The Introduction and Purpose Statement & Research Questions and Hypotheses
CHAPTER SIX (toc1.html#c06a)
The Purpose Statement (toc1.html#c06a)
he last section of an introduction, as mentioned in Chapter 5 (c05.html) , is to present a purpose statement (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Creswell.7641.17.1/sections/gls#s58) that establishes the intent of the entire research study. It is the most important statement in the entire study, and it needs to be clear, specific,
and informative. From it, all other aspects of the research follow, and readers will be lost unless it is carefully drafted. In journal articles, researchers write the purpose statement into introductions as the final statement; in theses and dissertations, it often stands as a separate section.
In this chapter devoted exclusively to the purpose statement, I address the reasons for developing it, key principles to use in its design, and examples of good models in crafting one for your proposal.
6.1 SIGNIFICANCE AND MEANING OF A PURPOSE STATEMENT (toc2.html#s86a)
According to Locke, Spirduso, and Silverman (2013), the purpose statement indicates why you want to do the study and what you intend to accomplish. Unfortunately, proposal-writing texts give little attention to the purpose statement, and writers on method often incorporate it into discussions about other topics, such as specifying research questions or hypotheses. Wilkinson (1991), for example, refers to it within the context of the research question and objective. Other authors frame it as an aspect of the research problem (Castetter & Heisler, 1977). Closely examining their discussions, however, indicates that they both refer to the purpose statement as the central, controlling idea in a study.
This passage is called the purpose statement because it conveys the overall intent of a proposed study in a sentence or several sentences. In proposals, researchers need to distinguish clearly between the purpose statement, the research problem, and the research questions. The purpose statement sets forth the intent of the study, not the problem or issue leading to a need for the study (see Chapter 5 (c05.html) ). The purpose is also not the research questions—those questions that the data collection will attempt to answer (discussed in Chapter 7 (c07.html) ). Instead and again, the purpose statement sets the objectives, the intent, or the major idea of a proposal or a study. This idea builds on a need (the problem) and is refined into specific questions (the research questions).
Given the importance of the purpose statement, it is helpful to set it apart from other aspects of the proposal or study and to frame it as a single sentence or paragraph that readers can identify easily. Although qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods purpose statements share similar topics, each is identified in the following paragraphs and illustrated with fill-in scripts for constructing a thorough but manageable purpose statement.
A Qualitative Purpose Statement (toc2.html#s87a)
Good qualitative purpose statements (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Creswell.7641.17.1/sections/gls#s66) contain information about the central phenomenon (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Creswell.7641.17.1/sections/gls#s5) explored in the study, the participants in the study, and the research site. It also conveys an emerging design and uses research words drawn from the language of qualitative inquiry (Schwandt, 2007). Thus, one might consider several basic design features for writing this statement:
• Use words such as purpose, intent, or objective to signal attention to this statement as the central controlling idea. Set the statement off as a separate sentence or paragraph, and use the language of research, such as “The purpose (or intent or objective) of this study is (was) (will be) …” Researchers often use the present or past verb tense in journal articles and dissertations and the future tense in proposals because researchers are presenting a proposal for a study not yet undertaken.
• Focus on a single phenomenon (or concept or idea). Narrow the study to one idea to be explored or understood. This focus means that a purpose does not convey relating two or more variables or comparing two or more groups, as is typically found in quantitative research. Instead, advance a single phenomenon, recognizing that the study may evolve into an exploration of relationships or comparisons among ideas. None of these related explorations could be anticipated at the beginning. For example, a project might begin by exploring teacher identity and the marginalization of this identity in a particular school (Huber & Whelan, 1999), the meaning of baseball culture in a study of the work and talk of stadium employees (Trujillo, 1992), or how individuals cognitively represent AIDS (Anderson & Spencer, 2002). These examples illustrate a focus on a single idea.
• Use action verbs to convey how learning will take place. Action verbs and phrases, such as, understand, develop, explore, examine the meaning of, or discover, keep the inquiry open and convey an emerging design.
• Use neutral words and phrases—nondirectional language—such as, exploring the “self-expression experiences of individuals” rather than the “successful self-expression of individuals.” Other words and phrases that may be problematic include useful, positive, and informing—all words that suggest an outcome that may or may not occur. McCracken (1988) referred to the need in qualitative interviews to let the respondent describe his or her experience. Interviewers (or purpose statement writers) can easily violate the “law of nondirection” (McCracken, 1988, p. 21) in qualitative research by using words that suggest a directional orientation.
• Provide a general working definition of the central phenomenon or idea, especially if the phenomenon is a term that is not typically understood by a broad audience. Consistent with the rhetoric of qualitative research, this definition is not rigid and set but tentative and evolving throughout a study based on information from participants. Hence, a writer might say, “A tentative definition at this time for _________ (central phenomenon) is …” It should also be noted that this definition is not to be confused with the detailed definition of terms section as discussed in Chapter 2 (c02.html) on the review of the literature. The intent here is to convey to readers at an early stage in a proposal or research study a general sense of the central phenomenon so that they can better understand the types of questions and responses asked of participants and data sources.
• Include words denoting the strategy of inquiry to be used in data collection, analysis, and the process of research, such as whether the study will use an ethnographic, grounded theory, case study, phenomenological, narrative approach, or some other strategy.
• Mention the participants in the study, such as one or more individuals, a group of people, or an entire organization.
• Identify the site for the research, such as homes, classrooms, organizations, programs, or events. Describe this site in enough detail so that the reader knows exactly where a study will take place.
• As a final thought in the purpose statement, include some language that delimits the scope of participation or research sites in the study. For example, the study may be limited to women only or Latinas only. The research site may be limited to one metropolitan city or to one small geographic area. The central phenomenon may be limited to individuals in business organizations who participate in creative teams. These delimitations help to further define the parameters of the research study.
Although considerable variation exists in the inclusion of these points in purpose statements, a good dissertation or thesis proposal should contain many of them.
To assist you, here is a script (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Creswell.7641.17.1/sections/gls#s86) that should be helpful in drafting a complete statement. A script, as used in this book, contains the major words and ideas of a statement and provides space for the researcher to insert information.
The purpose of this ______ (strategy of inquiry, such as ethnography, case study, or other type) study is (was? will be?) to ______ (understand? explore? develop? discover?) the ______ (central phenomenon being studied) for ______ (the participants, such as the individual, groups, organization) at ______ (research site). At this stage in the research, the ______ (central phenomenon being studied) will be generally defined as ______ (provide a general definition).
The following examples may not illustrate perfectly all the elements of this script, but they represent adequate models to study and emulate.
