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Finding Information: Understanding the Question

Introduction to Understanding the Question

Before embarking on any research project, it is essential that you understand the research question(s) to be answered. Research questions define the scope of your project and provide direction for the investigation. Without a clear understanding of your research question(s), knowing what sources to look for or which information is relevant is difficult.

By taking the time to fully comprehend their research question(s), researchers can ensure that they are on the right track and that the information they find is meaningful and valuable.

On this page, we will consider how to deconstruct and understand a research question or assignment brief.

What am I being asked to do?

Understanding what you’re being asked to do requires careful reading and analysis of the assignment brief or question.

  • Start by reading the question several times to ensure that you fully comprehend its meaning and purpose.
  • Next, identify the key concepts or ideas that the question is trying to address. These may be explicitly stated in the question or implied by the context.
  • Once you have identified the key concepts, think about how they relate to each other and how they might be broken down further. This will help you to identify any sub-questions or specific aspects of the question that need to be answered in your assignment
  • It can also be helpful to think about the broader context of the research question, such as the field of study or the specific problem or issue that the question is addressing.

By understanding the research question in this way, you can ensure that you are approaching your research in a focused and systematic way, helping you to find meaningful and useful results.

Take a look at the example below; we've produced a mindmap to help us understand our example question. On the mindmap, we have: 

  • Identified an instruction phrase (also known as an action word) to help us understand how we should answer the question. For more information about instruction phrases, click here.
  • Defined keywords and concepts
  • Explored each keyword by asking appropriate questions
  • Explored the relationship between keywords by asking appropriate questions

Creating a mind map similar to this can assist you in delving deeper into the subject, revealing possible points of interest, and emphasizing both your existing knowledge and areas where further exploration may be necessary. This will help you when you start conducting scoping searches