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Research Process Guide

Step 3: Developing Research Questions

   Research Questions - How are they different from everyday questions?

Research questions are different from the everyday questions we ask ourselves looking for answers to understand our world.  They are carefully constructed, after the scope and scale of our research have been defined, in the hope to explore, understand, hypothesize, and theorize.

Research questions tell us a few things:

  1. What are we studying and why?
  2. What methodology are we using to explore?
  3. Who are we or where are we getting our data from?

Not every interesting question about your topic will make a good research question. The results of your research is based on the analysis of data. If answering your questions is not grounded in some collection and analysis of data, then it is not a research question (Lipowski, 2008; Creswell & Creswell, 2003, Creswell & Creswell, 2018).  A question like, ‘Are the prices that pharmaceutical companies are charging fair?’ is not a research question, as it is largely dependent on an individual’s bias. However, the  question ‘What are the best measures for reducing the out of pocket costs of customers for insulin?’ could be a research question because the answer would be found by data collection and analysis (Lipowski, 2008).

Additionally, research has purpose and objectives. The research questions are the purpose of your study stated in the form of a question. Questions about study design  are not research questions. Instead, research questions are logical statements that begin with what is known and believed to be valid and progress to what is unknown and needs validation (Lipowski, 2008).

The American Educational Research Association (2006) suggests some ways that your research can contribute to advancing in the field by contributing to an established line of theory and empirical research, establish a new theory, is motivated by practical concerns or is motivated by lack of information about the problem or issue. Which way(s) is your study going to contribute to the field? This should be noted briefly in the introduction (Chapter 1) and then again in Chapter 2.

As you move this process, you will begin to formulate the purpose, objective and significance of your study. You will also start to figure out which methodology your research questions require- qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods. Some possible questions to ask yourself as you are developing and narrowing down your research questions are:

  1. What is the issue or problem I am looking to address, explore, or understand? (Purpose)
  2. How do I plan to explore, examine this issue? Who? What? When?Where? Why? and How? (Methods)
    • Am I asking how and why about my particular topic? If so, I am likely looking to complete a qualitative study (Purpose, Methods, Objectives).
    • Am I asking what and how much about my topic? If so, I am likely going to complete a quantitative study (Purpose, Methods, Objectives).
  3. What is the “so what?” about my study? What is important about this study and how is it different from what has been researched before? (Significance).
  4. How and why does my topic matter to me, people in my field, society writ large (Significance)?


Developing Research Questions through Problematization

After completing an extensive review of the literature using “gap spotting” (Winterberger & Saunders, 2020), you should examine existing theories and concepts in the research. Ask yourself:

  1. Have these theories or concepts been tested in different contexts?
  2. Could there be an additional variable in a conceptual model that has not been explored?
  3. How and Why this particular anomaly exists in THIS particular theoretical or conceptual context?

Start writing down the questions that you want to ask after about your topic. Then, start evaluating your questions.

  1. Are the questions clear and concise?
  2. Are the questions complex enough to guide a robust study?
  3. Do the questions clearly indicate a methodology?
  4. Who is the audience you are trying to reach?

The American Educational Research Association (2006) suggests some ways that your research can contribute to advancing in the field by contributing to an established line of theory and empirical research, establishing a new theory, is motivated by practical concerns or is motivated by lack of information about the problem or issue. Which way(s) is your study going to contribute to the field? This should be noted briefly in the introduction (Chapter 1) and then again in Chapter 2.

Denney and Tewksbury (2013) suggest that you make sure that you consider your research question and be sure that it is not too narrow to guide robust research. The concern is that if your focus is too narrow, there will not be enough literature to review to support and situate your research within the broader context.

Once you have evaluated your questions, you should narrow them down and settle on between two and four research questions. Less than two research questions could result in an under-nuanced or insignificance in your study. More than four questions could be difficult to answer in a timely manner. Often combining two questions that are essentially asking the same thing might help focus the scale and scope of your research.

Lastly, you need to determine whether you are going to be exploring your topic through inductive or deductive inquiry, or you will be making an argument. The language associated with each kind of inquiry should be evident in your research questions. Both designs have a very different feel to them.

Deductive Research - begins with a hypothesis or theory, goes through the scientific method to determine if the theory or hypothesis is valid. Deductive methods are known as the “Top Down” approach, the traditional scientific/experimental design. This kind of approach is evidenced in Quantitative Methodology.

Theorize—> Hypothesis—> Data Analysis—> Hypothesis valid/invalid

Inductive Research - more open-ended and exploratory. It moves from specific observations to broader generalizations. Inductive methods are known as the “Bottom Up” approach. This kind of approach is evidenced Qualitative Methodology.

Gather data—> Look for patterns—> Develop a theory

Are you making an argument? If so, what is it? Why does your argument matter? Do you have evidence to support your argument? What will people who challenge your argument say?

References

American Educational Research Association. (2006). Standards for reporting on social science research in AERA publications. Educational Researcher, 35(6), 33-40.

Creswell, J. W., & Creswell, J. (2003). Research design (pp. 155-179). Sage.

Creswell, J. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2018). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Sage.

Denney, A. S., & Tewksbury, R. (2013). How to write a literature review. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 24(2), 218-234. https://doi-org.kean.idm.oclc.org/10.1080/10511253.2012.730617

Lipowski, E. E. (2008). Developing great research questions. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 65(17), 1667-1670.

Wintersberger, D., & Saunders, M. (2020). Formulating and clarifying the research topic: Insights and a guide for the production management research community. Production, 30. https://doi.org/10.1590/0103-6513.20200059