Finding research questions

When I started along this journey, I had a topic which I wanted to cover. I had some ideas about the direction I thought my research would take me. I didn’t have a particularly well-developed ‘research question’. As I’ve read more over the last year or so, it has been relating a lot to the importance of a robust research question and that the research question itself needs to be at the core of the topic but also focus on what the purpose of the research is.

At the end of the last academic year, I was pretty happy with the way my research questions looked. I’d been tinkering with them for a while. Then I read a few more books about the process of research (I’ll post some reviews of the books I’ve been reading at some point) and reflected on how the topic I was focusing on had changed through political developments (Mental Capacity amendments going through Parliament at the moment and the discussions around that) and realised that maybe the questions didn’t do quite what I wanted them to do in the way I wanted them to.

I have tweaked them pretty much on a weekly basis since then. I started with some exercises suggested in some of the books I read and worked on some ‘brain storming’ processes where I wrote down (or typed because I actually did this on OneNote – so I could go back and ‘remember’ my workings in the weeks/months/years to come).

Sometimes I tweeted my random thoughts as well – when I was considering how to approach the topic and refine the detail. One of the books I read suggested as an exercise to ‘encapsulate’ the core of the research in a ‘tweet’ of 140 characters (pre-twitter changes!). I tried that along the way – even thought the exercise wasn’t meant to be an actual tweet – rather getting to the core of the issue you want to explore in a few characters. The responses I got from the tweet led me thinking along different lines.

While I’ve never been one for mind maps, or at least, I didn’t think I was, I transferred my brainstorming into a mind map. The mind map grew and actually being able to visualise where the branches and connections were, really helped me make sense of what I knew, what I wanted to know and how to try and make connections between them.

Mind maps and doodles and notes can be very personal. I mention it because it was something I hadn’t really used more than superficially but making sure I ended up with more than a bundle of random scribbles was important to me as I needed to be able to refer back to all the dead-ends and the paths which I decided not to go down. I should mention as well, as context, that at this point, I had done a lot of reading around the topic areas and reading recent research to check for ‘gaps’ so it wasn’t entirely taking a stab in the dark.

The mind map has become a central document now to my approach to this piece of work. I have refined questions and am still tweaking. I expect more tweaking constantly, but I like to know I have a starting point – even if that starting point can change.

So while I’m pretty sure that I still haven’t ‘found’ my research question/s as they will look in a year, or two years or three years time – I’m relatively happy with the work in progress that I have and by reading about the importance of robust research questions in research design, which is very much the point at which I am focusing now, I am happy to work with that.

Author: Vicky

Social worker based in London

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