I'm a PhD student about to begin writing my first research paper for a software engineering conference. My research is about an approach to measure the performance of software systems. I will evaluate and compare this approach to other state of the art approaches that measure performance to compare the performance of the approach itself and the accuracy.

First, I wanted to know what the goal of research questions are in research papers. Once that is clarified, I believe I would be able to decide if my paper should include research questions.

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    If you don't have a research question, how can you have a research paper? Mar 29, 2017 at 13:00
  • @FlorianD'Souza In software engineering, you often start with a problem statement ("The computation of XYZ does not scale, and this is a really big issue for the following reasons...") rather than a research question. The paper then solves the specified problem ("We introduce a scalable technique for computing XYZ.") Mar 29, 2017 at 14:15

2 Answers 2


I think it is important to understand, especially as a new author of research articles, that unless otherwise specified, the term "research question" does not necessarily need to be a sentence or sentences that end in a question mark and actually ask a specific question. On the contrary, a research question is most often not a question at all, but rather an explanation of why the work you are describing is important and how it will advance your field forward.

For example - and this is particularly true within the scientific community: the entire "Introduction" section of a research article acts as the research question. In other words, this section typically gives a background of the research area, explains what work has already been done to advance this field, focuses on what still has yet to be done, and then concludes with what parts of what has yet to be done will be addressed by this particular paper. As you can see, this presents a research question in a very practical way without actually posing any direct questions at all.

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    "an explanation of why the work you are describing is important and how it will advance your field forward." I would call this the motivation. In contrast, using the term "research question" to refer to this leads to unnecessary ambiguity, since it can both refer to questions that are literally stated in the paper, and the motivation. Mar 29, 2017 at 14:21
  • I feel like this distinction may depend somewhat on the research field (I am not a software engineer) and sometimes even on the journal. But either way, my point is that motivation can be (and very often is) used as a means to describe the overarching research question without posing it in the form of an actual question. Mar 29, 2017 at 14:55
  • This is really discipline dependent. I will typically sent any paper where the research question is not a single sentence that ends with a questionmark back without grading it (but typically give them the opportunity to rectify the problem). I would never imagine myself submitting an article where this simple rule is violated. Mar 29, 2017 at 15:07
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    It must be. As I'm sure there is also a distinct difference between papers written for class and those submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. In fact, I don't recall ever reading a single peer-reviewed scientific paper in my fields (chemistry/medicine) that describes the objective of the research in the form of a single question. Mar 29, 2017 at 15:19
  • Does this mean that explicit research questions; bullet points with sentences and questions marks at the end, can be left out of a paper if they can be found in other representation in the paper? Mar 29, 2017 at 19:22

A research question is a very important way to frame the main focus and uniqueness of the research paper. It is essential to make sure the research question is focused and relevant, so that the research presented stays 'on topic'.

This is one of the first things that people read, particularly reviewers as it clearly and concisely shows the reader precisely the refined focused purpose of the research presented in the paper. Without it, there can be ambiguity in what the research is about and how the findings are concluded.

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