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Chapter 7: Research Questions and Hypothesis

  1. In what ways the research questions and hypothesis may be considered signposts in research?
  2. Select the three factors that you think may be the most important considerations when writing qualitative research questions. Justify your choice.
  3. Why do you think an examination of the variables is important when writing the research questions and hypothesis in a quantitative study?
  4. To what extent do you agree with the notion that the most rigorous form of quantitative research follows from a test of theory?
  5. How do research questions and hypothesis work in conjunction with the purpose statement?

Chapter 7

Research Questions and Hypotheses

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Introduction

  • Placing signposts for the reader

Purpose statement

Research questions or hypotheses

  • Research questions narrow the purpose statement

Qualitative research questions

Quantitative research questions and hypotheses

Mixed methods research questions

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Qualitative Research Questions

  • Qualitative researchers pose research questions

Not objectives

Not hypotheses

  • Two forms of qualitative research questions

Central question

  • Broad question that asks for exploration of the central phenomenon

Subquestions

  • Questions that narrow the focus of the study

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Qualitative Research Questions

  • Ask 1–2 central research questions

Broad and ask for exploration of the central phenomenon or concept

Explore the general, complex factors about to the central phenomenon

Present broad perspectives or meanings

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Qualitative Research Questions

  • No more than 5–7 subquestions these will narrow the focus but leave open the questioning
  • Relate the central question to the strategy of inquiry

Ethnography – culture sharing group, questions verify accuracy of data

Critical ethnography – build on an existing literature

Phenomenology – what participants experienced

Grounded theory – generate a theory

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Qualitative Research Questions

  • Begin with “what” or “how” to convey an open or emerging design
  • Focus on a single phenomenon or concept
  • Use exploratory verbs: report, describe, discover, generate, explore
  • Avoid directional words, like affect, influence, impact, determine, cause, relate

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Qualitative Research Questions

  • Expect questions to evolve and change
  • Use open-ended questions without reference to the literature or theory (unless indicated)
  • Specify the participants and research site

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Qualitative Research Questions

_________ (How or what?) is the _________ (“story for” for narrative research; “meaning of” the phenomenon for phenomenology; “theory that explains the process of” for grounded theory; “culture-sharing pattern” for ethnography; “issue” in the “case” for case study) of _________ (central phenomenon) for _________ (participants) at _________ (research site).

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Qualitative Research Questions

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Example 7.1 A Qualitative Central Question From an Ethnography Study

Qualitative Research Questions

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Example 7.2 Qualitative Central Questions From a Case Study

Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

  • Quantitative research questions

About the relationships among variables that the investigator seeks to know

  • Quantitative hypotheses

Predictions about the expected relationships among variables

Estimates of population values based on data from a sample

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Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

  • Quantitative objectives

Indicate a study's goals

Often in proposals for funding, less common in health and social sciences

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Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

Quantitative research question describing outcomes:

What is the frequency and variation of scores on ____________ (name the variable) for ______________(participants) in the study?

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Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

Quantitative research question focused on examining the relationship among variables:

Does _________ (name the theory) explain the relationship between _________ (independent variable) and _________ (dependent variable), controlling for the effects of _________ (control variable)?

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Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

Quantitative null hypothesis:

There is no significant difference between _________ (the control and experimental groups on the independent variable) on _________ (dependent variable).

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Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

  • Three basic approaches

Compare groups

Relate variables

Describe responses

  • Most rigorous form tests a theory
  • Measure the independent and dependent variables separately
  • Write questions or hypotheses
  • Null and alternative hypotheses

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Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

  • The use of variables in research questions or hypothesis if one wants to do

An experiment or group comparisons

A survey that correlates variables

A descriptive study

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Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

  • Write research questions and hypothesis that logically follow from relationship among variables in a theory
  • Research questions or hypothesis may indicate cause and effect logic
  • Research questions and hypothesis should have no redundancies, do not write both

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Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

  • If writing hypotheses, use a consistent form

Null hypotheses (predict no difference or no relationship)

Alternative hypothesis or directional hypotheses (predict direction of difference or relationship)

Nondirectional hypotheses (predict a difference or relationship, but not its direction)

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Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

