ED 633 Week Six (Spring 2022)

Hi everyone,

Last week we focused on variables. This week, we move on to the hypothesis.

For me, the hypothesis comes at a good time. I have been reading graduate projects and theses the last couple of weeks, and the most prominent problem I encounter is the difficulties students have narrowing down the study.

Why is this so difficult? Why is it so difficult to narrow down the research question to something manageable and meaningful? I have been asking myself that the last few weeks.

Having focus doesn’t seem to be too difficult in our day to day projects. Example. The purpose I have set for myself is to go to the store to buy bread for my sandwich. I leave the house to go to the store to buy bread for my sandwich. I start the car to go to the store to buy bread for my sandwich. I drive the car to go to the store to buy bread for my sandwich. I walk into the store to buy bread for my sandwich. I walk to the bakery section to buy bread for my sandwich. I buy the bread. I go home and make my sandwich.

This, however, is what I often encounter (using my bread buying analogy). The purpose I have set for myself is the sandwich. I am also interested in soups. People would enjoy eating sandwiches with soup. They make a good soup in Japan. Perhaps I could also buy ramen soup at the store. When I was in Japan it seemed as though soup and sushi were more common than chicken sandwiches. I could go to the store to buy ramen soup and maybe tofu. I buy the tofu and the ramen soup, as well as some Chinese noodles. In China, one is more likely to eat Baozi for breakfast than sandwiches. I will also go to the Chinese convenience store and buy Baozi . . . .

You can feel how the reader is being moved about in many different directions. The flow is not precise or logical and seems to meander from place to place. Not only is this disconcerting, but the reader quickly loses interest — especially if the reader is reading the research to find out what the researcher has learned about (in this case) going to the store to buy sandwich bread.

At times, the words used are simply too broad. Words like reading, schooling, teaching, teens, science etc. are too broad and not helpful in focusing the topic.

I also find it interesting that the first chapter of many research books has to do with developing a topic and narrowing it down to a researchable question. Perhaps it seems so obvious that we skim that first chapter and concentrate on the chapters that talk about the research methods. I say that because I rarely encounter graduate student research that had difficult with the methodology itself.

Once suggestion I have given students is to take their research purpose statement along with them through every paragraph they writing (either copying and pasting or with the statement typed out on a small piece of paper. That way they can ensure everything they write is linking to the main research question/problem.


I did some internet searches about narrowing down research topics. Here are a few ideas:

From Thesis Helpers:

What’s Too Broad?

College students get tired when an instructor tells them that the topic they chose is too broad. This problem is very common. How do you tell if your topic is too broad?

If you’ve summed up the topic in one or two words, such as education, school cheating, corporal punishment, smoking, or overweight teens, it’s obviously too broad.

If you visit the library and realize you are staring at a whole section of books that you can use as sources for your study topic, then the topic is too broad. A good topic should address a specific problem or question. You should spot four to five books (or even fewer) on a shelf that can effectively address a specific research problem.

If you can’t easily come up with a thesis statement for your research paper, then chances are your topic is too broad.

The Dangers Of Not Narrowing Down

If you don’t do that, you’ll find it challenging to handle the study problem on the time and space provided. You might face a couple of issues if you choose to write on a very broad PhD research topic. The issues include:

  • Finding tons of sources of information, which makes it difficult to choose what to omit or include, or what’s the most essential.

  • Finding generic information that makes it tricky to come up with a clear framework for addressing the research problem

  • Lack of adequate parameters to effectively define the research problem makes it challenging to identify and use correct methods required for its analysis.

  • You come across information that addresses a wide array of concepts that can’t be included in a single paper. Consequently, you easily get into unnecessary details.

When starting to write a research paper, there’s a common challenge – determining how to narrow down a research topic.

Even if the professor assigns you a specific topic of study, you’ll still be required to narrow it down to some degree. Besides, the professor will find it boring to mark fifty papers talking about the same thing.

That’s why you should narrow your study’s focus early in the writing process. That way, you won’t try to do too much in one research paper.


