At the very beginning of the research process is when you define your problem and formulate a research question. Depending on the type of problem and research question, you then need to come up with a research design. This is a crucial stage that requires detailed planning and reviewing, as it can shape the course of your entire research journey. Here’s how critical thinking can help during this initial stage.
- Finding a gap in the research: Being able to identify existing arguments or evidence, evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, and synthesise a new area of inquiry based on these appraisals.
- Coming up with a research question: Assessing a problem and then devising an approach best suited to its solution, and best suited to the researcher’s skillset/expertise.
- Designing a study: Using creativity, sometimes collaboration, to weave ideas together and produce a design for a study. Comparing different methods and techniques of inquiry to arrive at the study plan that investigates the research question in a way that can contribute to furthering understanding of an issue or topic.
- Building on previously conducted studies: Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your pilot study, or your priorly conducted study, and recognising how to address them, while still building on your wider research question in a coherent way. Appropriately acknowledging and addressing limitations of previous research in written presentations or follow-up studies.
A critical thinker may ask themselves the following questions at this stage:
Does my research question portray my area of inquiry in a succinct, clear and straightforward manner?
Is there a good fit between the purpose of my research and my research question?
Given the time, resources and expertise I have access to, is it feasible for me to answer my research question?