  • Use nondemographic variables (mediating and moderating)
  • Use same word order in the questions or hypotheses to enable a reader to easily identify the major variables

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Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

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Example 7.3 A Null Hypothesis

Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

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Example 7.4 Directional Hypotheses

Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

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Example 7.5 Nondirectional and Directional Hypothesis

Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

A model for descriptive questions and hypotheses:

  • Include both independent and dependent variables
  • Specify descriptive questions for each independent and dependent variable
  • Question for important mediating or moderating variables
  • May add inferential questions

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Creswell, Research Design 5e

SAGE Publishing, 2018

Creswell, Research Design 5e SAGE Publishing, 2018

Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

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A Model for Descriptive Questions and Hypotheses

Descriptive questions Inferential questions
How do the students rate on critical thinking skills? How does critical thinking ability relate to student achievement?
What are the student’s achievement levels (or grades) in science classes? How does critical thinking ability and prior grades influence student achievement?

Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

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Example 7.7 Descriptive and Inferential Questions

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Quantitative Research Questions and Hypotheses

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Example 7.7 Descriptive and Inferential Questions

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Mixed Methods Research Questions and Hypotheses

  • Include qualitative, quantitative (or hypotheses), and a mixed methods research question
  • Qualitative and quantitative questions focus the purpose
  • Mixed methods question conveys the importance of integrating
  • Use guidelines for qualitative and quantitative questions and hypotheses

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Mixed Methods Research Questions and Hypotheses

  • Order questions to match the mixed methods design

In a single-phase design, either first

In a two-phase design, order to match the phases

In three-phase, often mixed methods in the middle

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Mixed Methods Research Questions and Hypotheses

  • A mixed methods research question directly addresses integration
  • Three forms

Conveys the methods and procedures

Conveys the content of the study

Combines the methods and content in a hybrid question

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Mixed Methods Research Questions and Hypotheses

  • Write separate questions or hypotheses followed by a mixed methods question

This highlights the two approaches as well as their combined strength

At the beginning or as they emerge in phases

This places emphasis on the two approaches

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Mixed Methods Research Questions and Hypotheses

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Example 7.9 A Mixed Methods Question Written Using

Methods and Content Language

Summary

  • Research questions and hypotheses narrow the purpose statement and add signposts
  • Qualitative – central question and subquestions
  • Quantitative – describe, related, compare variables
  • Mixed methods – qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods question

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CHAPTER 7 RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND HYPOTHESES

Investigators place signposts to carry the reader through a plan for a study. The first signpost is the purpose statement, which establishes the central intent for the study. The next would be the research questions or hypotheses that narrow the purpose statement to predictions about what will be learned or questions to be answered in the study. This chapter begins by advancing several principles in designing qualitative research questions and helpful scripts for writing these questions. It then turns to the design of quantitative research questions and hypotheses and ways to write these elements into a study. Finally, it advances the use of research questions and hypotheses in mixed methods studies, and it suggests the development of a unique mixed methods question that ties together or integrates the quantitative and qualitative data in a study.

QUALITATIVE RESEARCH QUESTIONS

In a qualitative study, inquirers state research questions, not objectives (i.e., specific goals for the research) or hypotheses (i.e., predictions that involve variables and statistical tests). These research questions assume two forms: (a) a central question and (b) associated subquestions.

Ask one or two central research questions. The central question is a broad question that asks for an exploration of the central phenomenon or concept in a study. The inquirer poses this question, consistent with the emerging methodology of qualitative research, as a general issue so as to not limit the views of participants. To arrive at this question, ask, “What is the broadest question that I can ask in the study?” Beginning researchers trained in quantitative research might struggle with this approach because they are accustomed to reverse thinking. They narrow the quantitative study to specific, narrow questions or hypotheses based on a few variables. In qualitative research, the intent is to explore the general, complex set of factors surrounding the central phenomenon and present the broad, varied perspectives or meanings that participants hold. The following are guidelines for writing qualitative research questions:

Ask no more than five to seven subquestions in addition to your central questions. Several subquestions follow each general central question; they narrow the focus of the study but leave open the questioning. This approach is well within the limits set by Miles and Huberman (1994), who recommended that researchers write no more than a dozen qualitative research questions in all (central and subquestions). The subquestions, in turn, become specific questions used during interviews (or in observing or when looking at documents). In developing an interview protocol or guide, the researcher might ask an icebreaker question at the beginning, for example, followed by five or so subquestions in the study (see Chapter 9). The interview would then end with an additional wrap-up or summary question or by asking, “Who should I turn to, to learn more about this topic?” (Asmussen & Creswell, 1995).

