Key Inquiry Question

Taj Mahal, India.
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At the beginning of the research process, you need to be clear about what you are trying to discover as a result of your research. To create a focus to drive your research, you are required to create a Key Inquiry Question.  

What is a 'Key Inquiry Question'?

A Key Inquiry Question is the question that your research is aiming to answer.


By reducing your focus down to a single Key Inquiry Question, it will help you to avoid wasting time on needless research, but also help you tell if your research has ultimately been successful.


At the end of the research process, you will write a one-sentence answer to your Key Inquiry Question, which will become your hypothesis.  

How do you create a Key Inquiry Question?

Great inquiry questions must abide by the following rules:

  1. Start with a interrogative: An interrogative is a question word. These include:  who, what, when, where, why, or how.  
  2. Do not make it a 'closed question': Closed questions are ones that can be answered with a single word (e.g. yes, no, Churchill, 1943, etc.). Most 'closed questions' start with the interrogatives 'does', 'did', 'was' or 'are'. A great key question starts with either 'what', 'why', or 'how'. 
  3. Base it on a historical knowledge skill: Make your question focus on either change, continuity, causes, consequences, significance, motives, historical empathy or contestability.
  4. Be extremely specific: Limit your topic by mentioning specific historical information, including people, times, places or concepts. 

Example Key Inquiry Questions

Here are some examples of great inquiry questions that  follow the rules outlined above. To help you see each element, the interrogatives are coloured in blue, the historical knowledge skill is in red, and the specific historical information is in green.


What were the economic, military and political causes of Rome’s departure from Britain in the AD 410?


What archaeological evidence exists to confirm Suetonius' descriptions of Nero’s ‘Domus Aurea’?


How did Stalin justify the human cost of the dekulakisation during the First Five-Year Plan?


How did Britain, Russia and America understand Hitler’s actions during the early 1930s?

Alternate Approach: Testing a Hypothesis

In some essays, you will be asked to assess the accuracy of someone else's hypothesis. This kind of task will require you to look at all of the arguments being made and test these arguments based upon what your sources tell you. This is a great way of working out whether someone's claim about the past is trustworthy, or if the are simply manipulating the facts.


The best way is to turn the hypothesis into a Key Inquiry Question in order to begin your research.


 For example, someone's hypothesis could be:


Constantine the Great founded the Catholic Church at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.


Your Key Inquiry Question could be:


What evidence is there that Constantine the Great founded the Catholic Church at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325?

Next Step: Background Research

Need a digital Research Journal?

History Skills has a ready-to-use Research Journal that follows these 9 steps and provides links back to the website to help you at each stage of your research. You can grab it here.

History Research Journal
A ready-to-use digital student research journal that follows the same 9-step research process from the History Skills website. Each research stage has explanations, blank tables and hyperlinks to examples to aid with the completion of essay ... (Read More)

Additional resources

Why don’t you start history research with a hypothesis?

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