Tuesday, 12 February 2019

How to Become a Doctorate: What are Research Questions?

Research questions are one of the building blocks of a PhD dissertation/thesis. They are drafted prior to writing a thesis and continue to be the guide for selecting reading materials and writing thesis chapters.


Good research questions are helpful in giving a sound structure to thesis and the arguments of the researcher.


In this article, I want to enumerate some my tips on how to understand research questions and how to frame them.


  1. Treat research questions like points to consider in the following research. What you wish to study, explore and examine throughout your PhD. Research questions help in giving a proper structure and shape to your research. They help in systemic inquiry and ease the process of data collection.
  2. Research questions and literature review are very closely connected. While doing literature review, you must get hold of the gaps. Notice what strikes your attention and what you think should have been talked more about. That's when you have striked your research question. A PhD is something new or something that has not been researched previously by scholars. Your PhD is an addition to the prevailing knowledge with a fresher perspective. Therefore, after a thorough reading of as many literature (study material) on your topic you can, you will come up with several unanswered questions.
  3. Research questions must be interesting to not just you but to other future researchers who will be reading your thesis. It must be relevant to the times and address something significant and worth spending time on.
  4. Initially you will be coming up with several questions. After you are satisfied with them, begin clubbing 2-3 questions into one. A standard PhD thesis must have 4-7 research questions. It can be less too but not more that that. Any question that possibly will lead to an answer which another question has already addressed, remove it from your list of research questions.
  5. Research questions must not be impractical. Your research questions and its answers must be achievable or researchable. Each of the research questions must be such that a definite answer can come out from them at the end of your PhD and you are able to successfully defend your answers/arguments. Ask yourself at the time of framing a question - Will I be able to find something in the literature to allow me to write an answer? Do I have to travel a lot for researching this question? Is it worth my time? Am I doing too much in one bit?
  6. Treat research questions like the start of a conversation. Each question is answered in the chapters of your thesis. I framed 5 questions and 5 chapters. So, every question was answered in a chapter. This turned out to be simple and systemic way of addressing every question and not faltering at any one.
Hopefully, you are a step ahead now with understanding what research questions are.

Click to read previous topic - how to handle criticism during PhD?


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