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Formulating Your Research Question

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In this chapter, the research question is studied. We focus on how to find a research question that is specific enough, so that you are not tempted to explore paths that are only tangentially related to your research question. The literature review identifies gaps in the current knowledge, and you will learn how to frame a research question within these gaps. We then explore how to subdivide the research question into subquestions. These subquestions become the chapters of your dissertation. We also look at creative thinking, a skill necessary to think out of the box to formulate your research question. This chapter discusses how to convince your supervisor of your research question. It can happen that your supervisor already has an idea of the direction in which your research should be going, but if you can provide technically sound arguments based on your literature review why this approach is not ideal, and why you propose a different road, you should be able to have the freedom to explore your proposed option. Once you have outlined your research question, it is necessary to turn the question and subquestions into practical actions. These practical actions link back to the planning skills you learned in Chap. 3.


  • Research question
  • Research methods
  • Creativity
  • Research design

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  1. 1.

    Time blocks of 25 minutes during which you concentrate on one single task. You can find more information about the Pomodoro technique in the glossary of Part II.

  2. 2.

    I often work with noise-cancelling headphones.

  3. 3.

    The course is sweet and short, and runs frequently. I highly recommend it!

  4. 4.

    Refer to Chap. 4 for examples on how I use mindmaps to structure documents, such as a literature review report.

Further Reading and References

  1. Kara, H. (2015). Creative research methods in the Social Sciences: A practical guide. Bristol: Policy Press.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Kara, H. (2015). How to choose your research question. PhD Talk.

  3. Lantsoght, E. (2012). The creative process: The importance of questions. PhD Talk.

  4. Feynman, R. P., Leighton, R., & Hutchings, E. (1997). “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a curious character (1st pbk ed.). New York: W.W. Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Lantsoght, E. (2012). The creative process: The creative habit. PhD Talk.

  6. Rose, C. (2016). 15 minute history.

  7. Oakley, B. (2014). A mind for numbers: How to excel at Math and Science (even if you flunked algebra). New York: TarcherPerigree.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Lantsoght E (2011). Book review: Starting research: An introduction to academic research and dissertation writing – Roy Preece. PhD Talk.

  9. Preece, R. (2000). Starting research: An introduction to academic research and dissertation writing. London: Continuum.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Lantsoght, E. (2014). An example outline diagram for structuring your dissertation. PhD Talk.

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Lantsoght, E.O.L. (2018). Formulating Your Research Question. In: The A-Z of the PhD Trajectory. Springer Texts in Education. Springer, Cham.

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  • Print ISBN: 978-3-319-77424-4

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