Dissertation Research Question: Tips from 4 Professors

Dissertation Research Question: Tips from 4 Professors

A dissertation question is the motivating force behind any report study—the as-yet unanswered question around which a research topic is built.  Dissertation questions are the inquiries that lead to the development of dissertation studies and, in turn, dissertation results.  A dissertation question is not necessarily a research question that is posed prior to a dissertation study, such as those that are commonly found in the first chapter of a college report.  Research questions typically pose such queries as "Will there be a correlation between x and y?" Dissertation questions are larger, more encompassing inquiries that motivate the development of an entire project.  Dissertation questions are big questions, such as "What is the missing link in this body of research?" or "How can we figure out how to apply the findings of Study A to the problems posed in Study B?"  Dissertation questions are typically questions with many possible answers; the goal of the writer is to find one such answer.

A dissertation question is a point of interest to a student-scholar—a point of interest that he or she finds immensely compelling and important.  Most significantly, a dissertation question is a point of interest that has yet to be explored, which is why it is an as-yet unanswered question.  Often, a dissertation question emerges when a student has devoted him or herself to a particular sub-field of his or her field and, after learning an incredible amount about that sub-field and reading a variety of research, determines that there is something missing in that research—something that is needed in order to make theories connect or to advance a particular practice or experiment.  It is this gap in the research that leads the student to wonder about how to make such connections or about why the research displays the phenomena it does.  These wonderings often lead to the report question.  These questions then lead to the development of topics.

Dissertation questions are turned into dissertation topics because dissertation questions are often very large and abstract ponderings.  To transform the abstract question into something that can be concretely studied requires the report thinker to turn his question into a practical topic.  In this way, large and abstract dissertation questions such as "What is the role of dreaming in our mental health?" becomes a topic that can be studied, such as "the effect of dreaming on serotonin and endorphin levels."  The larger dissertation question cannot be answered in full without dozens of such studies, but the question serves to develop a topic that allows the writer to become one step closer to an answer.

Viewpoint of Author #2

When a student has to write a research paper as part of a course, the report will often center around one particular report question that the student has.  There are many different types of report questions.  For example, some questions are general.  Other questions are very specific.  A general question might be, "How did the Union win the Civil War?" A specific question might be, "How did the Union army use tunnels to win the Battle of the Crater and save the Capitol of Confederacy from being taken over by the Confederates?"

In some cases, learners will not start their research with a particular question in mind.  Instead, they will start with a topic that a professor has assigned or that they have come up with on their own.  Through their research, they will develop their own article questions that they can then attempt to answer.  Regardless of how the student found a question or of the type of research paper question that a student begins with, the student needs to perform a suitable amount of research so that he or she understands the answer to the question.

There are several ways that students can go about researching the answers to their questions.  For one, they can read books, magazines, and resource articles that help them to get a clear picture of the situation.  They may also perform experiments, especially if they are trying to answer a research paper question that may have a quantitative answer, such as a scientific topic.  They may also interview experts to get more information.  

Whenever a student is attempting to answer a research paper question, the student should be aware that there are two types of resources that may be available to them.  The first type is a primary resource, which is a first-hand account of a situation.  For a example, a diary is a primary resource.  The second is a secondary resource, which provides objective information.  A secondary resource may be a newspaper article.  Students should review both types of resources to get the best possible answer to their document questions.  

A research paper question is different from the topic of a college report.  Often, learners will have to write a college report based solely on the question—especially if a professor has assigned a question that students must answer.  If not, then students should ask their own questions that they can answer.  By asking questions, learners can create purpose and direction in their documents.

Viewpoint of Author #3

A thesis question is an inquiry about a particular topic that results in a specific assertion (argument) about that topic.  In short, thesis questions are posed in order to generate theses.  They are brainstorming tools.  Some students confuse thesis questions with actual theses, but a thesis question is only the stepping-stone to a thesis.  A true argument will not exist in query form, but in declarative form, meaning the main argument must be a statement that asserts rather than a inquiry that asks.

Why are thesis questions valuable tools?  Determining a critical assertion (argument) is difficult because theses must be extremely specific.  Therefore, it is sometimes easier to develop a document in response to an inquiry, as it is typically easier to pose questions than it is to make assertions.  For example, if one were trying to determine a critical assertion on global warming, it may be difficult to simply sit down and write out a complete, quality thesis.  Rather, it can be beneficial to pose a series of inquiries to oneself about climate change in order to have to articulate responses to those questions and thereby generate coherent thoughts.  For instance, the writer might begin this process by asking himself "Why does global warming matter?" His response may be "Climate change is extremely important because it is affecting the ability of the earth to be an inhabitable place."  Notice how the fairly simple question resulted in a fairly clear, declarative assertion—an argument.  From here, the thesis can be revised and refined to be more specific, but the basic argument position has already been fully laid out.

Essentially, any inquiry that invites an open-ended response can be a thesis question.  An open-ended inquiry is one that can be responded to in many different ways and requires some depth to truly answer, as opposed to a close-ended query, which typically has one, finite answer.  So, to develop a thesis question on any topic, all a writer must do is start asking and answering open-ended inquiries.  These inquiries can be very broad, such as "Why does global warming matter?" or very specific, such as "What is the effect of global warming on polar bears?" Both types of queries can elicit responses that are declarative assertions.  

When using thesis questions as a means for developing possible theses, it is always best to spend some time developing multiple inquiries and answers.  Often, in the beginning of the process, the learner will present to herself very broad queries, and then develop more detailed queries as she proceeds.  Typically, the more detailed thesis questions result in better theses.

Viewpoint of Author #4

A dissertation is a very formal academic document that a learner will generally write as part of a higher level of study.  Many academic articles are written as a requirement for graduation from a PhD program.  Other reports are written so that a student can graduate from a master's degree program.  Some dissertations are written as extended study projects for high school classes.  No matter why a university report is written, learners should begin their documents by asking a dissertation research question.

A dissertation research question is a simple query (or sometimes complicated) that a learner will attempt to answer through his or her assignment.  There are many different types of report research questions, such as practical questions that may seem easy to answer, but require in-depth research, as well as questions that may not be answered, but that may benefit a field of study through research.  

In order for a learner to decide on a dissertation research question that he or she wishes to answer, the student needs to have defined a special area of interest.  In many cases, when a student is in a PhD program, the learner will develop this area of interest that then becomes a major part of the student's career.  In other cases, the student may be working on the report simply to pass a grade level.  However, the topic that a student studies should interest the student if the student if he or she is going to be able to write an effective and convincing reference project.  

Many students work with advisors to define their specific dissertation research questions.  For example, if an advisor specializes in a particular area of study, then the advisor can help to direct the student as the student chooses his or her question.  Many students may begin the writing process by having similar dissertation research questions, however, a discussion with an advisor may help the student to define the question further.  

The entire report should be centered on answering the report research question.  However, the report research question is not the same as the thesis.  A question expresses a curiosity that the student is trying to appease through his or her research.  The thesis statement states what the conclusion to the research is.  

All dissertations must begin with the report research question.  In order to answer the report research question, the student must perform research.  The research will help to student to draw conclusions and find connections between information.  These facts and connections will lead to the thesis of the report, which is about expressing the answer to the report research question by showing the conclusion to the research.

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