Importance of narrowing the research topic (from: https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/narrowtopic)

Whether you are assigned a general issue to investigate, must choose a problem to study from a list given to you by your professor, or you have to identify your own topic to investigate, it is important that the scope of the research problem is not too broad, otherwise, it will be very difficult to adequately address the topic in the space and time allowed. You could experience a number of problems if your topic is too broad, including:

  • You find too many information sources and, as a consequence, it is difficult to decide what to include or exclude or what are the most important sources.
  • You find information that is too general and, as a consequence, it is difficult to develop a clear framework for examining the research problem.
  • A lack of sufficient parameters that clearly define the research problem makes it difficult to identify and apply the proper methods needed to analyze it.
  • You find information that covers a wide variety of concepts or ideas that can’t be integrated into one paper and, as a consequence, you trail off into unnecessary tangents.


Strategies for Narrowing the Research Topic

A common challenge when beginning to write a research paper is determining how to narrow down your topic. Even if your professor gives you a specific topic to study, it will almost never be so specific that you won’t have to narrow it down at least to some degree [besides, it is very boring to grade fifty papers that are all about the exact same thing!].

A topic is too broad to be manageable when a review of the literature reveals too many different, and oftentimes conflicting or only remotely related, ideas about how to investigate the research problem. Although you will want to start the writing process by considering a variety of different approaches to studying the research problem, you will need to narrow the focus of your investigation at some point early in the writing process. This way, you don’t attempt to do too much in one paper.

Here are some strategies to help narrow your topic:

  • Aspect — choose one lens through which to view the research problem, or look at just one facet of it [e.g., rather than studying the role of food in South Asian religious rituals, study the role of food in Hindu ceremonies, or, the role of one particular type of food among several religions].
  • Components — determine if your initial variable or unit of analysis can be broken into smaller parts, which can then be analyzed more precisely [e.g., a study of tobacco use among adolescents can focus on just chewing tobacco rather than all forms of usage or, rather than adolescents in general, focus on female adolescents in a certain age range who choose to use tobacco].
  • Methodology — the way in which you gather information can reduce the domain of interpretive analysis needed to address the research problem [e.g., a single case study can be designed to generate data that does not require as extensive an explanation as using multiple cases].
  • Place — generally, the smaller the geographic unit of analysis, the more narrow the focus [e.g., rather than study trade relations in West Africa, study trade relations between Niger and Cameroon as a case study that helps to explain economic problems in the region].
  • Relationship — ask yourself how do two or more different perspectives or variables relate to one another. Designing a study around the relationships between specific variables can help constrict the scope of analysis [e.g., cause/effect, compare/contrast, contemporary/historical, group/individual, child/adult, opinion/reason, problem/solution].
  • Time — the shorter the time period of the study, the more narrow the focus [e.g., study of trade relations between Niger and Cameroon during the period of 2010 – 2020].
  • Type — focus your topic in terms of a specific type or class of people, places, or phenomena [e.g., a study of developing safer traffic patterns near schools can focus on SUVs, or just student drivers, or just the timing of traffic signals in the area].
  • Combination — use two or more of the above strategies to focus your topic more narrowly.

NOTE: Apply one of the above strategies first in designing your study to determine if that gives you a manageable research problem to investigate. You will know if the problem is manageable by reviewing the literature on this more specific problem and assessing whether prior research on the narrower topic is sufficient to move forward in your study [i.e., not too much, not too little]. Be careful, however, because combining multiple strategies risks creating the opposite problem–your problem becomes too narrowly defined and you can’t locate enough research or data to support your study.


Allison Ball, for Senica Libraries gives this advice when trying to narrow down a research project:

Once you have chosen a research topic, you will need to narrow it down into a research statement or question. The sooner you do this in your research process, the more time you’ll save because you can conduct more focused searches.

