1. Statement of the ProblemThe first step in the research is pinpointing the topic of interest. Researchers usually start out with a vague idea of some problem and then slowly try to refine this idea into a concise statement. They review studies relevant to this topic to further illuminate the problem and refine the research question. A strong problem statement is supported by a thorough review of relevant study results and a strong rationale or justification for performing the study.
2. Generating a Hypothesis/Formulating a Research QuestionHypotheses and research questions are precise statements or questions of the research problems. A hypothesis is a prediction of what is expected to occur or a relationship expected between concepts of interest. The hypothesis is typically tested with some form of experiment. Not all studies test hypotheses. Some ask more general questions about the problem of interest. The focus can be largely descriptive.
3. Review of the Literature: Relevant StudiesA thorough search of the literature is an important component of the research process. The review involves the collection and summary of prior studies that are relevant to the hypothesis or research question. This process assesses what is already known about the problem and refines research questions for extending knowledge in this field. The important focus should be the determination of what this study will add to what is already known. The review can also provide ideas on what methods and instruments can be used to collect the data.
4. MeasurementsMeasurements are an important component of research. Individuals vary in their interpretations of particular terms or concepts. For example, height = 60 could mean 60 inches or 60 centimeters. Hence, key terms in the problem statement should be defined clearly. To follow the example of height, the researcher should indicate that height is measured in centimeters. This process of definition is called operationalization: The concept in the researcher’s head is translated into something that can be observed, measured, and understood by others.
5. SampleIf the study involves human subjects, then the sample means a group of people from which data will be collected (subjects of the study). If the study is analyzing secondary data collected by another investigator, then the sample refers to the data set.
Usually, the sample is a group of people representing a target population, and the population is the larger group to whom the results are to be generalized. Types of research bias or systematic errors can be avoided with precise definitions of the target population and rigorous sampling strategies.