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A question purely out of interest (and a bit of importance, since I'm enrolling in a research master program next month):

I wondered whether it is always necessary to include a research question in the introduction of a paper. For example, an introduction can also contain a description related to the purpose of writing the paper, right?

To give my question more context: suppose that you had to carry out a literature study on a specific subject in the field of software engineering for school, where you have to investigate a few methods (how they work and how they are related to one another). In this case, an introduction that explains why the paper will be written and an outline of what methods will be described would be sufficient, right? Or am I wrong? I mean, I don't really see the need to set up a research question, since the paper is more descriptive by its nature in this situation.

  • Welcome to Academia SE. Can you elaborate what you understand a “reasearch question” to be? Also, as this may be important for the answer: What is your field? (I somewhat have the feeling that none of my papers so far contains a research question.) – Wrzlprmft Jan 15 '15 at 15:27
  • In this case I would define a research question as a hypothesis. Normally, a hypothesis is needed to shape your research and to be sure that you have something to falsify. I had to write my thesis when I was completing my bschrlor's degree and then such a question came in handy, because you had to gather and analyse data. But I have never written a paper before, and I am obligated to write one as soon as I have enrolled in my first course, which is part of an information science master's program. – user2237168 Jan 15 '15 at 15:41
  • Have you tried looking at papers in your field? – Jessica B Jan 15 '15 at 15:46
  • Yes I have, but I found papers that looked more descriptive and papers with conclusions etc. In which an answer was given on the research question stated in the introduction. Like a thesis, but then in a shorter form. – user2237168 Jan 15 '15 at 15:51
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If you are writing a research paper it is quite difficult not to have a question in some form. The purpose of the introduction is to set your study (question/gap of knowledge or what have you) in perspective, to narrow the focus down from a slightly bigger picture to the gap you are trying to fill or narrow even further with your study. Even if your paper is a review, you are doing a review for some specific purpose.

So, you may be thinking too narrowly if you think of a question as a sentence with a question mark, the focus of your paper will be your research question, usually a gap in knowledge where you through your study takes our knowledge beyond the current limits.

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To amplify on what Peter has written, if the best research question you can think of about the work you have done is:

Can we [prove|design|implement] ...?

or

How do you [prove|design|implement] ...?

then you a probably better off going without an explicit question and simply leading your reader through a narrative description of your work. The answers to these questions tend to be the trivial "Yes, and here's how..." since you wouldn't have written the paper if you hadn't answered the question already. These questions can be a little more compelling to the reader when the answer is contrary to what an expert in the field might have guessed or the question is widely asked (e.g. "P=NP?").

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