A research problem, once defined, is not ready to be solved straight away. A researcher must understand the nature of the problem. We need to look at what is influencing the problem.
Here are some key approaches to understanding the problem.
1. Problems don’t have to look at the past. They can investigate the current or future situation.
An example of a past problem
What impact did warm-ups have on the level and types of injury experienced by dance students?
An example of a future problem
If I changed from warm up A to warm up B would this decrease injuries?
2. Problems don’t have to focus on something that is wrong; they can investigate why something went right!
3. Problems don’t have to be positive or negative; they can simply be an exploration or discovery of a situation. They can answer questions like how, why, who, when and where.
A researcher must have a good understanding of their problem. There is nothing worse than getting to the end of a research project and finding you haven’t actually answered any of your questions nor have you solved the actual problem.
Having a good understanding of the problem also helps you develop a clear focus and direction for your research, as well as uncovering problems and variables that need to be measured within the research.
Evaluating your topic…
It’s great to see a lot of you starting to think carefully about the topics and problems you want to research. A lot more will become clear after the next workshop, both in person and on the blogs as we start to explore the tools and techniques you can use to investigate the problem. Placing the problem in the context of a research design (the way you plan to collect information and make informed conclusions about your topic or problem) will often offer you some more insight into whether your problem is suitable to research.
Before we start that, here are some really simple measures you can think of when critically evaluating your topic choice…
1. So what?
Sounds like a rude question, but it is a really important part of research. You have decided to research and investigate this really relevant area, you think it is really interesting and exciting and it is a burning question you have had on your mind for years, but ask yourself the question; so what?
• So what does this research mean to my industry/sector?
• So what does this mean for my practice?
• Does anyone else care what I find out?
I might find out all the reasons why my hair is going grey, but so what? Who cares? Sure, I do…(it means I am getting old!) but is it really something I want to share with the world, make public through my research and blog. This is the time to take an impassionate look at what you are thinking of researching and ask, so what?
2. Avoid ‘nice to know’ research
Linked to the previous question is the idea of the importance of the research. When I read articles or books about the areas of research I try and decide whether the article is central to what I am researching (core), relevant but not essential (non-core) and my favourite category, interesting but not relevant (IBNR). Ask yourself the same basic questions about your area of research, is the topic core to the practices of my industry, or core to my practice…is the topic relevant, interesting, perhaps explores an aspect of yours or others practice, or is it just ‘nice to know’, interesting, but not relevant to your own practice and the practice of others. I have always wanted to know about what a certain song was about, is it something I will share with others? Sometimes yes, but in most cases no..it is interesting, but not relevant!
3. Is the research ‘done to death’?
Has this topic been researched before so extensively that you can’t add anything new or interesting? A good example is motivation theory. Research into why people learn to dance or why people attend dance as an audience is extensive and very detailed. There are literally thousands of research studies, reports, books, articles and papers that explore this topic. What can your research add that the other pieces of research haven’t already done? Step 1 of this is to try and read the key pieces of research in this area first. How do you identify these? A simple idea (though not foolproof by any means) is to look at google scholar and see how many times an article has been cited in other research. Step 2; search as widely as possible in databases using key words about your topic. Rotate those key words around each time you search. Use tools such as “ “ for phrases such as “participation in the arts”.
4. Does it stimulate your imagination and passion?
A really simple one, do you get excited about the topic? If I was sitting in the room and you wanted to talk about it, how quickly would you get bored?
5. Is it bleeding obvious?
I call this the ‘oh, derr’ question after the phrase I used to use as a kid when someone told me something so obvious it was painful! Is the research so obvious, so simple that it isn’t worth reseraching? On the other hand, this test often identifies research that we should should be looking at rather than just assuming. Apply the ‘bleeding obvious’ test to the list below from the Times in 2008…
— Students who watch hundreds of television adverts for junk food are more likely to eat snacks of unhealthy food and put on weight, according to the University of Alberta’s centre for health promotion studies
— Call centre staff who try to be your friend by using your name – dubbed synthetic personalisation – are irritating, concluded Oxford University researchers
— Parents whose children will not eat vegetables can succeed in disguising them in other dishes by mushing them up, according to research by Penn State University
— Men prefer blondes, says research by a team of Polish psychologists on the perception of hair colour in women over 35
— Children who lack confidence are more likely to grow up to be overweight, according to a team at Southampton University’s School of Medicine
— Heaps of long string always end up in knots, discovered the University of California at San Diego’s physics department, when scientists put string in a box and shook it
— Impulsive, risk-taking and thrill-seeking drug takers are more likely to become addicts, found Cambridge University researchers
— People are better at work when they exercise, a Leeds Metropolitan University study revealed