Week 2: Research Questions

Welcome back!

This week, we’re going to be focusing in on some possible research questions based on your suggestions.

First, if you want to help us out even more, make sure you check out our sign up page and everything we’ve got posted over there.

Next, it’s time to talk about turning a research idea into a research question. Let’s look at how we do that for a couple of your suggestions.

At the end, you can leave us a comment with your research ideas! It can be about one of the ideas we talk about below or one of your own! Once you have an idea about what you want to study, you need to come up with a concise question that can be answered in an experiment.



Check out some of the questions we are looking at in our lab right now and how we narrowed our big ideas down to more testable questions! We start with a big research idea we are interested in, then think about what smaller questions it brings up, and finally refine it into a testable research question:

How do kids teach each other?


  • What words and gestures do they use?
  • Do they pay attention to what the person they are teaching is capable of?
  • What kinds of differences do children even notice?

Final Research Question: Can children change the way they use words and gestures when teaching different kinds of people?

Foreshadowing questions (things we’ll be thinking about next): What kinds of people? What kinds of words? What topic are they teaching?


Do we think in pictures?


  • What kind of picture would you make for an abstract idea?
  • How detailed are the mental images?
  • Do we make the mental pictures right as we’re reading a word? Or does it take longer?

Final Research Question: Do people form specific images as they read an abstract piece of language?

Foreshadowing questions: What piece of language? What do we mean by specific?


How do people try to guess what other people are like based on the way they talk?


  • What sounds in particular influence the mental images of people that we make?
  • What kinds of qualities do we think we can figure out?
  • How fast do people make these guesses?

Final Research Question: Can people guess how masculine a person looks based on the way they talk?

Foreshadowing questions: What makes a voice sound different amounts of ‘masculine’? What other social concepts might influence our experiment? What kinds of tools can we use to measure this?


Now, check out some of your suggestions from last week and how we might turn these into research questions! If you aren’t sure about an idea to research, you can head back to our post from last week for some suggestions about what our lab studies.

Rebekah said: I’m wondering why so many made-up brand names just seem to sound right. Like I read somewhere that advertisers name foods to sound like their tastes/textures; Doritos sounds crunchy and Jello sounds wiggly. And lots of car names are really similar, too! Ultima, Acura, Optima, Impala. Is there a linguistics reason for all this?

In linguistics, what Rebekah is talking about is called sound symbolism, the idea that the sounds that make up words have meaning in and of themselves. This is a great question! Now, we need to turn it into a specific question that we could run a study on. There are a lot of examples in the comment, which is great. When looking at the examples, what do you notice? When trying to create a question from your idea, it can be helpful to think up some examples of what you want to look at. What are the similarities or differences that connect your examples?


Katie said: I’m kind of curious about why, when I text, I seem to write the wrong (but sounds right) word so often?? Like when I type on a computer I rarely have issues with their/there/they’re or to/too or other similar words. But when I text I CONSTANTLY sub the wrong version of the word that I mean! I know people get what I mean on the other end, but why does this happen so much when I text in the first place???

Another great question! You already point out a key difference, typing versus texting. What are some of the things that make texting different than other kinds of typing? Are there other forms of writing that could be different? When trying to turn your research question into an idea, it may be helpful to think or different types or groups, such as different types of writing in Katie’s suggestion. How are they different, and what effect does that difference cause?


Matthew said: I certainly think in language as well as images, but though I can ‘hear’ the language when I am thinking, it seems way way faster than speaking. When thinking linguistically, do we just ditch all the ‘small words’? Are there keystone words that translate from larger concepts, which in our own heads seem obvious, but when talking to another person don’t translate as obvious?
Maybe the larger question is, if we think linguistically, why is it so difficult to explain our ideas out loud?

Very interesting! Inner speech is a great topic. There are a couple good research questions here already, and we can use them to come up with even more! We can ask the same questions about different groups or languages. Could it be different between men and women? Adults and children? English and Spanish? Try to think about different groups you could look at to test your ideas!


Some final advice: A good research question is specific. Try and create a single, precise question for your idea (if you have multiple ideas, you can suggest several questions!). Don’t be overly ambitious and think about what you already know. Using ‘can’ or ‘do’ in your questions, such as ‘can someone judge how masculine a speaker looks based on their voice’ or ‘do we ditch the small words when thinking’ helps to make the research question targeted at exactly what you want to know. Lastly, be creative! There are a lot of ways to come up with a question other than the ones we suggested. Think about the most interesting part of your idea and something new you could learn about it.


Your job for the week:

Come up with a specific question that could be answered with a study. It can be about an idea from last week or just something you think is interesting!

Tell us about it in the comments below! Next week, we’ll ask you to vote to decide on the final research idea.

**Although we moderate every comment before it gets posted, please remember to be kind to others and mindful of your personal information before you post here!**