How to Write a Research Question the SMART Way

Crafting a research question is the foundational step in any research endeavor. A well-structured research question not only guides your study but also sets the stage for a successful research project. In this guide, we’ll explore how to write a research question using the SMART criteria, ensuring that it is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

If you know how to write a research question, you are well placed to progress to developed a well-defined thesis structure that presents your study in the best possible light.

Understanding SMART Research Questions

Throughout this article, we are going to explore a specific example of a thesis statement. As such, before delving into the process of creating a SMART research question, it’s worth setting the context for our example.

Our general topic idea is as follows:

General Topic Idea for a Psychology Student: The Impact of Technology on Mental Well-being of Young Adults

This type of research will involve examining the relationship between the use of social media platforms and the prevalence of anxiety or depression symptoms in young adults. It will consider factors like the frequency of use, the type of interactions (positive vs. negative), and the nature of the content consumed.

Now we have a broad example to work with, let’s take a look at how we can write a research question that fulfils the SMART criteria.


Specific (S)

A specific research question is clear and concise, leaving no room for ambiguity. It focuses on a single topic or issue, making it easier to address.

Measurable (M)

Measurable research questions allow for the collection of data and evidence that can be quantified. This enables researchers to gauge the progress and success of their study.

Achievable (A)

An achievable research question considers the practicality of research methods and resources. It should be within reach and not overly ambitious.

Relevant (R)

A relevant research question aligns with the goals and objectives of the study. It should address a significant issue within the field of research.

Time-bound (T)

A time-bound research question includes a clear timeframe for when the study will take place and when results can be expected.

Formulating a SMART research question can help inform your research plan and methodology. Take a look at this research plan generator to see for yourself how you can quickly and easily generate a solid research plan once you have defined a succinct research question.

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What is the Difference Between a Research Question and a Thesis Statement?

A thesis statement and a research question are foundational elements in academic writing, but they serve distinct purposes and are structured differently.

A thesis statement presents the main point or argument that you intend to make within your paper, succinctly conveying your stance on the topic. It’s declarative and takes a definitive position. You can learn more here: How to write a thesis statement.

Conversely, a research question poses a query about a topic you intend to explore. It’s interrogative and invites investigation to find an answer.

For a study on the relationship between the use of social media platforms and the prevalence of anxiety or depression symptoms in young adults, a thesis statement might assert a particular correlation or effect, while the research question would probe into the nature or degree of that relationship.

Aspect Thesis Statement Research Question
Purpose Presents the main point or argument. Poses a query about a topic to be explored.
Structure Declarative; takes a definitive position. Interrogative; invites investigation.
Working Example Increased use of social media platforms is significantly linked with a rise in anxiety and depression symptoms in young adults. How does the use of social media platforms correlate with the prevalence of anxiety or depression symptoms in young adults?


For more expert advice, see our guide to writing a thesis.

Steps to Creating a SMART Research Question

Now that we understand the SMART criteria, let’s proceed with the steps to craft a research question that meets these criteria.

Step 1: Identify Your Research Topic

Start by selecting a broad research topic that interests you. This will serve as the foundation for your research question.

For this example, our topic is as follows: The impact of technology on mental wellbeing.

Step 2: Narrow Down Your Focus

To make your question specific, narrow down your research topic. Consider the “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” and “how” aspects related to your topic.

For our example, we are concerned with

Step 3: Ensure Measurability

Ask yourself how you can measure or quantify the variables in your research question. What data or evidence can you collect to support your study?

Step 4: Assess Achievability

Evaluate whether your research question is achievable given the available resources, time, and expertise. Ensure that it’s realistic within the scope of your project.

Step 5: Establish Relevance

Confirm that your research question addresses a relevant issue within your field of study. It should contribute to existing knowledge or address a pressing concern.

Step 6: Add a Time Frame

Include a specific timeframe for your research. When will you start and finish your study? When do you anticipate obtaining results?

An Example of a SMART Research Question

Research Question: “Within the next 12 months, to what extent does daily usage of social media platforms (measured in hours) correlate with the severity of self-reported anxiety and depression symptoms (using the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item scale and the Patient Health Questionnaire-9, respectively) in U.S. young adults aged 18-25?”


Specific: The question targets a specific group (U.S. young adults aged 18-25) and a defined topic (the correlation between daily social media usage and anxiety/depression symptoms).

Measurable: The research question focuses on measurable aspects:

  • Social media usage is quantified in hours.
  • Anxiety is measured with the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item (GAD-7) scale.
  • Depression is measured with the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9).

Achievable: While broad studies can be challenging, this question targets a specific age group and uses well-established measurement tools. Depending on resources and access, surveying or sourcing this data within the U.S. demographic should be feasible.

Relevant: Given the increasing concerns around the psychological impact of social media, this research is pertinent. It addresses a timely issue that can influence mental health policies, interventions, and even platform design.

Time-bound: The study aims to be conducted “within the next 12 months,” providing a clear timeframe for data collection and analysis.

This research question’s structure provides a clear roadmap for the necessary steps and ensures that the results will be actionable and meaningful.

More Examples of SMART Research Questions

Let’s take a look at some examples of SMART research questions to illustrate the concept:

Not SMART Questions SMART Questions
How does climate change affect the environment? To what extent does a 1-degree Celsius increase in average global temperature over the next decade impact the migratory patterns of North American bird species?
What are the factors influencing consumer behavior? How does a 10% increase in product price during the holiday season affect the purchasing decisions of online shoppers aged 25-35 in the United States within a six-month period?
How do urban areas influence health? How does living in urban environments with green spaces larger than 1 acre, compared to those without, affect the cardiovascular health of residents aged 40-60 in Toronto over a 5-year period?
Do diets affect learning capabilities? How does a ketogenic diet, followed for three months, influence the cognitive test scores of college students aged 19-24 in California universities compared to those on a balanced diet?
What’s the impact of advertising on children? To what extent does exposure to more than 5 hours of television advertisements weekly influence the food choices of children aged 6-10 in New York City schools over one academic year?
Does technology improve learning? How does the integration of augmented reality (AR) tools in physics classes affect the final exam scores of high school students in Berlin during a single academic semester?
Is exercise beneficial for mental health? What impact does engaging in aerobic exercises, 3 times a week for 45 minutes each, have on the self-reported anxiety levels (using the GAD-7 scale) of office workers aged 30-45 in Sydney over a 6-month period?
How does globalization affect industries? Over a 2-year period, how does a 15% increase in international trade agreements influence the production rates of the automotive industry in Mexico?
What effect do pets have on well-being? Over an 18-month period, how does owning a pet dog impact the recovery rates and hospital readmission of heart attack patients aged 50-70 in London?
How do forest fires impact ecosystems? Following a major forest fire, to what extent are the population sizes of medium-sized mammals (like raccoons and foxes) affected in the affected region of the California forests over three consecutive seasons?
Is organic farming better? How does the yield of tomato crops differ between organic and non-organic farming methods in the Mediterranean regions of Spain over two harvesting seasons?
Do video games affect behavior? Over a year, how does playing violent video games for more than 15 hours a week correlate with aggressive behaviors (measured using the Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire) in teenagers aged 13-17 in Tokyo?


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Writing a SMART research question is an essential skill for researchers across various disciplines. A well-crafted question sets the stage for a focused, measurable, and achievable research project that contributes to the body of knowledge in your field. Remember to keep your question specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound to maximize the success of your research endeavor.