Here are some common ways you can narrow down a research topic:

By demographic characteristics 

Narrow it down by age group, occupation, ethnic group, gender, etc.

e.g. challenges faced by international college graduates entering the workforce

By relevant issues

Try to identify key issues related to your topic, especially ones that you have an opinion on. You can turn your opinion into your thesis statement or research question.

e.g. challenges faced by college graduates who are unable to find meaningful or relevant work

By location 

Focus on a specific country, province, city, or type of environment (rural vs. urban).

e.g. challenges faced by college graduates entering the workforce in rural Ontario

By timeframe 

Decide whether you want to study recent events or a historical time period. This will also help you decide how current the information you use must be.

e.g. challenges faced by college graduates entering the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic

By causes

You can take the perspective of looking for causes of an issue you are researching.

e.g. Why do employers hire fewer college graduates?

When developing a research question, think about: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. The more of these you incorporate the more specific your research question will be.

Here is a link to a chapter you might be interested in skimming through for some points regarding narrowing or clarifying your problem focus.

Conducting Educational Research (Ch2)


Anyway, I know your textbook touches on many of these ideas and is helpful in narrowing down the research topic. Hopefully this brief review helps consolidate some of these idea.


Chapter 6: Constructing Hypotheses

As we move into chapter 6, constructing hypotheses, you will probably realize quickly that the hypothesis plays a more important role in quantitative than qualitative work. Given that a hypothesis is, as Kumar says, “a hunch, assumption, suspicion, assertion or idea about a phenomenon, relationship or situation, the reality or truth of which you do not know”, a hypothesis in not necessary in an investigation. It is possible to conduct a study without constructing a hypothesis. One thing a hypothesis might do even if you are not doing quantitative research, is bring clarity and specificity to your research problem, even if you are not deliberately testing your hypothesis.

Kumar shows us the three phases of testing a hypothesis, the characteristics of a hypothesis, the types of hypothesis, and errors in testing a hypothesis. Furthermore, Kumar briefly discusses the use of the hypothesis in qualitative research.

Formulating a Research Problem

At this point, you probably have a pretty good sense as to whether you are interested in doing quantitative or qualitative research. You will notice, near the end of the chapter, Kumar goes into more detail in developing and using hypotheses in quantitative and qualitative studies. It is probably worth your time to look carefully at either the quantitative exercise, or qualitative exercise in the formulation of a research problem.  exercises in this chapter.


Chapter 7 The Research Design

By this point, we should have a pretty good foundation in our research understanding. We are well positioned now to consider the research design. Here in chapter 7, Kumar walks us through the definition of research design, the functions of a research design, and some of the differences between quantitative and qualitative research design. The chapter is short but is I think a good time to introduce action research.

Action Research

One of the popular research methods at WOU, especially among teachers who are trying to improve different practices are results in their classrooms, has been action research.

This week I wanted to provide you with some additional information on Action Research. I know there is a good chance that a number of you will be interested in doing an Action Research project. We actually have a large number of students at WOU doing action research, so there is a good chance that you will be exposed to it as some point in your class discussions or your discussion of research method with your supervisor. Kumar actually says very little specifically about action research (a bit in chapter 8). And while I have been wondering if introducing action research prior to reading chapter 8, I think there might be value in juxtaposing it to the qualitative research you read about last week — especially for those of you who might end up doing action research. In addition, if you were thinking about doing action research, reading these two chapters might make your reading of chapter 8 in our textbook more relevant and interesting. These additional readings will enhance and supplement what Kumar has to say about action research.


Understanding Action Research Chapter One


Deciding On An Area of Focus Chapter Two


Next week we will be moving into chapter 8, Selecting a Study Design. Next week I will continue our interview questions presuming you have a particular research methodology that might interest you. So, for this week, no interview questions.

Please notice that I had initially intended on having your submit your interview/response questions from weeks four through six after the completion of this week. However, given that I have only requested response questions from week four, I have pushed the next response submissions until the completion of next week. Next week I will be hoping to hear that you are be in a position to select, and talk about a design study of interest.

I hope you are feeling confident in your understanding of research. I hope you feel as though the pace we are moving through the material is giving you sufficient time to embrace some of these research ideas and to internalize them in such a way that you would feel confident teaching others about them. It is easy to quickly read through research text books. But to internalize these ideas can take time. As I have mentioned already, on numerous occasions, it is often when students have not internalize these ideas that their research lacks specificity, clarity, and focus.

Until next time, have a great week!