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POSC 325: Political Analysis: Research Question Development

Literature Review Assignment

Formulating a Research Question:

Research questions develop from a broad topic to a focused question. Oftentimes, doing a preliminary search on the general topic is helpful in the development phase. It allows you to see what research has already been done. During the development phase, ask yourself open-ended questions to help formulate a list of potential research questions:
  • Who: think in terms of demographics (gender, age, ethnicity, religious preference, special interest groups, etc)
  • What: think about concepts/aspects, sociological and political factors, relevant hot-topic issues, statistics, etc.  
  • Where: compare/contrast a location
  • Why/How/So What!: consider the topic's significance in relation to the reviewed literature, and weigh advantages vs. disadvantages

Keep in mind that research questions can also evolve and change as you review the literature. 

Research Question Development

Crafting Good Research Questions

  • Draw on background knowledge
  • Begin from empirical questions. Good questions are usually about the outcomes (what explains y?) rather than about the causes (what effects does x have?)
  • Utilize "reporter questions" to go beyond basic facts (who, what, when, where, why, how)
  • Do not have a single correct answer
Broad Topic                              Sub-Topic                             Narrowed Topic                                     Research Question
Voting Voter Turnout Affect of Negative Ads What is the relationship between negative ads and voter turnout?
Death Penalty Pro/Con Effective Punishment Under what conditions Is the death penalty an effective punishment?

Position Statements
Position statements are argumentative points that support your topic. They should take a stand on the issue and make an argument. More importantly, they should be able to be backed up using evidence from journal articles.

Example: The death penalty is an effective method of punishment in the United States because it deters future crimes (topic: Is the penalty an effective punishment?
Hypothesis Development
A hypothesis is more specific than your positions and includes a quantitative correlation you want to test. You should be able to answer the hypothesis through original research as you collect and analyze data.
Example: States that pursue the death penalty have a 10% lower violent crime rate than states that do not sentence criminals to death.

Empirical Research

What Is Empirical Research?
Empirical research applies observation and experience as the main modes of gathering data. Characteristics include:

  • Content being based on actual and objective observation or experimentation
  • Findings published in scholarly or academic journals
  • 5 main sections 
    • Introduction, including literature review
    • Methodology
    • Presentation of the results
    • Discussion and/or conclusion
    • References

Quantitative Research

What Is Quantitative Research?
This type of research emphasize objective measurements and the statistical, mathematical, or numerical analysis of data collected through polls, questionnaires, and surveys, or by manipulating pre-existing statistical data using computational techniques. The ultimate goal is to determine the relationship between one thing [an independent variable] and another [a dependent variable] within a population. Characteristics include:

  • Data usually gathered using structured research instruments
  • Results based on larger sample sizes that are representative of the population
  • Research study can usually be replicated or repeated, given its high reliability
  • Researcher has a clearly defined research question to which objective answers are sought
  • Data are in the form of numbers and statistics
  • Project can be used to generalize concepts more widely, predict future results, or investigate causal relationships