Example 6.1 A Purpose Statement in a Qualitative Phenomenology Study (toc2.html#ex6.1a)
Lauterbach (1993) studied five women who had each lost a baby in late pregnancy and their memories and experiences of this loss. Her purpose statement was as follows:
The phenomenological inquiry, as part of uncovering meaning, articulated “essences” of meaning in mothers’ lived experiences when their wished-for babies died. Using the lens of the feminist perspective, the focus was on mothers’ memories and their “living through” experience. This perspective facilitated breaking through the silence surrounding mothers’ experiences; it assisted in articulating and amplifying mothers’ memories and their stories of loss. Methods of inquiry included phenomenological reflection on data elicited by existential investigation of mothers’ experiences, and investigation of the phenomenon in the creative arts. (p. 134)
I found Lauterbach’s (1993) purpose statement in the opening section of the journal article under the heading “Aim of Study.” Thus, the heading calls attention to this statement. “Mothers’ lived experiences” would be the central phenomenon, the key being explored in a qualitative study, and the author uses the action word portray to discuss the meaning (a neutral word) of these experiences. The author further defined what experiences were examined when she identifies “memories” and “lived through” experiences. Throughout this passage, it is clear that Lauterbach used the strategy of phenomenology. Also, the passage conveys that the participants were mothers, and later in the article, the reader learns that the author interviewed a convenience sample of five mothers, each of whom had experienced a perinatal death of a child in her home.
Example 6.2 A Purpose Statement in a Case Study (toc2.html#ex6.2a)
Kos (1991) conducted a multiple case study of perceptions of reading-disabled middle school students concerning factors that prevented these students from progressing in their reading development. Her purpose
statement read as follows:
The purpose of this study was to explore affective, social, and educational factors that may have contributed to the development of reading disabilities in four adolescents. The study also sought explanation as to why students’ reading disabilities persisted despite years of instruction. This was not an intervention study and, although some students may have improved their reading, reading improvement was not the focus of the study. (pp. 876–877)
Notice Kos’s (1991) disclaimer that this study was not a quantitative study measuring the magnitude of reading changes in the students. Instead, Kos clearly placed this study within the qualitative approach by using words such as explore. She focused attention on the central phenomenon of “factors” and provided a tentative definition by mentioning examples, such as “affective, social, and educational factors.” She included this statement under a heading called “Purpose of the Study” to call attention to it, and she mentioned the participants. In the abstract and the methodology section, a reader finds out that the study used the inquiry strategy of case study research and that the study took place in a classroom.
Example 6.3 A Purpose Statement in an Ethnography (toc2.html#ex6.3a)
Rhoads (1997) conducted a 2-year ethnographic study exploring how the campus climate can be improved for gay and bisexual males at a large university. His purpose statement, included in the opening section, was as follows:
The article contributes to the literature addressing the needs of gay and bisexual students by identifying several areas where progress can be made in improving the campus climate for them. This paper derives from a two-year ethnographic study of a student subculture composed of gay and bisexual males at a large research university; the focus on men reflects the fact that lesbian and bisexual women constitute a separate student subculture at the university under study. (p. 276)
With intent to improve the campus, this qualitative study falls into the genre of advocacy research as mentioned in Chapter 1 (c01.html) . Also, these sentences occur at the beginning of the article to signal the reader about the purpose of the study. The needs of these students become the central phenomenon under study, and the author seeks to identify areas that can improve the climate for gays and bisexual males. The author also mentioned that the strategy of inquiry is ethnographic and that the study will involve males (participants) at a large university (site). At this point, the author does not provide additional information about the exact nature of these needs or a working definition to begin the article. However, he does refer to identity and proffers a tentative meaning for that term in the next section of the study.
Example 6.4 A Purpose Statement in a Grounded Theory Study (toc2.html#ex6.4a)
Richie and colleagues (1997) conducted a qualitative study to develop a theory of the career development of 18 prominent, highly achieving African American Black and White women in the United States working in different occupational fields. In the second paragraph of this study, they stated the purpose:
The present article describes a qualitative study of the career development of 18 prominent, highly achieving African-American Black and White women in the United States across eight occupational
fields. Our overall aim in the study was to explore critical influences on the career development of these women, particularly those related to their attainment of professional success. (p. 133)
In this statement, the central phenomenon is career development, and the reader learns that the phenomenon is defined as critical influences in the professional success of the women. In this study, success, a directional word, serves to define the sample of individuals to be studied more than to limit the inquiry about the central phenomenon. The authors plan to explore this phenomenon, and the reader learns that the participants are all women, in different occupational groups. Grounded theory as a strategy of inquiry is mentioned in the abstract and later in the procedure discussion.
A Quantitative Purpose Statement (toc2.html#s88a)
Quantitative purpose statements (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Creswell.7641.17.1/sections/gls#s71) differ considerably from the qualitative models in terms of the language and a focus on relating or comparing variables or constructs. Recall from Chapter 3 (c03.html) the types of major variables: independent, mediating, moderating, and dependent.
The design of a quantitative purpose statement includes the variables in the study and their relationship, the participants, and the research site. It also includes language associated with quantitative research and the deductive testing of relationships or theories. A quantitative purpose statement begins with identifying the proposed major variables in a study (independent, intervening, dependent), accompanied by a visual model to clearly identify this sequence, and locating and specifying how the variables will be measured or observed. Finally, the intent of using the variables quantitatively will typically be either to relate variables, as one usually finds in a survey, or to compare samples or groups in terms of an outcome, as commonly found in experiments.
The major components of a good quantitative purpose statement include the following:
• Include words to signal the major intent of the study, such as purpose, intent, or objective. Start with “The purpose (or objective or intent) of this study is (was, will be) …”
• Identify the theory, model, or conceptual framework. At this point, one does not need to describe it in detail; in Chapter 3 (c03.html) , I suggested the possibility of writing a separate “Theoretical Perspective” section for this purpose. Mentioning it in the purpose statement provides emphasis on the importance of the theory and foreshadows its use in the study.
• Identify the independent and dependent variables, as well as any mediating, moderating, or control variables used in the study.
• Use words that connect the independent and dependent variables to indicate that they are related, such as “the relationship between” two or more variables or a “comparison of” two or more groups. Also, a purpose statement could be to “describe” variables. Most quantitative studies employ one or more of these three options for discussing variables in the purpose statement. A combination of comparing and relating might also exist— for example, a two-factor experiment in which the researcher has two or more treatment groups as well as a continuous independent variable. Although one typically finds studies about comparing two or more groups in experiments, it is also possible to compare groups in a survey study.
• Position or order the variables from left to right in the purpose statement—with the independent variable followed by the dependent variable. Place intervening variables between the independent and dependent variables. Many researchers also place the moderating variables between the independent and dependent variables. Alternatively, control variables might be placed immediately following the dependent variable in a phrase such as “controlling for …” In experiments, the independent variable will always be the manipulated variable.
• Mention the specific type of strategy of inquiry (such as survey or experimental research) used in the study. By incorporating this information, the researcher anticipates the methods discussion and enables a reader to associate the relationship of variables to the inquiry approach.
• Make reference to the participants (or the unit of analysis) in the study, and mention the research site.
