The Research Problem

Going Beyond Course Assignments

The quest for a research problem/question begins with your deeper thinking about the content material of your coursework. Now is when you start to think further than just the course content. What are the theories, the ideas, the positions of the authors that you are reading and discussing? What are the trends in research in different fields of study? Which ones seem to align with your perspective about the topics?

In a doctoral program, you will be expected to discuss various perspectives and form your perspective about what is discussed. I didn’t say, “your opinion.” I said, “your perspective,” backed by published works. No one really cares about your opinion; they are like parts of human anatomy: everyone has one. By giving your perspective, your understanding of the material, you add in some small way, to the larger body of knowledge about the topic. You are beginning the journey to becoming an independent scholar, not just another student with a nice GPA that together with a couple of bucks will get you a Starbucks coffee.

Opinion? Everyone Has One of Those!

So how do you cross the threshold from opinion to perspective? My first suggestion would be to read, read, and read. Next,keep a journal of your ideas and thoughts about what you are reading. What are the details of the topic on which the authors focus ? What are their agendas? What motivates them? Whether openly stated or not, research is to an extent, a political act. Researchers are human beings and as such, are influenced by all of the things that make us human. While the research process is designed to remove many of those things that would bias our research, nothing is perfect. We research those things that interest us, those things that often have personal meaning. We must constantly be on guard for our subconscious tendencies to paint with the colors we like rather than the reality of the palette.


Take time to think about the questions above. Doesn't it make sense to spend time thinking and planning before going down a path that might not lead you where you want to go?

Toward Independent Scholarship

Doctoral work is the beginning of a new way of thinking about education. It is more like a prep program to launch you into the world of independent scholarship, one where you make direct scholarly contributions to the existing body of knowledge and understanding about a topic. You are guided by an existing and constantly expanding body of literature in which authors identify weaknesses in content, theory, or both,recommending the need for further investigations to extend understanding. From day one of your coursework, you should begin to find those weaknesses because one of them will become your focus in the dissertation.