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What Is the Difference Between a Thesis Statement & a Research Question?

by Meagan Roper, Demand Media

    Knowing the right time to use either a thesis statement or a research question can make the difference between inspiring your readers and confusing them. Both thesis statements and research questions are used in academic writing to provide purpose and direction to the work. However, each writing situation calls for different kinds of direction-giving.

    Thesis Statements

    Most good, well-organized writing will contain a thesis statement near the beginning of the essay or paper and will repeat it at the end of the work. The thesis statement tells your audience what you plan to talk about or prove, serving as a preview to the rest of your work. Thesis statements take a position on a debatable topic or make a statement of information, and then the rest of the paper proves the position or provides more detailed information.

    Research Questions

    While most quality writing will naturally contain a thesis statement, only certain kinds of writing will contain one or more research questions. Research studies, like the kind that appear in academic journals and scientific research publications, usually seek to discover new information about a little known topic. The purpose of the research question is to tell your reader what you are after as you dive into your investigation. A research question must be debatable but should be an open question rather than one that takes a position.

    Differences

    The two types of direction-giving at the beginning and end of academic writing differ in their purpose. A thesis statement delivers a positional statement about information. A research question, on the other hand, asks an open-ended question about a topic to be investigated. For example, a research question might ask "How does competitive soccer affect adolescent girls?" while a thesis statement on the same topic might state "Competitive soccer provides many benefits to adolescent girls, such as exercise, but may also have negative effects, such as increased risk of concussion."

    Similarities

    Both thesis statements and research questions can be used to provide direction for academic journal articles, research papers, reports of research studies and qualitative investigations of events or text. Both must be carefully crafted by the writer to give the reader a clear understanding of the purpose of the work. In order to be clear and effective, research questions and thesis statements must be specific, concise and purposeful.

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    About the Author

    Meagan Roper has worked in public relations, journalism and the publishing industry. She has a bachelor's degree in public relations and advertising, and a master's degree in interpersonal and organizational communication, both from Liberty University. Roper also has several years of experience teaching college communication courses, and working in information technology and web design.

    Photo Credits

    • Jetta Productions/Lifesize/Getty Images

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