A research question is at the core around which revolves almost everything, ranging from the methodological choices taken, going through the constructed theoretical framework, and up to the inferences and deductions leading to logical conclusions.
One challenging problem every student faces when planning research is finding and constructing a research question.
Knowing how to come up with a research idea and a research question independently like an experienced researcher is an asset.
In this blog post, I will show you what experienced researchers do to come up with their research questions easily without having to be necessarily creative.
So, What do Experienced Researchers Do?
In reality, there is no secret or magical thing to do to get to (a) research question(s): What experienced researchers do is reading and instead of heavily relying on creativity, they just look for research gaps in previous researches and try to fill them with their ideas.
What is a research gap?
A research gap is generally any problem you notice in a scientific article (or an academic book): It can be a practical problem, a theoretical problem, a reasoning problem, or something else.
In the following lines, I’m going to go into more detail about the kind of research gaps you can spot in scientific papers and academic books you are interested in.
The knowledge I’m going to share with you here is based on an article written by Dr. Anthony Miles (2017), titled “Research Methods and Strategies Workshop: A Taxonomy of Research Gaps: Identifying and Defining the Seven Research Gaps”.
Dr. Anthony Miles (2017) developed a Taxonomy of 7 research gaps based on other articles treating the same issue.
To make it simple, I’m going to try to extra simplify them and summarize them into three categories only, namely: theoretical gaps, empirical gaps, and reasoning gaps.
#1: Theoretical Gaps
While reading theoretical books, you may discover a lack of theoretical knowledge about a particular issue in the field of study you are in.
As a reaction, you can go for inductive research to build the missing piece of information required (i.e doing grounded theory).
But be careful, spotting theoretical gaps is for advanced researchers who have good knowledge of the different theories available in their field of expertise.
Also, building a whole theory is not something easy to do.
You can read about grounded theory and see yourself how difficult it is for advanced researchers, let alone beginners and intermediates.
So, although it’s very important to know, it’s generally not recommended, unless you are an expert.
#2: Empirical Gaps
In the human and social sciences, replicating research is not like you might think or heard, it’s not bad.
In fact, replicating researches in the field of human and social sciences is vital to the development of different ideas within.
The reason behind this is that a single research conclusion is dubious and insufficient and thus insignificant until it gets replicated again and again and gets confirmed either positively or negatively. (Cf. Simon Oxenham)
In simple words, the empirical gap here is that researches need to be verified, and their verification necessitates from researchers to replicate them in a new context.
For more details about this, please read the article “The Empirical Gap: The Reason to Replicate Research”.
#3: Reasoning Gaps
The best researchers, I believe, are the ones who can spot logical problems in previous researches.
Logical problems can be found in the methodological part as:
- A problem of population misrepresentation,
- Wrong data collection,
- Wrong Research tools,
- Wrong theoretical choices,
- Wrong Strategies,
- Wrong Variables,
- Bad justifications, etc.
They can also be found in the analytic part as:
- Bad interpretation,
- Over-simplifications, etc.
Or in the results part as:
- Lack of evidence(s),
- Unjustified conclusions,
- A conclusion that doesn’t follow the premises,
- Inexistant results,
- Contradictory results, etc.
Replicating the research and building a research question out of one or many of these problems is also a great move to do.
For more details about this, please read the article “Reasoning Gaps: The Reason to Replicate Research II”.
Are these the only way to come up with a research idea and a research question?
Surely not, you can be creative and do more through your abilities of everyday life observations.
But mastering these is all that one needs to start as a beginner or intermediate researcher.
By having the ability to spot the three gaps I shared with you, you will never overthink your research idea and research questions again.
This is all for this article,
I hope it was helpful,
If you have any questions or suggestions about this topic, don’t hesitate to contact me.
NB: The references above have been built with a web application called ZoteroBib. For more information, please check the article I wrote about this, titled “How to Cite and Build a Bibliography in Under 10 Minutes!”.