Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Starting Your Research: Research Question vs. Thesis Statement

The Difference Between a Research Question and a Thesis Statement

Many of us have been taught that in order to start a research paper we need a thesis statement, and while that’s true, coming up with the thesis statement first is not necessarily a good way to start your research. Simply stated, a thesis statement is what your paper intends to prove or show. A research question is what you need to learn in order to come up with a good thesis statement. It's better to start with a research question for two main reasons:

  1. Starting with a thesis statement presupposes that you already know enough about your topic to have not only a well-informed opinion, but the most up-to-date and expert opinion possible on the matter. The vast majority of us don’t have that kind of knowledge about academic subjects, so research is required. Before you take a stand on an issue, you need to be well-informed about it. 
  2. Starting with a thesis statement builds your own biases into your search and limits your findings only to the ones you expected to find in the first place, which keeps you from learning important new things.

Example: Binge Drinking and College Students

Let’s say you want to write a paper about binge drinking and college students.

If you start with the thesis statement, “Binge drinking among college students is caused by peer pressure and rebellion,” and search for those terms, one of three things will happen:

  1. You will find all the information you need to know because peer pressure and rebellion are the only two reasons that college students binge drink (not very likely)
  2. You will find no information because experts all agree that binge drinking is caused by other factors. (not very likely)
  3. You will find some of the information you need, but not all of it, because your query does not allow for results that show other important reasons that students binge drink. (very likely!)

On the other hand, if you start from the point of asking, “What are the reasons that college students binge drink?” you will find ALL of the reasons that experts think college students binge drink, not just the ones that agree with you. This approach exposes you to a fuller range of ideas about the topic than you started with and that knowledge can only make your paper or project better. 

After you have completed your research and read the articles you retrieved, in order to write a thesis statement, all you have to do is answer your research question with the information that you have discovered:

“What are the causes of binge drinking among college students?” may become "The causes of binge drinking among college students are socialization, pleasure, the affordability of alcohol, and the institutional promotion of drinking culture."