Research Question

I’m reading a great book called The Craft of Research. Look for a complete review in the coming weeks. But for now, I simply have to share a crucial vocabulary word for any doctoral student.

I was told that I do not have a research question in my dissertation. I made several attempts to improve the situation, but I have continued to struggle with it.  Finally, this book showed me what I was doing wrong.

A practical question has a problem, which is in some way related to unhappiness. (A small business is losing money). The solution to the practical problem is an action (laying off 2 people).

In a research question, the problem is always a lack of knowledge. Therefore, in a dissertation, we wouldn’t frame the problem as something sad (losing money) but something unknown: how can this business lower its operation costs? The solution is always increased understanding–not an action. Presumably, after research, one would arrive a fairly complicated answer to the question about the business.

And our research might not lead 100% directly to the practical solution. Maybe the owner would still be unwilling to consider layoffs even after seeing that it would be effective–maybe her employees are her nephews or something. But often, a research question is at least related to a practical problem.

At this phase in my dissertation, when I’ve finished a draft of the entire thing, I worked backwards, asking myself “what do I have a better understanding of now that when I started?” This worked better than asking myself “what should people do who have read my dissertation?”


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