, experience, activity or process) and Context (setting or environment)

For example:

  • Does the (P - general public) (I - support the use of quotas as a strategy) (Co - to get more women into parliament)?

Sometimes you may not have a question that fits perfectly into a framework. However, you may find it useful to use elements from different frameworks to help you form your question.

Explore more frameworks:

Study types

The question(s) you are asking will determine how you search and what type of evidence/study design is needed to answer it.

A matrix of questions and best study types

Research question Qualitative research Survey Case control studies Cohort studies Randomised controlled trials Quasi-experimental studies Non-experimental studies Systematic reviews

Does this work better compared to doing that?

 
 
 
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How does something work?
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Does something matter?
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Will this do more good than harm?
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Will users want to take up a service, program or intervention?
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Is it worth investing in this service, program or intervention?
 
 
 
 
 
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Is this the right service, program intervention for this group?
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Are users, providers or stakeholders happy with this service, program or intervention?
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* The stars show weight given for each study type.

This table has been adapted from: