Research Question

Some of the faculty at my school (Clemson) constantly harp on the need to formulate a good research question. To those who are working on your dissertation or any major research project, what is your primary research question? For instance, my primary research question in my dissertation is, how does information technology facilitate customer agility?

What’s yours? And any tips on how to put together a good research question?

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4 Responses

  1. I wish my faculty had harped on it more. It comes down to the old saying “Start with the end in mind.” A research question helps you to frame your research in terms of the end state (in this case, the answer) you wish to achieve or understand.

    For my dissertation, the research question is “How do regulatory dispositions effect the selection of alternatives when using searching technologies?” I’ve always believed that the best research questions come from nature inquisitiveness. I constantly see things and wonder, “what if…”, “what about doing it this way?”, “Why is that so successful?”, “Why was that a failure?”, “How do these ideas relate?”. The deeper I dig into theory, the more questions emerge.

  2. I’m currently taking a theory construction course, and the professor advises that we frame our research questions as “why” questions for the purpose of building theory. This puts the emphasis is on building causal theory as opposed to descriptive theory, but dissertations come in both flavors, and both have the same net effect: graduation.

  3. The best advice I’ve heard for research questions is beware questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. It is better to ask “when” than “if” questions.

    For example, instead of asking if using a social networking site increases your chance of getting a job, ask when does a social networking site increase your chance of getting a job.

    Asking “when” starts to get to the really interesting part–how/why it happens (the process). Like John and Andrea point out, those answers are the building block of theory.

  4. I agree with John, Andrea and Steven. How, When and Why are much more interesting then Yes/No and If questions.

    When it comes to research questions, I like David Whetten’s AMR article entitled, “What Constitutes a Theoretical Contribution?” Of course, Whetten talks more about theory development in general than how to create good research questions. Nevertheless, he provides some food for thought for anyone working on a theoretical study. I won’t regurgitate his material here, but for more info take a look at all of the articles in Issue 4, Volume 14, Academy of Management Review (1989). It is an excellent collection of how to develop theory.

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