I am working on Informatics and I am trying to formulate a research question. The thing is I read a lot of examples where the research question has a lot in common with hypotheses, where 2 alternatives are compared. But in my topic, there is no alternative to compare. The way of achieving "task X" have no alternative for the involved actor, therefore I can not ask thinks like "is technique A better than technique B".

The only solution I had in mind was trying to prove if the problem is really feasible. In this sense I asked myself: "is it possible for the actor to do task X?". I run an small experiment with 8 users and they did it, in different times and achieving requirements at different levels. it was feasible. Now, I wonder if I just have to throw all this effort because I have no hypothesis, but then someone told me that "research questions may be good for new areas of inquiry" and I want to be sure that it is ok to use this question. I can not find a good reference supporting research questions like mine, nor "how", "why" questions.

Can you help me? Thanks in advance

  • 2
    I'm a little unclear on what you exact question is. One reason you might see suggestions to avoid those types of questions is that they are very imbalanced: if it is possible for the actor to do task X, the experiments to show it might be quite simple. However, if it is not possible, that's an entirely different story. Because you don't know which possibility you are starting with, asking "is it possible for the actor to do task X?" isn't a good research question. Same thing with "how" questions. "How are widgets made?" is problematic, "How does chocolate affect widget production?" is better
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 19, 2017 at 22:20
  • 1
    By the sounds of it, your project simply asked if your task was easy enough to perform, without regard to individual differences of the actors. Did you record anything about the actors (gender, handedness, strength, etc.) that might account for the different rates of acquisition? If so, you could change your research question to something like: What is the effect of handedness on task acquisition speed? If you have any reason (from research you've read) that right handers have an advantage (for example, your hypothesis could be: Do right-handers have an advantage learning task X?
    – Inde
    Jan 20, 2017 at 14:40
  • 1
    @gal007 That's a fair assessment, I'm not very familiar with research in software engineering; the OP mentions "informatics" which I think can be fairly broadly interpreted. I just quickly searched google for advice on developing research questions for software engineering and came across this article, though I'm not in a position to judge how much this reflects the author's opinion of what is best vs what is standard/accepted.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 20, 2017 at 18:06
  • 1
    @gal007 I am now also realizing that the author of that article is extremely well respected over an extensive career, so even just her opinions should be highly regarded, whether or not there is consensus.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 20, 2017 at 18:14
  • 1
    @galI007 That's true, setting up the hypothesis the way I did with trayd doesn't allow you to evaluate the tool itself (if I'm reading your question correctly). If wanted to do so for you study, you could ask your participants (after the fact) to list the strategies they used, how many and even how long they persisted before abandoning, and see if there's a relationship between their self-reports and how long it took to learn and/or the quality of applications. Sorry I can't be more helpful without knowing the specifics of your study.
    – Inde
    Jan 21, 2017 at 2:45

1 Answer 1


If you already have a lot of research in your area, and you can use that to build up a case of inference, then you end your literature study and inferences with a hypothesis stating that "if all we know so far is true, then the following should also be true". That's your hypothesis.

If you don't have any knowledge to build upon, there is not previous experiences in your field (highly unlikely, but still possible), then you would instead use a research question. Of course, you could also use a research question if you are too lazy to study and do your literature study properly, or if you don't have the ability to puzzle together information into a case of inference.

So if you're sitting in a closed off room and you have no idea what is outside the room and you don't have anyone to ask about the conditions outside of your room, then you can ask research questions. For example, is it raining outside of the room? To answer the question, maybe it would be possible to put a stick through a hole in the wall (assuming you are not able to look out) and if it is wet when it comes back inside then maybe it is raining.

But how do you know that rain causes sticks to get wet? In this case, maybe you should instead collect information about sticks, and how their properties can change, where you find a research article stating that if you put sticks out when it's raining then they become wet. So you would instead build a case of inference and say that "sticks become wet if they are put in the rain", "it is not raining in this room", "if I put a stick outside of the room and if it is wet when I take it back inside, then it is raining outside". Then you do your experiment to test your hypothesis in this case (not research question), and it turns out that when you open a small hole in the wall, water is just gushing in. So you have to put up a new hypothesis and say "water is gushing in when it has a high pressure" and you end up explaining that your room is 1000 m below the surface of the sea, after many new articles with many new hypotheses, etc.

So in your case, you are asking "what is a good research question", and the answer is "any question that examines an area without previous knowledge is a good research question". If there is already knowledge that you can use to build upon, you would use that knowledge to state a hypothesis, and that is a much more efficient and reliable way to go about research. So you really shouldn't aim to get a research question, you should aim to avoid research questions.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .