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BIO216 Research Skills Guide: Question formulation technique

1. Asking the right questions

In the Topic Analysis section, you saw how your assessment question gives you the clues you need to start searching for information. 

But sometimes, it isn't quite that simple. People can get just as frustrated by finding too much information as they can by finding not enough. This is where the Question Formulation Technique can help. 

Your lecturer has given you the questions that you need to answer in your essay, but this technique helps you to figure out what you need to learn, find, understand, or already know, in order to answer that question.

3. Start producing questions

Grab a piece of paper, or open a word processing document, and start thinking up questions, following these four important rules:

  • Ask as many questions as you can.
  • Do not stop to question, judge, or answer any question.
  • Write down every question exactly as it comes to your mind.
  • Change any statements into questions.

Producing questions example:

  • What is a novel disease?
  • What are disease vectors?
  • What peer-reviewed journals am I familiar with?
  • Where else should I look for information?
  • Is there anything about this in my text book?

5. Prioritise your questions

Choose the most important questions that you will need to answer. That will help you to answer the original question focus.

How this helps:

Now, if you are faced with an overwhelming number of books, journal articles, or websites, that might have something to do with habitats, health of species, or conservation biology, you can quickly decide whether they are going to be useful to you.

If they help you answer any of the questions you have identified as important - then it's probably a useful resource. If not, you can move on to the next one.

Alternatively, if you've had trouble finding information, this technique will probably throw up some more keywords that you can search on. 

2. Find your question focus

Let's analyse the previous example:

“Write a scientific review, using peer-reviewed papers to corroborate your statements, about how novels diseases are affecting native species"


4. Improve your questions

Read through the questions you've come up with. Try rewriting your open questions as closed questions, and closed questions as open. See if you can make them better questions.

Improving questions example

  • "What is a novel disease?" could become "How do we evaluate the effects of novel diseases on a species?"
  • "What are disease vectors?" could become "What factors influence the distribution of diseases by disease vectors?"