The Problem:
The Heart of the Research Process
Chapter 2
The research problem
– Subproblems, hypothesis, variables,
operational definitions
The research question
– Components of the RQ, writing a RQ
Criteria for Identification of a Suitable
Research Problem
1. The research problem should address an important
question so that the answer will make a difference.
2. The research problem should advance the frontiers
of knowledge by leading to new ways of thinking,
suggesting possible applications, or paving the way
for further research in the field.
Leedy & Ormrod
Practical Research: Planning and Design, 10e
© 2013 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
2-3
Situations to Avoid When Considering A
Research Problem
Research projects should not be a ruse for achieving
self- enlightenment.
A problem whose sole purpose is to compare two sets of
data is not a suitable research problem.
Calculating a correlation coefficient between two sets of
data to show a relationship between them is not acceptable
as a problem for research.
Problems that result in a yes or no answer are not suitable
problems for research.
Leedy & Ormrod
Practical Research: Planning and Design, 10e
© 2013 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
2-4
Finding a Legitimate Research Problem
1. Look around you.
2. Read the literature.
3. Attend professional conferences.
4. Seek the advice of experts.
5. Choose a topic that intrigues and motivates you.
6. Choose a topic that others will find interesting and
worthy of attention.
Leedy & Ormrod
Practical Research: Planning and Design, 10e
© 2013 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
2-5
Guidelines: Stating the Research Problem
1. State the problem clearly and completely.
2. Think through the feasibility of the project that the
problem implies.
3. Say precisely what you mean.
- Absolute honesty and integrity are the rule!
4. State the problem in a way that reflects an open
mind about its solution.
5. Edit your work.
Leedy & Ormrod
Practical Research: Planning and Design, 10e
© 2013 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
2-6
The Research Question
“an explicit query about a problem or issue that
can be challenged, examined and analyzed and
that will yield useful new information”
Factors to consider to develop a strong
research question:
• Do I know the field and its literature well?
• What are the important research questions in my field?
• What areas need further exploration?
• Could my study fill a gap? Lead to greater understanding?
• Has a great deal of research already been conducted in
this topic area?
• Has this study been done before? If so, is there room for
improvement?
• Is the timing right for this question to be answered?
• Is it a hot topic, or is it becoming obsolete?
• Would funding sources be interested?
• If you are proposing a service program, is the target
community interested?
• Most importantly, will my study have a significant impact on
the field?
Characteristics of a Good Research Question
(RQ)
1. Importance
So what?
Will the research make a difference?
2. Scope
while the research problem should not attempt to
solve all the health dilemmas of the world, neither
should it be too small
3. Specific
should explicitly identify the variables and
populations of interest
4. Measurable
cannot be a value judgment
the concepts contained in the question must have an
approach or method that can be measured
5. Contexuality (placement within the framework of
prior knowledge; based on prior knowledge)
knowledge of previous research studies and their
outcomes empowers the researcher to write a hypothesis
to accompany the research question
6. Feasibility
7. Realistic time frame
months vs. years, subject availability, ethical
issues
8. Budget
materials, travel, etc… are the costs reasonable?
9. Interest to the researcher
research is time consuming and demands
substantial self investment; passionate interest is
likely to keep the researcher committed to project
completion
Spend time crafting a well written question.
Resources
Writing a Research Question: George Mason
University Tutorial (2 minutes)
– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXkiCE_MBLM
Formulating a Hypothesis
What is a hypothesis?
Definition:
– a prediction regarding the outcome of a study
involving the potential relationship between at
least 2 variables
a hypothesis should not be confused with a theory which
is a general explanation based on a large amount of data
When the monitor of a person computer fails to
work, the following tentative reasons—or
hypotheses-- may be possible:
the monitor is not plugged in
the interface cable is not connected
the monitor is not turned on
the picture tube is malfunctioning
A theory is a well established principle that has been
developed to explain some aspect of the natural world.
A hypothesis is a specific, testable prediction about
what you expect to happen in your study.
A theory predicts events in general terms, while a
hypothesis makes a specific prediction about a specified
set of circumstances.
A theory has been extensively tested and is generally
accepted, while a hypothesis is a speculative guess that
has yet to be tested.
Generally, a hypothesis should:
①be stated clearly and concisely
②express the relationship between 2 or
more variables
③be testable
Essential characteristics:
1. measurable
2. specifies the population being studied
3. identifies a time frame
4. specifies the type of relationship being
examined
5. defines the variables being studies
6. states the level of statistical
significance (optional most of the time)
Types of Hypothesis Statements
Null hypothesis
Alternative hypothesis
Directional hypothesis
Null Hypothesis (Ho)
A statement that there will be no differences
between groups, no consistent relationships
between variables, or, more generally, no
patterns in the data.
It is statistically easier to demonstrate or
prove something is NOT true
Null hypothesis example:
No statistical difference in serum iron
between omnivores and vegetarians following
the Zone diet for 6 months.
