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Psychology Research Methods: Creating a Research Question

Choosing a Topic

Sometimes the most difficult part of the research process is choosing a topic.  Here are some tips for selecting a research question that you will enjoy learning about and will ultimately lead to a good grade.

  • Read through your assignment.  Professors design an assignment outline for a reason.  Make sure your topic can and will adhere to their requirements and guidelines.
  • Choose a topic you are interested in.  If you don't like what you're researching, chances are you won't learn a whole lot or enjoy the process.  And really, what's the point of that?  
  • Browse resources that relate to your course work.  Look through a newspaper, magazine, or database for current events or hot topics.  Browsing can spark a lot of great ideas and can help you refine your topic.
  • Ask for help!  There is nothing wrong with asking your professor or a librarian to help you brainstorm ideas.

How to Formulate an Answerable Clinical Question

P opulation/patients

I ntervention/indicator

C omparator/control

O utcome

Developing your Research Question

Try asking yourself these questions to help develop a research question:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • Why?


Topic:  Obesity

Who? teenagers

What? consumption of high fat foods

Where? school cafeterias

Question:  How does the consumption of high fat foods in school cafeterias contribute to teenager obesity?

Topic: Smoke Exposure

Who?  children exposed to smoke

What?  developmental abilities

Question:  How does smoke exposure alter the developmental abilities of children?

Below is worksheet which will help illustrate how a research question develops from a broad topic to a focused question.  This could be a helpful resource for you during the process of creating your research question.

Translating Your Research Question into a Search

Research Question:

Does the rate of medication compliance change when the number of prescribed medications increase for older adults?

1. Identify the main concepts

   Does the rate of medication compliance change when the number of prescribed medications increase for older adults?


2. Add related terms or synonyms 

   Things to consider      Example 

   synonyms                  drugs OR medications

   antonyms                   adherence OR nonadherence


  • Use terms you would expect professionals to use in published articles
  • Browse psychology encyclopedia articles for terms
  • Check PsycINFO Guides


3. Connect related terms with OR.  Connect concepts with AND

(medication OR drugs) AND (compliance OR adherence OR nonadherence) AND (multiple OR polypharmacy) AND (elderly OR aged)