• Generally define each key variable, preferably using set and accepted established definitions found in the literature. General definitions are included at this point to help the reader best understand the purpose statement. They do not replace specific, operational definitions found later when a writer has a “Definition of
Terms” section in a proposal (details about how variables will be measured). Also, delimitations that affect the scope of the study might be mentioned, such as the scope of the data collection or limited to certain individuals.
Based on these points, a quantitative purpose statement script can include these ideas:
The purpose of this ______ (experiment? survey?) study is (was? will be?) to test the theory of ______ that ______ (describes outcomes) or (compares? relates?) the ______ (independent variable) to ______ (dependent variable), controlling for ______ (control variables) for ______ (participants) at ______ (the research site). The independent variable(s) ______ will be defined as ______ (provide a definition). The dependent variable(s) will be defined as ______ (provide a definition), and the control and intervening variable(s), ______, (identify the control and intervening variables) will be defined as ______ (provide a definition).
The examples to follow illustrate many of the elements in these scripts. The first two studies are surveys; the last one is an experiment.
Example 6.5 A Purpose Statement in a Published Survey Study (toc2.html#ex6.5a)
Kalof (2000) conducted a 2-year longitudinal study of 54 college women about their attitudes and experiences with sexual victimization. These women responded to two identical mail surveys administered 2 years apart. The author combined the purpose statement, introduced in the opening section, with the research questions.
This study is an attempt to elaborate on and clarify the link between women’s sex role attitudes and experiences with sexual victimization. I used two years of data from 54 college women to answer these questions: (1) Do women’s attitudes influence vulnerability to sexual coercion over a two-year period? (2) Are attitudes changed after experiences with sexual victimization? (3) Does prior victimization reduce or increase the risk of later victimization? (p. 48)
Although Kalof (2000) did not mention a theory that she sought to test, she identified both her independent variable (sex role attitudes) and the dependent variable (sexual victimization). She positioned these variables from independent to dependent. She also discussed linking rather than relating the variables to establish a connection between them (or describing them). This passage identified the participants (women) and the research site (a college setting). Later, in the method section, she mentioned that the study was a mailed survey. Although she did not define the major variables, she provided specific measures of the variables in the research questions.
Example 6.6 A Purpose Statement in a Dissertation Survey Study (toc2.html#ex6.6a)
DeGraw (1984) completed a doctoral dissertation in the field of education on the topic of educators working in adult correctional institutions. Under a section titled “Statement of the Problem,” he advanced the purpose of the study:
The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between personal characteristics and the job motivation of certified educators who taught in selected state adult correctional institutions in the United States. Personal characteristics were divided into background information about the respondent (i.e., institutional information, education level, prior training, etc.) and information about the respondents’ thoughts of changing jobs. The examination of background information was important to this study because it was hoped it would be possible to identify characteristics and factors contributing to significant differences in mobility and motivation. The second part of the study asked the respondents to identify those motivational factors of concern to them. Job motivation was
defined by six general factors identified in the educational work components study (EWCS) questionnaire (Miskel & Heller, 1973). These six factors are: potential for personal challenge and development; competitiveness; desirability and reward of success; tolerance for work pressures; conservative security; and willingness to seek reward in spite of uncertainty vs. avoidance. (pp. 4–5)
This statement included several components of a good purpose statement. It was presented in a separate section, it used the word relationship, terms were defined, and the sample was specified. Further, from the order of the variables in the statement, one can clearly identify the independent variable and the dependent variable.
Example 6.7 A Purpose Statement in an Experimental Study (toc2.html#ex6.7a)
Booth-Kewley, Edwards, and Rosenfeld (1992) undertook a study comparing the social desirability of responding to a computer version of an attitude and personality questionnaire with completing a pencil-and- paper version. They replicated a study completed on college students that used an inventory, called Balanced Inventory of Desirable Responding (BIDR), composed of two scales: (a) impression management (IM) and (b) self-deception (SD). In the final paragraph of the introduction, they advanced the purpose of the study:
We designed the present study to compare the responses of Navy recruits on the IM and SD scales, collected under three conditions—with paper-and-pencil, on a computer with backtracking allowed, and on a computer with no backtracking allowed. Approximately half of the recruits answered the questionnaire anonymously and the other half identified themselves. (p. 563)
This statement also reflected many properties of a good purpose statement. The statement was separated from other ideas in the introduction as a separate paragraph; it mentioned that a comparison would be made, and it identified the participants in the experiment (i.e., the unit of analysis). In terms of the order of the variables, the authors advanced them with the dependent variable first, contrary to my suggestion (still, the groups are clearly identified). Although the theory base is not mentioned, the paragraphs preceding the purpose statement reviewed the findings of prior theory. The authors also did not tell us about the strategy of inquiry, but other passages, especially those related to procedures, identified the study as an experiment.
A Mixed Methods Purpose Statement (toc2.html#s89a)
Mixed methods purpose statements (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Creswell.7641.17.1/sections/gls#s45) contains the overall intent of the study, information about both the quantitative and qualitative strands of the study, and a rationale of incorporating both strands to study the research problem. These statements need to be identified early, in the introduction, and they provide major signposts for the reader to understand the quantitative and qualitative parts of a study. Several guidelines might direct the organization and presentation of the mixed methods purpose statement:
• Begin with words that signal intent, such as “The purpose of” or “The intent of.”
• Indicate the overall purpose of the study from a content perspective, such as “The intent is to learn about organizational effectiveness” or “The intent is to examine families with stepchildren.” In this way, the reader has an anchor to use to understand the overall study before the researcher divides the project into quantitative and qualitative strands.
• Indicate the type of mixed methods design, such as an exploratory sequential design, or an embedded sequential design, or transformational or multiphase, or others.
• Discuss the reasons for combining both quantitative and qualitative data. This reason could be one of the following (see Chapter 10 (c10.html) for more detail about these reasons):
To develop a complete understanding of a research problem by converging quantitative and qualitative data and comparing the two databases (a convergent design).
To understand the data at a more detailed level by using qualitative follow-up data to help explain a quantitative database, such as a survey (see also O’Cathain, Murphy, & Nicholl, 2007) (an explanatory sequential design).
To develop measurement instruments that actually fit a sample by first exploring qualitatively (e.g., through interviews) and using the information to design an instrument that then can be tested with a large sample (an exploratory sequential design).
To incorporate these reasons into a larger design, such as an experiment (an embedded design), to frame them within a paradigm of social justice for a marginalized group (a transformative design), or to connect them to a single overall purpose in a multiphase, longitudinal program of research (a multiphase design).
Based on these elements, three examples of mixed methods purpose statement scripts follow based on the convergent, explanatory sequential, and exploratory sequential designs (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011). This first example of a mixed methods purpose statement is a script for a convergent mixed methods strategy in which quantitative and qualitative data are collected and analyzed separately and the two databases compared to best understand a research problem.
