Determining a Suitable Ph.D. Research Problem

Introduction

One of the basics of conducting quality research is the understanding of the research problems. Leedy and Ormrod (2005) argue that the success of a good research project depends on how the problem is stated. As such, stating the problem in a clear and precise manner will contribute hugely to the attainment of the goals and objectives of the study. In fact, the findings of Leedy and Ormrod (2005) agree with various studies’ findings indicating that a good research problem forms the basis for the success of the study (Ellis & Levy, 2008; Creswell, 2005; Tracy, 2007).

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In other words, a clearly articulated, well-supported, and properly argued problem statement has a greater degree of attaining the desired study results. Therefore, it is critical for a novice researcher to come up with a good problem statement as well as learn how to create and expand a commonsensical case for the problem statement.

The Constitution of a Ph.D. Research Problem

Ellis and Levy (2008) assert that a good research problem tends to explain why the study is being conducted. In other words, good research problems provide reasons for the study. The research problem statement should be capable of addressing possible outcomes of the study (Levy & Ellis, 2006). One of the major characteristics of a good research problem is that it indicates the impact of the current study on future researches as well as other researchers. Essentially, the research problem should have an impact on the reader (Ellis & Levy, 2008; Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). The impact on the reader can only be achieved when the current study provides a direction for future studies.

While it is appropriate to state why the study is being conducted, the statement does not constitute a good research problem. However, a good research problem begins from the statement. Most scholars agree that good research problem statements provide solutions to the study dilemma (Ellis & Levy, 2008; Malinski, 2004; Creswell, 2005; Tracy, 2007). In fact, the study problem provides a framework and direction in which the research should be conducted. Studies indicate that good research problems provide ultimate desirability and necessity of conducting the study (Creswell, 2005; Tracy, 2007; Malinski, 2004; Levy & Ellis, 2006). In other words, the aims and objectives of the study are derived from the problem statement.

According to Ellis and Levy (2008), a good problem statement should indicate the manner in which the current study builds on the theoretical approaches as well as how the current study adds to the improvement of new theory. In addition, the problem statement should highlight the manner in which the knowledge gained from the study will be utilized and the potential significance of the applications. Similarly, Leedy and Ormrod (2005) suggested that quality research depends on a clear, precise, and well-structured problem statement. Essentially, all the study procedures would be based on the problem statements.

Therefore, a good research problem indicates the importance of the study (Ellis & Levy, 2008). In practice, a good research problem should be stated in the introduction in order to provide a clear guideline on what is to be expected throughout the study. Research problems provide interrelationships between other components of the study. In fact, all components of the study ranging from the study topic to results are brought together by the research problems (Ellis & Levy, 2008).

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The Components of a Well-Formed Ph.D. Research Problem Statement

As indicated in various studies, the research problem forms the foundation of any study and connects all the elements of research work (Ellis & Levy, 2008; Malinski, 2004; Creswell, 2005; Tracy, 2007). Essentially, a well-formed problem statement provides a guideline from which the researcher carries out a proper and efficient study. Ellis & Levy (2008) assert that one should first know what does not constitute a research problem in order to understand the research worthy problem. In connection to this, Ellis & Levy (2008) further argue that a poorly formed problem statement can mislead the researcher and normally result in a poor analysis of the collected data. As a result, the goals and objectives of the research work might not be achieved.

Most researchers conform to the fact that not all problematic situations provide a framework for meaningful research (Levy & Ellis, 2006). Moreover, most scholars still differ on what comprises a research-worthy problem statement. In essence, the components of a well-formed problem statement vary among scholars (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Therefore, developing a good problem statement requires a series of activities ranging from the identification of the dilemma to carrying out an exhaustive literature review regarding the issue (Creswell, 2005; Tracy, 2007; Malinski, 2004).

Ellis and Levy (2008) constructed a conceptual map indicating the manner in which the components of the research related to the problems of the study. In fact, the structure of the study constitutes the components of the research problem. Malinski (2004) noted that the research efforts should be viewed as a framework that incorporates various distinct components. The components, directly and indirectly, are related to the problem of the study. Further, Leedy and Ormrod (2005) argue that the distinct elements of the study procedure form the core components of the study problem. The reason is that the distinct elements directly or indirectly interlink with the problem of the study. As such, a good study problem should incorporate all these elements and the manner in which they interlink (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005).

