Formulating a Research Problem

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Chapter 1 – Formulating a Research Problem
The importance of formulating a research problem
The formulation of a research problem is the first and most important step of the research process. It is like the identification of a destination before undertaking a journey. In the absence of a destination, it is impossible to identify the shortest – or indeed any – route. Similarly, in the absence of a clear research problem, a clear and economical plan is impossible. The research problem serves as the foundation of a research study, if it is well formulated, you can expect a good study to follow.

Initially, you may become confused but this is normal. Remember: confusion is often but a first step towards clarity. Take time over formulating your problem, for the clearer you are about your research problem/question, the easier it will be for you later on. Remember, this is the most crucial step.

Sources of research problems

Most research in the humanities revolves around four Ps:

people
problems
programmes
phenomena

The emphasis on a particular ‘P’ may vary from study to study but generally, in practice, most research studies are based upon at least a combination of two Ps.

Every research study has two aspects: the people provides you with the ‘study population’, whereas the other 3Ps furnish the subject areas. Your study population – individuals, groups and communities – is the people from whom the information is collected. Your subject area is a problem, programme or phenomenon about which the information is collected

Table 4.1 Aspects of a research problem
Aspects of a studyAboutStudy of
Study Population
PeopleIndividuals, organizations,
Groups, communitiesThey provide you with the required information or you collect information from or about them Subject area

Problem

Programme

PhenomenonIssues, situations, associations, needs, population composition, profiles, etc. Contents, structure, outcomes, attributes, satisfaction, consumers, providers, etc. Cause and effect, relationships, the study of the phenomenon itself, etc.

Information that you need to collect to find
answers to your service
research questions

Considerations in selecting a research problem

1.Interest – Interest should be the most important consideration in selecting a research problem. A research endeavor is usually time consuming and involves hard work and possibly unforeseen problems. If you select a topic which does not greatly interest you, it could become extremely difficult to sustain the required motivation and put enough time and energy to complete it.

2. Magnitude – You should have sufficient knowledge about the research process to be able to visualize the work involved in completing the proposed study. Narrow the topic down to some-

thing manageable, specific and clear. It is extremely important to select a topic that you can
manage within the time and with the resources at your disposal. Even if you are undertaking a
descriptive study, you need to consider its magnitude carefully.

3. Measurement of concepts – If you are using a concept in your study (in quantitative studies)
make sure you are clear about its indicators and their measurement. For example, if you plan to
measure the effectiveness of a health promotion programme, you must be clear as to what
determines effectiveness and how it will be measured. Do not use concepts in your research
problem that you are not sure to measure. This does not mean you cannot develop ameasurement procedure as the study progresses. While most of the developmental work
will be done during your study, it is imperative that you are reasonably clear about the
measurement of these concepts at this stage.

4.Level of expertise – Make sure you...
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