The Purpose Statement needs to align with the Statement of the Problem; that is, if you have identified a specific societal problem and a gap in the literature, which demonstrates the research problem, the purpose would basically be to examine, test, explain, analyze, etc. that specific problem and by doing so, at least partially fill the gap that you identified in the problem statement. Even filling a tiny bit of a gap is fine, since each research study is so specific and narrow in scope – you will not be solving large social problems with one study. This is why some researchers spend their entire careers focusing on just one problem or collection of related problems.
Research questions help guide any study and ultimately inform the topic in substantive ways. Research questions are very important and must be carefully constructed. Your research questions must align to your problem and purpose. It is also important that your topic provide new insights or solutions so your research questions must be phrased in such a way that you can gather and evaluate new information on the topic. After all, you want your research to be innovative.
While you want to write a unique study, it is important that related studies have been done by others so that you can write a comprehensive literature review. After identifying a topic of interest, try posing it as a question. For instance, if you are interested in determining if your new psychology curriculum results in academic gains on clinical licensure tests, your question might be: “How do licensure scores change after implementing the new psychology curriculum?”
Once you have identified a topic, you should formulate research questions that will serve as the guiding inquiries for your study. For instance, let’s return to the question “How do licensure scores change after implementing the new psychology curriculum?” For this topic, you might come up with these research questions:
- How do licensure scores change for gender binary individuals after implementation of the new psychology curriculum?
- How do licensure scores change for non-gender-binary individuals after implementation of the new psychology curriculum?
Ask yourself, “How can I measure or answer these questions?” Your answer to this question will help you narrow in on a method to use for data collection. Share your ideas with your instructor for feedback.
Here is a checklist to use in the development of your research questions:
- Did I create several questions closely related to my topic?
- Are my questions measurable or answerable?
- Is the scope of my questions reasonable for the time and resources I have to complete this research project?
- Will these questions help me better understand some area that needs changing or improvement?
- Is my question phrased as an open-ended question (and not a yes/no question)?
Hypothesis testing is only used for quantitative research. You will not use hypotheses for qualitative studies. If you are doing quantitative (or mixed methods), after you develop a list of research questions, you should create some hypotheses to help you evaluate the outcome of your research. These hypotheses will serve as a guide as you gather data and analyze the research findings. A hypothesis should be clearly aligned to a particular research question. Let’s continue using our previous example:
Research Question 1: How do licensure scores change for gender binary individuals after implementation of the new psychology curriculum?
Hypothesis 1: Licensure scores will improve for gender binary individuals after the psychology curriculum is implemented.
Hypotheses can be phrased as:
- Alternative or Directional – Stating a specific direction or expected outcome. Words such as improve, decrease, grow, more, higher, less, etc. are used for this type of hypothesis. For example: Psychologists’ absentee rates will increase if vacation days are eliminated.
- Regular or Nondirectional – Stating a change without direction. Words such as difference, change, etc. are used for this type of hypothesis. For example: Psychologists’ absentee rates will change if vacation days are eliminated.
- Null hypothesis – Stating that no change will occur. This type of hypothesis is typically included along with a directional or nondirectional hypothesis to allow for hypothesis testing. Data will either support the hypothesis or the null hypothesis. For example: There will be no difference in psychologists’ absentee rates if vacation days are eliminated.
A hypothesis gives the researcher something to test. The results of the test demonstrate whether the outcome was what the researcher expected or not. Without the hypothesis, there would be no testable inequality.