Research Question

" You see, in this job, the problem isn't really finding the answers, it's finding the questions. We need the man who can find the key question.

~ Sir Arnold Robinson (in "Yes Minister", Episode "Party Games")

In most IB IAs, the key is asking the right research question. Good research questions tend to be open, but specific and analytical. In other words, questions such as "Is Islam a good faith?" is not a good research question, as it is closed (I can answer the question with a simple "yes" or "no"), too broad (Islam has many aspects that you can focus on), and based too much on value, rather than analysis.

Better research questions will use question phrases such as "To what extent ...?" or "What is the significance of...?" or "How...?" or "Analyse..." There are several examples of good research questions given in the IB syllabus - and I do advise that you look at all of them, as the syllabus provides a spectrum of really good research questions that can inspire you to make a good research question.

Rationale & Narrowing

  • Explain why you chose your research question and narrown down the question into chunks that can be answered.

The key here is that you justify the significance of your research question in the context of your chosen religious tradition and in the context of religions more broadly. Through giving a rationale for your research question, you are giving something of an introduction, going from the general context of the whole religious tradition, to the narrow confines of your research question.

Once you have a "clearly stated and well developed" rationale, it shouldn't be too hard to narrow and focus your research question, and plan for what research you intend to do.

Internal Diversity


" Think of particular religions as dynamic cultural complexes not static monolithic entities

~ Victoria K. Urubshurow (in "Introducing World Religions")

It is important to realise that each religious tradition is highly diverse, with many voices, both heard and unheard. Avoid making hasty generalisations based on stereotypes - this requires deep research, and if possible, profound discussions with those from the faith tradition you choose to study, about the topic of your analysis.

Show your critical thinking - show that you know that the doctrinal statements of a faith tradition can often differ drastically from the position of most adherents - try to compare and contrast different perspectives. A very simple example can be seen in the Catholic Church, which has a very clear doctrinal teaching against abortion. Whilst this needs to be mentioned in any reasonable discussion about the ethics of Roman Catholicism, it would also be unreasonable to leave out the fact that many adherents in the West ignore the Church's teachings on abortion, and even attempt to justify the pro-choice position in religious terms. Religions are diverse, and are not monolithic entities as often suggested in the media, so any religious studies analysis needs to recognise this reality.

The IB is very clear that you should be analytical and descriptive, but not judgemental or prescriptive. Acknowledge the complecity, but do not say things like "these are not true Muslims", which is a value judgement, rather than an academic description.


  • A little fieldwork goes a long way

Don't disregard fieldwork as a waste of time or as unnecessary, as interviews with adherents, observations of religious festivals and rituals, and visiting sacred sites of the religious tradition you are analysing can allow you to better appreciate the religious tradition in its many dimentions. In a way, World Religions is different from the other Group 3 subjects, as it is not as distant as History, yet contains very much history - it is not as applicable to the real-world as Global Politics or Economics, yet arguably influences individuals and societies more profoundly. The World Religions are very abstract in their beliefs, yet they are very tangible, as you can meet those in the different faith traditions in almost every major city. Try to engage yourself in this unique part of World Religions - the lived experience of religious traditions - they are living traditions.

At another level, first-hand investigation will not only give you your unique opportunity to reflect critically and evaluate - first-hand research is an invaluable skill not many of your subjects offer, so this can be a sound experience to grow from.