This lesson explores the process, pitfalls, and requirements for selecting a good problem to research. There is a bit more to it than just having a good idea.
I was going to start this lesson off with a joke about 99 problems, but I don’t think we have a strong enough legal team to get away with it.Every psychological research study, from the most basic ones we do every day in our head to the ones lasting decades and involving thousands of people, revolve around a problem.
That problem can be as simple as, ‘Why do I have a headache?’ or as complex as, ‘How does socio-economic status, lifestyle, and location affect a developing person’s intelligence?’We are filled with questions all day, some we are aware of and some are half baked; however, the problem is that we need to select a problem to seriously research. In this lesson, we will develop a simple process of how to decide what problem to research. As a bonus, I’ll include a personal trick on coming up with an idea if you ever get stuck for ideas on a dissertation or thesis.
First off, it is very normal to feel like you have no idea what to study. Many people starting out in research often believe that everything has already been researched and that there is nothing left to study.
It’s simply not true. What these people suffer from is explained by a visual example of walking down a path. You can only see as far down the path as you have walked. So, if you have only taken five steps down the path, all you can see is five steps ahead.This is because new researchers are not yet familiar with the research that is out there. Experienced researchers spend their lives reading other people’s research.
They become familiar with what is known in the field as well as where the gaps are. New researchers don’t have the experience, and the massive wall of research articles to read seems like there is no room left for growth.So, how does a researcher find a problem to study? Most have an idea of what they’re interested in. For instance, my own research examined the effects of crime and police dramas on people’s perception of how real courts work. I was interested in how television affects people’s view of the world.
If you don’t know what you want to study, here’s a trick I suggest:
- Take subjects, ideas, and topics you’re interested in and write them down.
- Combine items on your list until you find something that seems intriguing. Usually this takes the form of a question.
- Look to see what has been researched on that topic.
The process would look like this:
- I am interested in: religion, politics, food, cat ownership, and education.
- Are religious people more educated? Do people with cats eat more food? Will religious and highly educated people purchase less food?
- I’ll pick one or two I’m interested in and then do background research on it.
The previous information is helpful on finding a problem, but what about selecting a problem to research? Here are some basic rules in the order of what I think is most important to least:
- Is the topic able to be studied?
- Am I interested in the topic?
- How much time and effort does this topic need?
When you come up with a problem, you might get really excited about it, only to go to the planning phase and realize that this topic is unethical or impossible to research. When considering what problems to research, you have to make sure you can research it. The specifics of this are explained in more thorough detail in other videos on ethics and research design.To put it as bluntly as possible: if you aren’t interested in your topic, then it will turn into a massive, soul-grinding task.
Familiarizing yourself with the literature involves reading dozens of articles on the topic. The actual experiment could take weeks or months and countless hours of intensive focus. Experiments are not easy, and if you don’t want to do it, then you will be miserable.Lastly and unfortunately, you need to consider time and monetary requirements. It would be really interesting to test education and religiosity every five years; however, keeping up with the same group of people, re-conducting the psychological assessments, and storing the data are not realistic. Sometimes you have to admit that an interesting idea is just not doable.
Selecting a problem to research is half finding a good topic and half figuring out if it’s a good idea. It is much easier to think of many ideas and pick from them than to abandon a half-complete project because you can’t finish it. Next, when you’re trying to select which problem to study, you should keep in mind the questions of how researchable the topic is and if it is possible to do the research in a cost- and time-effective manner.
Following your completion of this video lesson, you may have the ability to:
- Evaluate some issues that can arise when selecting a research topic
- Note some tips for finding and selecting a research topic