Monday, 4 May 2020

Scoping a research question

Steps in formulating a research problem (after Kumar, 2019, p. 87)
While I have written about scoping research questions many times before (here), I have not specifically talked about steps that undergraduate students can take to scope a research question.  There is, however, a great book by Ranjit Kumar, which outlines exactly how to do that (2019).

Scoping from the topic to the research question is broken down into seven steps, as follows (Kumar, 2019, pp. 85-87, and see the image accompanying this post showing the management example given below):

  1. "Identify a broad field or subject area of interest". It is really important to find a topic that will keep us interested for the fifteen weeks of our course. If we get sick of our topic in two weeks, we won't keep looking for information, or push through to completion and a pass mark. Let's use staff motivation as our topic example.
  2. "Dissect the broad area into subareas". Dig into the literature and chop up our topic area into sectors as we are reading. For example, we might come up with: motivation theory, performance, turnover, development, engagement, behaviour, commitment, psychological contract (there are more, but this will do for our purposes).
  3. "Select what is of most interest". As we read the literature in our area, we will start to get interested in a few areas. Chose one that really makes us want to read more. For example, how does the psychological contract affect organisational turnover? We will do some more reading, and realise that there is a psychological contract theory, which may form our theoretical framework.
  4. "Raise research questions". This is then going to us get thinking on what all the questions are that we could ask. Note them all down. For example, what is PCT? How does the PCT relate to turnover? What makes staff decide to leave? Who do we need to ask? How will we find our participants if they have already left an organisation? Will any organisation be interested in our research and want to participate?
  5. "Formulate objectives". Now it is time to sift all our questions, and try to group them into just a few main questions that will - collectively - answer our main research question.
  6. "Assess your objectives". We need to be careful in assessing just how much work is involved in the project; to evaluate whether we have enough time to do the job; to consider whether we have all the resources we need; to think about our expertise, and that of our supervisor in this field; and lastly we need to think about whether [supermarket] will be able and willing to share their data and their past employee contact details with us.
  7. "Double-check". that we are engaged in this area; that our aims will answer our question; that we can do it in the time we have; that we have the expertise and help to deliver to the level required; and that the [supermarket]is willing - in principle - to discuss the project with us.
While I wish that the author had written the book at undergraduate level, it is definitely a post-graduate text with doctoral complexity. However, the tools, such as this model, can definitely be reworked to fit with undergraduate study.

Below is a link to a chapter from Kumar (2019) plus some other resources to help undergraduates form a research question. I hope this post helps :-)



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