This mixed methods study will address _________ [overall content aim]. A convergent mixed methods design will be used, and it is a type of design in which qualitative and quantitative data are collected in parallel, analyzed separately, and then merged. In this study, _________ [quantitative data] will be used to test the theory of _________ [the theory] that predicts that [independent variables] will _________ [positively, negatively] influence the _________ [dependent variables] for _________ [participants] at _________ [the site]. The _________ [type of qualitative data] will explore _________ [the central phenomenon] for _________ [participants] at _________ [the site]. The reason for collecting both quantitative and qualitative data is to _________ [the mixing reason].
This second script illustrates a mixed methods purpose statement for an explanatory sequential design in which the intent is to understand the quantitative database at a deeper level using follow-up qualitative data.
This study will address _________ [content aim]. An explanatory sequential mixed methods design will be used, and it will involve collecting quantitative data first and then explaining the quantitative results with in-depth qualitative data. In the first, quantitative phase of the study, _________ [quantitative instrument] data will be collected from _________ [participants] at _________ [research site] to test _________ [name of theory] to assess whether _________ [independent variables] relate to _________ [dependent variables]. The second, qualitative phase will be conducted as a follow up to the quantitative results to help explain the quantitative results. In this exploratory follow-up, the tentative plan is to explore _________ [the central phenomenon] with _________ [participants] at a _________ [research site].
The final script is an illustration of the purpose statement that might be used for an exploratory sequential design in which the intent is to develop measures (or instruments) that work with a sample by first collecting qualitative data and then using it to design measures or the instrument that can be tested with a sample of a population.
This study addresses _________ [content aim]. The purpose of this exploratory sequential design will be to first qualitatively explore with a small sample and then to determine if the qualitative findings generalize to a large sample. The first phase of the study will be a qualitative exploration of _________ [the central phenomenon] in which _________ [types of data] will be collected from _________ [participants] at _________ [research site]. From this initial exploration, the qualitative findings will be used to develop assessment measures that can be administered to a large sample. In the tentatively planned quantitative phase, _________ [instrument data] will be collected from _________ [participants] at _________ [research site].
Other examples are available to advance more advanced designs such as the embedded design, the transformative design, and the multiphase design in Creswell and Plano Clark (2011).
It is helpful to look closely at several examples of purpose statements as found in recent published articles. Although these examples may not include all of the elements of the scripts, they do serve as examples of reasonably complete purpose statements that clearly convey the purpose of a mixed methods study. The discussion will be limited to the three core types of design: (a) a convergent design, (b) an explanatory sequential design, and (c) an exploratory sequential design. Other designs that expand these possibilities will be detailed further in Chapter 10 (c10.html) .
Example 6.8 A Convergent Mixed Methods Purpose Statement (toc2.html#ex6.8a)
Classen and colleagues (2007) developed a health promotion model for older driver safety. Conducting a large secondary analysis of a national database, they examined the risk and protective factors influencing driver injuries (the quantitative phase). They also conducted a qualitative meta-synthesis of six studies to determine narrative results pertaining to needs, factors influencing safety, and safety priorities of older driver stakeholders (the qualitative phase). They then compared the two databases to integrate the results from both sets of data. Their purpose statement was as follows:
This study provided an explicit socio-ecological view explaining the interrelation of possible causative factors, an integrated summary of these factors, and empirical guidelines for developing public health interventions to promote older driver safety. Using a mixed methods approach, we were able to compare and integrate main findings from a national crash dataset with perspectives of stakeholders. (p. 677)
This passage was written into the abstract and perhaps it would have been better inserted into the introduction. It indicated the use of both quantitative and qualitative data; although more detail might have been given to identify the theory (a model was advanced at the beginning of the study), the specific variables analyzed and the central phenomenon of the qualitative phase of the study.
Example 6.9 An Explanatory Sequential Mixed Methods Purpose Statement (toc2.html#ex6.9a)
Ivankova and Stick (2007) studied factors contributing to students’ persistence in a distributed doctoral program (distance online learning). They first collected survey data to examine external and internal program factors that might predict student persistence, and then they followed up with qualitative interviews of students that grouped into four categories of persistence. They ended by advancing case studies of four types of graduate persisters. The purpose statement was as follows:
The purpose of this mixed methods sequential explanatory study was to identify factors contributing to students’ persistence in the ELHE program by obtaining quantitative results from a survey of 278 current and former students and then following up with four purposefully selected individuals to explore those results in more depth through a qualitative case study analysis. In the first, quantitative, phase of the study, the research questions focused on how selected internal and external variables to the ELHE program (program-related, advisor- and faculty-related, institutional-related, student- related factors, and external factors) served as predictors to students’ persistence in the program. In the second, qualitative, phase, four case studies from distinct participant groups explored in-depth the results from the statistical tests. In this phase, the research questions addressed seven internal and external factors, found to have differently contributed to the function discriminating the four groups: program, online learning environment, faculty, student support services, self motivation, virtual community, and academic advisor. (p. 95)
In this example, the purpose statement closely followed the script advanced earlier for an explanatory sequential design. It began with an overall intent statement, followed by the identification of the first quantitative phase (including the specific variables examined), and then the qualitative follow-up phase. It ended with the four case studies and the mixed methods rationale to use the case studies to further explore the results from the statistical tests.
Example 6.10 An Exploratory Sequential Mixed Methods Purpose Statement (toc2.html#ex6.10a)
Myers and Oetzel (2003) created and validated a measure of organizational assimilation. This measure reflects the interactive mutual acceptance of newcomers into an organizational setting. The study began with interviewing members from advertising, banking, hospitality, university, nonprofit, and publishing industries, followed by the design of a survey that was then administered to a sample in order to validate the six emerging dimensions. The purpose statement was as follows:
What is needed then is an instrument to assess members’ level of organizational assimilation. … The study reported here proceeded in two stages. In the first stage, we explored dimensions of organizational assimilation to define the processes involved in transitioning from newcomer to organizational member. Stage one concluded with the development of an instrument that permits operationalization of the dimensions of organization assimilation. The second stage consisted of efforts to validate the measure, which we call the Organizational Assimilation Index (OAI). (p. 439)
This statement began with a strong intent statement, and then it reported both the qualitative first stage of the research and the second stage to validate the measure. It did not provide much information about the samples in each stage, and later in the article we learned about the rigorous scale procedures used to development the instrument.
This chapter emphasizes the primary importance of a purpose statement. This statement advances the central idea in a study. In writing a qualitative purpose statement, a researcher needs to identify a single central phenomenon and to pose a tentative definition for it. Also, the researcher includes in this statement strong action words, such as discover, develop, or understand; uses nondirectional language; and mentions the strategy of inquiry, the participants, and the research site. In a quantitative purpose statement, the researcher states the theory being tested as well as the variables and their description, relationship, or comparison. It is important to position the independent variable first and the dependent variable second. The researcher conveys the strategy of inquiry as well as the participants and the research site for the investigation. In some purpose statements, the researcher also defines the key variables used in the study. In a mixed methods study, a purpose statement includes a statement of intent, the type of mixed methods design, the forms of qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis, and the reason for collecting both forms of data.
