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Development of Ideas and Refining Research Topics

Dr. Ahmad Tajuddin Othman 11 December 2006

Where did I study?

BSc Health & Physical Education, Oklahoma State University, 1986 MSc Exercise Physiology & Physical Fitness, University of Tennessee, 1988 PhD Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, Purdue University, 2000


Few reminders before we begin …
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There’s no “one” way of doing things. Based on personal experience and feedback from previous students. Please bear with me if most of the examples I used are not related to you. Too much American influence …

Guess what?

Most probably you started off with the wrong foot. Do you remember “how” you’ve got the “title of research” that you filled in the USM application form? Do you mind sharing your experience? Anyone?

What to do? What to do?

Two “wannabes” common errors:

Noble laureate error

Unrealistically grand thinking, ambitious Unrealistically miniscule thinking, ‘aneroxic’

Undergraduate research paper error

Both errors reflect poor reality testing

Where do ideas come from?

Master’s student

Your supervisor might give you a specific idea Replicate and extend work already published

Doctoral student
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Idea should be original Make a novel contribution to the

Finding a researchable topic

Step One

Identify the general area in which you want to do research Come up with a research question and hypotheses

Step Two

Select a General Topic Area First

Shop around

Get to know the faculty members, read about their work, see what interest you It must interest you enough that you will spend hours reading about it, writing about it, analyzing data having to do with it You must find a faculty member interested in supervising your project

Criteria (identify, not a full plan ..)

Identifying an area ..
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What topics interest you? What do you find yourself stopping to read in the library? What academic topics come up frequently when you are talking shop with other students and faculty? Identify faculty and share these interests, you might ask if they have a project for your thesis (master’s student).

Words of wisdom …

Better to choose a slightly engrossing area that a faculty will support than an exotic one that only you find fascinating Avoid going it alone

Remember the “guy” you used to call your “supervisor” … develop ideas in conjunction with your supervisor

Develop the Research Question
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Forget the form for now, first identify the source of such questions Ask questions that interest the scientific community Not because there is a lack of research on a topic Keep in mind that it should have a place in the literature

Best Source of Ideas

The Best
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Research that you are already doing Suggestions from faculty involved or collaborating with in a research Research often stimulates more questions than it answers

Worst Source of Ideas

The Worst

Own personal experience, something with a degree of personal emotional relevance But, if you can approach them objectively in a detached, relatively disinterested, and unbiased manner, go ahead.

Read, Read, and Read ..

Existing literature as a source of ideas

The simplest and logical place is from recent literature in an area Suggestions for future research
Look for these  Discuss with your supervisor  Contact the original author and find out what he/she is doing currently in the area  Ask the author whether has already researched it or knows of anyone who has

More suggestions …

Another good approach to developing researchable questions is to apply a paradigm used with one population to another population. Eg. Research on the leadership styles of executive women might easily suggests similar studies with executives who are members of a specific ethnic group

And more …

Reviews of the literature in particular areas
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Annual Review of Psychology Developmental Review Edited books that contain literature reviews (authors point out gaps in the research knowledge and correctable flaws in existing studies)

Here’s A Tip …

ATO Matrix
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Handout 1 Handout 2 Handout 3

Researchable Questions

Put the research questions in researchable form

Criteria of a research question
Phrase it in the form of a question  Question should suggest a relationship to be examined  Relationship in the questions is empirically testable

Develop Scientific Hypotheses

Hypotheses are declarative sentences that conjecture a relationship between two or more variables (Kerlinger, 1986). Well stated hypotheses are derived directly from the research questions

Example 1

RQ = What is the relationship between test anxiety and performance on complex cognitive tasks? RH = Performance on complex cognitive tasks will be an inverted Ushaped function of level of anxiety.

Example 2

RQ = Are nonabused children interviewed with sexually anatomically correct (SAC) dolls more likely to describe sexual behavior than such children interviewed with dolls without secondary sexual characteristics? RH = Nonabused children interviewed with SAC dolls will describe sexual behavior more frequently than nonabused children interviewed with dolls without secondary sexual characteristics. Ho = There is no difference in the frequency of descriptions of sexual behavior by children when they play with SAC dolls or with non-SAC dolls

More about hypotheses …

Understanding the different type of hypotheses

Research and null hypotheses

Characteristics of well-worded hypotheses

Carefully phrased hypothesis will indicate the specific relationships to be examined and suggests the nature of the relationship


There is a relationship between education level and preference for liberal causes There is a positive relationship between education level and preference for liberal causes There is a positive relationship between education level and preference for liberal causes in executive women

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Read, read, read Meet your supervisor regularly I thanked you all and GOOD LUCK !!!


Go ask your supervisors … hehehe!