Research question.

A research question is the question that the research project sets out to answer.

In actual fact, a research study may set out to answer several questions.

The methodology used for that study, and the tools used to conduct the research, all depend upon the research questions being asked.

For example, in the example of a qualitative research study, the following two research questions that underpin the study, and also needed to be answered by the study, are shown in the box below.

There are two research questions that will need to be answered by this phase of the research. 

These are:

  • 'Are the perceived needs of the patients and users of South   Bedfordshire's palliative care services being met?'

  • 'If not, what needs to be done if these needs are to be met in the future?'



The first question can be answered by a quantitative study, whereas the second one may require a qualitative study to answer it.

Research questions can therefore be used in quantitative and qualitative research studies.


Hypothesis (plural = hypotheses)

A hypothesis is not a question, but rather it is a statement about the relationship between two or more variables.

So, for example, the first question above could become a hypothesis by making this a statement rather than a question, namely:

The perceived needs of the patient and users of South Bedfordshire's palliative care services are being met.


To be complete a hypothesis must include three components:  

As you can see, the hypothesis translates the research question into a prediction of expected outcomes.

A hypothesis is the tool of quantitative studies, and is only found in such studies.

In fact, a hypothesis is usually only found in experimental quantitative research studies.

You will be able to find out more about hypothesese when we look at them in more detail later in the session.



Sometimes, a research proposal will detail objectives.


For example, Dealey (1991), cited by Parahoo (1997:125), carried out a survey to find out the size of the pressure sore problem in a teaching hospital and set the following objectives for the study:

  • To identify the numbers of patients with pressure sores

  • To identify the grade and position of the sores

  • To discover the treatments being used

  • To discover if the sores were improving, deteriorating or static

  • To discover when the sores had occurred, i.e. prior to admission or on the ward

  • To list any support systems in use

  • To identify the degree of risk of pressure sore development of all patients in the hospital

  • To identify any factors which are of particular relevance to tissue breakdown.

What do you think is missing from the above?

Well, Dealey still had to ask specific questions to meet the objectives.

Reference: Parahoo, A. K (1997) Nursing Research: Principles, Process & Issues, London, Macmillan  Press

research question    question/hypothesis?