Developing qualitative research questions: a reflective process
Department of Educational Theory and Practice, The University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, NY 12222, USA (Received 12 June 2008; final version received 9 January 2009)
TQSE_A_373821.sgm Taylor andFrancis email@example.com Dr. 0000002009 00 JaneAgee Taylor 2009 & Francis Original Article 0951-8398 (print)/1366-5898 International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 10.1080/09518390902736512(online)
The reflective and interrogative processes required for developing effective qualitative research questions can give shape and direction to a study in ways that are often underestimated.Good research questions do not necessarily produce good research, but poorly conceived or constructed questions will likely create problems that affect all subsequent stages of a study. In qualitative studies, the ongoing process of questioning is an integral part of understanding the unfolding lives and perspectives of others. This article addresses both the development of initial researchquestions and how the processes of generating and refining questions are critical to the shaping of a qualitative study. Keywords: qualitative research questions; qualitative methods; development
Many qualitative researchers see a question as a beginning point for their research. Once a satisfactory question is in place, a study can begin. A research question does fulfill this function, but I proposehere that much more is involved in creating and using research questions in qualitative studies. The reflective and interrogative processes required for developing research questions can give shape and direction to a study in ways that are often underestimated. Good questions do not necessarily produce good research, but poorly conceived or constructed questions will likely create problems thataffect all subsequent stages of a study. Ultimately, the quality of the initial questions impacts whether or not a study is approved by a dissertation committee, published, or funded. This article addresses both the development of initial research questions and how the processes of generating and refining questions are critical to the shaping all phases of a qualitative study the inquiry process.The idea of qualitative inquiry as a reflective process underscores the strengths of a qualitative approach. At the heart of this approach are methods for representing what Geertz (1973, 10) called the ‘microscopic’ details of the social and cultural aspects of individuals’ lives. He described the central task of the ethnographer in his well-known discussion on the myriad interpretations of a humanwink. He noted that it is not enough to describe a wink and label it as a behavior. Rather, ‘the thing to ask’ about human behaviors is ‘what their import is’ (Geertz 1973, 10). The researcher’s credibility rests, according to Geertz, on the specifics of a place and the people who inhabit that place at a given moment, an issue addressed by Maxwell (2005), Patton (2002), and others. Thus, theresearcher’s worth is characterized by ‘the degree to which he is
ISSN 0951-8398 print/ISSN 1366-5898 online © 2009 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/09518390902736512 http://www.informaworld.com
able to clarify what goes on in such places, to reduce the puzzlement – what manner of men are these?’ (Geertz 1973, 16). Qualitative inquiries involve asking thekinds of questions that focus on the why and how of human interactions. Qualitative research questions, then, need to articulate what a researcher wants to know about the intentions and perspectives of those involved in social interactions. Strauss (1987/1990, 6) noted that the traditions from which qualitative inquiry sprang ‘placed social interaction and social processes at the center’ of this...