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Week 4 Reading: ‘From an Idea to a Research Question’

Flick, Uwe 2007. ‘From an idea to a research question’ [in] Designing Qualitative Research, p. 16-24, London.

The objectives of the text are set out clearly – see how personal or scientific interests and experiences are the background to developing a research interest, know more about the process from such an interest to a research question, see the relevance of taking a perspective and of using theory in qualitative research.

Flick makes it quite clear that interest in an area makes for a more interesting and carefully considered research question. The following are examples of interests which led to research ideas:

• Glaser and Strauss developed the idea of studying an awareness of dying after both their mothers had died in hospitals. This is described as a personal background for developing a research idea.
• Likewise, Hochschild chose to examine ‘how people manage emotion’, the source being her early childhood experiences within her family home – e.g. different forms of smiles, their levels, conveyed messages of handshakes. This led to more specific research – the idea that emotion functions as a messenger from the self, which eventually developed a study of two public-contact workers, flight attendants and bill collectors, in terms of suppressing emotion when in contact with clients.
• Marie Jahoda looked at the impact on a community when the majority of its members become unemployed. From this, she went on to study the attitude of the population toward unemployment and its social consequences.

Comparing these research examples, each shows a different path from idea to research question – personal experience, social experience and circumstance or societal problems. Flick assures the reader that these are not the only sources for research interests, with much research stemming from research previously conducted (i.e. questions which remained unanswered, questions resulting from findings, etc).

In Flick’s own research (professionals’ concepts of health/ageing and homeless adolescents’ health), there were two sources. Firstly, his research team were interested in the development of public health and also held an interest in subjective understandings of health. From this, they developed a research interest in ‘how ideas of health, health promotion and prevention had an impact on the day-to-day practices in health institutions. This can be seen as a combination of a scientific interest and a political concern (i.e. how to use public health concepts for transforming and improving the current health system).

In terms of taking a research perspective, there are a number of options. (In the Glaser and Strauss example, this was to develop a theory where an explanation was missing.)

The next step is to think about using theory in qualitative research. Here, Flick addresses the myth that qualitative research does not build on existing research. Essentially, qualitative research asks you to build on existing theories, otherwise risking extreme naivety when beginning research.

Developing a research question comes down to deciding exactly what you would like to research and study (this means that the research interest and research perspective steps are absolutely necessary). For a project to be successful, the research question needs to be clearly and explicitly formulated, also considering what is important (what needs to be covered) and what isn’t so important (what can be left out).

Flick concludes by once again addressing the importance of carefully planning the research interest and perspective, while getting well acquainted with existing literature on the topic – including preparing access to the research field, clarifying relations to the field and its members and becoming an expert in the methods you and your research team want to use. (p. 23).

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