Developing Dissertation Research Questions and Hypotheses

After selecting your dissertation topic, you will start to nail down your research questions.  No matter whether you conduct a quantitative or qualitative study, your research questions must be both interesting and researchable. Your committee will likely view your research questions as interesting if they underscore a well-defined, significant problem. Basically, they will consider your questions interesting if examining the problem will contribute to the field in some novel way.  Additionally, you will know your questions are researchable if there is data readily available and the constructs can be operationalized. The topic should also be 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. 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 is the birth order within a family.  We will explore this construct through this example. Similarly, researchers can measure personalities in a multitude of ways using one of many approved tests.

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In addition to identifying the variables that define a construct, you should explain how these variables are related. This is typically done 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. 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!


Want to learn more about developing research questions and hypotheses? Check out these resources.

Dissertation Alignment: Purpose, Problem, and Research Questions

Common Quantitative Research Questions

How to Construct Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses