Friday, 13 August 2021

Answering the research question

Year on year I have research supervisees who remain incredibly shy of saying whether they answered their research question... or by how much.

There seems to be a reluctance on the part of students to overtly state whether the question was answered - or not. 

From a marker's point of view, we need the answer to be stated clearly and succinctly. We want the conclusion to overtly state that the research question was answered; was not answered; or was partially answered. Then the researcher can clearly summarise: what was answered; what remains unanswered; the substantive limitations of the project; and how future researchers might address those limitations.

The conclusion should state how much we have answered our question. We need to say - as plainly as possible - that yes, we answered our research question. Then we detail why and by how much, before we move on to detailing our limitations. For example, in the paragraph below, the question is reiterated and then answered. Overtly. When we read the following, there is no doubt in the reader's mind that the research question was addressed by the research: 

"... This research set out to understand the impacts of COVID-19 on NFPs in the Nelson region by collecting the experiences of six NFPs which continued to operate throughout the pandemic as essential services. In understanding the impacts, the research sought to identify the resilience factors across the participant organisations that were critical in enabling continued functioning. The author, having worked in the NFP sector, was interested to know how NFPs coped with the worst crisis in living memory, to understand what made them strong and resilient. The research found that the participants of this study not only coped well, but they also adapted and found opportunities amongst the adversity." 

The example above had a short contextualising sentence before restating the research question, which I have not repeated. Then this statement. In the following paragraphs, the author then detailed how much each of the sub-questions were answered, before covering limitations and future research. But it is clear from the outset of the chapter just how much the research question is answered. The reader is not left hanging. 

The alternative point is to clearly state that, no, we did not answer our research question, then detailing why, and by and how much we did not answer our research question.

I have students asking if they should start with a critique. No. Start by answering the research question. The reader has just read all the evidence to this point, and now want to know that the researcher is able to make a judgement. 

Make that call. Put our minds at rest. 


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