The Importance of Research Part 1: The Research Problem and Background


In helping people with their dissertation studies, I have noticed a central recurring issue: lack of appropriate in-depth research. Research is so fundamental to a study that students may sometimes overlook its importance. Or, someone may just not be strong researcher, which can be addressed by using resources and through the assistance of a school librarian. Obviously, sound research is crucial to the entire study, but in this blog series we will discuss the vital components of a study that rely on proper and in-depth research. In this blog, we begin the discussion with the Research Problem and the Background.

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First, let’s discuss the Research Problem. The Research Problem drives a study, and targeted, in-depth research is needed to fully develop the Research Problem. Research is important here because you need to know what researchers have done in the area on the topic to help set up and define a problem that exists in the research. You must answer the question, “what do we already know from the research?” to set up the issue of what we do not know. There is no magic number for how many sources it takes to show what is known from the research. Instead, you must make a convincing and comprehensive display of what is known based on the existing research. This helps to highlight what is not known and to adequately define the Research Problem. I often see students unable to adequately set up their Research Problem because they have not sufficiently researched their topics. They cannot convincingly show what is known about the topic and rush to the conclusion that there is little research in this area.

The Background also relies on sound research and a comprehensive approach. Whereas the Research Problem is designed to set up what is not known (i.e., a problem) in the research, the Background gives the reader a broad and often chronological view of the topic and the research that has been conducted on it to the present. Obviously, you cannot cover all the research on a topic in the Background, and you are not expected to. What is expected is that you cover major trends in the research and major conclusions, as well as capture how research on the topic has evolved over time. This leads the reader to the current state of the research and, ideally, to the Research Problem and the need for your study.

This blog only reiterates the importance of research. It does not provide information on how to conduct it. However, do not cut corners when conducting research, because it may cost you more time in the long run by having to go back and fill in gaps. Additionally, if you are not a strong researcher or if you have questions about or need help conducting research, ask a research librarian at your school for help. Part 2 of this blog covers the importance of research to the Literature Review and the Discussion.