A New Light

After thoroughly reading “Developing Qualitative Research Questions: A Reflective Process,” I must state that I felt of sense of embarrassment when reading the article. For one, they may have already had insight, to some extent, on the talking points in the article. Personally, this article opened my eyes to issues that I have not thought about. While reading, I’ve realized that developing a research question does not happen overnight. Previously, I was under the impression that one’s research question needed to be fully developed, leaving me feeling behind. Age makes it apparent that research is a step by step process. For myself, I need to begin thinking about topics I am passionate about. In the past, when conducting research, it was clear that I was not interested in my topic yet wanted to be rid of the task leaving me to skip the realization that “…a qualitative study cannot begin without a plan” (433). Once a researcher has a topic in mind that stems from curiosity, it is the starting point to developing one’s research question. Something that I have struggled with in the past that Age makes notice of is creating discovery-oriented questions. Surprisingly, this is a new term for me, but it goes against what I have focused on for too long. Yes or no questions will not get the job done. Taking the easy way out will only have a researcher backtrack and delay the process. The article discusses the “So what?” (442). that a research question should have. Numerous individuals may have a similar topic, but what will make mines stand out? I must admit that these are questions I did not reflect on before reading this article, sadly. Although this has provided me new insight, it is not to say that things will not alter throughout the process. Quite frankly, new questions may come about that will permit me to think further and gather more information. Sub-questions is new to me as I have always assumed that I must focus on one solidified question throughout the process. 

“Developing Qualitative Research Questions: A Reflective Process” has provided new insight in all areas, but the one section that struck me was the researcher’s having regard for participant’s life experiences. It has not occurred to me that depending on one’s research question, it may have participants reflect on their life experiences, which are not always enjoyable. Overall, the one question I am left with after reading Age’s article would simply be, “So what?” What do I really want to uncover? The topics that I have in mind I find that be researched before. Will it be my first-hand experience that differentiates my research? 

What’s the Question?

Research Theory Unit 3 Blog Amber’s Presentation

Developing Qualitative Research Questions: A Reflective Process

By Jane Agee

I have never been one to fully enjoy research.  I have had to research quite a few topics in my day due to my writing.  When working as a comic book and children’s book writer I had to research characters and their backgrounds to ensure a proper representation.  Many of the characters I had to write about were from foreign countries.  Researching those countries and the spoken accent of the people who live there is what mainly enveloped most of my research.  The research questions were easy:  What do these people sound like when they speak?  Another question we had to ask ourselves when conducting qualitative research on a character is where are they from?  This did not matter if they were from a different planet. We as researchers could not research an unknown world.  We could, however, research similar climates found on Earth. If the character claimed to have come from a dry planet, I went about researching what it is like to live in the dessert.  Same thing if a character was expected to be from a jungle world.  Again, the research question was simple.

            Jane Agee states that, “Qualitative research questions, then, need to articulate what a researcher wants to know about the intentions and perspectives of those involved in social interactions.”  In essence that is what I believe I was doing without knowing it.  I was researching places and ideas so that the characters we were writing about would have perspectives and interactions that would fit with that particular character’s place of origin.   She then says, “All stakeholders – those whose lives are affected by the problem under study – should be engaged in the processes of investigation.”  This is precisely why all members of the editorial team were involved in the research process.  So that whatever research we developed as a team could be applied evenly and we all could act as gatekeepers to ensure the message that we all researched remained intact during the story-making process.  But again, the formulation of the research questions remains challenging because situations can change at a whim.

            I agree with Agee when she says, “Good qualitative questions are usually developed or refined in all stages of a reflexive and interactive inquiry journey.”  During the story creation process, questions continue to rise about characters, where they are from and how they will behave based on all of the proposed ideas and issues researched. As mentioned, these group meetings, as they are, can change a research question numerous times over the course of a discussion.  My own research question for this class have evolved a bit because of the continuing conversations with my peers. 

“Some qualitative researchers …, recommend waiting until one is in the field and collecting data to fully develop research questions.”  While most, if not all, research done for the completion of creative endeavors has to be done on a qualitative level, the advice that Agee provides here is sound.  I never know what I will need to research for a storyline until I am well into that idea and have begun to develop it significantly. As is the case for my thesis project.  I did not realize I would have to research the impact of colonization on a primitive species until I began writing about it.  I also did not realize I would have to research prison environments and prison societies until it became prominent in my thesis project.  I believe that Agee agrees when she says, “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 generally seek to uncover the perspectives of an individual, a group, or different groups.”  My research question deals with the impact of a more technologically advanced race colonizing the lands owned by a more primitive species.  “A single overarching question allows a researcher to capture the basic goals of the study in one major question.”  I believe my research question for this class meets that requirements soundly.    

Unit 3 Response: Developing Qualitative Research Questions.

Image result for reflexivity

What is a good research question?  What are the elements that compose a good question?  Jane Agee, the author of Qualitative Research Questions suggest that there are a few critical elements that ensure a smoother research process.  A good research question lays the blue print for a qualitative study, but Agee points out these initial questions are constantly evolving and exploratory.  Good research questions help a researcher decide on a critical theoretical framework and focus on a specific context.  Broad and general questions give way to sub- questions which allows the research to capture the basic goal of goals of the study in one major question. They help set the direction for the study design, data collection and analysis.

The process of refining research questions includes conceptualization, theoretical framework, practical considerations, clarity, ethical considerations and reflexivity. Every research question stems from a subjective personal passion or interest, and it is through the process of refining and focusing the research questions that a researcher is able to conduct a quality qualitative study that aims at “ capturing the nuances of the lives, experiences and perspectives of others” that will ultimately contribute to a larger field of study.  Arriving at research questions that preserve the integrity of the aim of the study are reached through writing and rewriting. Quality research questions enable a researcher to clarify their focus and purpose of the qualititative study.

