Establishing a Research Problem: A Thought Paper

Establishing a Research Problem

Prior to reading the chapters titled Developing and Framing Meaningful Problems (Lapsley), Reviewing Literature and Formulating Problems (Kelley), The Challenge of Framing a Problem: What is Your Burning Question? (Harter), and Using Historical Methods to Explore Educational Questions (Gasman), I felt like I had a solid understanding of how to formulate a research question based on prior experience and learning. I have been corrected in my blind assumption of comprehension in this area.

Establishing My Own Research Problem

Establishing my own research problem has been, in effect, a combination of prior reading, current experiences, and hope for the future of education. I tend to read about topics in areas where either my students, or myself, need assistance. Sometimes this is about new strategies to use for students who are advanced or struggling. Sometimes I read about previous work done in an area. In a way, I complete preliminary research and literature reviews in a less defined and more casual fashion. I read about these topics based on my own experience in the classroom with my students. I am constantly asking myself, “What works?” and “What does not work?” and “How can I improve?” Reflecting like this daily allows me to open doors of opportunity. Reflecting allows me to hope that there is something better. If I can find nothing better in my own research of existing literature, it is time to get into action research and create effective strategies for my students.

With this, I know that I need to remain flexible. Every opportunity to read studies and discussions in my areas of interest allows me to open new doors within my own research. As of this moment, my research question is evolving. It will continue to do so until it has been answered or morphs into a series of sub-questions.

Literature Reviews

Due to my research on the process of research itself, I have discovered that my weak point is in that of the literature review. I discounted this portion of research as a “necessary evil” in order to find justification in what I wanted to research. Come to find out, the literature review can be instrumental in framing a problem in which we question and discover solutions to current problems (Conrad, Serlin, 2011, p. 83).

Even reading further research on using literature reviews to construct, frame, or otherwise, build a research question leaves me unsatisfied. So many articles leave a bland taste regarding formulas and specific algorithms for creating the appropriate literature review. Most have simply stated that a literature review is only critical analysis and summary of previous research; but it could be so much more useful than just that.

Historical Contexts

I also learned a great deal from examining the impact of historical contexts in research. I have always known that research can impact the present and future, as history is the foundation in which everything is built. However, I rarely considered historical analysis an act of research itself. I was too focused on fresh and innovative ideas to contemplate connecting history to today and the future in order to frame research questions (Conrad, Serlin, 2011, p. 401).

I have always been in love with history and how history can lead to understanding the present and possibilities of the future. Reading Gasman’s Using Historical Methods to Explore Educational Questions reminded me that history can be just as useful as any experiment in gathering evidence and support for a claim. Sometimes it can even be integral to the success of a study.

Language within Studies

I also found personal solace in Gasman’s article. Specifically, Gasman states that she dislikes the way most scholars tend to write: “off-putting, cumbersome, and jargon-filled,” (Conrad, Serlin, 2011, p. 409). I often find the same issue with reading studies, especially those out of my own field and comfort zone.

I have always wondered if some researchers knew who their audience really might be. If we want our research to be read, why not make it readable? People in policy and administration often lack the technical education that we as researchers receive. Why would we specifically aim our research—linguistically– only at other researchers and scholars when there is a world to reach beyond our institutions? I do not believe that we should completely “dumb down” everything we have to say, but what if we wrote clearly, concisely, and beautifully? What if the average person actually wanted to learn about what we had to say? Why not tell our story (Conrad, Serlin, 2011, p. 409)?

Another chapter in our textbook from previous reading, Speaking Truth to Policy and Practice (Floden), spoke to a similar conclusion, as well. This chapter spoke to the dealings between policy and research itself. For example, with most practitioners in education being elementary and secondary teachers “…teachers at that level often have a limited appetite for reading research studies and typically have a limited understanding of how to assess the quality of a study,” (Conrad, Serlin, 2001, p. 30). Here, Floden is stating that teachers have a lack of understanding on the quality of a study, not necessarily the verbiage. However, if studies and conclusions were more accessible and like stories, would that still limit the way teachers and policy makers ingest findings?

The main thing I think about when I discuss these points is affecting change in education. How can we create progress if we cannot get those who need our findings most to read and understand them?


I have always known that I have much to learn in many areas in terms of producing research for publication and consumption. During my reading so far, I have come to find that my own areas of opportunity are not where I originally thought. Using literature reviews to frame and build research had really not occurred to me up until now. Even further, evaluating history as a method to create and explore educational research questions had not occurred to me either, but it does go hand-in-hand with literature reviews. I was even provided some comfort in that I am not the only individual who believes that the language in research studies should be more manageable and interesting to the general population. Combining all of these factors, I believe, will make me a better researcher in the long run; more capable of creating questions in which are relevant, necessary, and accessible.


Conrad, C., & Serlin, R. C. (2011). The Sage handbook for research in education: Pursuing ideas as the keystone of exemplary inquiry (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.