What’s in a Qualitative Research Question?
Qualitative research questions are driven by the need for the study. Ideally, research questions are formulated as a result of the problem and purpose, which leads to the identification of the methodology. When a qualitative methodology is chosen, research questions should be exploratory and focused on the actual phenomenon under study.
From the Dissertation Center, Chapter 1: Research Question Overview, there are several considerations when forming a qualitative research question. Qualitative research questions should
Below is an example of a qualitative phenomenological design. Note the use of the term “lived experience” in the central research question. This aligns with phenomenological design.
RQ1: “What are the lived experiences of followers of mid-level managers in the financial services sector regarding their well-being on the job?”
If the researcher wants to focus on aspects of the theory used to support the study or dive deeper into aspects of the central RQ, sub-questions might be used. The following sub-questions could be formulated to seek further insight:
RQ1a. “How do followers perceive the quality and adequacy of the leader-follower exchanges between themselves and their novice leaders?”
RQ1b. “Under what conditions do leader-member exchanges affect a follower’s own level of well-being?”
Qualitative research questions also display the desire to explore or describe phenomena. Qualitative research seeks the lived experience, the personal experiences, the understandings, the meanings, and the stories associated with the concepts present in our studies.
We want to ensure our research questions are answerable and that we are not making assumptions about our sample. View the questions below:
How do healthcare providers perceive income inequality when providing care to poor patients?
In Example A, we see that there is no specificity of location or geographic areas. This could lead to findings that are varied, and the researcher may not find a clear pattern. Additionally, the question implies the focus is on “income inequality” when the actual focus is on the provision of care. The term “poor patients” can also be offensive, and most providers will not want to seem insensitive and may perceive income inequality as a challenge (of course!).
How do primary care nurses in outreach clinics describe providing quality care to residents of low-income urban neighborhoods?
In Example B, we see that there is greater specificity in the type of care provider. There is also a shift in language so that the focus is on how the individuals describe what they think about, experience, and navigate providing quality care.
Vague: What are the strategies used by healthcare personnel to assist injured patients?
Try this: What is the experience of emergency room personnel in treating patients with a self-inflicted household injury?
The first question is general and vague. While in the same topic area, the second question is more precise and gives the reader a specific target population and a focus on the phenomenon they would have experienced. This question could be in line with a phenomenological study as we are seeking their experience or a case study as the ER personnel are a bounded entity.
Unclear: How do students experience progressing to college?
Try this: How do first-generation community members describe the aspects of their culture that promote aspiration to postsecondary education?
The first question does not have a focus on what progress is or what students are the focus. The second question provides a specific target population and provides the description to be provided by the participants. This question could be in line with a descriptive study.