The ten important characteristics of a good research problem for a thesis are summarized bellow. The list enables one to examine any research problem and see the extent to which it measures up. Obviously, few problems will achieve all ten characteristics but good problems should fulfill most of these requirements. A few words are in order about each of them.
Characteristics of a good thesis research problem
1 The problem can be stated clearly and concisely.
2 The problem generates research questions.
3 It is grounded in theory.
4 It relates to one or more academic fields of study.
5 It has a base in the research literature.
6 It has potential significance/importance.
7 It is do-able within the time frame, budget.
8 Sufficient data are available or can be obtained.
9 The researcher’s methodological strengths can be applied to the problem.
10 The problem is new; it is not already answered sufficiently.
Fundamentals of Educational Research
1 The Problem Can Be Stated Clearly and Concisely
Unless the problem can be stated clearly and concisely it is probably a poor problem or a non-problem. The best way to test the problem statement is to write it into a concise sentence or paragraph and to share it with others. If the problem cannot be stated in a clear paragraph it has difficulties and will not endure as a suitable problem. Of course, it is not easy to express complex issues in simplistic terms and it may take many weeks and countless drafts before the statement is satisfactory. Good critics are essential. If your spouse or mother cannot understand it, it is probably flaky.
2 The Problem Generates Research Questions
The problem should generate a number of more specific research questions. These turn the problem into a question format and represent various aspects or components of the problem. The research questions make the more general statement easier to address and provide a framework for the research. Formulating these questions can be a challenge, particularly specifying them at the right level of abstraction.
3 It Is Grounded in Theory
Good problems have theoretical and/or conceptual frameworks for their analysis. They relate the specifics of what is being investigated to a more general background of theory which helps interpret the results and link it to the field.
4 It Relates to One or More Academic Fields of Study
Good problems relate to academic fields which have adherents and boundaries. They typically have journals to which adherents relate. Research problems which do not have clear links to one or two such fields of study are generally in trouble. Without such a field it becomes impossible to determine where, in the universe of knowledge, the problem lies.
5 It Has a Base in the Research Literature
Related to the former points, a well-stated problem will relate to a research literature. Tight problems often relate to a well-defined body of literature, written by a select group of researchers and published in a small number of journals. With some problems, it might at first be difficult to establish the connections and literature base, but there should be a base somewhere.
6 It Has Potential Significance/importance
This is the important ‘so what’ question: Who cares once you solve the problem? Assume that you have solved the problem and answered the questions and then ask yourself if you are any further ahead. At the very least, the problem must have importance to the researcher, but ideally it should also be of consequence to others.
7 It Is DoableWithin the Time Frame, Budget
There are logistic factors in terms of your ability actually to carry out the research. There is no point pursuing a problem which is not feasible to research. Do not do a study of education in India unless you have the means to go there and collect data ̶ which may require years to collect. This factor helps explain why few theses relate to longitudinal data. The only exceptions come from research shops where there is a long history of collecting and studying data on a defined population. Terman’s study of genius (1954) in which a defined sample was traced over 30 years, is a good example.
8 Sufficient Data Are Available or Can Be Obtained
In some cases, there are insufficient data to address the problem. Historical persons may have died, archival materials may be lost, or there may be restrictions on access to certain environments. As noted, it is difficult to conduct research on a distant country unless you can go there and collect local data. One under-used approach is to use an existing database. Some data banks have been developed over many years and contain many opportunities for exploration of new questions and issues.