Qualitative Research Question Examples
Qualitative research, sometimes also referred to as naturalistic inquiry, is a distinct field of research with its own research philosophy, theory and methodology. If your desire is to perform a qualitative study, it will probably be a lot easier to develop your research question if you first become familiar with some of qualitative research’s basic principles.
The qualitative paradigm suggests that there are multiple realities, and what we are researching are constructs. In qualitative research, generally the phenomenon is studied in its natural setting and the focus is on the participants’ (and also the researcher’s) view of the world. In other words, qualitative research usually does not happen in a lab, or while sitting at a desk. It generally requires going out, talking to people, observing what they do, as well as how they perceive and interpret things. Also, it does not aim to generalize findings to entire populations. Therefore, the research question that you ultimately choose guides your inquiry and reflects this stance. The vocabulary of your questions will usually suggest to the reader your intent to explore a certain phenomenon in its natural context.
To learn more about the differences between qualitative and quantitative research, you can read the post: Choosing Between Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches.
The process of developing qualitative research questions
It is very unlikely that your first attempt to develop a good research question will be without hurdles. Every question usually undergoes a process of reflection and refinement before you get your question to its final version. It is usually helpful to share your draft question with others (mentor, advisor, colleagues, other students) so they can comment on it and help you improve and reach better clarity.
For instance, a question ‘What challenges are encountered by people who switch careers later in life?’ could guide a qualitative inquiry, but this question would most likely require some further clarification. As it stands, it refers to a broad group of people who might be difficult to capture in one single study. People can change careers for different reasons (e.g. illness, difficulty finding a job in their primary profession, new life stage, joining a family business) so even a big sample of people could have experiences that vary significantly. We might want to consider narrowing this question down and focusing only on one group, for example: What special challenges are encountered by people who switch careers later in life due to not being able to perform their primary profession anymore because of age-related health issues? This group of participants could then be narrowed down even further to distinguish between different sub-groups of health issues (mental health, physical illness, accidents, etc.). The first question could serve as the overarching question, followed by sub-questions referring to different examples of health problems.
The process of crafting a good research question can begin with writing down a qualitative purpose statement regarding your research. When accomplishing this try using words such as explore, understand, discover. Your purpose statement can also mention the participants and the research site. An example of a purpose statement would be: The purpose of this study is to explore how online tools can help with dieting.
The purpose statement can then be used to develop your research question, which narrows down your purpose statement and makes it more specific. For the previous statement, the research question could be:
What are the experiences of women aged 30 to 40 using smartphone applications for dieting?
Examples of research questions for different qualitative methodologies
Different types of studies go under the umbrella of qualitative research; each with its own philosophy and ways of looking at the world as well as various methods of interpreting data. Here are some qualitative research question examples that could be used through different qualitative approaches:
- What are the attitudes of elderly people with stroke towards the daily use of assistive devices and technologies?
- What role does the therapist’s spirituality play in the treatment of his or her patients?
- How do female high school teachers who have been physically assaulted by students overcome their fears so they can effectively teach?
- How do adolescent Latinas/Latinos conceptualize classroom participation processes shape active oral participation?
- How does a good everyday life come about when living with chronic rheumatic conditions?
- What strategies are being used by small businesses that have effective and viable workplace wellness programs?
Check out this post for a brief overview of qualitative versus quantitative research questions, and some more example of questions.
Agee, J. (2009). Developing qualitative research questions: a reflective process. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education. 22(4), 431-447.
Worthington, M. (n.d.) Differences between phenomenological research and a basic qualitative research design. Retrieved from http://a1149861.sites.myregisteredsite.com/DifferencesBetweenPhenomenologicalResearchAndBasicQualitativeResearchDesign.pdf