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How to ask interesting research questions? Try these 5 tips

This week, a doctoral student in entrepreneurship emailed to me with her trouble with research questions. Apparently some mentors questioned her current research questions being any interesting at all. When answering her quest, I wrote the following reply. I hope the reply can be also helpful to some beginner researchers who are struggling in the same way.

Although I published one conference paper [1] and two journal articles [2, 3] in entrepreneurship education, I do not actually count myself as a researcher with the expertise in entrepreneurship education or entrepreneurship. After I left Kyoto University, I switched my research activities to active learning and research literacy. So what I am sharing here is only general knowledge as an educational researcher. 

I think one question that many beginner researchers ask was: “How to have interesting, meaningful and important research questions?

Reflecting on my personal experience, I think there are five tips to use.

1. Observing and mimicing.

For inexperienced researchers it is a good idea to start observing research questions in a journal that you would like to publish your writing. Mimic what others are researching about in the shared topic. You are writing for a journal or a conference after all, therefore read articles published in these outlets in connection with other authors’ research questions in the same channel.

2. Decide your research type.

Some phenomenon is not well known and data are scarce. Researchers’ effort is limited to explore the domain and add empirical data and observations. Thus the related research is often explorative, which determins to apply explorative research methods such as interviews and cases studies. Some phenomenon is quite known and accumulates a rich amount of data, and thus researchers can evaluate relationships quite easily. Methods can then include such as using panel data to build forecasting statistical models. Think of the topic and see which type it needs more.

3. Think differently and continue questioning.

I read several papers that argued against business plan, which is quite a new perspective. Why do you believe in the value of business plan? What convinced you? If you are comvinced, why you want to focus on the team winning the competition instead of the team failing the competition? What are alternative competition methods besides writing business plan and how so the worldwide startup competitions ended up using a similar format? You have to continue this questioning process. 

4. Summarize each relevant paper’s limitations and recommended future research.

Authors address their paper’s limitations and invite new research endeavors in the discussion section and conclusion section. Pay attention to summarize these parts and connect the dots to decide which question you want to take on. 

5. Theories from which domain?

EE is a combination of entrepreneurship and education, you need to decide which domain’s theories you want to advance. They are actually quite different, which means your direction of reading will be very different. Many educational theories come from psychology. But many entrepreneurship theories come from economics. 

I hope this post can serve as a first step towards finding your own answer to the question: “How to have interesting, meaningful and important research questions?

Good luck. 

References:

[1] J. Lin and T. Sekiguchi, “E-learning in Entrepreneurship Education: A Systematic Literature Review,” 2020 IEEE International Conference on Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE), 2020, pp. 83-90, doi: 10.1109/TALE48869.2020.9368412.

[2] Lin, J. Positioning the research on skills for entrepreneurship through a bibliometric analysis. Entrep Educ 4, 351–374 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41959-021-00061-9

[3] Lin, J., Qin, J., Lyons, T., Nakajima, H., Kawakatsu, S. and Sekiguchi, T. (2022), “The ecological approach to construct entrepreneurship education: a systematic literature review“, Journal of Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/JEEE-12-2021-0455

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