Therefore, the components of a well-formed research statement range from the topic to the results of the study. In fact, a well-formed research statement should clearly indicate the relationship between the problem and the topic of the study. Malinski (2004) argues that a well-formulated research problem provides a viable topic of the study and is normally noticeable at the introduction of the research manuscript in which the importance of the study is properly articulated. Besides, Creswell (2005) argues that the topic of the study is derived from the problem statement. Similarly, the goals and objectives of the study originate from the problem of the study.

Ellis and Levy (2008) asserted that the goals and objectives as well as the research questions and hypothesis address the research problems. However, the research problems have a delimiting relationship with the goals, objectives, research questions, and hypothesis.

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Moreover, the relationship between the study problems and the literature review is indirect (Ellis & Levy, 2008). Nevertheless, Ellis and Levy (2008) noted that a well-formed problem statement should at least address the six common questions of what, why, where, when, who, and how. While addressing these questions, the statement should clarify the problem that the research intends to solve by considering what exists in the literature.

Besides, in answering the questions about how, where, and when, the researcher will be attempting to explain the negative impacts of the problem under investigation to the researcher and the population under study (Ellis & Levy, 2008). Essentially, the ‘why’ question should explain the possible cause of the problem under study according to the reviewed literature. The question of ‘who should be answered from a list of references generated from the literature review. In fact, all these questions address the distinct parts of the study, which form the components of a well-formed research statement.

The Constitution of a Reasonable Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework of research work can be defined as a set of assumptions, theories, and beliefs that support and informs an investigation (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005; Creswell, 2005; Tracy, 2007; Malinski, 2004). Essentially, the theoretical framework provides the key factors of the study and the presumed relationship between the hypothetical aspects and practical components of the undertaken investigation (Creswell, 2005; Tracy, 2007; Malinski, 2004). The main function of theoretical frameworks in a research study is to help researchers examine and define the goals and objectives of the study (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Additionally, a reasonable theoretical framework enables researchers to develop practical and relevant research questions and decide on suitable research methods (Malinski, 2004).

All research studies begin by identifying the procedures and methods that would be applied in the process. The methodologies and the procedures are chosen should be justified and interlinked with the desired results (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005).

In fact, the methodologies are normally plans of action, strategies as well as processes involved in the study and the manner in which such processes are interlinked with the desired outcomes (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Conversely, the methods applied to imply the techniques used in data collection and analysis, which relate to the research questions (Creswell, 2005; Tracy, 2007). As such, it is critical to identify the method, which is similar in temperament with what is to be investigated.

Whereas the methods and methodologies selected are linked with the processes believed to be answering the stated research questions, the validation of the methodologies and techniques goes beyond answering the research questions (Creswell, 2005; Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Besides, the justification of the methodologies and procedures relates to recognizing the fundamental assumptions about veracity and consideration of human knowledge as well as the theoretical point of view, which lie behind the procedures used (Creswell, 2005; Tracy, 2007 Malinski, 2004; Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Therefore, a reasonable theoretical framework constitutes methods, methodologies, philosophical assumptions, and epistemology underpinning the research study.

Conclusion

A good problem statement should address leading questions, declare the originality of the study, indicate the study focal point, and explain the benefits of the investigation. Besides, the research problem statement should be formulated in a manner that undoubtedly explains the reasons for undertaking the investigations. In declaring the originality of the dilemma, a well-formed problem statement should be based on a rich background of the study to establish the existence of similar research. Moreover, the most well-formed problem statement should compare two or more variables and be open to experimental judgment.

The relationship between the variables will form the focal point of the research work. Furthermore, some researchers have included the importance of the knowledge gaps in the available literature on the problem statements.

References

Creswell, J. W. (2005). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Ellis, T. J. & Levy, Y. (2008). Framework of problem-based research: a guide for novice researchers on the development of a research-worthy problem. The International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline, 11, 17-33.

Leedy, P. D. & Ormrod, J. E. (2005). Practical research: Planning and design. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Levy, Y., & Ellis, T. J. (2006). A systems approach to conduct an effective literature review in support of information systems research. Informing Science Journal, 9, 181-212.

Malinski, V. M. (2004). Nursing theory-based research: Parse’s theory. Nursing Science Quarterly, 17(3), 201-207.

Tracy, S. J. (2007). Taking the plunge: A contextual approach to problem-based research. Communication Monographs, 74(1), 106-111.

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