Have you got your Research Questions yet?

In the first and second year of my fabulous PhD (I’m practising a positive mental attitude) I would bump into a fellow student, and we wouldn’t talk for long, but what we did ask each other was simply “Have you got your research questions yet?”. We both used to say, “nearly”, “I think so”, “perhaps”.

I did get my research questions at the end of the first year, in time for the upgrade, but until today I didn’t quite like them or I had a niggling feeling that they weren’t quite right. That feeling you get when you accidentally start brushing your teeth with your sister’s toothbrush and it feels different and you think it looks different but you don’t fully realise until she walks in a screams at you with hatred and disgust.

But today something amazing happened. I think I finally have three research questions that I like. They are actually still the same ones from all that time ago, but I have finally composed them in such a way that feels natural to me. Before I felt that they were a bit stuffy or as if they were written by someone else. I didn’t feel like I owned them. But now I can proudly declare them! ‘Well go on then’ I hear you say – well, I think I better get final approval from my supervisors first…… then maybe I will get a T-shirt with them printed on.

So how did this happen? Well, reading a lot more of the literature that linked directly to what I have been finding through my data analysis. This was the key to feeling more confident and more comfortable with my study. I realised that actually, I can answer them and that they only needed an extra word here or there to flow better. And one question that seemed to have a bit missing has now been repaired and another which was really weak now is nice and strong.

The research questions are vital to have nailed down for the particular type of method I will be using for the first stage of the data analysis. It’s called ‘structural coding’. Take a look at this book by Johnny Saldana (which is one of the most useful books I have come across so far) for suggestions on all sorts of coding types and here is a snippet of the structural variety.

Structural coding

Johnny Saldana: The coding manual for qualitative researchers

Strucutral coding 2image2image1(2)

I hope no one is reading this and thinking that it is odd that I only just feel comfortable with my research questions in my third year… ? Was everyone else sorted with this years ago and have finished their analysis already? Well, we are all different so stop having a go at me…. I THOUGHT IT WAS MY TOOTHBRUSH OK! *sob*

  1. I’m with you on this. I had my research questions, more or less, from some time in my first year. However, as I developed my theory, continued reading, and thought things through, the research questions became tighter, more clear. The weird thing is that I think one of my supervisors knew all along what it was looking at but let me work out how to understand and articulate it in my own time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, my supervisor sort of had to really sit me down and help me write my aims and initial research questions as I just couldn’t start. But since then, they have been my own, but I think I never fully felt I owned them. Until now. Even though like you say, they are pretty much the same as they always have been, one’s mind was not ready for them, perhaps!


  3. nice one, I think I have that coding book (well, I have a book all about coding and I doubt there are too many of them so it’s probably that book!) I must read it a bit more, it’s a bit overwhelming…I pretty much had to frame my research Qs for the first time properly (ie not for ethics purposes) for my confirmation report. I’m not 100% happy with them still, but I think you’re right that it takes time and knowledge and collecting data to know what you’re most interested in 🙂


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