Writing Exercises (toc2.html#s91a)
1. Using the script for a qualitative purpose statement, write a statement by completing the blanks. Make this statement short; write no more than approximately three-quarters of a typed page.
2. Using the script for a quantitative purpose statement, write a statement. Also make this statement short, no longer than three-quarters of a typed page.
3. Using the script for a mixed methods purpose statement, write a purpose statement. Be sure to include the reason for mixing quantitative and qualitative data, and incorporate the elements of both a good qualitative and a good quantitative purpose statement.
ADDITIONAL READINGS (toc2.html#s92a)
Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. B. (2011). Designing qualitative research (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Catherine Marshall and Gretchen Rossman call attention to the major intent of the study: the purpose of the study. This section is generally embedded in the discussion of the topic, and it is mentioned in a sentence or two. It tells the reader what the results of the research are likely to accomplish. The authors characterize purposes as exploratory, explanatory, descriptive, and emancipatory. They also mention that the purpose statement includes the unit of analysis (e.g., individuals, dyads, or groups).
Creswell, J. W., & Plano Clark, V. L. (2011). Designing and conducting mixed methods research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
John W. Creswell and Vicki L. Plano Clark have authored an overview and introduction to mixed methods research that covers the entire process of research from writing an introduction, collecting data, analyzing data, and interpreting and writing mixed methods studies. In their chapter on the introduction, they discuss qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods purpose statements. They provide scripts and examples of mixed methods designs as well as overall guidelines for writing these statements.
Wilkinson, A. M. (1991). The scientist’s handbook for writing papers and dissertations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Antoinette Wilkinson calls the purpose statement the “immediate objective” of the research study. She states that the purpose of the objective is to answer the research question. Further, the objective of the study needs to be presented in the introduction, although it may be implicitly stated as the subject of the research, the paper, or the method. If stated explicitly, the objective is found at the end of the argument in the introduction; it might also be found near the beginning or in the middle, depending on the structure of the introduction.
CHAPTER SEVEN (toc1.html#c07a)
Research Questions and Hypotheses (toc1.html#c07a)
nvestigators place signposts to carry the reader through a plan for a study. The first signpost is the purpose statement, which establishes the central intent for the study. The next would be the research questions or hypotheses that narrow the purpose statement to predictions about what will be learned or questions to be
answered in the study. This chapter begins by advancing several principles in designing qualitative research questions and helpful scripts for writing these questions. It then turns to the design of quantitative research questions and hypotheses and ways to write these elements into a study. Finally, it advances the use of research questions and hypotheses in mixed methods studies, and it suggests the development of a unique mixed methods question that ties together the quantitative and qualitative components of a study.
7.1 QUALITATIVE RESEARCH QUESTIONS (toc2.html#s93a)
In a qualitative study, inquirers state research questions, not objectives (i.e., specific goals for the research) or hypotheses (i.e., predictions that involve variables and statistical tests). These research questions assume two forms: (a) a central question (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Creswell.7641.17.1/sections/gls#s6) and (b) associated subquestions.
• Ask one or two central research questions. The central question is a broad question that asks for an exploration of the central phenomenon or concept in a study. The inquirer poses this question, consistent with the emerging methodology of qualitative research, as a general issue so as to not limit the views of participants. To arrive at this question, ask, “What is the broadest question that I can ask in the study?” Beginning researchers trained in quantitative research might struggle with this approach because they are accustomed to reverse thinking. They narrow the quantitative study to specific, narrow questions or hypotheses based on a few variables. In qualitative research, the intent is to explore the general, complex set of factors surrounding the central phenomenon and present the broad, varied perspectives or meanings that participants hold. The following are guidelines for writing qualitative research questions:
• Ask no more than five to seven subquestions in addition to your central questions. Several subquestions follow each general central question; they narrow the focus of the study but leave open the questioning. This approach is well within the limits set by Miles and Huberman (1994), who recommended that researchers write no more than a dozen qualitative research questions in all (central and subquestions). The subquestions, in turn, become specific questions used during interviews (or in observing or when looking at documents). In developing an interview protocol or guide, the researcher might ask an icebreaker question at the beginning, for example, followed by five or so subquestions in the study (see Chapter 9 (c09.html) ). The interview would then end with an additional wrap-up or summary question or ask, as I did in one of my qualitative case studies, “Who should I turn to, to learn more about this topic?” (Asmussen & Creswell, 1995).
• Relate the central question to the specific qualitative strategy of inquiry. For example, the specificity of the questions in ethnography at this stage of the design differs from that in other qualitative strategies. In ethnographic research, Spradley (1980) advanced a taxonomy of ethnographic questions that included a mini- tour of the culture-sharing group, their experiences, use of native language, contrasts with other cultural groups, and questions to verify the accuracy of the data. In critical ethnography, the research questions may build on a body of existing literature. These questions become working guidelines rather than proven truths (Thomas, 1993, p. 35). Alternatively, in phenomenology, the questions might be broadly stated without specific reference to the existing literature or a typology of questions. Moustakas (1994) talked about asking what the participants experienced and what contexts or situations in which they experienced it. A phenomenological example is “What is it like for a mother to live with a teenage child who is dying of cancer?” (Nieswiadomy, 1993, p. 151). In grounded theory, the questions may be directed toward generating a theory of some process, such as the exploration of a process as to how caregivers and patients interact in a hospital setting. In a qualitative case study, the questions may address a description of the case and the themes that emerge from studying it.
• Begin the research questions with the words what or how to convey an open and emerging design. The word why often implies that the researcher is trying to explain why something occurs, and this suggests to me probable cause-and-effect thinking that I associate with quantitative research and that limits the explanations rather than opening them up for participant views.
• Focus on a single phenomenon or concept. As a study develops over time, factors will emerge that may influence this single phenomenon, but begin a study with a single focus to explore in great detail. I often ask, “What is the one, single concept that you want to explore?”
• Use exploratory verbs that convey the language of emerging design. These verbs tell the reader that the study will do the following:
Report (or reflect) the stories (e.g., narrative research)
Describe the essence of the experience (e.g., phenomenology)
Discover (e.g., grounded theory)
Seek to understand (e.g., ethnography)
Explore a process (e.g., case study)
• Use these more exploratory verbs as nondirectional rather than directional words that suggest quantitative research, such as affect, influence, impact, determine, cause, and relate.
• Expect the research questions to evolve and change during the study in a manner consistent with the assumptions of an emerging design. Often in qualitative studies, the questions are under continual review and reformulation (as in a grounded theory study). This approach may be problematic for individuals accustomed to quantitative designs in which the research questions remain fixed and never change throughout the study.
• Use open-ended questions without reference to the literature or theory unless otherwise indicated by a qualitative strategy of inquiry.
• Specify the participants and the research site for the study if the information has not yet been given.
Here is a typical script for a qualitative central question:
_________ (How or what?) is the _________ (“story for” for narrative research; “meaning of” the phenomenon for phenomenology; “theory that explains the process of” for grounded theory; “culture-sharing pattern” for ethnography; “issue” in the “case” for case study) of _________ (central phenomenon) for _________ (participants) at _________ (research site).
