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					                                           Selecting a Research Question
The following exercise helps you to learn how to define and select a research question. Follow the steps below
to help you. Submit your answers to this exercise along with your “Psychinfo Assignment” due Oct 5, 2006.

Step 1: Brainstorm to get research topic ideas
    Choose a topic that interests you. Use the following questions to help you generate topic ideas.
          o Have you ever wondered if theories in Human Resources/Organizational Behavior (HR/OB)
              could explain the behaviour of individuals caught up in a recent public scandal, or how it affects
              the lives of people in your favorite sport/industry?
          o Was there a memorable event/issue you experienced in the workplace that HR/OB could help
              you understand?
          o Is there an aspect of another course you are interested in learning more about?

       Read general background information & look at some of the following Web sites for ideas
           o Look at general databases or information on organizations that interest you
                  Database of HR/IR Websites providing data
                  Non-Profit Organizations that would be interested in your expertise

            o    Read summaries of research in journals, magazines, or newspapers articles
                     Examples of academic journal articles that summarize current research:
                          The Academy of Management Perspective (previously Academy of Management
                            Executive). For a tutorial on how to find research summaries in the Academy of
                            Management Perspective click below or see accompanying handout
                          Abstracts of the Journal of Organizational Behaviour
                          What’s new in Journals (website by The Economist)
                     Check out these sections in these newspaper websites:
                          The Business Section in
                          The Financial Page in “Goings on about Town”
                          The professor’s collection of articles from

            o    Use Web search engines to find Web sites on the topic.
                     Google Scholar ( or (
                     Try the following searches and see what topics you can come up with:
                           Human Resources Theory
                           Organizational Behaviour Issues

    Practice Exercise:
    Do your preliminary research and write down any words or phrases that may be of interest to you.

    (Keep these words in mind: Could any of these be the basis for a more focused topic?)
Adapted from the WSU Stewart Library Website - by A. Wilson
Step 2: Focus in on your topic

       Keep it manageable. A topic will be very difficult to research if it is too broad, or too narrow. One way
        to narrow a broad topic such as "communication" is to limit your topic. Here are examples of common
        ways to limit:

              Ways to limit a topic             Example:
              Geographic region                 Do the working conditions in Canada differ from other
              Culture                           Does cultural background influence an individual’s
                                                preferred mode of communication?
              Time frame                        Have levels of job satisfaction and stress on the job
                                                changed in the last 10 years?
              Discipline                        How is the field of accounting influenced by research on
              Population group                  Does the gender of professors have an impact on student

    Practice Exercise:
    Identify three narrower aspects of the following broad topics. In other words, what are three areas you could
    investigate that fit into these very broad topics?

            o Stress

            o Motivation

            o Conflict

Adapted from the WSU Stewart Library Website - by A. Wilson
Step 2 (continued): Focus in on your topic

       Remember that a topic will be more difficult to research if it is too narrow:

              Narrowing factors:                Example:
              Locally confined                  What is the preferred style of communication used by
                                                UTSC students?
              Recent                            How have motivational theories changed in the last year?
              Broadly interdisciplinary         What physical traits make a person more likely to
                                                experience stress?
              Popular                           How does Johnny Depp deal with the stress of his busy

    Practice Exercise:
    Identify a broader topic that would cover the following narrow topics. In other words, how could you
    expand these topics to find more information?

            o    Goal-setting appraisal systems at PricewaterhouseCoopers

            o    Leadership style of Prime Minister Harper

            o    Employee satisfaction at Wal-Mart

Adapted from the WSU Stewart Library Website - by A. Wilson
Step 3: Make a list of useful keywords

       Keep track of the words that are used to describe your topic.
           o Look for words that best describe your topic.
           o These words will be found in the encyclopedia articles and other reading done while selecting
              your topic.
           o Find synonyms, broader and narrower terms for each keyword you find in order to expand your
              search capabilities
           o Keep a list of these words to use as keywords later as you search in catalogs and other online

    Practice Exercise:
    Imagine that you have been assigned the following topics. Think of 5 keywords you might use to look for
    information on each.

            o    Do men and women have different preferred styles of communication?

            o    In what ways can students manage their time better?

            o    When are certain motivational tactics more effective than others?

