Deciding on a research question probably seems like the easiest part of your PhD admissions process. However, many students and potential applicants find this to be the trickiest part of the equation. Seeing as this is the golden question that all your research and funding will revolve around, it is vital to select a question that is relevant, unique, and of interest to both you and the department.

Types of Research Questions

For self-funded PhD projects, the research question is open-ended and completely up to the applicant to decide. This is the upside of sourcing your own funding for your PhD.  Alternatively, funded PhD opportunities may come with a pre-defined field, such as “PhD studentship in Sustainable Engineering”. These typically require you to come up with a research question relevant to the defined field. Although the topic is narrowed down, you must still come up with a meaningful study query.  

Questions To Keep in Mind

Regardless of how much freedom you have in your topic selection, it is crucial to choose a query that is sustainable and will lead to deep insight into your field. While compiling your list of potential topics, here are a few questions to keep in mind:

  • Are you clearly outlining a problem that can be solved?
  • Is your question original?
  • Will you be able to sustain interest in your topic?
  • Can you prove to others that your topic is worth studying?
  • Do you have the skills, experience, and dedication necessary to pursue this topic?
  • Will you be able to complete this query within the time frame provided?
  • Will it make a meaningful contribution to your field of study?
  • Is it feasible?
  • Will this contribute to the department (and its current scope of interest)?
  • Will the completion of this study contribute to a prospective career in your field?

Dedicate Time and Effort to Your Research Question

Your research question is the juice of your PhD dissertation. For this reason, you must set aside a substantial amount of time to research, brainstorm, and get feedback on your topic. This is not something to be rushed. To ensure that the topic is worth pursuing, ask yourself the above questions before moving forward.

Research Other Academic Journals and Dissertations in Your Field

If you have a few potential topics in mind but aren’t sure of how to formulate them into a research question, try reading other dissertations in your field. This can help you get into the PhD mindset while providing you with some valuable insights from prior works.

Perhaps you come across a dissertation or peer-reviewed article that approaches your topic in a way that never occurred to you. This could invite some much-needed inspiration to flow your way. It is also important to ensure that your research question has not already been answered in the past. Take time to verify the originality of your query.

Use Your Interests and Career Goals as a Starting Point

Start by evaluating your broader fields of interest and then narrowing them down into potential topics. Selecting a research question from a field that you are genuinely interested in will ensure sustained interest and engagement with your topic. Potential supervisors and interview panellists will naturally pick up on this, which also signals to them that you are committed to the work.

Run Your Ideas by a Supervisor or PhD Expert in Your Field

Always get professional feedback on your research question before submitting your application. It is always a good idea to run any ideas by an academic expert in your field, or even better, your supervisor. Be open to any feedback they may have, as this will only help you navigate toward your ideal research question. A good idea is to ask your master’s thesis supervisor for advice since they are familiar with your field of study and may have valuable input that may guide you towards your golden question.

Don’t be intimidated by the daunting task of choosing a research question. If you put in the time, effort, and research, you will eventually land on a “eureka” moment.

Once you have settled on your research question, one of our professional academics can help you with your PhD admission document and proposal editing. Please feel free to write to us at with all the details. Alternatively, you can send us your detailed message or requirements through our CONTACT US form.