Creating a Research Question

Why does the research question matter so much?

Without the right research question, there is a limit to how successful the whole reflective project can be. Yes, students will still have the opportunity to employ ethical, critical and reflective thinking but it is  parallel to trying to run a marathon in flip flops. A question that is too narrow or too broad will make the process far more difficult. It can be frustrating to focus on something so seemingly small. Below are exercises that explore the ramifications of getting the question wrong.

Advice on research question formulation

1. The question must be evaluative and not descriptive. This means that there must be the potential for multiple viewpoints that can be analysed and not just give an account.
2. There must be a sense of debate in the question - there should not be an obvious solution to the right course of action not should there be implicit bias...
3. ....therefore the dilemma should be clear in the question.
4. Do not be put off by a question that seems too specific; if there are high quality resources available then the student will have just the right breadth of study to explore. With a project that is at the most 3000 words, irrespective of which option the student chooses, a question that is too broad will be impossible to do justice to,
5. 'Will this be a 50 hour project?' Overall the question and resources available must answer affirmative to this and it must relate to the student's career-related study.

How to avoid a descriptive question

1. Once an appropriate issue has been found related to the career-related study, a student can form a question that lets them describe what they already know.
How can social media have negative effects on people?
So the student has identified an issue of sorts but it will lead to a description. Furthermore the internet is referred to generally and this is far too broad so needs narrowing down.

2. Then redraft the question so it sounds like it is asking for a solution.
What can social media platforms do to protect its users from trolls?
The question is a little narrower and asks for a solution of sorts. However the phrasing of the question presupposes that there is no dilemma and that social media hosts are guilty of not doing more to protect its users. Furthermore the word 'trolls' is both vague and loaded with bias.

3. Once the question is at this stage, consider whether the ethical issue is clear and redraft.
Do social media platforms have an obligation to protect its vulnerable users?
The ethical issue is here. Now we have to tackle how broad it is suggested by the vagueness of 'social media users' and 'vulnerable users'.

4. Now the issue is in place, consider whether there is a sense of debate in the question; does it contain the element that presents different perspectives and people are divided on?
Should social media platforms, such as Instagram, ban users for 'trolling'?
This is quite successful; the ethical issue and dilemma is there with the opportunity for different perspectives. However, the word 'trolling', even written in this way, might indicate only one real solution.

5. The student should now consider the step 2 again. Try and redraft the question so rather that just one, there could be multiple solutions.
Should social media platforms such as Instagram do more to protect its teenage users' mental health in regards to 'body-shaming'?
The question is narrowed down to a specific example of a specific social media platform. Also the ethical issue and dilemma is clear. The example of 'body-shaming' is quite a good addition as it narrows down the parameters of how users' mental health could be effected. (Another way of approaching this would be referring to a specific controversial case to centre the debate about; take care though that the local/global dynamic is not restricted by this). What would be interesting here is to explore whether social media users could do more before debating should they do more. This would lead to a complex exploration and offer the possibility of multiple solutions.

Lesson plan: All good questions

Lesson 1: What makes a good question?

Aim: Consider the outcomes of a range of research questions to understand the importance of this key element.

Key skills explored from Criterion A:

  • the research question
  • identifying opportunities to use appropriate research and sources
  • identify potential bias

Full Summary of Criterion A: Focus and Method

Criterion A: Focus and Method
Decide on an ethical dilemma and research question arising from the career-related context
Use appropriate research methods and collect information from a variety of sources judiciously

Show an understanding of bias and validity

Step 1: Spot the problem questions - Be an expert


Teacher Notes

RQ Lesson 1: Research Question Expert part a

RQ Lesson 1: Research Question Expert part b

Quick ideas

Quick fire round: In a group or pair, have students make a decent question using the following topics and identifying potential issues. Allow them two minutes a topic before moving on. Judge responses as a class asking groups to talk through their thinking.

Points-based immigration systems                                                        Unification of lone refugee children with family
Protective equipment against COVID 19                                               Religion taught (or not taught) in schools
Freedom of religious expression                                                           Government funded healthcare

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