Day 64: Asking the Right Research Question

Last week I discussed how a train is the perfect metaphor for organizing research projects – and ultimately, what led me to complete my dissertation proposal.

This week, I discuss the engine or the research question.

My husband explained it best:

In the train metaphor, the first car is the engine which represents the research question. Similar to how the engine makes a train move forward, the question moves the research agenda forward. Without a well-formulated and interesting question, there is no reason for anything to be researched. Ideally, the question should be something the researcher is truly passionate about and that excites other researchers in the field. The question usually comes from observing the world and noticing that something does not fit preconceived notions of how the world works. It is from this “That’s Interesting!” moment that the researcher then asks “Why is this so?” From this general question, the researcher then formulates a specific question that is tailored so that it can be answered using the theory and methods of his or her field of study.

So, who do you actually find a research question?

I wrote about a four step process a while back in my Finding a Research Question post. In that post, I discussed the process:

  1. Realize that this is NOT a linear process. (irony noted)
  2. Read. A LOT.
  3. Have lots of questions.
  4. Narrow them down.

Those steps are perfect for those whose PhDs are more practitioner-focused. Those PhDs want you to make a contribution to the field of practitioners so they can use your new knowledge.

My PhD is theory-focused. Yes, it does care about practitioners (it is business, after all). BUT, the primary focus is on building theory. Given that, I needed a lot more guidance to really get to a good research question – one that could power the whole train.

So, I need to add a resource to Step 4, one that will addresses the “That’s Interesting!” requirement.

In my Research Design class, we read a paper by Davis, 1971 called “That’s Interesting!” Until my husband reminded me of it, I had forgotten most of the details.

If you want to read it, you can find it here. The cite is:

Davis, Murray S., That’s Interesting: Towards a Phenomenology of Sociology and a Sociology of Phenomenology , Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 1:4 (1971:Dec.) p.309

Also, it is long. But it is important. I recommend reading the synopsis instead – it is a lot clearer. You can find that here.

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