Formulation of the problem and research hypothesis

Problem and Research Hypothesis

Researchers should present signs that can guide readers through all stages of research. The first sign is the purpose of research which is the main direction of a study. From the purpose of this study, the researcher began to narrow the focus of his research by presenting the formulation of the problem and the research hypothesis. 

Chapter Seven will explain a number of principles and guidelines in designing the formulation of qualitative research problems, the formulation of quantitative research problems and hypotheses, and the formulation of mixed-method research problems.


n qualitative research, the researcher states the formulation of the problem, not the research objectives (e.g., the final results to be obtained in the study) or hypotheses (e.g., predictions involving variables and statistical tests). The formulation of the problem for qualitative research presupposes two forms: one formulation of the main problem and several sub-formulations of specific problems.

The formulation of the main problem raises general questions about the concept or phenomenon under study. Researchers pose this question as a general problem that is not intended to limit research. To make a question like this try asking: "What is the broadest question I can ask related to this research?"Researchers trained in quantitative research usually find it difficult to apply this approach because they are used to the opposite approach: identifying specific problem formulations or hypotheses based on very limited variables. 

Qualitative research, on the other hand, aims to explore the complex factors surrounding the main phenomenon and to present the diverse perspectives or meanings of the participants. Here I present some instructions on how to write a problem formulation or general questions in qualitative research:

Ask one or two main questions followed by five to seven sub-questions. These sub-questions should fit the problem formulation and narrow the focus of the study, but keep open to other possibilities. Miles and Huberman (1994) recommend that researchers write no more than twelve qualitative research questions, be they main questions (problem formulation) or sub-questions. 

Instead, sub-questions can be made into specific questions to be used during the interview (or observation, or during the documentation process). In creating an interview protocol or guide, for example, the researcher may ask an icebreaker question at the beginning of the interview, which is then followed by five sub-questions (see Chapter 9). This interview could then end with a concluding question, as I once did in one of my case study studies: "the final question, Who Can I contact to learn more about this topic?"(Asmussen & Creswell, 1995).

* Relate the main question (problem formulation) to a specific qualitative research strategy. For example, the specification of problem formulation in ethnographic research is different from the formulation of problems in other qualitative research strategies. In ethnographic research, Spradley (1980) proposed a taxonomy of ethnographic problem formulations related to a bit of culture-sharing community stories, their experiences, native language usage, their differences with other cultural groups, and additional problem formulations to verify the accuracy of the data. 

In critical ethnography, the formulation of the problem can be made based on existing literature. The formulation of this problem, is usually more in the form of working instructions rather than truths that must be proven (Thomas, 1993:35). Conversely, in Phenomenology, the formulation of the problem can be stated broadly without having to refer to the literature. Moustakas (1994) discusses a problem formulation about what events participants experienced and in what situations they experienced those events. 

An example of the formulation of a phenomenological problem would be: "what would a mother's life be like if one of her teenage children died of cancer?"(Nieswiadomy, 1993: 151). In grounded theory, the formulation of the problem can be directed towards creating a new theory about certain processes, such as proposing a problem formulation to create a theory about the interaction between patients and doctors in a hospital. In the case of study research, the formulation of the problem can be directed to describe a case and certain trends.

* Begin the formulation of your research problem with the words "what" or " how " to indicate the openness of your research. The word how often implies that research is trying to explain why something came about. This word does demand a causal answer that is more related to quantitative research. It's just that, in creative research, the word reflects more open thinking.

* Focus on one main phenomenon or concept. Research can evolve over time; there are likely to be many other factors that arise and influence the phenomenon, but try to start your research with one main phenomenon to explore in detail.

* Use explorative verbs according to the type of qualitative strategy you employ. These verbs should invite the reader to understand that your research:

  1. Found (grounded theory).
  2. Trying to understand (ethnography).
  3. Explore a process (Case Study).
  4. Describe experiences (phenomenology).
  5. Present the stories (narrative research).

* Because this is qualitative research, use exploratory verbs in the form of indirect words (nondirectional words) rather than direct words (directional words), such as "impact on,” "affect," "determine," "cause," and "connect."

Your problem formulation continues to evolve and change throughout the study while remaining consistent with the basic assumptions of the study design. In qualitative research, the problem formulation is often based on continuous review or reformulation (such as

in grounded theory Research). This approach may be this is especially true for individuals who are used to quantitative design, where the formulation of the problem must be fixed throughout the research.

Play out open-ended problem formulations, without the need to refer to specific literature or theories, unless there is a qualitative research strategy that advocates it.

* Rinicilah participants and research sites, even if the previous information about the two has not been disclosed.

Below, is one of the models of how to write a qualitative formulation of the problem:

(how or what) ("stories about" for comparative research; "meanings of" for Phenomenological Research; "theories explaining processes" for grounded theory Research; "culture-sharing tendencies" for ethnographic research; "issues" in "cases" for Case Study Research)....(main phenomenon) with (research participants) in..... (location of research).


Creswell, J.W. (1999) Mixed method research: Introduction and application. In G.J. Cizek (Ed.). Handbook of educational policy (pp. 455-472). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Creswell, J.W. (2007). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choos¬ing among Five Approaches ( 3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Creswell, J.W. (2008). Educational Research: Ptoming, Conducting and Evaluating Quantitative and Qualitative Research (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

Creswell, J.W. & Brown, M.L. (1992, Fall). How chairpersons enhance faculty research: A grounded theory study. The Review of Higher Education, 16(1), 41-62.

Creswell, J.W., & Miller, D. (2000). Determining validity in qualita¬tive inquiry. Theory into Practice, 39(3), 124-130.

Creswell, J. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2017). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approach. Sage publications.

Creswell, J.W. & Piano Clark, V.L. (2007). Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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