Problem identification in research


Problem Identification in Research

Once the topic for research is selected, research cannot immediately start unless the specific problem is formulated which can be investigated by the scientific method. It is very necessary to formulate a piece of scientific inquiry before the collection of data. Needless to say, the formulation of inquiry must recognize some difficulty, be it practical or theoretical. It is the difficulty or problem, which guides our search for some order among the facts in terms of which the difficulty is to be, removed. The difficulty may be experienced with some social problem, or with the failure of the theoretical system or prediction. In fact, the formulation of a problem is more important than its solution. However, every problem is not a scientific problem or a research problem. In the matter of problem formulation for research, Merton has distinguished the following three principal components.

1. Originating the questions

The originating question is based on the fundamental objective of the present research. That is to say, what is the specific problem, which a researcher wants to solve? The originating question is the first problem in the formulation of research. The origination question may doubt the existing facts about a problem. It wants to discover new and more decisive facts giving rise to the problem at hand. Some social facts can explain only be in superficial a particular fact, way, and the not problem real. The questions that may be raised at this stage may be fact-finding questions. This shows that all plausible facts may not be the real facts, and all plausible beliefs may also not be necessarily true. The truth-value of these beliefs and facts have to be discovered by research. The origination questions are not, however, uniform. Some questions may be related to concepts, some to facts, some to the existing system, some to empirical validity and some may be related to the whole structure or organization.

2. Rationale of question

It is also necessary to know the reasons behind the question that is raised. That is to say, why is the question being raised at all? If the question is answered, what will be the benefit? In other words, the rationale of the question helps us to distinguish between a valuable and trivial question. If the question helps us to distinguish between a valuable and a trivial question. If the question is found to have any scientific import, the question is considered for an answer, otherwise not. It is also necessary to know whether the question is relevant or not. The relevance may be either theoretical or practical. The answer to the question raised may improve the theoretical knowledge, enlarge the scope of theoretical inquiry, or may lead to a new theoretical construct. The conceptualization and understanding may be made clear by answering such questions; or, some theoretical inconsistencies may be removed from the system of analysis. A new theory may possibly develop and that may be considered in many respects a better one than the existing theory. The old theory may also be proved to be wrong. The suggested answer to be given by research may be instrumental in discovering a new analytical model which can answer any questions, and which is, therefore, broader and better. The answer may maximize the welfare of the whole or a part of the society, cure many diseases or find out some practical solutions to knotty problems. Thus, the question may have either theoretical interest or practical utility. It must not neglect either of these two.

3. Specifying question

The question, which has originated the research, must be specifically and very clearly stated. A broad question may be decomposed into several specific questions, each of which can be answered separately and conveniently by the researcher. In specifying the question, it has to be stated how it would be answered by a particular set of variables or data. For answering a specific question, a particular type of observation becomes essential. However, every concrete situation is not per se strategic. It is what the investigator brings to the situation that makes it strategic. Specific questions can be precisely and successfully answered for the benefit of society. In the final stage of the formulation of the research problem, the general question can be transformed into a series of specific questions to indicate the types of situations that can afford the strategic observations to answer these questions. Needless to add, no solution can be found so long as the questions remain nonspecific and ambiguous. The questions should be simple, pointed, specific, clear, and empirically verifiable. When answers are found to these specific questions, it is possible to find out a solution to the problem.

The first step in the formulation of research is to make the problem-specific, concrete, and objective. The formulation of the topic into a research problem is the first step in a scientific investigation. But unfortunately, there is no standard rule in the matter of formulation of significant questions in a given research area. It is very often the task of a trained, sensitive, experienced, and alert mind. As Cohen and Nagel observe, it is a mark of scientific genius to be sensitive to difficulties where the common people take them easily. The problem must be perceived by the researcher himself. A searching mind remains always dissatisfied with the existing ideas, system, and notions. This growing dissatisfaction is the basis of formulating a research problem.

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