The following are examples of qualitative research questions drawn from several types of strategies.
Example 7.1 A Qualitative Central Question From an Ethnography (toc2.html#ex7.1a)
Finders (1996) used ethnographic procedures to document the reading of teen magazines by middle-class European American seventh-grade girls. By examining the reading of teen zines (magazines), the researcher explored how the girls perceive and construct their social roles and relationships as they enter junior high school. She asked one guiding central question in her study:
How do early adolescent females read literature that falls outside the realm of fiction? (p. 72)
Finders’s (1996) central question began with how; it used an open-ended verb, read; it focused on a single concept—the literature or teen magazines; and it mentioned the participants, adolescent females, as the culture- sharing group. Notice how the author crafted a concise, single question that needed to be answered in the study. It was a broad question to permit participants to share diverse perspectives about reading the literature.
Example 7.2 Qualitative Central Questions From a Case Study (toc2.html#ex7.2a)
Padula and Miller (1999) conducted a multiple case study that described the experiences of women who went back to school, after a time away, in a psychology doctoral program at a major midwestern research university. The intent was to document the women’s experiences, providing a gendered and feminist perspective for women in the literature. The authors asked three central questions that guided the inquiry:
(a) How do women in a psychology doctoral program describe their decision to return to school? (b) How do women in a psychology doctoral program describe their re-entry experiences? And (c) How does returning to graduate school change these women’s lives? (p. 328)
These three central questions all began with the word how; they included open-ended verbs, such as describe, and they focused on three aspects of the doctoral experience—returning to school, reentering, and changing. They also mentioned the participants as women in a doctoral program at a midwestern research university.
7.2 QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND HYPOTHESES (toc2.html#s94a)
In quantitative studies, investigators use quantitative research questions and hypotheses, and sometimes objectives, to shape and specifically focus the purpose of the study. Quantitative research questions (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Creswell.7641.17.1/sections/gls#s73) inquire about the relationships among variables that the investigator seeks to know. They are frequently used in social science research and especially in survey studies. Quantitative hypotheses (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Creswell.7641.17.1/sections/gls#s70) , on the other hand, are predictions the researcher makes about the expected outcomes of relationships among variables. They are numeric estimates of population values based on data collected from samples. Testing of hypotheses employs statistical procedures in which the investigator draws inferences about the population from a study sample (see also Chapter 8 (c08.html) ). Hypotheses are used often in experiments in which investigators compare groups. Advisers sometimes recommend their use in a formal research project, such as a dissertation or thesis, as a means of stating the direction a study will take. Objectives, on the other hand, indicate the goals or objectives for a study. They often appear in proposals for funding, but tend to be used with less frequency in social and health science research. Because of this, the focus here will be on research questions and hypotheses.
Here is an example of a script for a quantitative research question describing outcomes of score for a variable:
What is the frequency and variation of scores on _________ (name the variable) for _________ (participants) in the study?
Here is an example of a script for a quantitative research question focused on examining the relationship among variables:
Does _________ (name the theory) explain the relationship between _________ (independent variable) and _________ (dependent variable), controlling for the effects of _________ (control variable)?
Alternatively, a script for a quantitative null hypothesis (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Creswell.7641.17.1/sections/gls#s53) might be as follows:
There is no significant difference between _________ (the control and experimental groups on the independent variable) on _________ (dependent variable).
Guidelines for writing good quantitative research questions and hypotheses include the following.
• The use of variables in research questions or hypotheses is typically limited to three basic approaches. The researcher may compare groups on an independent variable to see its impact on a dependent variable (this would be an experiment or group comparisons). Alternatively, the investigator may relate one or more independent variables to one or more dependent variables (this would be a survey that correlates variables). Third, the researcher may describe responses to the independent, mediating, or dependent variables (this would be a descriptive study). Most quantitative research falls into one or more of these three categories.
• The most rigorous form of quantitative research follows from a test of a theory (see Chapter 3 (c03.html) ) and the specification of research questions or hypotheses that logically follow from the relationship among variables in the theory.
• The independent and dependent variables must be measured separately and not measured on the same concept. This procedure reinforces the cause-and-effect logic of quantitative research.
• To eliminate redundancy, write only research questions or hypotheses—not both—unless the hypotheses build on the research questions. Choose the form based on tradition, recommendations from an adviser or faculty committee, or whether past research indicates a prediction about outcomes.
• If hypotheses are used, there are two forms: (a) null and (b) alternative. A null hypothesis represents the traditional approach: It makes a prediction that in the general population, no relationship or no significant difference exists between groups on a variable. The wording is, “There is no difference (or relationship)” between the groups. The following example illustrates a null hypothesis.
Example 7.3 A Null Hypothesis (toc2.html#ex7.3a)
An investigator might examine three types of reinforcement for children with autism: (a) verbal cues, (b) a reward, and (c) no reinforcement. The investigator collects behavioral measures assessing social interaction of the children with their siblings. A null hypothesis might read as follows:
There is no significant difference between the effects of verbal cues, rewards, and no reinforcement in terms of social interaction for children with autism and their siblings.
• The second form, popular in journal articles, is the alternative or directional hypothesis (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Creswell.7641.17.1/sections/gls#s18) . The investigator makes a prediction about the expected outcome, basing this prediction on prior literature and studies on the topic that suggest a potential outcome. For example, the researcher may predict that “scores will be higher for Group A than for Group B” on the dependent variable or that “Group A will change more than Group B” on the outcome. These examples illustrate a directional hypothesis because an expected prediction (e.g., higher, more change) is made. The following illustrates a directional hypothesis.
Example 7.4 Directional Hypotheses (toc2.html#ex7.4a)
Mascarenhas (1989) studied the differences between types of ownership (state-owned, publicly traded, and private) of firms in the offshore drilling industry. Specifically, the study explored such differences as domestic market dominance, international presence, and customer orientation. The study was a controlled field study using quasi-experimental procedures.
Hypothesis 1: Publicly traded firms will have higher growth rates than privately held firms.
Hypothesis 2: Publicly traded enterprises will have a larger international scope than state-owned and privately held firms.
Hypothesis 3: State-owned firms will have a greater share of the domestic market than publicly traded or privately held firms.
Hypothesis 4: Publicly traded firms will have broader product lines than state-owned and privately held firms.
Hypothesis 5: State-owned firms are more likely to have state-owned enterprises as customers overseas.
Hypothesis 6: State-owned firms will have a higher customer-base stability than privately held firms.
Hypothesis 7: In less visible contexts, publicly traded firms will employ more advanced technology than state-owned and privately held firms. (pp. 585–588)
• Another type of alternative statement is the nondirectional hypothesis (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Creswell.7641.17.1/sections/gls#s52) —a prediction is made, but the exact form of differences (e.g., higher, lower, more, less) is not specified because the researcher does not know what can be predicted from past literature. Thus, the investigator might write, “There is a difference” between the two groups. An example follows that incorporates both types of hypothese.
