One of the greatest challenges for postgraduate students is articulating a research question to guide their project. In my own experience, I have observed many, perhaps even most students delay the identification of a question until after they carried out their literature review, selected the scholarly debate they wish to join, and, sometimes, started their first chapter. This is the equivalent of placing the cart before the horse.
A research question should guide every stage of your project including all the elements identified above. Accordingly, it is imperative that you clarify the question you are investigating as soon as possible. To be clear, this does not mean that your question is edged in stone. Any supervisor expects and would likely fault a student for not adapting their question as the project progresses, as it evolves. Nevertheless, some indication of what you are investigating will ensure that you do not squander precious time meandering in the desert of academic literature.
In the following podcast (hosted on soundcloud), I detail key steps to help you settle on a research question. Analogising a research project to a funnel, I explain how a student moves through from discipline to subject to topic to research question to hypothesis. The process need not be as convoluted as students often render it and the use of the funnel will ensure that your reasoning is cohesive.
Delivered as part of a postgraduate seminar series for law PhDs at QUB, you can listen to the podcast here.
This podcast is Part I in a three-part series. In the second, I will unpack the significance of a scholarly debate and, in the third, I will outline the multiple uses of a theoretical framework.