DIY research question

You also can generate your own research questions. How can you do this? First, if you have a particular phenomenon in mind, you can simply conceptualize it as a variable and ask what causes may lead to it, or how it affects other things:

  • How many politicians are needed in a state to address its needs?
  • How does history curriculum in school affect the political behaviour of school graduates?
  • What percentage of people votes in different regimes?

If the question has never been studied scientifically — which is something that you will learn in your literature review — then it might be interesting and worth pursuing.
If scientific research has already answered the question you came up with, then you can consider refining the question.

  • If the question was descriptive (“what is the ratio” or “what percentage”) , you can look into “why”. What are some of the causes which make that happen?
  • If the question was addressed in one culture, you can examine it in a different culture, and also compare the results.
  • If the question provided a description of some cause and effect, what other effects may be present? How do they differ across cultures? How do they depend on political context (such as war, terrorism, peace)?

If you generate a question that has never been studied scientifically through this process (again, use the literature review process to find out), then it may be interesting and worth pursuing.


Re-use a research question

Let’s practice the re-use and refinement of already-answered research questions!

  1. Find and article on a topic you are interested in on a journal of international studies (you can use this list if you like, or find others).
  2. Identify the research question that guided the study
  3. Refine it to something you could study.
  4. Optional: Share your outcomes on Twitter!
  • Original question was … turned it into… #UOWResM
  • Article studied … My question will be … #UOWResM

key points

Research ideas and questions: key terms

  • Research ideas can come from a variety of sources, including informal observations, practical problems, and previous research.
  • Research questions expressed in terms of variables and relationships between variables can be suggested by other researchers or generated by asking a series of more general questions about the behaviour or characteristic of interest.
  • It is important to evaluate how interesting a research question is before designing a study and collecting data to answer it. Factors that affect interestingness are the extent to which the answer is in doubt, whether it fills a gap in the research literature, and whether it has important practical implications.
  • It is also important to evaluate how feasible a research question will be to answer. Factors that affect feasibility include time, money, technical knowledge and skill, and access to special equipment and research participants.

case study

Literature sources

You will need some resources to see what is already known about your topic.
A grouped list of academic resources can be found here.

A word of warning: assumptions and definitions in international studies

As you go through literature, you will probably notice different ways of making sense of reality. Some research tells you how it is. Other research tells you how it should be. To work out what kind of research yours is (and what kind of researcher you are), let’s have a look at the different types of theory that international studies produces.


Practice generating research ideas

  1. Practice: Generate five research ideas based on each of the following: informal observations, practical problems, and topics discussed in recent issues of professional journals.
  2. Practice: Generate three empirical research questions about each of the following issues: civil wars, free elections, and dictatorship and individual wellbeing.


Paul Price, (2013, Updated version), Section 2.2 Generating good research questions