• If a difference is found between the 2 groups
the null hypothesis is rejected
Distinguishing Null Hypotheses from
Research Hypotheses
Null hypotheses are used primarily during statistical
analyses
– we support a research hypothesis by showing,
statistically, that its opposite—the null
hypothesis— is probably not true.
Leedy & Ormrod
Practical Research: Planning and Design, 10e
© 2013 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
2-27
Alternate Hypothesis (H1)
The hypothesis the researcher wants to support predicting
that a significant difference exists between the groups being
compared.
In an investigation of a parenteral amino acid solution rich in
BCAA and its effect on nitrogen retention:
Null: The BCAA solution has the same effect on nitrogen retention
as a standard AA solution.
Alternate Hypothesis: The BCAA solution enhances nitrogen
retention as compared with a standard AA solution
Directional Hypothesis
A research hypothesis that predicts the direction of a
relationship between 2 variables
Increasing the vitamin C content of the parenteral
nutrition solution will increase the leukocyte vitamin
C concentration in mechanically ventilated patients.
Hypothesis
Null Hypothesis
Single nutrient
Trans fatty acids increase the
TC:HDL-C ratio vs saturated fatty
acids
Trans fatty acids do not increase
the TC:HDL-C ratio more than
saturated fatty acids
Multiple nutrient manipulation
Replacing dietary CHO with dietary
protein decreases plasma TG.
Replacing dietary CHO with dietary
protein does not decrease plasma TG
Variables, Operational Definitions
An experiment has 3 characteristics:
– a manipulated independent variable
– control of all other variables—the dependent
variable
– the observed effect of the manipulation of the
independent variable on the dependent variable
Independent variable
the variable in a study that is manipulated by the
researcher
Dependent variable
the variable in a research study that is measured by
the researcher
response or effect that is presumed to vary depending
on the independent variable
Extraneous variable
– one that may affect the dependent variable and is
not related to the major purpose of the experiment
• typically affects behavior of the subject
• gender, ethnicity, social class, genetics, intelligence, age
Confounding variable
– one in which the independent and extraneous
variables may each have an effect on the outcome
of the experiment, and these effects cannot be
separated
• there are many ways to try and control for confounding
variables: RCT, double blinding
• cannot always control for all confounding variables
Why Identify Variables?
Identification is helpful in choosing
(a) an appropriate research design
(b) an appropriate statistical analysis
Note: identifying independent and dependent variables
does not guarantee that the research data will support
the existence of a cause-and-effect relationship.
Leedy & Ormrod
Practical Research: Planning and Design, 10e
© 2013 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
2-35
Define the Terms: Operational Definitions
The researcher must precisely define the terms in the
problem and the subproblems.
Each term should be defined as it will be used in the
researcher’s project.
In defining a term, the researcher makes the term mean
whatever he or she wishes it to mean within the context of
the problem and its subproblems.
operational definition = the definition of a characteristic
or variable in terms of how it will
be measured in the research study
Leedy & Ormrod
Practical Research: Planning and Design, 10e
© 2013 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
2-36
Operational Definition
a definition of a variable in terms of the operations
(activities) a researcher uses to measure or manipulate
it.
specifies the activities of the researcher in measuring
and/or manipulating a variable.
Purpose of using operational definitions:
Ensures that variables are measured consistently or
manipulated in the same way during the course of study.
Also helps to communicate your ideas to others.
Handout
Importance of the Study
Discuss reasons for undertaking the study.
Studies should not go far beyond any relationship
to the practical world; they must have a practical
value.
Leedy & Ormrod
Practical Research: Planning and Design, 10e
© 2013 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
2-39
Ordering the Topics in a Research Proposal
In the first part of the proposal, you should outline:
 The problem and its setting.
 Subproblems, hypotheses, and questions presented in a
logical order.
 A statement of delimitations, definitions of terms, and
assumptions.
 The importance of the study should be discussed either in
early paragraphs that introduce the research problem or in
its own section.
Leedy & Ormrod
Practical Research: Planning and Design, 10e
© 2013 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
2-40
Checklist: Evaluating Your Proposed Research Project
1. Have you conducted a thorough literature search to
justify the time and effort expended on your
research project?
2. Have you looked at your research problem from all
angles to minimize unwanted surprises?
3. What research procedures will you follow?
4. What research tools are available for you to use?
5. Can others read and understand your proposal?
Leedy & Ormrod
Practical Research: Planning and Design, 10e
© 2013 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
2-41
Guidelines: Fine-Tuning Your Research Problem
1.
Conduct a thorough literature review.
2. Try to see the problem from all sides.
3. Think through the process.
4. Use all available tools and resources at your disposal.
5. Discuss your research problem with others.
6. Hold up your proposed project for others to examine and critique.
7. Remember that your project will take a great deal of time.
8. Remember that the first draft of your proposal will almost
certainly not be your last one.
Leedy & Ormrod
Practical Research: Planning and Design, 10e
© 2013 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
2-42
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Developing the Research Question[7]