The precursor to a research hypothesis is a research problem, usually framed as a research question. Formulating research questions is the most critical and, perhaps, the most difficult part of any research design. A research question best describes the objective of the research study.
Such a question is needed to define the nature and scope of research. The way a particular research question is worded can have a significant influence on how much and what kind of research activities will be required.
Social researchers have regarding the research question as to the bridge between the research topic and hypotheses. In general, the research question is more appropriate for explorative studies, where ‘what question’ is most prevalent.
By selecting questions, and paying attention to their wording, it is possible to determine what is to be studied, why it will be studied, and how it will be studied.
From this perspective, research questions can be grouped into three main types: ‘what questions,’ ‘why questions,’ and ‘how questions,’ although other types are equally applicable.
- What questions require a descriptive answer; they are directed towards discovering and describing of and patterns in some phenomenon.
- Why questions ask for either the cause of or the reasons for the existence of the characteristics in a particular phenomenon, they are directed towards understanding or explaining the relationships between the events.
- How questions are concerned with bringing about changes in practical outcomes and interventions.
We illustrate the use of ‘what,’ ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions for the following research problem:
“It is noticed with great concern that in recent times, most young people have become prone to drug addiction in the city, which is unprecedented.”
The ‘what,’ ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions in the context of the above research problem can be framed as follows:
- What is the socio-economic background of the people involved in the incident?
- Why has this habit developed?
- How can we bring about changes in this habit?
The Daily Star, a local newspaper reported on the 20th December 2010, that the Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) yesterday suffered its steepest ever fall, setting off protests on the street.
Experts expressed their great concern over the matter and raised the following research questions:
- Where has the money gone over the last 2-3 months?
- Who took advantage of the loopholes in the system?
- What were the faults with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)?
- How were the demands created in the share market?
A study into the cost and quality of home-based care for HIV/AIDS patients and their communities in Zimbabwe developed at an HSR Health System Research (HSR) had as its general objective as follows:
To explore to what extent community home-based care (CHBC) projects in Zimbabwe provide adequate, affordable and sustainable care of good quality to people with HIV/AIDS, and to identify ways in which these services can be improved.
For this study, we may develop research questions for different objectives, such as
- Do rural and urban CHBC differ concerning the adequacy, quality, affordability, and sustainability of HBC provided?
- How satisfied are AIDS patients, relatives, and service providers with the care provided?
- Is the stigma attached to being HIV+ the same for women as for men? Or are there gender differences in stigma?
- What impact does the care provided to AIDS patients have on the economy of the homestead? Is there any competition with other basic needs (e.g., schooling of children, purchases of food).
The preceding examples tend to suggest that the research questions are not necessarily confined only to ‘why,’ ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions.
A Guide to Formulate a Utilizable Research Question
To formulate a utilizable research question, we must
- Choose an appropriate topic for research;
- List all the possible questions that we would like to answer by ourselves;
- Choose the best question that is neither too broad nor too thin;
- Evaluate the research question to see if it addresses the research problem adequately.
- Choose the questions that are linked to each other;
A Guide to Evaluate a Research Question
In evaluating a research question, ask yourself:
- Is the question quickly and fully researchable?
- What type of information do we need to answer the research question?
- Given the type and scope of the information that one needs, is my question too broad, too narrow, or satisfactory?
- What are the sources of information that we need to answer the research question (Journal, Books, Internet, or any other documents)?
- Can I access these sources?
- Are we confident that we can answer the questions raised by doing the proposed research?
Hypothesis or Research Question?
Although either format is acceptable in research, a hypothesis has several advantages over the research questions. A few of them are listed below:
- It encourages the researcher to crystallize their thinking about the likely relationships to be found.
- It encourages the researcher to think about the implications of supported or rejected findings.
- It is especially useful for statistical testing significance.