The Secret to Finding Great Research Questions - Stop Spinning Your Wheels and Finish Your Dissertation 6 Months Faster

Want to finish your dissertation 6 months faster? An easy way to get the ball rolling is to start with this secret to finding GREAT research questions.

The Secret

Dissertation research often generates more questions than it answers. There are little golden nuggets hidden in the final pages of published dissertations. One of these questions from a former doc student may very well provide a basis for your thesis or dissertation proposal. 

Once you have a general idea of what your topic will be, a primary source for discovering your own research questions is by reading other doctoral dissertations. Existing literature, particularly recent literature, is an excellent source of research questions. Start researching Dissertation Abstracts Online, or go to ProQuest and select “Dissertations and Thesis”. Do a search for your general topic. Most published dissertations will include an area called, “Recommendations for Further Research”. This section of each dissertation suggests variations or extensions of the completed and approved study from someone who has graduated and is now a doctor. If you find that a question interests you, spend some time thinking about how you might develop the suggestion into a research proposal. Once you have written down some possible questions, discuss with your chair or a faculty member and solicit feedback.

Another great source of researchable questions is using a former piece of research as a guide and applying a paradigm used with one population to another population. For example, looking at summer learning loss in mathematics using a specific technology tool in 9th-grade students, and using the same tool, applying it to middle school students.

Good research questions should have the following:

  • Clear variables/concepts, precise and concise… no unnecessary words
  • They arise logically from the problem statement
  • Obvious measurement type (description, relationship, difference)
  • “Thing words” clarified (success, processes, achievement, factors, etc.)
  • No questions that can be answered by counting or by answering “yes” or “no”
  • Independent and Dependent Variables are clearly articulated, as is the relationship between them

Alignment: Research Questions, Purpose Statement, and Literature
Your research questions and your purpose statement should be beautifully aligned. The purpose statement is the argument- the “hook” that grabs the readers attention, and is made up of three major components: (1) the motivation informing your dissertation; (2) the significance of the research you plan to execute; and (3) the research questions you are going to answer.

You should know how the research questions fit, conceptually and methodologically into the existing literature. Research is a cumulative process of knowledge generation. What will answering the research question tell us? Research questions should build on previous research and should be generalizable.

Take Action: If your university has a subscription to ProQuest Dissertations and Thesis, start now. Today, download three recently published (within the last three years) dissertations. Look for dissertations on your topic from your own university and department. Choose one that was chaired by your dissertation chair. Create a list of potential research questions by leafing through the “Recommendations for Further Research” section.

Wishing you success and well-being on your doctoral journey.


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