Working on my dissertation prospectus today. After the Research Network Forum (RNF) at CCCC, I realize that I still have several aspects of the proposal to clarify. Most, actually. But the biggest weakness I’ve identified is the lack of a clear research question in my proposal. Beth Hewitt at the RNF suggested that I read Destination Dissertation (Foss, Waters, 2007). I have to say that I’m finding it really helpful. Clearly written. Not oversimplifying. And surprisingly applicable to research in Rhet/Comp. Though I will say the traveling metaphor throughout is a bit tedious, and I’m not so sure how useful a linear concept will work for such a recursive process as the data collection, evaluation, and refining of the research question. But that’s not a big deal right now. I wanted to offer a brief scaffolding of the section of the book which addresses research questions. I’ll simply offer it up, and hope that you’re interested enough to buy the book or request it from your library. Enjoy.
Criteria for a Good Research Question
1. Clearly identifies the theoretical construct (the phenomenon, event, or experience you want to learn more about)
2. Recognizability (the degree to which you’ll know it when you see it, a unit of analysis, concrete and specific)
3. Transcendence of Data (should not include the mention of the specific data you are using to investigate your question)
4. Contribution to the understanding of the theoretical construct (what you are doing with it, or what interests you about it, developed from conversations in the field)
5. Capacity to Surprise (you should not already know the answer to your question)
6. Robustness (the capacity to generate complex results, multiple insights, i.e. “what is the nature of…” “What are the functions of…” “What strategies are used…” “How are … defined…”)