Relate the central question to the specific qualitative strategy of inquiry. For example, the specificity of the questions in ethnography at this stage of the design differs from that in other qualitative strategies. In ethnographic research, Spradley (1980) advanced a taxonomy of ethnographic questions that included a mini-tour of the culture-sharing group, their experiences, use of native language, contrasts with other cultural groups, and questions to verify the accuracy of the data. In critical ethnography, the research questions may build on a body of existing literature. These questions become working guidelines rather than proven truths (Thomas, 1993, p. 35). Alternatively, in phenomenology, the questions might be broadly stated without specific reference to the existing literature or a typology of questions. Moustakas (1994) talked about asking what the participants experienced and what contexts or situations in which they experienced it. A phenomenological example is “What is it like for a mother to live with a teenage child who is dying of cancer?” (Nieswiadomy, 1993, p. 151). In grounded theory, the questions may be directed toward generating a theory of some process, such as the exploration of a process as to how caregivers and patients interact in a hospital setting. In a qualitative case study, the questions may address a description of the case and the themes that emerge from studying it.

Begin the research questions with the words what or how to convey an open and emerging design. The word why often implies that the researcher is trying to explain why something occurs, and this suggests to us probable cause-and-effect thinking that we associate with quantitative research and that limits the explanations rather than opening them up for participant views.

Focus on a single phenomenon or concept. As a study develops over time, factors will emerge that may influence this single phenomenon, but begin a study with a single focus to explore in great detail. We often ask, “What is the one, single concept that you want to explore?”

Use exploratory verbs that convey the language of emerging design. These verbs tell the reader that the study will do the following:

Report (or reflect) the stories (e.g., narrative research)

Describe the essence of the experience (e.g., phenomenology)

Discover or generate (e.g., grounded theory)

Seek to understand (e.g., ethnography)

Explore a process (e.g., case study)

Use these more exploratory verbs as nondirectional rather than directional words of quantitative research, such as affect, influence, impact, determine, cause, and relate.

Expect the research questions to evolve and change during the study in a manner consistent with the assumptions of an emerging design. Often in qualitative studies, the questions are under continual review and reformulation (as in a grounded theory study). This approach may be problematic for individuals accustomed to quantitative designs in which the research questions remain fixed and never change throughout the study.

Use open-ended questions without reference to the literature or theory unless otherwise indicated by a qualitative strategy of inquiry.

Specify the participants and the research site for the study if the information has not yet been given.

Here is a typical script for a qualitative central question:

_________ (How or what?) is the _________ (“story for” for narrative research; “meaning of” the phenomenon for phenomenology; “theory that explains the process of” for grounded theory; “culture-sharing pattern” for ethnography; “issue” in the “case” for case study) of _________ (central phenomenon) for _________ (participants) at _________ (research site).

Examples 7.1 and 7.2 illustrate qualitative research questions drawn from several types of strategies.

Example 7.1A Qualitative Central Question From an Ethnography

Mac an Ghaill and Haywood (2015) researched the changing cultural conditions inhabited by a group of British-born, working-class Pakistani and Bangladeshi young men over a 3-year period. They did not specifically construct a research question, but we would suggest it as follows:

What are the core beliefs related to ethnicity, religion, and cultural belonging of the group of British-born, working-class Pakistani and Bangladeshi young men over a 3-year time period, and how do the young men construct and understand their geographically specific experiences of family, schooling, and social life, as well as growing up and interacting within their local community in a rapidly changing Britain?

This question would have begun with “what,” and it would single out the central phenomenon—core beliefs—for the young men. The young men are the participants in the study, and, as an ethnography, the study clearly attempts to examine the cultural beliefs of these young Pakistani and Bangladeshi young men. Further, from the question, we can see that the study is situated in Britain.

