Am I replicating a previous study? If I am, in what ways am I improving and refining the research?
Is this research at the cutting edge of science or is it in an area that is fading out of fashion?
Is my research question going to have a meaningful impact upon the field?
Obviously, for a short-term research project, you do not have to answer yes to all of these questions or be as rigorous.
For a dissertation or thesis, these are just some of the questions, and for research scientists submitting a proposal, affirmative answers to these questions are the bare minimum for receiving a research grant.
Narrowing Down the Research Paper Question
A general research question will usually be based around 'why' or 'how' a certain phenomenon is happening.
An example of a good general research statement could be:
'Why are the forest resources declining in the Amazon rainforest?'
This statement is based around a review of the literature, which shows that the Amazon rainforest coverage is declining rapidly. As a result, you can legitimately use that as a good starting point, a basic assumption upon which to build your research project.
Whilst many researchers have postulated reasons for this, there is no clear consensus about what factor, or combination of factors, is contributing to the environmental and ecological damage. Now you need to narrow down the broad question, ideally moving towards a hypothesis or thesis question.
For example, looking at the above general question, you could arrive at:
'Is intensive agriculture the major cause of deforestation in the Amazon?'
'Is the logging industry the major cause of deforestation in the Amazon?'
'Is Global Warming the major cause of deforestation in the Amazon?'