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Stating the Problem and Its Rationale

  1. Stating the Problem and Its Rationale
  2. Stating the Problem and Its Rationale 2
  3. Defining Key Terms
  4. Synonyms
  5. Shared Experiences
  6. Providing A Rationale
  7. Thesis Hhypothesis
  8. Describing your data collection methods

"I'm not quite sure about what I should put in my proposal when I give it to my advisors for their approval.

Once you've selected the problem you plan to study, you can profit from casting it in a form appropriate for submitting it to your advisors. Although professors may not all agree on exactly what should be in your proposal, most of them will at least want a clear statement of your research problem, your reasons for choosing it, and a concise description of how you hope to find a solution. They also may want to know how you define the key terms that are at the heart of your project. Chapter 6 addresses these matters in the following order: (a) stating the problem to be investigated, (b) defining key terms, (c) supporting your choice of a topic with a convincing line of reasoning, and (d) briefly describing your intended research methods.


Two popular ways to state a research problem are as a question and as a hypothesis. To illustrate, consider three graduate student projects. The first concerns academic aptitude, the second family functions, and the third political theory. By casting a problem in the form of a question, the researcher suggests the kind of answer being sought, with that suggestion then serving to guide decisions about the methods of investigation to employ.

What is the comparative effectiveness of four ways to assess high school students' academic ability–(a) high school grades, (b) teachers' letters of recommendation, (c) multiple-choice aptitude tests, and (d) achievement tests that students answer in essay form?

What changes have occurred in the structure and functions of Mexican-American families during the twentieth century, and what trends do such changes reflect?

Which aspects of a political party and what interactions among those aspects adequately explain the party's success in local elections?

A hypothesis represents a probable answer to the research question, but the probability that the answer is correct still needs to be tested through further investigation.

The most effective method of assessing high school students' academic ability is by multiple-choice aptitude tests. The next most effective is by high school grades, then by essay tests, and the least by teachers' recommendations.

Over the twentieth century, trends in the structure and functions of Mexican American families have included: (a) a decrease in the use of Spanish as the language of communication in the home, (b) husbands' continued dominance in deciding important family issues, (c) a rising divorce rate, and (d) a continuation of younger family members sharing household tasks.

Predictions about a political party's success in local elections are most accurate when based on the analysis of the following components and their interactions: (a) fund-raising practices, (b) training methods for party workers, (c) a clearly stated position on locally important issues, (d) name-recognition of party candidates, and (e) activities that attract the attention of the news media–especially local television, radio, and newspaper reporters.

Now, which of these approaches is preferable–a question or a hypothesis"In what circumstances is one better than the other"There are at least two conditions under which you might favor the hypothesis over the question. One is when there is good reason to believe that a proposed solution to the research issue is correct, but that belief still needs to be corroborated or refuted by evidence. The other is when you intend to apply a statistical test to the data you collect, and casting the problem as a hypothesis renders statistical testing more convenient. However, the vast majority of problems can be expressed as questions that involve who, how, which, why, what, when, where, how much, how frequently, or several of these.

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