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Saved by Starr Hoffman
on September 7, 2010 at 7:40:26 pm

From Research Topic to Research Questions


How to choose a research topic

  • passion, interest, expertise
    • i started this program because of my interest in the issue
    • it directly relates to my future plans
    • there is a gap in the literature
    • i've already been reading about it for my own interest
  • related to a broader and more complex issue
    • related to: higher education administration
    • academic library issues in higher education
  • availability of data
    • ARL data available...?
    • data on institutions in US available from NCES
  • manageable (narrowly focused & carefully defined)
    • doctoral students tend to pick topics that are too broad and/or too daunting
    • modify your idea of research & research question to be manageable
    • what's your definition of the terms for your topic?
    • how are you going to study the topic?
    • stand on the shoulders of giants; extend the literature a little by doing a novice study
    • your research is a lifetime job; the dissertation is just the beginning
  • the expertise of your adviser and committee
    • consider the expertise of faculty in EDHE at UNT
  • career aspiration
    • administrator or faculty?
    • administrator: what field would you like to get into? can you get this dissertation published/presented in an avenue that will get you a job that you want?
  • funding
    • there may be funding opportunities! grants, fellowships (AI, ASHE, AIR, etc.)
    • getting data, survey software or contact info, travel, statistical/editing help may cost money


you will run into barriers, problems you can't solve

no deadline can be a problem for people

the farther you live from campus can mean the longer it takes to compelte your dissertation

(because you don't see your major prof in person, less guilt, it's not on the top of your mind)

so: set agreement with your major prof that you will contact or submit something to him/her every 2/3 weeks, even if it's just a progress report


Where to find inspiration:

  • textbooks (ideas for future study)
  • journal articles--areas for future study (especially those written in the last year or two)
  • news
  • dissertations
  • theories--not many in EDHE itself, but often in other disciplines (borrowed from psychology, sociology, etc.)
  • your job
  • existing database: NCES, etc. (study with already-collected data)


must have a backup plan if you are using surveys, in case you don't get enough data


(share your research interests in class)


A research question is a well-crafted question that will guide the systematic planning of research. Formulating your questions precisely enables you to design a study with a good chance of answering them. The more specific, the better. Your whole design & study will depend on the question(s).


  • Your question will help you stay focused on a stated goal
  • gives direction to the research process
  • suggests the hypothesis(es)


Must be:

  • clearly stated
    • operational definition (of everything stated in research question)
      • measured: IQ -- intelligence quotient that is measured HOW? which instrument was used?
      • OR experimental: what steps used to produce the condition (anxiety in students, etc.) (because it often involves ethical decisions, not always used in education; ethically difficult to divide experiment group vs. control group)
      • OR constitutively (dictionary definition); but this is not usually good for operational definitions 
      • example-- if you're talking about "first-generation college student," what does that mean? no degrees in their family? immediate family? what's immediate family? what about college dropouts? what about community college? BE SPECIFIC 
    • very specific meaning
    • ascribes meaning to concept and construct
    • specifies operations to measure -- manipulate concept (how will you measure variables?)
  • significant
    • must have impact to EDHE (this study matters & is worth studying):
    • advance knowledge in the field
    • improve practices
    • help an individual (person, school, agency) to solve an immediate issue/problem 
  • ethical
  • feasible
  • must indicate a relationship


Research questions must be able to be answered with data

Must not involve value judgements

  • a question about "are there statistically significant differences between..."
  • "what is the effect of.... ONE VARIABLE on... ANOTHER VARIABLE?"


What is the effect of (independent variable) on (dependent variable) among (population)?



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