Step 4: Be flexible

       It is common to modify your topic during the research process. You can never be sure of what you
        may find. You may find too much and need to narrow your focus, or too little and need to broaden your
        focus. This is a normal part of the research process. When researching, you may not wish to change your
        topic, but you may decide that some other aspect of the topic is more interesting or manageable.
       Keep in mind the assigned length of the research paper, project, bibliography or other research
        assignment. Be aware of the depth of coverage needed and the due date. These important factors may
        help you decide how much and when you will modify your topic.

Adapted from the WSU Stewart Library Website - by A. Wilson
Step 5: Define your topic as a focused research question

       You will often begin with a word, develop a more focused interest in an aspect of something relating to
        that word, and then begin to have questions about the topic.
        For example:
            o Ideas = Wages and Gender
            o Research Question = Is there a wage gap between men and women?
            o Focused Research Question = Do women CEOs make as much as their male counterparts?

    Practice Exercise:
    Write research questions using the following sets of ideas:

            o    Job control and Stress levels

            o    Networking and Career Outcomes

            o    Job Satisfaction and Organizational Commitment

Step 6: Research and read more about your topic

       Use the key words you have gathered to research in the library catalog, article databases and Internet
        search engines.
        Find more information to help answer your research question.
       You will need to do some research and reading before you select your final topic. Can you find enough
        information to answer your research question? Remember, selecting a topic is an important and complex
        part of the research process.

Adapted from the WSU Stewart Library Website - by A. Wilson
Step 7: Formulate a hypothesis

       Write your topic as a hypothesis. This may be the answer to your research question and/or a way to
        clearly state the purpose of your research. Your hypothesis will usually be one or two sentences that
        states precisely what is to be answered about your topic.
       The development of a hypothesis assumes there is sufficient empirical evidence for and against it
            o For example, a hypothesis could be: Women CEOs do not make as much as their male
       The title of your paper may not be exactly the same as your research question or your hypothesis,
        but the title should clearly convey the focus, purpose and meaning of your research.
            o For example, a title could be: Women CEOs: Moving on up or still Chasing that Carrot? A
                Study of the Relationship between CEO compensation and gender

    Practice Exercise:
    Write hypotheses for the following research questions:

            o     Is there one leadership style most effective the sales industry?

            o     How does the diversity of a group impact its performance?

            o     In what way can absenteeism be reduced?

                Now, all you have to do is take these steps and apply them to your own papers! Good luck!

Adapted from the WSU Stewart Library Website - by A. Wilson
                             USING EXAMPLES OF PREVIOUS YEARS’ PAPERS
      If you started to
                              Your focused research          Your hypothesis may             Your keywords might
                              question might be ...          be ...                          include ...
      with this idea...
                              Does the gender of             Students have a tendency
                                                                                        Gender, professor,
      Student                 professors have an             to grade female professors
                                                                                        student, evaluations,
      Evaluations             impact on student              more favorably then their
                              evaluations?                   male counterparts.
                       Does demographic and                  More experienced players
      Demographics and skill factors impact the              have higher salaries, but Demographics, traits,
      Hockey           salaries of hockey                    only when they possess    hockey, salary, wages…
                       players?                              certain skills.
                                                             An individual’s
                                                                                             Absenteeism, work
                              What factors cause             personality can predict
      Absenteeism                                                                            absences, attendance,
                              absenteeism?                   whether they are more
                                                                                             causes, factors…
                                                             likely to be absent
                              Does career
                                                             Medical students are more Doctor, physician,
      Career                  commitment differ
                                                             committed to their careers lawyer, commitment,
      Commitment              between medical and
                                                             than lawyers.              career…
                              law students?
                              Are management co-op           Co-op students are more         Co-operative education,
                              students likely to be          likely to be successful and     student, satisfaction,
      Co-op graduates
                              successful and satisfied       satisfied with their careers    happiness, success,
                              with their careers?            than regular students.          outcomes…
                              Do women still make            The wage gap between
                                                                                             Male, female, gender,
      Women in                less than their male           males and females in the
                                                                                             wages, salary,
      Business                counterparts in the            business world has been
                              business world?                closing, but still exists.

Adapted from the WSU Stewart Library Website - by A. Wilson

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