Example 7.2Qualitative Central Questions From a Case Study

Padula and Miller (1999) conducted a multiple case study that described the experiences of women who went back to school, after a time away, in a psychology doctoral program at a major midwestern research university. The intent was to document the women’s experiences, providing a gendered and feminist perspective for women in the literature. The authors asked three central questions that guided the inquiry:

(a) How do women in a psychology doctoral program describe their decision to return to school? (b) How do women in a psychology doctoral program describe their re-entry experiences? And (c) How does returning to graduate school change these women’s lives? (p. 328)

These three central questions all began with the word how; they included open-ended verbs, such as describe, and they focused on three aspects of the doctoral experience—returning to school, reentering, and changing. They also mentioned the participants as women in a doctoral program at a midwestern research university.

QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND HYPOTHESES

In quantitative studies, investigators use quantitative research questions and hypotheses, and sometimes objectives, to shape and specifically focus the purpose of the study. Quantitative research questions inquire about the relationships among variables that the investigator seeks to know. They are frequently used in social science research and especially in survey studies. Quantitative hypotheses, on the other hand, are predictions the researcher makes about the expected outcomes of relationships among variables. They are numeric estimates of population values based on data collected from samples. Testing of hypotheses employs statistical procedures in which the investigator draws inferences about the population from a study sample (see also Chapter 8). Hypotheses are used often in experiments or intervention trials in which investigators compare groups. Advisers sometimes recommend their use in a formal research project, such as a dissertation or thesis, as a means of stating the direction a study will take. Objectives, on the other hand, indicate the goals or objectives for a study. They often appear in proposals for funding, but tend to be used with less frequency in social and health science research. Because of this, the focus here will be on research questions and hypotheses.

Here is an example of a script for a quantitative research question describing outcomes of score for a variable:

What is the frequency and variation of scores on ____________(name the variable) for ______________(participants) in the study?

Here is an example of a script for a quantitative research question focused on examining the relationship among variables:

Does _________ (name the theory) explain the relationship between _________ (independent variable) and _________ (dependent variable), controlling for the effects of _________ (mediating variable)?

Alternatively, a script for a quantitative null hypothesis might be as follows:

There is no significant difference between _________ (the control and experimental groups on the independent variable) on _________ (dependent variable).

Guidelines for writing good quantitative research questions and hypotheses include the following.

The use of variables in research questions or hypotheses is typically limited to three basic approaches. The researcher may compare groups on an independent variable to see its impact on a dependent variable (this would be an experiment or group comparisons). Alternatively, the investigator may relate one or more independent variables to one or more dependent variables (this would be a survey that correlates variables). Third, the researcher may describe responses to the independent, mediating, or dependent variables (this would be a descriptive study). Most quantitative research falls into one or more of these three categories.

The most rigorous form of quantitative research follows from a test of a theory (see Chapter 3) and the specification of research questions or hypotheses that logically follow from the relationship among variables in the theory.

The independent and dependent variables must be measured separately and not measured on the same concept. This procedure reinforces the cause-and-effect logic of quantitative research.

To eliminate redundancy, write only research questions or hypotheses—not both—unless the hypotheses build on the research questions. Choose the form based on tradition, recommendations from an adviser or faculty committee, or whether past research indicates a prediction about outcomes.

If hypotheses are used, there are two forms: (a) null and (b) alternative. A null hypothesis represents the traditional approach: It makes a prediction that in the general population, no relationship or no significant difference exists between groups on a variable. The wording is, “There is no difference (or relationship)” between the groups. Example 7.3 illustrates a null hypothesis.

The second form, popular in journal articles, is the alternative or directional hypothesis. The investigator makes a prediction about the expected outcome, basing this prediction on prior literature and studies on the topic that suggest a potential outcome. For example, the researcher may predict that “scores will be higher for Group A than for Group B” on the dependent variable or that “Group A will change more than Group B” on the outcome. These examples illustrate a directional hypothesis because an expected prediction (e.g., higher, more change) is made. Example 7.4 illustrates a directional hypothesis.

Another type of alternative statement is the nondirectional hypothesis—a prediction is made, but the exact form of differences (e.g., higher, lower, more, less) is not specified because the researcher does not know what can be predicted from past literature. Thus, the investigator might write, “There is a difference” between the two groups. Example 7.5 incorporates both types of hypotheses.

