This page provides supplementary material for the chapter "No Such Thing as a Bad Question: Using Rubrics to Help Students Learn from and Strengthen Failed Research Questions," by Kathleen Baril, Justine Post, and Bethany Spieth. The chapter was published in Confronting Failure: Approaches to Building Confidence and Resilience in Undergraduate Researchers, edited by Lisa Corwin, Lou Charkourdian, and Jen Heemstra, and published in 2022 by the Council on Undergraduate Research.
The material consists of:
All material is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0.
Four worksheets for peer review activities are provided below. Three form a set with one worksheet per criterion (debatability, researchability, and feasibility). When introducing the rubrics to students, we highly recommend beginning with these more focused worksheets and working through the rubrics individually, spending time with each criterion on its own before bringing in the next one.
A combined and abbreviated worksheet is also provided that has students work through all three criteria in one activity. We recommend introducing this worksheet only after students have gained plenty of practice with each criterion/rubric on its own.
The researchers encourage use of these rubrics and worksheets by anyone who may find them useful: teachers, librarians, tutors, and others in both K-12 and higher education. They are made available under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike), meaning that you may use and adapt them as long as you provide credit to the researchers, do not profit from your use, and use this same license when distributing any adaptations you may create.
We recommend introducing each criterion to students individually. Ideally, one class period would be spent on each criterion; the class period would consist of introducing the rubric, leading a practice activity in which students rank example questions, and then having students complete the peer review worksheets on their own. Later in the course, as students gain more familiarity with the rubrics, it may be possible to introduce the combined worksheet to help students move through the peer review process more efficiently.
Even with the combined worksheet, each criterion should be evaluated separately, as a question may meet one or two of the criteria but not the other(s). For example, a question such as “Who is the greatest quarterback of all time?” is highly debatable, but ranks low on the researchability scale: fans may have impassioned arguments about the answer to this question, but it is not usually the subject of scholarly inquiry, meaning that little to no published research on this topic will be available for students to find.
Similarly, a question like “How can humans fix climate change?” is extremely researchable, but scores low on the feasibility scale. A vast quantity of scholarly research from a variety of fields (public policy, engineering, biology) exists regarding how humans can halt climate change and repair its damages, but answering this question fully is not possible within the parameters of a 6-8 page undergraduate research paper. Students must make careful adjustments to ensure that their question meets all three criteria.