Will your interview and survey questions answer your research question?

One issue that graduate faculty frequently see is a kind of disconnect between the questions students write for their research instruments and the primary research questions themselves. In other words, the questions don’t “get at” the information the student seeks. The result is that the data yielded by the instrument won’t answer the primary question(s).

This disconnect between question and answer can happen because:

  • the questions are poorly worded or ambiguous;
  • the implications of the questions and their possible answers have not been thought through. (Each question has what designers call “affordances.” In the case of a question, the affordances are the possible kinds of data the question will generate. For example, a yes / no question will only generate a yes or no answer whereas an open-ended question can generate a range of answers, etc). The researcher should understand ahead of time what kind of data each question will yield;
  • the researcher has not decided what they want out of the question or how the responses to each individual question will help answer the primary research questions.
  • the researcher has not thought about how the questions relate to their constructs or theoretical frameworks.

One way to scaffold the process if you’re a grad student–or a faculty member who works with grad students–is to fill out or have students fill out a chart or matrix like this one. The matrix prompts researchers to think carefully about each interview or survey question, anticipate answers, and connect the question to the larger theoretical framework of their project.

This download (a Word file) contains a sample question matrix by a recently graduated Ph.D. and a blank matrix that you can copy for your own use.

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