In the previous section we talked about ways to define your topic, but there is a difference between a topic and a question. You may have found your topic, but within that topic you must find a question, which identifies what you hope to learn. Finding a question sounds serendipitous, but research questions need to be shaped and crafted. This section examines the factors that go into creating a good research question, dividing this X factor into six categories.
On the other hand, a focused question such as "What are the pros and cons of Japanese management style?" is easier to research and can be covered more fully and in more depth.
"However, much more research is needed to help understand what these findings mean in terms of providing advice for new parents, developing treatments and ultimately a cure."
In the first example, the research question is not simply interested in the daily calorific intake of American men and women, but what percentage of these American men and women exceeded their daily calorific allowance. So the dependent variable is still daily calorific intake, but the research question aims to understand a particular component of that dependent variable (i.e., the percentage of American men and women exceeding the recommend daily calorific allowance). In the second example, the research question is not only interested in what the factors influencing career choices are, but which of these factors are the most important.
All descriptive research questions have a dependent variable. You need to identify what this is. However, how the dependent variable is written out in a research question and what you call it are often two different things. In the examples below, we have illustrated the name of the dependent variable and highlighted how it would be written out in the .
It is seldom - perhaps never - possible to reach an absolute certitude when verifying a hypothesis. This is the case especially when the hypothesis is intended to hold true anywhere, i.e. also for the cases that are similar to those that have been examined. Therefore most modern researchers accept in practice the idea that when speaking of 'truth' of a hypothesis they actually mean verisimilitude or credibility. This distinction, nevertheless, has no decisive consequences in practice: you can use 'credible' findings exactly in the same way as 'true' findings.
You need to be realistic about the scope and scale of the project. The question you ask must be within your ability to tackle. For example, are you able to access people, statistics, or documents from which to collect the data you need to address the question fully? Are you able to relate the concepts of your research question to the observations, phenomena, indicators or variables you can access? Can this data be accessed within the limited time and resources you have available to you?
Sometimes a research question appears feasible, but when you start your fieldwork or library study, it proves otherwise. In this situation, it is important to write up the problems honestly and to reflect on what has been learnt. It may be possible, with your supervisor, to develop a contingency plan to anticipate possible problems of access.
It is important to start your thinking about the dissertation with a question rather than simply a topic heading. The question sets out what you hope to learn about the topic. This question, together with your approach, will guide and structure the choice of data to be collected and analysed.
Some research questions focus your attention onto the relationship of particular theories and concepts: 'how does gender relate to career choices of members of different religions?' Some research questions aim to open an area to let possible new theories emerge: 'what is going on here?' is the most basic research question in exploratory research. For an undergraduate dissertation, your question needs to be more targeted than either of these.
Creating a research question is a task. Good research questions are formed and worked on, and are rarely simply found. You start with what interests you, and you refine it until it is workable.
There is no recipe for the perfect research question, but there are bad research questions. The following guidelines highlight some of the features of good questions.
It’s not an easy task formulating a research question. Here one student talks about the difficulties she had:
I knew what I wanted to write about but I couldn’t get a question to match. My original question was too vague and unanswerable. In terms of tightening it up, I knew I wanted to link disability to employment. I tried to get a question from that but it was a descriptive question that I ended up scrapping on the advice of the supervisor, he told me it wasn’t any good as a question.
(Todd, Bannister and Clegg, 2004, p340)
This student did eventually come up with a workable question and went on to complete her dissertation. She was not afraid to call on the support of her supervisor and was willing to listen to his advice as to what would and wouldn’t work.