2.6 Writing good RQs

Ideally, a well-written RQ (Anastasiadis et al. 2015) should be:

  • Feasible: Answering the RQ should be possible practically; sufficient personnel, time, resources, and money should be available to complete the study properly.
  • Interesting: The RQ should be interesting. For example, no-one cares about comparing the percentage of people who prefer drinking tea in blue cups to green cups…
  • Novel: The RQ should be original (the RQ should ‘seek to confirm, refute or extend previous findings, and potentially reveal new findings’ (Anastasiadis et al. (2015), p. 410). Researching something already well known is waste of time and resources.
  • Ethical: The RQ must be able to be answered ethically (Chap. 4). This is not negotiable.
  • Relevant: The RQ should be relevant and current.

Note the acronym FINER to help remember these guidelines.

In most undergraduate university courses, a Project RQ must be feasible and ethical. Given the nature of a course, and the short timelines, these RQs don’t necessarily need to be Interesting, Novel or Relevant. It is great if it is all of these, however.

Example 2.20 (Poor RQ) Here is a RQ submitted by a student group (including typos) at the university where I work:

Utilising a convenience sample at The University of Sunshine Coast in Sippy Downs, is there a difference in taste perception between students on a Thursday morning and afternoon (, when comparing English and Australian Cadburys milk chocolate ?

This is a poor RQ:

  • General poor writing: A round bracket is started but never closed, for example… and for some reason the bracket is followed by a comma. This shows poor attention to detail.
  • The RQ starts by describing the sample (‘a convenience sample’), but RQs are always about a population, not a sample.
  • The RQ does not have a clear Outcome that numerically summarises the population: a proportion or a mean, for instance.
  • It is not clear whether the comparison is between morning and afternoons, or between English and Australian chocolates, or both.

Notice that ‘taste perception’ is not defined. This is not a criticism: the operational definitions can be provided elsewhere.

This is a far better RQ:

For USC students at the Sippy Downs campus, is the percentage of people who can correctly identify English or Australians chocolates the same in the mornings as in the afternoons?

Written this way:

  • P: USC students at Sippy Downs campus.
  • O: The percentage correctly identifing English or Australian chocolates.
  • C: Between mornings and afternoons.
  • I: No intervention: We cannot decide if a particular time of day is morning or afternoon.

This RQ is Feasible and Ethical, but probably not really Interesting (except to the project group), Novel or Relevant… but that’s OK.

Exclusion criteria might exclude people with dairy intolerance, and those who do not eat dairy (such as vegans).


Anastasiadis E, Rajan P, Winchester CL. Framing a research question: The first and most vital step in planning research. Journal of Clinical Urology. 2015;8(6):409–11.