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Critical Questions to Clarify Your Research

How you will construct the direction and destination of your proposal depends on the initial questions that you ask. As you move from generating the topic, to gathering the background information, to adding focus to your research, you should begin with the open-ended questions of “how” and “why”, while at all times considering the “so what” question of your topic. In other words, why does this topic matter to you and why should it matter to others?

The questions that follow are catalysts that will help provide initial answers to where your research will start, but after answering them, you may discover that it might not be where your research will end up. These questions will not only shape your search for the answer(s) to the problem, but will also increase your understanding of additional and alternative information that will be needed to clarify the road map and direction of your project.

Although the list of questions that will assist you in constructing and focusing your project can be extensive, the ones below center on the idea, purpose, focus, approach and institutional support:

Idea questions: What is the argument you are making about your idea? Why is your idea timely, urgent, compelling, and unique? Why does your idea matter? How might others challenge your idea? What kind of sources will you need to support your idea?

Purpose questions: What is the purpose of your research? How will you achieve the purpose? What will change once your proposal is implemented? How will you know that changes have taken place as you implement the proposal?

Narrowing your focus questions: Why is your proposal needed to advance the studies within your field? How are your preliminary data relevant? Why did you choose this way of approaching the gap in knowledge versus other options? What results will be evaluated in your project? How will you evaluate the results? What difficulties might appear within your research plan? How is your research limited?

Justifying the research questions: Who cares about the postulation of your argument? How is present opinion divided? How important is it to have the right answer? What are the implications of various possible answers?

Research methods questions: What are the variables to be measured during your research project? What population and samples will be used in your research project, including explanations of sampling and procedures? What methods will you apply to collect primary and secondary information? What might be any relevant biases in your methods and the means by which these biases would be overcome?

Institutional questions: How will this project capitalize on your institution’s/department’s strengths? How will this project help your institution/department overcome some of its weaknesses? How will your institution/department support you to succeed?

Science begins by first asking relevant questions and then seeking answers. The manner in which your research will unfold will emerge from the critical questions that you will need to answer prior to building your research proposal. These questions will assist you in solidifying your idea and eventually lead you to critical, significant, and substantive insights into the purpose, focus, and methods of your research proposal.

Mathilda Harris

Over the past 18 years, she has written grants, conducted capital campaigns, developed strategic plans for grant procurement, and assisted individuals and institutions to write winning proposals for various donors.

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