Did you notice that some Ph. D. students formulate their research question, statement to impress rather than to explain?
Here is an example of such a myopic research question:
“A Wittsteinian elucidation of the rationalist ontology of mathematics and its epistemological influence on the post-structuralist nature of language.”
A good research problem, question or hypothesis defines the focus of your research project.
The focus should, furthermore, be aimed at achieving the purpose for the research.
The Postgraduate Committee will use the research problem, question or hypothesis to judge if your proposed research topic meets the requirements for academic research on doctoral level.
You will need to narrow your research question, statement or hypothesis down to a project that you will be able to cope with, bearing in mind how much time and funds you have available for the research.
Keep in mind that research should always be the foundation for further research.
Let’s look at an example of a research question and then refine it until we reach the point where it meets the requirements for viable research on doctoral level.
- What is the effect of global warming on social interaction?
A research question like this creates more questions than it solves.
- It is extremely vague and the effect of global warming on social interaction can be a multitude of possible things, for example relationships in the classroom, at home, between married couples, friends, clients versus salespeople, etc.
- The effect of global warming on different continents, in different countries, different cultures, different seasons, etc. will probably not be the same.
- What is meant by social interaction?
One will need to explain and define the research question. However, even then it would be almost impossible to conclude generally applicable findings that will apply to the entire world and all people and times of the year.
Here is a refinement of the research question:
- What is the effect of global warming on the social interaction of Europeans working in metropolitan areas?
This research question already hints on possible economic value. It is limited to a specific type of living area and it would probably be possible to choose a representative sample for the research.
You should be careful of not formulating your research question in such a way that it renders your research subjective and biased.
For example, if you were to ask:
- Will global warming cause people working in metropolitan areas to lose interest in social interaction?
you might create the impression that you are of the opinion that global warming will cause people working in metropolitan areas to lose interest in social interaction.
It might still be a workable problem to investigate though. You can also reformulate your problem statement or question as a hypothesis, especially as the answer to your question might simply be “yes” or “no”. You might even be able to statistically prove your hypothesis as valid or not. Here you would probably use quantitative research and a technicist paradigmatic approach.
You can avoid the dichotomous nature of this last example (the answer can only be “yes” or “no” by formulating it something like this:
- What will be the impact of global warming on the social interaction between Europeans working in metropolitan areas?
Regardless of how you formulate your research question, you will still need to describe the context for your research.
The purpose of your research can also help to clarify your research question, statement or hypothesis.
The scope of your research can help you to know where to go, what to investigate and when to stop with your research.
You research question, statement or hypothesis is not final if you did not submit your final report.
However, keep in mind that it will become increasingly more difficult and riskier to change your research question, statement or hypothesis the longer you wait to do so.
A research question, statement or hypothesis gives you a good indication of which data you need to collect and which methods you will use to access and analyse your sources.
A well-articulated research question, statement or hypothesis provides you, your study leader and any other readers of your research report with valuable information about your research.
You need to explain the focus, purpose, scope and motivation for your research.
You also need to and motivate your research question, statement or hypothesis clearly and objectively.
The rationale for your research question, statement or hypothesis can serve as evidence that your research project is viable.
You can change your research question, statement or hypothesis any time while you are still doing research. However, the longer you wait, the more incorrect data will you collect, and the more time will you waste on doing unnecessary work.