Step 1: Turn Your Idea Into a Research Question

The first step in any research project is thinking about your research question. Your question is the foundation of everything that follows, from your choice of research methods through to the way you analyse your data. Finding a research idea that interest you is a good first step and, once you start looking, you’ll notice research ideas all round your workplace.

Thinking about the outcome you’d like from your project can help shape your question. There are three types of questions: predictions (which begin with a hypothesis or premise that may or not be supported by your findings), interventions (which make comparisons to measure success) and explorations (which focus on why something is the way it is).

Reviewing the literature (Step 2) can help you define your question more precisely by familiarising yourself with the research that’s already been undertaken in your area, while using mind maps can help you organise your ideas. Here are some links to free mind mapping software:

  • An intuitive free mind mapping software package
  • MindMup: Free for mind maps up to 100 KB
  • Simple Mind: Free mind mapping software, though limited functionality compared with the paid version

By seeking to align your research question to your organisational objectives you’ll also increase the likelihood of wider organisational support when you want to put your research findings into practice (Step 9). Discussing your ideas with colleagues and people in your wider networks can also be beneficial, including:

Other Useful Sources

  • National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). (2020). Research Design Service: If you have a research idea but are not sure how to turn it into a funding application, the Research Design Service (RDS) is the place to go. RDS provides free and confidential support to health and social care researchers across England on all aspects of developing and writing a grant application including research design, research methods, identifying funding sources and involving patients and the public
  • NHS Research and Development Forum. (2020). NHS Research and Development Forum: If you’re involved in managing, supporting or leading research & development (R&D) in health and social care settings the NHS R&D Forum is for you. The forum provides a UK–wide professional network supporting quality health research with and for NHS providers and commissioners of care

Suggested Reading

Next Steps

Having defined your research question, you’re ready to begin Step 2: Reviewing the Literature.