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Research question: Main & Sub-questions

Part of the Information Literacy Portal

Main question

The main research question is the question that your thesis is intended to answer. 

Main questions are generally broken down into sub-questions that enable you to tackle your research in a more step-by-step manner. Together your findings for these components will provide an answer to the main question.

What characterizes a good main question?

  • The question is clear.
    The concepts in the question are also clear. With a vague question you will lose focus
  • The question is specific.
    After all, you want to be able to search specifically. With a too general, broad, poorly defined question you will soon get lost in a slew of information
  • The question is relevant.
    The answer to the question must therefore contribute directly to the solution of your "information problem" and the achievement of your objective.
  • The question is "open". So it is not a question to which only "yes" or "no" can be the answer
  • The question is realistic. It is possible to find an answer within the time available and with sufficient resources


  • If it is possible to find an answer within the available time
  • If there are sufficient means to find the answer

Keep in mind:

You can only search in a focused and effective manner if it is exactly clear as to what it is you want to know. So formulate a specific question that gives direction to your search process.


Once you have formulated your main research question, you should focus on identifying the sub-questions that will enable you to answer it.

Example of a main research question

What is Airbnb's influence on the hotel industry?

Examples of sub-questions

Possible sub-questions:

  • What is Airbnb?
  • How does the hotel market work?
  • How does the consumer respond to the price / quality ratio of Airbnb versus hotels?

Sometimes you can further specify the sub-questions to search queries. Search queries are aspects of sub-questions. They view the subject from different angles. For example, in the sub-question "What is Airbnb?" you could think of the following search queries:

  • What is the history of Airbnb?
  • is there also an Airbnb for the business market? | Disclaimer | Over Zuyd Bibliotheek