Selecting a Problem to Research

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  • 0:06 Problems
  • 1:01 Finding Problems
  • 2:51 Selecting
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson explores the process, pitfalls, and requirements for selecting a good problem to research. There is a bit more to it than just having a good idea.

Research Problems

I was going to start this lesson off with a joke about 99 problems, but I don't think we have a strong enough legal team to get away with it.

Every psychological research study, from the most basic ones we do every day in our head to the ones lasting decades and involving thousands of people, revolve around a problem. That problem can be as simple as, 'Why do I have a headache?' or as complex as, 'How does socio-economic status, lifestyle, and location affect a developing person's intelligence?'

We are filled with questions all day, some we are aware of and some are half baked; however, the problem is that we need to select a problem to seriously research. In this lesson, we will develop a simple process of how to decide what problem to research. As a bonus, I'll include a personal trick on coming up with an idea if you ever get stuck for ideas on a dissertation or thesis.

Finding Problems

First off, it is very normal to feel like you have no idea what to study. Many people starting out in research often believe that everything has already been researched and that there is nothing left to study. It's simply not true. What these people suffer from is explained by a visual example of walking down a path. You can only see as far down the path as you have walked. So, if you have only taken five steps down the path, all you can see is five steps ahead.

This is because new researchers are not yet familiar with the research that is out there. Experienced researchers spend their lives reading other people's research. They become familiar with what is known in the field as well as where the gaps are. New researchers don't have the experience, and the massive wall of research articles to read seems like there is no room left for growth.

So, how does a researcher find a problem to study? Most have an idea of what they're interested in. For instance, my own research examined the effects of crime and police dramas on people's perception of how real courts work. I was interested in how television affects people's view of the world. If you don't know what you want to study, here's a trick I suggest:

  • Take subjects, ideas, and topics you're interested in and write them down.
  • Combine items on your list until you find something that seems intriguing. Usually this takes the form of a question.
  • Look to see what has been researched on that topic.

The process would look like this:

  • I am interested in: religion, politics, food, cat ownership, and education.
  • Are religious people more educated? Do people with cats eat more food? Will religious and highly educated people purchase less food?
  • I'll pick one or two I'm interested in and then do background research on it.

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