Unless the study intentionally employs demographic variables as predictors, use nondemographic variables (i.e., attitudes or behaviors) as mediating variables. These are variables that “stand between” the independent and dependent variables. Demographic variables are often used as moderating variables that affect the influence of the independent variable on the dependent variable. Because quantitative studies attempt to verify theories, demographic variables (e.g., age, income level, educational level) typically enter these studies as moderating variables instead of major independent variables.

Use the same pattern of word order in the questions or hypotheses to enable a reader to easily identify the major variables. This calls for repeating key phrases and positioning the variables with the independent first and concluding with the dependent in left-to-right order (as discussed in Chapter 6 on good purpose statements). Example 7.6 illustrates word order with independent variables stated first in the phrase.

Example 7.3A Null Hypothesis

An investigator might examine three types of reinforcement for children with autism: (a) verbal cues, (b) a reward, and (c) no reinforcement. The investigator collects behavioral measures assessing social interaction of the children with their siblings. A null hypothesis might read as follows:

There is no significant difference between the effects of verbal cues, rewards, and no reinforcement in terms of social interaction for children with autism and their siblings.

Example 7.4Directional Hypotheses

Mascarenhas (1989) studied the differences between types of ownership (state-owned, publicly traded, and private) of firms in the offshore drilling industry. Specifically, the study explored such differences as domestic market dominance, international presence, and customer orientation. The study was a controlled field study using quasi-experimental procedures.

Hypothesis 1: Publicly traded firms will have higher growth rates than privately held firms.

Hypothesis 2: Publicly traded enterprises will have a larger international scope than state-owned and privately held firms.

Hypothesis 3: State-owned firms will have a greater share of the domestic market than publicly traded or privately held firms.

Hypothesis 4: Publicly traded firms will have broader product lines than state-owned and privately held firms.

Hypothesis 5: State-owned firms are more likely to have state-owned enterprises as customers overseas.

Hypothesis 6: State-owned firms will have a higher customer-base stability than privately held firms.

Hypothesis 7: In less visible contexts, publicly traded firms will employ more advanced technology than state-owned and privately held firms. (pp. 585–588)

Example 7.5Nondirectional and Directional Hypotheses

Sometimes directional hypotheses are created to examine the relationship among variables rather than to compare groups because the researcher has some evidence from past studies of the potential outcome of the study. For example, Moore (2000) studied the meaning of gender identity for religious and secular Jewish and Arab women in Israeli society. In a national probability sample of Jewish and Arab women, the author identified three hypotheses for study. The first is nondirectional and the last two are directional.

H1: Gender identity of religious and secular Arab and Jewish women are related to different sociopolitical social orders that reflect the different value systems they embrace.

H2: Religious women with salient gender identity are less socio-politically active than secular women with salient gender identities.

H3: The relationships among gender identity, religiosity, and social actions are weaker among Arab women than among Jewish women.

Example 7.6Standard Use of Language in Hypotheses

There is no relationship between utilization of ancillary support services and academic persistence for nontraditional-aged women college students.

There is no relationship between family support systems and academic persistence for nontraditional-aged college women.

There is no relationship between ancillary support services and family support systems for non-traditional-aged college women.

A Model for Descriptive Questions and Hypotheses

Example 7.7 illustrates a model for writing questions or hypotheses based on writing descriptive questions (describing something) followed by inferential questions or hypotheses (drawing inferences from a sample to a population). These questions or hypotheses include both independent and dependent variables. In this model, the writer specifies descriptive questions for each independent and dependent variable and important intervening or moderating variables. Inferential questions (or hypotheses) that relate variables or compare groups follow these descriptive questions. A final set of questions may add inferential questions or hypotheses in which variables are controlled.

Example 7.7Descriptive and Inferential Questions

To illustrate this approach, a researcher wants to examine the relationship of critical thinking skills (an independent variable measured on an instrument) to student achievement (a dependent variable measured by grades) in science classes for eighth-grade students in a large metropolitan school district. The researcher moderates the assessment of critical thinking using prior grades as indicators in science classes and controls for the mediating influence of parents’ educational attainment. Following the proposed model, the re

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