What is a Scientific Question: A Friendly Guide to Understanding the Basics

Scientific questions aim to explain the natural world through systematic inquiry and the scientific method, focusing on specificity, clarity, feasibility, relevance, and complexity.

Fundamentals of a Scientific Question

A microscope focused on a specimen, surrounded by scientific instruments and research materials

Defining Scientific Questions

Scientific questions are inquiries that seek to understand or explain the natural world.

They often arise from observations and require a systematic approach to find answers.

The basis of scientific questions is the scientific method, a problem-solving approach comprising several essential steps, including making an observation, asking a question, forming a hypothesis, making a prediction based on the hypothesis, and testing the hypothesis with experiments 1.

Characteristics of a Strong Research Question

A strong research question needs to be specific, clear, focused, feasible, relevant, and complex.

Specificity ensures that the question is well-defined, measurable, and targets a particular aspect of the research.

Clarity helps avoid ambiguity and misinterpretation, promoting better understanding.

Focused questions narrow down the scope of investigation and make the research more manageable.

Feasibility is crucial as it ensures that the research is achievable with available resources and time constraints.

Relevance plays a significant role in justifying why the research matters, while complexity ensures that the question is challenging enough to provide meaningful insights and contribute to scientific understanding 2.

Examples and Types of Questions

Scientists study various phenomena in the natural world, exploring different types of questions based on their observations and hypotheses.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Descriptive questions: These seek to describe characteristics of a particular phenomenon or variable. For example, “What is the average temperature of the Earth’s surface?” or “How fast do cheetahs run?”

  2. Comparative questions: These investigate the differences or similarities between two or more variables or phenomena. For example, “How does the life cycle of a butterfly differ from a moth?”

  3. Correlational questions: These explore the relationships between variables, whether, for example, an increase in one variable causes an increase or decrease in another. For example, “Is there a correlation between air pollution levels and the incidence of lung diseases?”

  4. Causal questions: These aim to determine whether certain variables or factors cause specific outcomes or changes. For example, “What effect does- Global warming have on the frequency and intensity of hurricanes?”

Answering these scientific questions often involves designing and conducting experiments to collect evidence, controlling for variable factors, and analyzing outcomes to support or refute hypotheses.

Ultimately, the robustness of scientific questions can help develop reliable theories and laws to better understand the natural world 3.

Crafting and Evaluating Questions

A person sitting at a desk, surrounded by books and research materials, pondering and writing down various questions related to science and research

Building a Researchable Question

When formulating a scientific question, it’s crucial to establish a clear and focused query that will guide your research and investigation.

A strong research question should be specific, answerable, and relevant to the scientific method.

Some examples of research questions can be broken down into something as simple as “What is the correlation between sleep quality and academic performance?” or more complex, like “How do environmental factors influence the spread of invasive plant species?”.

Following the FINER criteria (Feasible, Interesting, Novel, Ethical, and Relevant), can help evaluate and build researchable questions.

Interconnecting Research, Hypothesis, and Experiment

A well-crafted research question serves as the foundation of any scientific investigation, with the hypothesis and experiment being interconnected components of the process.

The hypothesis, which is a potential answer to the research question, should be arguable and testable.

It’s essential to generate an experiment that aligns with the question, hypothesis, and scientific method to gather relevant data – and it must have enough statistical power to draw a conclusion.

Ensuring the proper methodology in your experimentation plays a critical role.

It impacts the accuracy, validity, and replicability of the research findings, which are vital aspects to consider when interpreting the results.

Refining Questions Through the Research Process

As research progresses, it’s normal to encounter new information and focus your investigation more narrowly.

Refining questions is a standard aspect of the research process, and it’s essential to re-evaluate your questions throughout.

When modifying your research questions, consider your data and findings, along with the feedback provided by the scientific community.

Restructuring or posing multiple research questions can help direct your experimentation to better shed light on the subject matter.

Be open to adapting your investigation, but remember to maintain the connection between each research question, hypothesis, and experiment.

By crafting and evaluating research questions, you can create a solid foundation to guide your scientific study and establish a purposeful, well-structured, and enlightening research paper or dissertation.


  1. The scientific method (article) | Khan Academy

  2. Scientific Method: Definition and Examples – ThoughtCo

  3. Understanding Science 101 – Understanding Science