Research questions

Much depends on a good research question, when writing an extended essay. One will want a question that gets good mileage and will carry through to 4,000 words. Good questions have a careful balance between open-ended and focused, broad and specific, unique and traditional, relevant and focused. Before one jumps in to the writing stage, it is recommended to spend a significant amount of time brooding over a research question. Give it the opportunity to mature and grow before its fruits can be plucked.  

This lesson presents six good research questions and six poor questions. You will be asked to synthesize the defining characteristics of the good questions and use them to improve the poor ones.

Six good questions

Below you find six good research questions, two from each category. What makes them good? List the qualities that they have in common. You will notice that they all take the form of statements, but for the sake of the extended essay, we refer to them as research questions.

Six good research questions

  1. Cat. 1 - "Post-colonialism in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and E.M. Forster's Passage to India."

  2. Cat. 1 - "A psycho-analytic, feminist and Marxist criticism of Margret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale."

  3. Cat. 2 - "Existentialism in both The Collector by John Fowles and The Stranger by Albert Camus."

  4. Cat. 2 - "The effects of the unreliable narrator in Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami and The Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk." 

  5. Cat. 3 - "Defining African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and its relevance to rap lyrics and culture."

  6. Cat. 3 - Stereotypes and the representation of 'Pikeys' in popular film.

Common characteristics of a good research question

Categories 1-2

  • Focus on a literary movement
  • Most titles aim to compare and contrast texts or literary criticisms
  • An emphasis on both author and work
  • Reference to literary criticism
  • Focus on a unique literary device such as 'unreliable narration' 

Category 3

  • Focus on a culture, even a sub-culture
  • Reference to a text type, such as rap lyrics or film
  • Concern for stereotyping, bias and prejudice
  • Aim to define a dialect or non-standardized form of language

 Good extended essay research questions as downloadable PDF.

Rewrite the question

Taking what you know now about the key characteristics of good research question, rewrite the following questions. Make each question more relevant to the Language and Literature course. Give each question more focus, using the characteristics that you explored above.

Rewrite the research question

Poor questions More relevance and focus
How can we measure the effectiveness of ads?
Cat. 3 - "Measuring the effects of anti-smoking ads on smokers: A critical study of public service announcements."
How has Shakespeare been filmed differently?
Cat. 1 - "Comparing Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books to Julie Taymore's The Tempest: How has Shakespeare been interpreted differently in 1979 and 2010?" 
How do accents in Hollywood movies stereotype people?
Cat. 3 - "The 'evil' British accent in Hollywood movies: its origin, history and future: American perspectives on the UK."
How is the Internet changing the publishing industry?
Cat. 3 - "How has Twitter changed the way we consume and produce information?"
What are Nadsat and Newspeak from A Clockwork Orange and 1984?
Cat. 1 - "How two authors, Anthony Burgess and George Orwell, invent language to comment on the contexts in which they lived in their respective novels A Clockwork Orange and 1984.
What do Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea have in common?
Cat. 1 - "How Jean Rye, through Wide Sargasso Sea, comments on Charlote Bronte's understanding womanhood in Jane Eyre

 Improving extended essay research questions as downloadable PDF.

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