Developing the Research Question

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Developing the Research Question 

Jane Agee writes, “Developing qualitative research questions: a reflective process,” to ease the nerves of new researchers. She discusses both the creation of a key question and adding additional questions and refining your qualitative research study. Agee stresses the importance of the guiding question, because without a carefully worded question, you will not get a quality research paper or make a discovery. For most of the introduction the construction of the overarching question is discussed in detail to allow the researcher to find the workable question. This overarching question will lead to sub questions after a series of rewrites and conversations with peers about the research you will perform. The question of ethics is brought up, and for good reason, because your research will have an impact on the audience you are delivering this research to as well as having an impact on the people who you are studying. Agee gives readers examples of beginning, middle, and end questions for researchers to see how their research questions will transform over the course of a research project. The summary and conclusion of the paper help to reassure the reader that this process is in-fact a process that will get messy, but that it is a task well worth the productive struggle 

After considering Dr. Nelson’s suggestion about reading the paper out of order, so to say, I was able to put aside my biases and read the article with a more critical lens. I do agree with the author and feel that she is being very honest with the reader, she states,  “I address ways of conceptualizing, developing, and writing research questions for a qualitative study. I realize that, within the scope of a single article, it is not possible to tackle all aspects of question development, but I felt it would be helpful, after working with doctoral students and reviewing journal articles, books, and conference proposals over the years to address this topic.” (Agee 432) With these lines she makes readers aware of what she is proposing and what she hopes to accomplish in her work. The honesty of these lines made me feel comfortable with the text and allowed me to make connections with her study and finding my future research process and identity.

The quotes I connected with the most are as follows:

However, I want to emphasize that these initial questions are only a beginning point in the inquiry process. As Creswell (2007, 107) noted, qualitative questions are ‘evolving.’ First iterations of questions are tentative and exploratory but give researchers a tool for articulating the primary focus of the study. (433)

I often find ideas for studies bubbling up as I read and teach and now keep an ‘Idea File’ on my computer. (433)

Janesick (2000, 382) suggests beginning with a self-question: ‘What do I want to know in this study?’ Even those using grounded theory have some broad questions after entering a potential research site. Charmaz (2006, 20) suggests that broad questions such as ‘What’s going on here?’; ‘What are the basic social processes?’; and ‘What are the basic social psycho- logical processes?’ can serve to help a researcher find some initial focus (433)

Most qualitative researchers need specific questions for a proposal. Creating one or two broad questions can be a fertile starting point for thinking through the specifics of what the study is about and what data will need to be collected.  (434)

With a qualitative study, a researcher is inquiring about such topics as how people are experiencing an event, a series of events, and/or a condition. The questions gener- ally seek to uncover the perspectives of an individual, a group, or different groups. (434)

The main point to remember is that qualitative questions should embrace theory, either explicitly or implicitly as a way of giving direction and framing partic- ular ideas. Theory also serves as a conceptual tool that can move an inquiry forward toward deeper levels of understanding. Ideally, the inquiry process should not only include possibilities for discoveries that may lead to new theory and questions, as was the case for Merriam et al., and for developing new theories and questions that may emerge from analyses of data but also possibilities for ongoing reflexivity about one’s own theories or world view.  (438)

Consideration of ethical issues begins in the process of reflection and is carried forward into formulating questions, designing a study, and writing it up for publication. The best practice is to engage in ‘meaningful conversations about life writing’ (Adams 2008, 188). These conversations should certainly begin during the formulation of research questions, but they can continue to take place during and after the completion of the inquiry process. It is important to remember developing good research questions requires under- standing that inquiries into other people’s lives are always an exercise in ethics. (440)

Developing qualitative research questions should include careful thought about how the direction of the inquiry will position the researcher in relation to participants and what the implications are for the participants’ lives. (441)

In sum, qualitative questions should reflect the particularities of one’s study. Maxwell (2005, 67) phrased it bluntly: ‘The function of your research questions is to explain specifically what your study is about.’ (442)

Richards (2005, 15) lists three questions to ask in developing research questions: ‘What are you asking? How are you asking it? What data will you need to provide a good answer?’ Her third question is particularly important. If a question is focused and clearly establishes what data is needed to answer the question, the research process will likely be smooth and achievable within a reasonable time frame. (443)

Conceptualizing, developing, writing, and re-writing research questions are all part of a dynamic, reflective qualitative inquiry process. Using qualitative research questions reflexively can help researchers to clarify purpose, make connections with a field of study, and reflect on and interrogate the impact of the research trajectory on participants. (445)

This text reminds me of all the speeches I give my students or clients about productive struggle. I attended a professional development workshop, I cannot remember the name off hand because in my school district professional development is in overabundance. The phrase productive struggle has stayed with me when directing people who are experiencing self doubt or wrestling with coming up with something to say or do in terms of the task at hand. As previously mentioned at the beginning of this post, Jane Agee puts future researchers at ease with understanding that the task they are about to embark on is doable, that it will involve a lot of thinking, discussion of ethics is mandatory, and that your starting point will look alot different than your end result. 

I am once again reminded of the writing process materials from the Writer’s Invitational and English 5020. The four texts I am reminded of the most are, “Teach Writing as a Process Not Product,” by Donald M. Murray, “The Process of Writing” by Peter Elbow, “Process” by Irene L. Clark, and Anne Lamott’s, Ted Talk about “12 Truths I learned from life and writing” in connection with her chapter “Getting Started.” These four texts reminder the reader of the importance of working through the task with focus, flexibility, and intentionally. 

My questions that emerge from the text are:

What will my overarching question be? 

Will I write an overarching question about an education related topic? Will I narrow my focus based off of the student body I am working with? Will I look at people or literature available to me for research? 

How will our class be structured to support student’s needed dialogue about the research question?

How many office hours will I schedule with Dr. Nelson to formulate the ideal research question?