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Data Research for Labor Economics: Developing Your Research Question

This guide is intended for students who are in the process of finding research data for their labor economics projects.

Going from Topic to Question

Once you think of a broad topic you want to investigate, you'll want to narrow it down and think of the exact research question that you are going to investigate as part of your project. The research question will help keep you focused and ground you during the phases of the process. 

A slide that says "Topic" surrounded by blue bubbles, then two arrows, and then the word "Question" in a blue circle, to demonstrate the path your research can take from thinking of a topic to formulating your research question.

The Process of Developing a Research Question


  1. Research Topic
    • The Topical area where the research question falls under
  2. Research Problem/Objective
    • Specific problem on which the research question is formulated
  3. Research Question
    • The actual question the researcher seeks to answer via a research study
  4. Hypothesis
    • Predictive statement about expected outcome of the research

Types of Data Research Topics

Types of Data Research Topics


  • Revise something we think we know and bring data to support/refute 
  • A super cool question but we need to find related data
  • A new method to an old question - updates a previous study or theory

Finding your Research Question

  • Can it hold your interest?
  • Can it pass the "so what" test?
  • Is the research question well-grounded in existing research?
  • Are all the terms in the research unambiguous and operationally definable?
  • Is answering the research question feasible given the constraints of time, budget, expertise, personnel and ethics?

Research is Iterative

Your research question may evolve as it takes shape while exploring the existing information and data available on your topic. You can and will revise your research question as you move through the data analysis and research process. You may come out of the information gathering and data analysis process with a very different research question than the one you started with!

A question mark in a blue circle with the words "research question" below, a blue bar chart with "data analysis" below, and a blue head with gears in it in and the words "research question" below.