Research Question

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What is the significance of the research question?
Doctoral Seminar: Research Methodology I November 3rd, 2011

Stefan Bischoff, HSG (11-618-303) Tanja Rädler, ETH (04-1820-02)



In a research project the researcher is either provided with a research idea by an organization/university or he/she has to generate it by himself/herself. In both cases defining the research question is of major importance for the success of the research project. In this short overview we focus on the significance of research questions when one has to generate the idea and topic of a research project individually. The goal of this short paper is to show, why a clear research question is important for successful research and for a
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Strong hypotheses give insight into a research question and give a hint on what we will find when we answer the research question. A hypothesis gives therefore an a priori answer to the research question. Punch (1998) makes the following connection between hypothesis and research question: “A specific research question states what we are trying to find out. The hypothesis predicts, a priori, the answer to that question.” Punch (1998) suggest that we do not need a hypothesis in any case. It only makes sense when we have an explanation in mind behind the hypothesis. A further question we should ask is what answer we expect and why. If we expect a certain answer only because previous research has found it to be true, we do not need to propose a hypothesis. To summarize and find out whether a hypothesis is reasonable one can follow figure 1.

Is a hypothesis reasonable? Do you have an explanation in mind for the question?

Is the expected answer predictable?

Is the answer predictable due to previous research?

It is suggested to formulate a hypothesis

Figure 1: Decision scheme to decide whether a hypothesis is necessary for a research project (based on Punch, 1998)


Development of a research question

To develop a strong research question given a broad idea the following questions will help to find out whether
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