Example 7.5 Nondirectional and Directional Hypotheses (toc2.html#ex7.5a)
Sometimes directional hypotheses are created to examine the relationship among variables rather than to compare groups because the researcher has some evidence from past studies of the potential outcome of the study. For example, Moore (2000) studied the meaning of gender identity for religious and secular Jewish and Arab women in Israeli society. In a national probability sample of Jewish and Arab women, the author identified three hypotheses for study. The first is nondirectional and the last two are directional.
H1: Gender identity of religious and secular Arab and Jewish women are related to different
sociopolitical social orders that reflect the different value systems they embrace.
H2: Religious women with salient gender identity are less socio-politically active than secular
women with salient gender identities.
H3: The relationships among gender identity, religiosity, and social actions are weaker among
Arab women than among Jewish women.
• Unless the study intentionally employs demographic variables as predictors, use nondemographic variables (i.e., attitudes or behaviors) as mediating variables (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Creswell.7641.17.1/sections/gls#s42) or moderating variables (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Creswell.7641.17.1/sections/gls#s48) . These are variables that either “stand between” the independent and dependent variables or they moderate the influence of the independent variable on the dependent variable. Because quantitative studies attempt to verify theories, demographic variables (e.g., age, income level, educational level) typically enter these studies as intervening (or mediating) or moderating variables instead of major independent variables.
• Use the same pattern of word order in the questions or hypotheses to enable a reader to easily identify the major variables. This calls for repeating key phrases and positioning the variables with the independent first and concluding with the dependent in left-to-right order (as discussed in Chapter 6 (c06.html) on good purpose statements). An example of word order with independent variables stated first in the phrase follows.
Example 7.6 Standard Use of Language in Hypotheses (toc2.html#ex7.6a)
1. There is no relationship between utilization of ancillary support services and academic persistence for nontraditional-aged women college students.
2. There is no relationship between family support systems and academic persistence for nontraditional- aged college women.
3. There is no relationship between ancillary support services and family support systems for non- traditional-aged college women.
A Model for Descriptive Questions and Hypotheses (toc2.html#s95a)
Consider a model for writing questions or hypotheses based on writing descriptive questions (describing something) followed by inferential questions or hypotheses (drawing inferences from a sample to a population). These questions or hypotheses include both independent and dependent variables. In this model, the writer specifies descriptive questions for each independent and dependent variable and important intervening or moderating variables. Inferential questions (or hypotheses) that relate variables or compare groups follow these descriptive questions. A final set of questions may add inferential questions or hypotheses in which variables are controlled.
Example 7.7 Descriptive and Inferential Questions (toc2.html#ex7.7a)
To illustrate this approach, a researcher wants to examine the relationship of critical thinking skills (an independent variable measured on an instrument) to student achievement (a dependent variable measured by grades) in science classes for eighth-grade students in a large metropolitan school district. The researcher moderates the assessment of critical thinking using prior grades as indicators in science classes and controls for parents’ educational attainment. Following the proposed model, the research questions might be written as follows:
1. How do the students rate on critical thinking skills? (A descriptive question focused on the independent variable)
2. What are the student’s achievement levels (or grades) in science classes? (A descriptive question focused on the dependent variable)
3. What are the student’s prior grades in science classes and their critical thinking skills? (A descriptive question focused on the moderating variable of prior grades)
4. What is the educational attainment of the parents of the eighth graders? (A descriptive question focused on a control variable, educational attainment of parents)
1. How does critical thinking ability relate to student achievement? (An inferential question relating the independent and the dependent variables)
2. How does critical thinking ability and prior grades influence student achievement? (An inferential question relating critical thinking times grades and student achievement)
3. How does critical thinking ability (or critical thinking ability times grades) relate to student achievement, controlling for the effects of the educational attainment of the eighth-graders’ parents? (An inferential question relating the independent and the dependent variables, controlling for the effects of the controlled variable)
This example illustrated how to organize all the research questions into descriptive and inferential questions. In another example, a researcher may want to compare groups, and the language may change to reflect this comparison in the inferential questions. In other studies, many more independent and dependent variables may be present in the model being tested, and a longer list of descriptive and inferential questions would result. I recommend this descriptive-inferential model. This example also illustrated the use of variables to describe as well as relate. It specified the independent variables in the first position in the questions, the dependent in the second,
and the control variable in the third. It employed demographics (grades) as a moderating variable rather than as central variables in the questions, and a reader needed to assume that the questions flowed from a theoretical model.
7.3 MIXED METHODS RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND HYPOTHESES (toc2.html#s96a)
In discussions about methods, researchers typically do not see specific questions or hypotheses especially tailored to mixed methods research. However, discussion has begun concerning the use of a new type of research question— a mixed methods question—in studies and commentary as to how to design them (see Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011; Tashakkori & Creswell, 2007). A strong mixed methods study should contain the qualitative question, the quantitative question or hypothesis, and a mixed methods question. This configuration is necessary because mixed methods does not rely exclusively on either qualitative or quantitative research but on both forms of inquiry. Researchers should consider what types of questions should be presented and when and what information is most needed to convey the nature of the study:
• Both qualitative and quantitative research questions (or hypotheses) need to be advanced in a mixed methods study in order to narrow and focus the purpose statement. These questions or hypotheses can be advanced at the beginning or when they emerge during a later phase of the research. For example, if the study begins with a quantitative phase, the investigator might introduce hypotheses. Later in the study, when the qualitative phase is addressed, the qualitative research questions appear.
• When writing these questions or hypotheses, follow the guidelines in this chapter for scripting good questions or hypotheses.
• Some attention should be given to the order of the research questions and hypotheses. In a two-phase project, the first-phase questions would come first, followed by the second-phase questions so that readers see them in the order in which they will be addressed in the proposed study. In a single-phase strategy of inquiry, the questions might be ordered according to the method that is given the most weight or priority in the design.
• In addition to quantitative questions/hypotheses and qualitative questions, include a mixed methods research question (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Creswell.7641.17.1/sections/gls#s47) that directly addresses the mixing of the quantitative and qualitative strands of the research. This is the question that will be answered in the study based on the mixing (see Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011). This is an innovative form of a question in research methods, and Tashakkori and Creswell (2007, p. 208) call it a “hybrid” or “integrated” question. This mixed methods question could either be written at the beginning of a study or when it emerges during a study. For instance, in a single-phase study in which quantitative and qualitative data are collected simultaneously and merged, the mixed methods question could be advanced at the outset in the study. However, in a two-phase study in which one phase builds on the other, the mixed methods questions might be placed in a discussion between the two phases.
• The mixed methods question can be written in different ways. This can assume one of three forms. The first is to write it in a way that conveys the methods or procedures in a study (e.g., Does the qualitative data help explain the results from the initial quantitative phase of the study?). The second form is to write it in a way that conveys the content of the study (e.g., Does the theme of social support help to explain why some students become bullies in schools?) (see Tashakkori & Creswell, 2007). The third approach is to combine the methods and content (e.g., How does the qualitative interview data on student bullying further explain why social support, as measured quantitatively, tends to discourage bullying as measured on a bullying scale?).
