Forming the research question

Writing an EE is an academic exercise where students get the chance to show that they can be “a researcher”. Of course, it is expected that they will write at a level that is appropriate for their level of education. The purpose of the EE is to demonstrate that they can come up with a focused research question, investigate it using appropriate resources, and then present the findings of the investigation. Students should be able to construct an argument based on psychological knowledge, including psychological theories, empirical studies, psychological terminology, and key concepts.

Getting started

Students will probably start by having only a general interest in a topic, but not really a clear sense of what they would like to investigate. It is not possible to formulate a good research question without having done a bit of reading on the topic.  Only after reading a few articles or watching some documentaries, will students have some idea of what the focus of their question should be.

It is very important for supervisors to understand that it is not the supervisor's responsibility to find the research. Students should be able to show some research to their supervisors prior to getting their research question approved.

Writing tip: The thesis statement

The research that they find helps them to gradually formulate a research question. After the initial research, they will also have an idea of what could be the thesis statement - that is, the position they are going to make in relation to the research question. The thesis statement should be a direct answer in response to the research question. It is a good idea to combine the research question and thesis statement because they must construct the argument based on the thesis statement. If they find that their research doesn't support their thesis statement, then they may change this as they become more informed about the topic.

Examples of thesis statements

Research question: Does prejudice have evolutionary roots?

Thesis: Evolutionary psychologists argue that prejudice is a hard-wired survival mechanism that has been advantageous to the human species.

Research question: Is Prozac effective in the treatment of depression?

Thesis: Prozac is effective in the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder in certain clients - but is not overall effective in the treatment of the disorder.

Research question: To what extent can ‘optimism’ influence one's physical health?

Thesis: Optimism has a limited influence on one's physical health.

Sample research questions

The research question must be clear and focused so that the reader knows exactly what is being investigated. It must be present in the introduction of the EE. Students are supposed to justify the choice of RQ with reference to real problems and former research done in the area. The following list is a set of good EE questions that are well defined.

Cognitive

  • To what extent is child testimony reliable in court?
  • Does long-term computer use have an effect on memory?
  • Is computer use in the classroom actually enhancing learning?

Abnormal

  • To what extent does genetics play a role in OCD?
  • To what extent is the theory of biological preparedness of phobias supported?
  • Is anorexia a cultural phenomenon?

Developmental

  • To what extent do attachment patterns in early childhood determine later interpersonal relationships?
  • To what extent are gender differences biologically based?

Health

  • To what extent does psychological stress affect one's ability to cope with a chronic illness?
  • Are government-imposed bans on transfats a feasible strategy for reducing obesity?
  • Is mindfulness an effective means of coping with stress?

Human Relationships

  • Can prejudice be reduced?
  • Is homosexuality a learned behaviour?
  • To what extent does communication play a role in a successful marriage?

Sport - although sports psychology is no longer part of the curriculum, it is totally acceptable as a topic.

  • To what extent is the theory of self-efficacy useful for explaining behaviour in competitive sport?
  • Is mental imagery an effective strategy for improving performance in football?
  • To what extent do coaches play a role in team cohesion?
  • Is it possible to increase one's level of "grit"?
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