Advice on Research Questions for Surveys

Developing a research question for a survey

A research question expresses the purpose of your research in the form of a question. For example:

How do workers in Vancouver feel working from home affects their productivity and job satisfaction?

This is the overall question you want your research to answer. If you were conducting primary research in the form of a survey, your research question is what all your survey questions are designed to help you learn. If your research question is the above one about working from home, then you would need several subquestions to help you find the answer.

Possible Subquestions

  • How do distractions affect a worker’s productivity? Are there more distractions at home?
  • How do workers compare their at-home productivity with at-office productivity?
  • Do people who work from home feel more or less valued by their employer?
  • How do workers manage their breaks when they work from home?
  • Do most employees have the proper equipment at home to work efficiently?
  • Do workers feel more or less stressed when working from home?

(… there could be several more subquestions.)

As I hope you can see, subquestions are needed to answer the main research question. If your subquestions do not allow you to answer your research question, then they should be changed. If you are doing a survey, the subquestions can become your survey questions but they will probably have to be changed a little to be presented effectively.

Poor Research Questions for a Survey

How has technology benefited our lives?

This question is too general. It needs to be focused. We can improve it by focusing on:

  • a specific technology: technology mobile phones
  • a specific group: first-year university students in Vancouver, Canada
  • a specific topic: lives academic performance

The research question then becomes something like this:

How do mobile phones affect the academic performance of first-year university students in Vancouver?

There is still one problem though. How can we answer this question? One way would be to do secondary research by reading other studies. Another way would be primary research, which would probably mean doing an experiment for a year that compared the grades of students who use mobile phones to a group of those who don’t. This would take a lot of time (and probably also require some money to conduct).

If you are doing a public survey, you won’t be able to find the answer to this research question because it is not suitable for a survey. However, you can definitely survey students about how they feel/perceive/think mobile phones affect their academic performance (everyone has an opinion). This would mean changing the research question to something like this:

How do first-year university students in Vancouver perceive/feel/think mobile phones affect their academic performance?

What are the perceived effects of mobile phones on academic performance among first-year university students in Vancouver, Canada?

Because these research questions focus on people’s perceptions/opinions, they can be answered by a simple survey.


  • A research question is the main question all of your research is trying to answer.
  • Public surveys often focus on people’s perceptions, opinions, or attitudes.


Advice on Finding a Research Question

  1. Choose a topic you are interested in. If you don’t care about the topic, it will show in your work. If you’ve always wanted to learn about something (e.g. crypto-currency), choose this topic so you can learn about it!
  2. Once you have a topic, do some research to learn what the current issues are related to it. This research can start with Wikipedia but can also include reading academic journal articles. By doing some research, you will be able to learn the current issues related to your topic, which will help you form a relevant research question.

I hope these tips are useful for not only my students but for any college or university students who are trying to form a research question for their schoolwork. Feel free to leave a comment below.

– Matthew Barton / Creator of

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