Guidelines for Developing Research Questions for a Dissertation/Capstone Project
Research questions comprise of the specific phenomena to be studied expressed as variables, the population being investigated, and the problem to be addressed. The questions direct the study by using methods of inquiry and identifying the variables that are being investigated. A research question may be qualitative, quantitative, or a combination of both. Qualitative research questions provide the approach for exploration, comprehension, and discovery and consist of one or two open-ended queries, followed by two or three sub-questions. The research approach assists in explaining the quantitative results and provides reasons for specific occurrences, and the questions may include perceptions of patients, healthcare workers, or parents.
A quantitative research question involves predicting relationships, correlating variables, and investigating differences, while multi-methods design includes both qualitative and quantitative investigation queries. The application of a quantitative research question produces data that are measurable and may be used for inferential and descriptive statistics. The questions may be general, specific, objective, numerical, or categorical. Similarly, numerous projects have a multi-method design, and it is crucial to identify the differences initially for appropriate methodologies to be applied. A dissertation may have multiple research questions that are not fully developed initially but get defined as the study continues. However, an investigator needs to have at least one clearly defined research question when the project commences.
Defining the Research Question
Research provides solutions to global problems by describing how the issues are investigated and the recommendations for solving the challenges. When developing a research question for a dissertation, an individual needs to develop ideas from their area of interest. The interests and strengths will guide the researcher to a specific area.
Review Relevant Literature
Questions occur if a gap in knowledge exists about a particular area of concern; therefore, understanding the field of study is crucial to developing research questions. Hence, the research question is used to guide a literature review and provide the framework for testing results, and this will lead to the aims of the investigation that outline the methods and procedure. The research question selected needs to contribute to an original work that generates new insights. Therefore, to develop a research question that does not duplicate previous work, a student needs to conduct a literature review. If there exists literature on a students’ topic of interest that may answer the research question, they may use their time expounding that work and contributing to knowledge. A review of the literature ensures that the researcher understands how the findings of their study are relevant to the existing body of knowledge.
An individual needs to review the existing literature in their area of interest to narrow it down. Initially, the ideas may be broad and vague but as a researcher gathers further insight into the problem, they may narrow and refine the concepts to what they are interested in. The literature review is then focused on the specific research problem that has been selected. There are four steps involved when conducting a literature review; (a) searching for existing literature; (b) reviewing the selected literature; (c) developing a theoretical framework; and (d) developing a conceptual framework.
a). Searching for the Existing Literature
The researcher needs to have an idea of the broad subject area and the problem they want to investigate to search for literature effectively. Additionally, the investigator needs to know the study population. Consequently, a compilation of bibliography on the subject area is done from books, the internet, journals, or conference papers. Searching the existing literature enables the investigator to acquire additional insight on the research problem.
b). Developing a Theoretical Framework
Reviewing literature related to the main research topic is an effective parameter because of the limited time available. An investigator discovers the research problem they want to investigate relates to several theories as they conduct the literature review. The information acquired from journals and books is organized under the key theories and themes, identifying the gaps in knowledge and unanswered questions. The theoretical framework is then developed from this review of the literature.
c). Developing a Conceptual Framework
The conceptual framework is developed from the theoretical framework and forms the basis of the research problem. The framework describes the aspects that have been selected from the theoretical framework to form the basis of inquiry. Therefore, the conceptual framework is the foundation of the study and relates specifically to the research problem.
Examine the Significance and Feasibility
The ability to develop appropriate research questions is a vital skill that an investigator needs. The questions make it possible for others to learn what the researcher is trying to discover by setting boundaries and guiding a focused study investigation. A research question needs to be feasible, interesting, novel, ethical, and relevant. Therefore, novice researchers need to focus on a specific question that can be accomplished. A researcher needs to identify and articulate the important problems in society or practice they want to study. It is necessary to examine the significance of the research question on different populations and articulating the problem in different ways. When writing a dissertation, a student may talk about their research idea with different stakeholders and observe the reactions, and this will require a clear and open mind. Highlighting an important problematic gap in knowledge, convincing the audience of its significance, and ensuring that the research questions are aligned are useful elements of developing the study questions.
Research questions ought to be clear and concise. The questions outline the study area and the problems to be investigated. When developing a research question, an investigator may have a vague and broad area of interest. Therefore, it is crucial for a researcher to develop skills in formulating effective research questions. Additionally, the process of developing a research question consists of a review of the literature available on the topic of interest. Hence, it is important to conduct a literature review because it outlines the gap in the body of knowledge on the specific research problem. A research question should engage the interests of the targeted audience, be clear, feasible, and answerable. Discussing the research idea with mentors and knowledgeable peers will assist a student in developing a relevant research question.