Monday, 28 November 2016

Getting from a topic to a research question

One of the hardest things to get sorted is honing in from a topic to a research question.

However, there are is a set of questions that can help us.

John McGarvey (n.d.) set up an online structure that we can work through (here), which takes us through a thinking process, from topic to question, as follows:

  1. Topic:
    Our project topic is the general category which our research lies within. Management is our major topic area, but within that, we can choose to focus on many sub-topic areas, such as operations management, supply chain management, human resource management, leadership, organisational behaviour, organisational structure, business models, business finance, etc.

    Some questions to ask ourselves: What area of management interests us? What do we have an opinion about? What have we done previous research on, that we might be able to expand here? Do we have a burning question that we have not been able to answer yet?

  2. Positioning #1:
    If we have a topic area, then there are some more questions that we can ask ourselves about it, to help us hone in on what it is about our topic that interests us. We think about the position we take on our topic.

    Some questions to ask ourselves: do we already have a position, or a viewpoint, in mind? Is there something about our topic that we feel is true? Do we wish to find evidence for this, and develop argument for our feeling?

  3. Positioning #2:
    If we do not yet have a position, we make a concept map with our topic in the centre. Can we now see a position that we might want to take?

    If we are starting to see a position, try beginning our position sentence with “although” or “It is true that...”, and testing it.

    Some questions to ask ourselves: Do our think that the position we are taking is always "true"? Are there exceptions? Can we take an alternative view? What does that alternative view look like? What limitations might this view have?

  4. Reasoning:
    Next, try to work out our own underlying reasons for what we currently feel about this particular position we are starting to take.

    Some questions to ask ourselves: Why do our feel our position is roughly right? What is the benefit of our position? What might we need to find out to test this position?

  5. Combining:
    Now, in one or two sentences, try presenting our research idea in four parts, including our topic area, our qualification, a reason, and our position. Note that the reason and the position have been swapped around.

    Using qualifiers shows that we are interested in accuracy. Then talking about our reasoning shows our thinking process, and lastly, our position shows where we are taking a stand. This might now be getting closer to a research question.
Time for a preliminary literature review, and some keyword searches :-)

This framework may help us get from a topic to question.


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