How to Define A Good Research Problem | Research Design Methods

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How to Define A Good Research Problem


Reasearch Design Methods Before we run our research project, we must first define our research problem clearly. Research problem is a series of questions underpinning our research project. If we are able to define our research problem clearly, actually we have done 60% of our research project. In order to help you understand about this topic more easily, I assume you have already got a topic for your research as your research problems will be derived from your research topics.

Definition of Research problem
Unlike research carried out by academicians, the purpose of research conducted by a business entity is usually to seek new opportunities (as yet undiscovered) and may solve managerial problems. In other words, research carried out by business entities is actually to help them improve their competitive advantage. Before starting to conduct research, a researcher should make a research proposal (research plan) in advance, which the steps of the earliest and most important in preparing the research proposal is to make the formulation of research problems. The meaning of research problem is a set of questions underlying the reason why we need to do research.

Two Reasons Why We Need to Define Research problem Clearly

There are two main reasons why research problem should be defined clearly:

  1. Research problems are guidance in conducting research. A clear definition of problems will secure our direction in conducting research so that our research conclusion can be beneficial to solve our real problems.
  2. A clear research problem helps us build an effective research design. It is important for us because conducting research needs a huge number of fund. Therefore, a good research design can help us manage our resources more efficiently.

In spite of we already know that research problem is vital before we decide to conduct research, many of us still missed to put clear objectives of research. As a result, all efforts spent in research becomes inefficient and cannot give the solution they are looking for. In this material, I would like to give you some tips to define a good research problem.

How to Define a Good Research problem
The question above may often comes up in your mind. To answer your curiosity, let’s read this five steps in defining good research problem. I also provide you with some examples to ease you understand this material. Remember research problems are questions that you are trying to answer by research, so that in formulating research problem you need to know your actual problem.

Basically there are five steps in defining research problem:

  1. The first step is choose your topics for research. In order to get some inspiration or some research ideas, you can collect various information related to your study or your business. You can obtain this information by reading up-to-date news from mass medias and research journals, conducting a pre-qualitative research, or discussing with some experts. We can realize any happening problems we are facing now by following the latest information. Also, we can predict potential problem that we will face in the future. Mostly, we cannot make research problem because we do not realize the happening problem.
  2. After we figure what problem we are actually facing now. We can then develop our research problems. Or if you still doubt with your findings of problem, you could discuss it with some experts. They can help you filter out information you really need to take action, and they can help you transform it to a research problem statement.
  3. After you gain some insights from step 2, your next step is consulting these findings with your decision makers, or for you who are students you can consult it with your mentor. For a company, the research problem must be adjusted with management objectives and goals. We cannot answer all problems at once because particular research has limitation and we have limited resource to conduct those resesarches. You need to choose the most important problem. As I said in previous articles, research conclusion must be helpful to increase your ability to compete i.e. make you better than your competitors. Thus, the research problem should answer that need.

For example, our government recently issued a policy on the regional minimum wage which require an increasing in employee’s wage regionally. An increasing on employee salary will certainly affect the financial condition of the company directly, as well as other department indirectly. Imagine you were in management position. This condition requires you to find a solution immediately. You plan to conduct an investigation about “The Effect of Increasing of Regional Minimum Wage on your Business”. However, that topic is too broad due to your company consists of many divisions and each of them require you to take immediate action. Examining all impacts to your entire business process surely will spend a very long time and a huge number of fund. As a consequence, we must have priority issue which should be resolved first, whether in terms of finance, marketing or human resources. Then, you discuss with your management team and decide to specify your research on “The Effect of Increasing of Regional Minimum Wage on the Financial Performance of the Company”, as finance department directly feels the effect.

4. After you gain specific problem to be solved, the next step is formulating your broad statement of research problem. As Malhotra (2007) said problem definition should not be too broad or too narrow. For example, from our previous topic “The Effect of Increasing of Regional Minimum Wage on the Financial Performance of the Company” then we formulate our research problem which is “What are the effects of the Increasing of Regional Minimum Wage on Business Profitability?”.

5. From the broad statement above, we formulate specific components of problem. This spesific components are questions that we want to investigate. See examples below:

  • Broad statement : What are the effects of the Increasing of Regional Minimum Wage on Business Profitability?
  • Specific statement :
  1. What is the impact of the increasing of regional minimum wage policy on company’s efficiency?
  2. What is the impact of the increasing of regional minimum wage policy on company’s ability to generate profit?
  3. What is the impact of the increasing of regional minimum wage policy on company’s ability to pay debta?
  4. How to overcome the negative impacts of the increasing of regional minimum wage policy on company’s financial performance?

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