Module 2: Formulating a Research Question and Searching for Sources
As noted in Module 1: Types of Reviews, conducting a “pre-search” is a crucial first step in devising the research question. A well-formulated research question informs the research process. It can focus your information needs (i.e. identify inclusion and exclusion criteria), help to identify key search concepts, and guide you in the direction of relevant resources.
Types of Research Questions
There are two general types of research questions: and .
Quantitative Research Questions
Types of quantitative questions can be categorized as explanatory (i.e., relationship-based), descriptive, or comparative.
- Explanatory questions aim to discover cause-and-effect relationships by comparing two or more variables, individuals or groups based on differing outcomes.
- Descriptive questions will often quantify a single variable but may include multiple variables within a question. They typically ask for measurements, and can begin with: “how much”, “what percentage”, “how frequently”, or “how many”.
- Comparative questions are designed to identify the “difference between” a dependent variable and two or more groups. These questions tend to begin with “what is the difference” or “what are the differences”.
Qualitative Research Questions
Qualitative questions aim to discover meaning or gain an understanding of a phenomenon. They ask questions that cannot be measured with specific numbers and statistics. Qualitative research questions often contain words like , “personal experience”, “understanding”, “meaning”, and “stories”.
A Comparison of Quantitative and Qualitative Questions
So how do quantitative and qualitative research questions differ when you are conducting a search? In Table 2.1 below, we provide some examples of research topics. Each topic can either be used for a quantitative or qualitative research question. For each question, the category of research question is clarified.
|Topic||Quantitative Research Questions||Qualitative Research Questions|
|Housing insecurity for children||Explanatory:
How does experiencing housing-insecurity in childhood impact a child’s relationships in adulthood?
What are the lived experiences of children experiencing housing-insecurity while attending elementary School?
|Nursing and workplace violence||Descriptive:
What percentage of nurses experience violence in the workplace on night shifts?
How do nurses conceptualize their role in mitigating workplace violence?
|Mental health of Canadian immigrants||Comparative:
What are the differences in perceptions towards accessing mental health services between immigrants and their Canadian-born children?
How do newly arrived Canadians experience seeking help for mental health concerns?
Regardless of the type of question being asked, a good research question cannot be answered with a simple yes or no (as demonstrated by the sample questions in Table 2.1).
Quantitative data can be counted, measured, and expressed using numbers.
Qualitative research relies on data obtained by the researcher from first-hand observation, interviews, questionnaires (on which participants write descriptively), focus groups, participant-observation, recordings made in natural settings, documents, and artifacts. The data are generally nonnumerical.
Personal knowledge about the world that has been gained through first-hand involvement in everyday events.