Constructing quality research questions is an evolving process that needs to allow for flexibility which permits researchers to adjust the focus of their research as they proceed along the research process.  At every step of the evolution of questions, the researcher is refining their scope of questioning to clearly define their aim of the study. Many elements contribute to whether or not a research question is refined and serves the aim and focus of the qualitative study.  Of the most important elements of this process is structuring and wording the questions.  Framing the wording of questions helps the researcher “implicitly and explicitly” link the study to a theoretical framework. Often, researches personal beliefs influence the way they structure their questions.  This may cause a researcher to ask leading questions which discredit the objectivity of the study.  The author discusses the concept of reflexivity, wherein a researcher considers how their own values and beliefs affect their research. 

An integral part of being reflective also requires the researcher to consider how the questions will affect the participants.  Ethical issue must also be considered when constructing appropriate questions.  Studying humans and treating them with dignity is crucial to ethical values of researchers in qualitative studies. As Agee states , “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. Institutional  review  boards  at  universities  routinely  ask  researchers  who  are  proposing a study to state the level of risk to the participants.” (Agee, 440) There is a great level of responsibility in delving into the thoughts, perspectives and lives of others, and researchers should not take it lightly. The agency and dignity of participants must be guarded at every step of the research and questioning process.

Researchers must think of questions as tool to reach the goal of their research. The aim of any researcher should be to increase understanding into a specific topic and not proving a point based on personal beliefs. Every step in refining the research questions should aimed in providing a clear objective research design with credible data collection methods and clearly defined limitations. The goal of good research questions explain specifically what the study is about and how the researcher went about obtaining the information necessary to explain it.  Qualitative studies seek to provide a deeper level of understanding and are ultimately connected to a much larger field, therefore researchers must recognize the potential trajectory of the study and the possible contributions it may have to a specific field.

Keeping It Flexible

Jane Agee’s “Developing qualitative research questions: a reflective process” was, to me, a thoughtful guide on many considerations when developing a research question.  Through her many varied examples, Agee highlighted potential pitfalls for emergent researchers when developing qualitative research questions, with the goal of not only helping them to avoid such pitfalls, but also promoting an ideal of qualitative research to which they (or we) should aspire.  That goal, from what I gathered, was to maintain flexible and open throughout the research process, to continually adjust as needed, and to avoid having a rigid outcome in mind.

One of the main points I found in this paper was the undergirding of the ideal that qualitative research should demonstrate “ongoing reflexivity.” (p. 438)  This continuous touching upon the idea of an ongoing process was highlighted when Agee said, “In  qualitative  studies,  then,  the  ongoing process  of  questioning  is  an  integral  part  of  understanding  the  unfolding  lives  and perspectives of others.” (p. 432)  This line stood out to me because it seems to go against the idea of research as a linear process, or a string of sequential steps, as outlined in last week’s reading on liminal spaces. I believe this line underscores the need for “ongoing” questioning, and adjustments if needed, which, I think, is much more in line with areas I am interested in.  

One of the most interesting pieces of guidance I found in this article was Agee’s proclamation that “a qualitative study does not begin with a hypothesis or a presumed outcome as is the case in a quantitative study.” (p. 433) I found this line not only helpful in that it recognizes a “reality that confronts many novice researchers” (p. 433), but that it acknowledges just how difficult avoiding implicit biases truly is.  This I also found interesting, in that most of us don’t wonder about things with no ideas in mind. (After all, the whole “scientific method” that all of us were taught in every science class since we can remember starts off with a “hypothesis,” an idea based on an observation, that our experiment is trying to prove or disprove. It will take a lot of undoing to avoid the process we’ve basically been indoctrinated into since elementary school!  Literally, my daughter, who is in the first grade, is learning these terms and processes in her science classes right now, so it’s safe to say, at least for me, that this is pretty deeply engrained!) I think it takes a lot of discipline to avoid bias, particularly confirmation bias, and to not have an idea of the end in mind when developing a research question. However, I find that this quote distinguishes qualitative research as more open ended than quantitative lines of inquiry.

One of the last important takeaways from Agee was, for me, the reminder that our research question has to actually have a purpose.  She writes, “The direction and the scope of the questions may be critical to designing an effective study and to collecting data that the stakeholders find acceptable and meaningful.” (p. 434)  Here, the importance of the question to a field is raised. A question may be a good question, but there’s always the subtext of “Why should anyone care?” or “What difference would this knowledge actually make?” It grounds research in the useful, the practical, instead of the mere academic.  This is something I think I’ll be struggling with: the idea that, while I think something is worthy of looking into and researching, it will be met with a dismissive, “So, what?” in the end.  Questions have to be important enough not only to answer, but the answer itself should be useful or valuable to someone, or serve some greater purpose.  This, I think, was the whole bridge between theory and practice we talked about last semester.  

So, finishing off, I think Agee’s paper was an excellent guideline of considerations to make before and while developing qualitative research questions, as well as an inspiration to continually adjust the research process and maintain the “ongoing reflexivity” that it needs to be successful.  The questions I still have are a theoretical one, and one a little more practical, and related to the course work: How can one ask a question and totally avoid having an idea in mind as to the answer? (I think it’s such a natural human tendency to look for an explanation for something, and this part of the process seems not only counter-intuitive, but running afoul of basic human psychology and behavior); and: Will we be able to bounce questions off of each other, and ask for feedback from the group in their development?