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Advanced Research Skills Workshop for Graduate Students

The Essence of Research

We need to move beyond the idea of research as compilation (find some resources and summarize them) which sees information as the goal. Genuine research is problem-solving so that information becomes a tool to address an issue. If we are going to respond to a problem, we will need to design our research, determining our goal and making plans to move from problem to potential solution.

Defining the Research Problem


The first challenge is to determine a clear research goal, generally determined by a research problem statement in the form of a research question or thesis. Some characteristics:

1. A problem statement is singular. It should define only one goal rather than several.

2. A problem statement should be expressed in only one sentence - a question or a hypothesis delineating what you believe to be a tentative solution.

3. A problem statement should deal with an issue that is researchable, not something for which finding clear evidence is not possible.

The following presentations can help clarify problem statement development:

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Setting the agenda - Preliminary Outline

Developing research questions or thesis statements is not easy. For more guidance and examples, see chapter three and the first appendix of Badke, Research Strategies.

Once you have a research question, which expresses the goal = the problem you want to address, you need to work backward from the goal to the process you need to follow to achieve that goal. This is the essence of backward design where you start with a goal and then determine the steps you need to take to achieve it. For this, you will need to add to your research question a preliminary outline.

Think of the preliminary outline as a road map or blueprint to design the means to achieve the goal. It need not be more than 3-5 points that cover the elements you need to cover in order to get from problem to potential solution. Why think about an outline this early in the process? Because you need a plan that will guide your research, keep you on track, and avoid wasting time dealing with matters that are not central to your research goal.

So where does a preliminary outline come from? From the words in your research question or thesis. If you don't want to wander from the focus of your goal, you need to draw as much of your outline terminology from actual terminology in your research question.

This presentation might help:


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The following are tasks you can perform to build your skills. 

Task #1 - Read Research Strategies: Finding your Way through the Information Fog, chapter 3 and appendix A.

Task #2 - Take your research topic and brainstorm 3 or 4 possible research questions or thesis statements that are problem-based and researchable. List those questions and then choose one of them to be your research question. Abandon the others.

Task #3 - Create a preliminary outline of your planned research projects (up to 5 main headings). The outline should address the research problem statement directly, so use terminology from that statement as much as possible.