• Consider how to present the quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods questions in a mixed methods study. An ideal format would be to write the questions into separate sections, such as the quantitative questions or hypotheses, the qualitative questions, and the mixed methods question. This format highlights the importance of all three sets of questions and draws the readers’ attention to the separate quantitative and qualitative strands coming together (or being integrated) in a mixed methods study. Place the mixed methods question
(written in methods or content or some combination form) last because the study will build to this element of the design.
Example 7.8 Hypotheses and Research Questions in a Mixed Methods Study (toc2.html#ex7.8a)
Houtz (1995) provided an example of a two-phase study with the separate quantitative and qualitative research hypotheses and questions stated in sections introducing each phase. She did not use a separate, distinct mixed methods research question because such a question had not been developed at the time of her project. Nevertheless, her study was a rigorous mixed methods investigation. She studied the differences between middle school (nontraditional) and junior high (traditional) instructional strategies for seventh-grade and eighth-grade students and their attitudes toward science and science achievement. Her study was conducted at a point when many schools were moving away from the 2-year junior high concept to the 3-year middle school (including sixth grade) approach to education. In this two-phase study, the first phase involved assessing pretest and posttest attitudes and achievement using scales and examination scores. Houtz then followed the quantitative results with qualitative interviews with science teachers, the school principal, and consultants. This second phase helped to explain differences and similarities in the two instructional approaches obtained in the first phase.
With a first-phase quantitative study, Houtz (1995) mentioned the hypotheses guiding her research:
It was hypothesized that there would be no significant difference between students in the middle school and those in the junior high in attitude toward science as a school subject. It was also hypothesized that there would be no significant difference between students in the middle school and those in the junior high in achievement in science (p. 630)
These hypotheses appeared at the beginning of the study as an introduction to the quantitative phase. Prior to the qualitative phase, Houtz (1995) raised questions to explore the quantitative results in more depth. Focusing in on the achievement test results, she interviewed science teachers, the principal, and the university consultants and asked three questions:
What differences currently exist between the middle school instructional strategy and the junior high instructional strategy at this school in transition? How has this transition period impacted science attitude and achievement of your students? How do teachers feel about this change process? (p. 649)
Examining this mixed methods study closely shows that the author included both quantitative and qualitative questions, specified them at the beginning of each phase of her study, and used good elements for writing both quantitative hypotheses and qualitative research questions. Had Houtz (1995) developed a mixed methods question, it might have been stated from a procedural perspective:
How do the interviews with teachers, the principal, and university consultants help to explain any quantitative differences in achievement for middle school and junior high students? (methods orientation)
Alternatively, the mixed methods question might have been written from a content orientation, such as the following:
How do the themes mentioned by the teachers help to explain why middle-school children score lower than the junior high students? (content orientation)
Example 7.9 A Mixed Methods Question Written Using Methods and Content Language (toc2.html#ex7.9a)
To what extent and in what ways do qualitative interviews with students and faculty members serve to contribute to a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of this predicting relationship between CEEPT scores and student academic performance, via integrative mixed methods analysis? (Lee & Greene, 2007, p. 369)
This is a good example of a mixed methods question focused on the intent of mixing, to integrate the qualitative interviews and the quantitative data, the relationship of scores and student performance. This question emphasized what the integration was attempting to accomplish—a comprehensive and nuanced understanding—and at the end of the article, the authors presented evidence answering this question.
Research questions and hypotheses narrow the purpose statement and become major signposts for readers. Qualitative researchers ask at least one central question and several subquestions. They begin the questions with words such as how or what and use exploratory verbs, such as explore, understand, or discover. They pose broad, general questions to allow the participants to explain their ideas. They also focus initially on one central phenomenon of interest. The questions may also mention the participants and the site for the research.
Quantitative researchers write either research questions or hypotheses. Both forms include variables that are described, related, or compared with the independent and dependent variables measured separately. In many quantitative proposals, writers use research questions; however, a more formal statement of research employs hypotheses. These hypotheses are predictions about the outcomes of the results, and they may be written as alternative hypotheses specifying the results to be expected (more or less, higher or lower of something). They also may be stated in the null form, indicating no expected difference or no relationship between groups on a dependent variable. Typically, the researcher writes the independent variable(s) first, followed by the dependent variable(s). One model for ordering the questions in a quantitative proposal is to begin with descriptive questions followed by the inferential questions that relate variables or compare groups.
I encourage mixed methods researchers to write quantitative, qualitative, and a mixed methods question into their studies. The mixed methods question might be written to emphasize the methods or the content of the study, or both, and these questions might be placed at different points in a study. By adding a mixed methods question, the researcher conveys the importance of integrating or combining the quantitative and qualitative elements. An ideal format would be to write the three types of questions into separate sections, such as the quantitative questions or hypotheses, the qualitative questions, and the mixed methods question into a study.
Writing Exercises (toc2.html#s98a)
1. For a qualitative study, write one or two central questions followed by five to seven subquestions.
2. For a quantitative study, write two sets of questions. The first set should be descriptive questions about the independent and dependent variables in the study. The second set should pose questions that describe and relate (or compare) the independent variable(s) with the dependent variable(s). This follows the model presented in this chapter for combining descriptive and inferential questions.
3. Write a mixed methods research question. Write the question to include both the methods of a study as well as the content.
ADDITIONAL READINGS (toc2.html#s99a)
Morse, J. M. (1994). Designing funded qualitative research. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 220–235). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Janice Morse, a nursing researcher, identifies and describes the major design issues involved in planning a qualitative project. She compares several strategies of inquiry and maps the type of research questions used in each strategy. For phenomenology and ethnography, the research calls for meaning and descriptive questions. For grounded theory, the questions need to address process whereas in ethnomethodology and discourse analysis, the questions relate to verbal interaction and dialogue. She indicates that the wording of the research question determines the focus and scope of the study.
Tashakkori, A., & Creswell, J. W. (2007). Exploring the nature of research questions in mixed methods research [Editorial]. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 1(3), 207–211.
This editorial addresses the use and nature of research questions in mixed methods research. It highlights the importance of research questions in the process of research and discusses the need for a better understanding of the use of mixed methods questions. It asks, “How does one frame a research question in a mixed methods study?” (p. 207). Three models are presented: (a) writing separate quantitative and qualitative questions, (b) writing an overarching mixed methods question, or (c) writing research questions for each phase of a study as the research evolves.
Tuckman, B. W. (1999). Conducting educational research (5th ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace.
Bruce Tuckman provides an entire chapter on constructing hypotheses. He identifies the origin of hypotheses in deductive theoretical positions and in inductive observations. He further defines and illustrates both alternative and null hypotheses and takes the reader through the hypothesis testing procedure.
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