The ten important characteristics of a good research problem for a thesis are summarized below. The list enables one to examine any research problem and see the extent to which it measures up. Obviously, few problems will achieve all ten characteristics but good problems should fulfill most of these requirements.
In general, a good research problem originates from a necessity to solve an unresolved issue or to cover the gaps in knowledge in a particular subject area. The research problem can be generated in many different ways. Some researchers just come across a research problem in their day to day life and find it fit for their research. Sometimes a research problem originates from brainstorming and diving deep into the subject area to find a perfect research problem to study. Your research advisor and mentors can be helpful in selecting a topic for your research.
It should be noted, that generation of the research problem is the most important part of the research. The whole research revolves around it and one needs to be sure that the research problem is not only interesting but feasible. A novice researcher might go for catchy topics or something that is current and interesting but on the other hand the technical issues should not be neglected.
Some of the important characteristics of a good research problem are listed below.
Characteristics of a good research problem
1 The problem can be stated clearly and concisely.
2 The problem generates research questions.
3 It is grounded in theory.
4 It relates to one or more academic fields of study.
5 It has a base in the research literature.
6 It has potential significance/importance.
7 It is do-able within the time frame, budget.
8 Sufficient data are available or can be obtained.
9 The researcher’s methodological strengths can be applied to the problem.
10 The problem is new; it is not already answered sufficiently.
Stated clearly and concisely
Unless the problem can be stated clearly and concisely it is probably a poor problem or a non-problem. The best way to test the problem statement is to write it into a concise sentence or paragraph and to share it with others. If the problem cannot be stated in a clear paragraph it has difficulties and will not endure as a suitable problem. Of course, it is not easy to express complex issues in simplistic terms and it may take many weeks and countless drafts before the statement is satisfactory. Good critics are essential. If your spouse or mother cannot understand it, it is probably flaky.
Generates research questions
The problem should generate a number of more specific research questions. These turn the problem into a question format and represent various aspects or components of the problem. The research questions make the more general statement easier to address and provide a framework for the research. Formulating these questions can be a challenge, particularly specifying them at the right level of abstraction.
Grounded in theory
Good problems have theoretical and/or conceptual frameworks for their analysis. They relate the specifics of what is being investigated to a more general background of theory which helps interpret the results and link it to the field.
Related to academic fields of study
Good problems relate to academic fields which have adherents and boundaries. They typically have journals to which adherents relate. Research problems which do not have clear links to one or two such fields of study are generally in trouble. Without such a field it becomes impossible to determine where, in the universe of knowledge, the problem lies.
Based in the research literature
Related to the former points, a well-stated problem will relate to a research literature. Tight problems often relate to a well-defined body of literature, written by a select group of researchers and published in a small number of journals. With some problems, it might at first be difficult to establish the connections and literature base, but there should be a base somewhere.
This is the important ‘so what’ question: Who cares once you solve the problem? Assume that you have solved the problem and answered the questions and then ask yourself if you are any further ahead. At the very least, the problem must have importance to the researcher, but ideally it should also be of consequence to others.
Doable within the time frame & budget
There are logistic factors in terms of your ability actually to carry out the research. There is no point pursuing a problem which is not feasible to research. Do not do a study of education in India, Japan, Canada or any other country, unless you have the means to go there and collect data ̶ which may require years to collect. This factor helps explain why few theses relate to longitudinal data. The only exceptions come from research shops where there is a long history of collecting and studying data on a defined population. Terman’s study of genius (1954) in which a defined sample was traced over 30 years, is a good example.
Data is available/obtained
In some cases, there are insufficient data to address the problem. Historical persons may have died, archival materials may be lost, or there may be restrictions on access to certain environments. As noted, it is difficult to conduct research on a distant country unless you can go there and collect local data. One under-used approach is to use an existing database. Some data banks have been developed over many years and contain many opportunities for exploration of new questions and issues.
These are some of the characteristics of a good research problem. Not all the characteristics will be present in every good research problem. Most of these characteristics are useful in conducting a good research study.
- Farrugia, P., Petrisor, B. A., Farrokhyar, F., & Bhandari, M. (2010). Practical tips for surgical research: Research questions, hypotheses and objectives. Canadian journal of surgery. Journal canadien de chirurgie, 53(4), 278–281.
- “Genetic studies of genius”. Wkipedia the Free Encyclopedia.
- “Research and the research problem”. 20-25.