Research question: your research journey

Part of Big Questions Little Questions (BQLQ), critical thinking skills for sixth form students from the University of Oxford


It is natural and normal for your research question to change and adapt as you go along. No one comes up with the perfect research question straight away. And when you start seeking answers to the questions that you pose, you may find that you need to alter the question itself to improve it or even because you’ve found an even more interesting question!

This can be called the research journey.

Watch these videos from students about their own research journeys.

The research journey

Watch these videos from students about their own research journeys.

You probably noticed that each of the students experienced a very different research journey, and some of them couldn’t tell at the moment where that journey would take them.

Even a very strong and well-developed research question may need to be tweaked as you go along to adapt to problems, challenges, or opportunities that arise. Sometimes data, sources or information that you expected to be able to access might not be available to you, or doesn’t actually exist in the way that you had expected. Sometimes that data might not lead to meaningful results or conclusions. You may find that a more interesting question or problem crops up and decide to pursue a slightly different route. Or you may find that your research question doesn’t ask quite the right thing or doesn’t do so in quite the right way.

Although they can be frustrating, none of these challenges mean that you are doing a bad job. On the contrary they are a normal part of the research journey. They should not discourage you but rather encourage you that you are probably doing research the right way: good researchers are open to new questions, approaches, and knowledge.