Aligning Your Problem, Purpose, and Research Questions


Posted December 9, 2016

When it comes to constructing your research plan, prospectus, and Chapter 1, one of the most important factors to keep in mind is that of alignment between your problem statement, purpose statement, and research questions. While this may seem like something insignificant and easy to remember, this is often the very thing that holds dissertation students back when trying to progress to the next level. Many chairs will focus specifically on this aspect of crafting your study, and if one little thing does not align between any of the aforementioned components, they will not hesitate to send you back to the drawing board. To quote Al Pacino from The Godfather Part III, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

No need to fret, though, as this is something that can be managed. The first step to all of this is selecting and finalizing your variables. These are going to remain constant across the board, so there is not much change to throw you off course. Just be sure to word them in the exact same order throughout the document, as chairs, who have the potential to be sticklers, may ding you for misalignment of variables as you move through your document. Once you have selected your variables, jot them down on a notecard and place “IV” above your independent variables and “DV” above your dependent variables (this is purely for your benefit to help keep things in order).

Now that you have established your variables, ensure that they are mentioned within your problem statement. Essentially, you are ensuring that the variables match the problem and vice versa. One of the best ways to guarantee that your problem statement goes through without a hitch is to root it in the recommendations of previous researchers (when doing article research, this can usually be found in the discussion of the findings section). Your purpose statement is a natural extension of your problem statement, and as such, be sure that your variables carry through and are clearly outlined.

Just as a general tip, it helps to map out these components before committing them to the page. One of the best ways to go about this is to write out each on a separate notecard, one for problem, one for purpose, one for research questions. Line them up side by side and ask yourself “Is this a natural progression from one to the next?” If the problem and research questions make sense, but the purpose is a little shaky, you will know that the purpose is the spot to focus your edits. This can occur in any combination.

In thinking of alignment and its importance within the establishment of the study, I am reminded of the words of ex-Smiths’ author connerfrontman, Morrissey, “Such a little thing, such a little thing, but the difference it made was grave.” This is the case of alignment of your study: such a little thing that makes such a big difference.


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