To pursue or not to pursue a research question?

I hope this checklist will help you decide whether you should pursue a research question or not.

I came up with this checklist by collecting people's feedback when they shot down a number of my research ideas (and I thank them for it!). Of course, not all of the checkboxes need to be checked for you to pursue a research question. Feel free to email me if you think something belongs on this list.


Is this the broadest question that you should be answering?
Is this a first-order question in the broader topic? (Would a handbook chapter on the broader topic include your paper?)
Are you exploring the first-order mechanism/factor that explains the outcome?
Is there a (policy) debate/disagreement regarding the answer?
Does everyone think they know the answer despite no evidence?
Have some important philosophers and economists been discussing the question?
Does the answer have consequences for policymakers/companies/individuals/firms?
Do you develop novel/important experimental/econometric methods?

Contribution to the literature

Has this question been answered before?
Is there a partial answer to the question?
Has a broader question been answered before?
Has a narrower question been answered before?
Has another mechanism/factor explaining the outcome been explored before?

Accounting for opportunity costs

Did you reframe the question and find a better framing?
Is there a related question that might be worth pursuing?
Is this project the best use of my limited research funds?
Is this project the best use of my limited time?

Contribution to self

Is this question interesting to me?
Would I enjoy working on this project?
Do I have the skills to answer this? (e.g., math/experiment/coding skills)
Would this project help me learn a new skill or be exposed to new fields?
Can I publish this project in a journal that my department/field values?

Implementation for experiments

Do you need to run a lab, field, or online experiment?
Is the experiment feasible?
Do you have the money to run the experiment?