What is meant by a normative question

Formulate research question


All students have the same experience when they first discuss the topic of a written paper with their lecturer. The teacher listens briefly and then asks: "What is the question?"

What is meant is the so-called Research question, which, depending on the discipline, are also called knowledge-guiding question referred to as. Many students have problems setting them up. This guide should help.

The search for new knowledge

The simplest definition of science is already in the name: New knowledge has to be created. Therefore, if you are writing a scientific paper, you have to find something new, unknown.

This can also take the form of refuting existing research results. The question is aimed precisely at this: it shows where you are looking for new knowledge and what you hope to find.

This applies equally to the humanities and the natural sciences. You can recognize a good question by the fact that it meets this requirement at first glance.

Two examples from the subject of history:

The date is known, so no new knowledge is requested.

Knowledge behind the actual event "Founding of the Federal Republic" is sought.

The search for new knowledge becomes particularly important when you are writing a thesis. Already for the bachelor thesis and even more so for the master thesis it is true that they "have to have their own research claim."

In plain language this means: You have to work with a question that has not existed in this form before.

The question determines the research design

One sentence that teachers like to use to emphasize the importance of the question is: "It serves as the central theme of the work." In short, it means that a reasoned answer to the question has to be found.

The question therefore determines the limits of what you can write about (appropriate cut so that the work can be written with the specified page numbers).

In fact, the "common thread" is actually your research design. The expression describes how the question should be answered.

This means two things: First, you have to indicate what material you need in order to come to an answer. In the natural sciences, for example, these can be test results. In the social sciences and humanities, you list the sources you need and explain why you are using them.

Then you have to indicate how you are evaluating your material in order to come to an answer to your question. This "how" is called the research method. There are the following options for this:

The research question almost always determines the research method. As an example: Political scientists prefer to deal with political communication.

They therefore describe rhetorical figures of politicians and their effect on voters. So you work descriptive (which rhetorical figures?) and normative-evaluating (how is the effect?).

About the hypothesis

The hypothesis (often just referred to as a thesis) is the assumption of what the answer to the question will be. As an example from the above question:

It is then a matter of checking the thesis for correctness ("proving it.").

The thesis can be part of the question, but does not have to be. As an an example:

Helpful questions: Make large topics workable

At the latest in the bachelor thesis and the master thesis, the research question is usually so big that it cannot be answered in this form. It must be broken down into auxiliary or sub-questions that make sense.

It is important to identify the essential building blocks of the initial question. An example is the easiest way to illustrate this. Let's go back to the FRG example for this.

Suitable help questions would be:

  • What were the motives of the USA?
  • What were Britain's motives?
  • What were France's motives?

The motives of the three western victorious powers are thus examined individually. These results can then be analyzed comparatively.

One last tip: the question doesn't have to be formulated as a question

The question leading to knowledge is almost always included in the title of the work. This makes sense, after all, the entire design of the examination performance is based on it. Unfortunately, questions in the title often seem unpleasant in terms of language.

It is therefore not necessary that the question is actually formulated as a question.

  • The founding of the FRG - an investigation of the motives of the western victorious powers

would be allowed, for example.

If it becomes clear what the analysis is about, the question form can be omitted. If theses are included in the title, however, they must be listed as a question.