Research Question and Hypothesis Development

After selecting your dissertation topic, you need to nail down your research questions.  Importantly, whether your study utilizes a quantitative or qualitative approach, research questions need to be at least two things: interesting and researchable.  Now, your committee will likely view your research questions as interesting if your questions underscore a well-defined problem that has a high level of significance to it such that examining the problem will contribute to the field in some novel way.  Additionally, you will know your questions are researchable if you can confirm that the data are readily available to you, that the constructs can be operationalized into variables, and that the topic is manageable in size.  The examples below provide additional context around quantitative and qualitative research questions.

Quantitative Research Question Example

Imagine you want to examine whether a given social environment influences people’s personalities.  This idea presents an interesting problem because both social environment and an individual’s personality represent constructs that researchers can easily measure by investigating any number of distinct components.  For instance, is the social environment driven by the country one lives in?  Perhaps it’s the generation in which one grew up?   Another component that contributes to the definition of social environment as a construct, and the one we will use in this example, is the birth order within a family.  Similarly, researchers can measure personalities in a multitude of ways using one of many approved tests.

Of course, in addition to identifying the variables that define a construct, how your variables of interest relate to each other should be explained, typically by predicting outcomes or showing differences between groups.  For example, a research question and the relevant hypotheses using the previously identified variables and constructs could be:

Research question – Are there differences in extroversion, as measured by introversion-extroversion scores, by birth order (i.e., first born vs. all others) such that first-born children have significantly higher extroversion scores than all other birth-order children?

Ho – There are no differences in extroversion, as measured by introversion-extroversion scores, by birth order (i.e., first born vs. all others) such that first-born children’s extroversion scores do not differ significantly from all other birth-order children.

Ha – There are differences in extroversion, as measured by introversion-extroversion scores, by birth order (i.e., first born vs. all others) such that first-born children have significantly higher extroversion scores than all other birth-order children.

Qualitative Research Question Example

Qualitative research in the social sciences usually takes the form of phenomenological, grounded theory, or case study research.  These methods focus more on the in-depth experiences of participants rather than quantifiable measures.  Using the constructs in the example above, perhaps the researcher would ask participants what it was like growing up as the first-born child or not, whether they consider themselves introverted or extraverted, and what role their birth order may have played in developing this trait.  An example of a qualitative research question is as follows (typically qualitative research only has research questions and does not create formal hypotheses):

Research question – What is the lived experience of an extravert and the role that being first born may have played in that trait?

Considering some dissertations will require several research questions, a great place to start the process begins with selecting a topic and starting to articulate the variables and constructs because these inputs will form the basis behind your research questions.  As always, if you would like our help forming research questions or hypotheses, call us and we’d be more than happy to plan out a path forward with you!