Readings about research questions

Categories: Other, Research, Research Design, Research Methods


MethodSpace will explore phases of the research process throughout 2021. In the first quarter will explore design steps, starting with a January focus on research questions. Find the unfolding series here.

Questions: The starting point for research

What do methodologists and researchers say about their process for identifying, refining, and defining research questions? Here are some open access articles and sample book chapters to spark your thinking. They are from multiple disciplines, and touch on qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods research design.

‘Jumping the first hurdle’: Framing action research questions using the Ice Cream Cone Model (Brownhill, Ungarova, & Bipazhanova, 2017)

Abstract. The importance of good research questions is well recognised in the research community. The difficulty lies in actually formulating these research questions, an issue which both beginning and established researchers have expressed concerns about. This article reports on an innovative framing device which was developed for international trainers and teachers to help them ‘jump the first hurdle’ and write a ‘good’ research question to specifically drive a cycle of action research. Through a staged exploration of the thoughts and perceptions of Kazakhstani trainers who used the Ice Cream Cone Model, findings highlight strong support for the use of the framing device and the ‘logical steps’ it provides for producing small-scale action-based research questions. The value of this framing device for teacher researchers and those involved in supporting teachers to carry out action research will be considered following an exploration of model-generated research questions.

Essentials of Social Statistics for a Diverse Society (Leon-Guerrero,Frankfort-Nachmias, & Davis, 2020)

Chapter 1 explores the research process, including asking the research question and formulating the hypothesis. (Read an interview with the authors here.)

A Poetical Journey: The Evolution of a Research Question (Leung & Lapum, 2005)

Abstract. Rarely does literature make explicit the lessons learned in the journey to a research question. In this article, the authors demonstrate how they have engaged poetry in the evolution of a research question. Poetry has taken them beyond the traditional limits of knowing and allowed them to conceptualize their research questions by situating and locating their selves within their research. By explicating this journey to a research question, the authors hope that others encounter and reflect on an understanding of what it means to make this process transparent and to support ways of enhancing rigor within their particular and locally conceived research phenomena. As well, they hope to inspire scholarly reflection and critique of poetry as a method in the research process.

Revisiting the quantitative–qualitative-mixed methods labels: Research questions, developments, and the need for replication (Leppink, 2017)

Abstract. The goal of science is to establish laws and principles that can help us explain phenomena in our world and universe in a systematic manner and, in many cases, how we may be able to predict and/or influence these phenomena. In this endeavour, qualitative and quantitative research methods can provide us with useful tools. However, these methods have been assigned several unconstructive labels that, although perceived as useful anchors, can result in ill-founded choices of methods used in a study. This article discusses several of these frequently encountered labels and argues that they may contribute to a continued quantitative–qualitative divide, as we have witnessed in the field of medical education, but are not constructive for the practice of science. To establish laws and principles, we need well-designed scientific studies and replications of these studies. Regardless of which methods we use, to enable replication, we need to document all choices and decisions made throughout a study.

Making Sense of the Social World: Methods of Investigation (Daniel Chambliss & Schutt, 2020)

In chapter 2, the authors explain research questions in social research.

Exploring the Nature of Research Questions in Mixed Methods Research (Tashakkori & Creswell, 2007)

Abstract. In our editorial to the second issue of the JMMR (Creswell & Tashakkori, 2007), we summarized some of our perspectives about the characteristics of strong, publishable mixed methods articles. Among the attributes discussed, we proposed that a strong mixed methods article should:

 • demonstrate the need for mixed methods to answer research questions that include clearly interconnected qualitative and quantitative components,

• present distinctly identifiable qualitative and quantitative data (or one transformed to the other) that are analyzed and presented separately,

• make identifiable inferences or conclusions on the basis of the results of appropriate qualitative and quantitative data analyses, and • clearly integrate the results of the two or more (qualitative and quantitative) strands of the study into coherent conclusions or inferences that are more comprehensive and meaningful than those of the qualitative or quantitative strands alone.

Planning Qualitative Research: Design and Decision Making for New Researchers (Tomaszewski, Zarestky, & Gonzalez, 2020)

Abstract. For students and novice researchers, the choice of qualitative approach and subsequent alignment among problems, research questions, data collection, and data analysis can be particularly tricky. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to provide a concise explanation of four common qualitative approaches, case study, ethnography, narrative, and phenomenology, demonstrating how each approach is linked to specific types of data collection and analysis. We first introduce a summary and key qualities of each approach. Then, using two common research contexts, we apply each approach to design a study, enabling comparisons among approaches and demonstrating the internal consistency within each approach. Given the nuance and complexity of qualitative research, this paper provides an accessible starting point from which novice researchers can begin their journey of learning about, designing, and conducting qualitative research.


Leon-Guerrero, Frankfort-Nachmias, & Davis, G. (2020). Essentials of social statistics for a diverse society (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publishing.

Brownhill, S., Ungarova, T., & Bipazhanova, A. (2017). ‘Jumping the first hurdle’: Framing action research questions using the Ice Cream Cone Model. Methodological Innovations, 10(3), 2059799117741407. doi:10.1177/2059799117741407

Chambliss, & Schutt, R. (2020). Making sense of the social world: Methods of investigation (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publishing.

Leppink, J. (2017). Revisiting the quantitative–qualitative-mixed methods labels: Research questions, developments, and the need for replication. Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences, 12(2), 97-101. doi:

Leung, D., & Lapum, J. (2005). A poetical journey: The evolution of a research question. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 4(3), 63-82. doi:10.1177/160940690500400305

Tashakkori, A., & Creswell, J. W. (2007). Exploring the nature of research questions in mixed methods research: Sage Publications Sage CA: Los Angeles, CA.

Tomaszewski, L. E., Zarestky, J., & Gonzalez, E. (2020). Planning qualitative research: Design and decision making for new researchers. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 19, 1609406920967174. doi:10.1177/1609406920967174

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