Research is conducted to know more about the unknown. Often, while sleuthing, we discover avenues we didn’t know, that we didn’t know. In those cases how do we start to know, what we don’t know exists?
Any research project is as good as its research questions.
Having said that, it is also critical to understand that making the research questions is an iterative process, research questions evolve each time you discover some new information.
Regardless of how niche or new the subject matter is to the researcher, they will always have certain assumptions about the topic (a priori). That is the starting point. The researcher needs to jot down all assumptions, notions and understandings they have about the subject. More the assumptions more room for the research to validate or invalidate these assumptions.
While jotting these assumptions down most care should be taken about the researcher’s biases, belief systems and understandings of human knowledge. These assumptions inevitably shape how the researcher understands the research questions, the methods they use and how they interpret their findings.
After writing down all possible assumptions, the researcher needs to question under what situations is the assumption true and/ or false?
I would rather have unanswered questions than unquestionable answers — My Boss’s WhatsApp status
Let’s say we assume
that in India, people that are not comfortable with reading English, struggle in using their phones in English, hence they use their phones in regional languages.
This assumption comes from the human knowledge and life experiences of the researcher, where the researcher knows that if reading in English is a struggle then one would figure out a way where s/he does not need to read in English.
So the research question to validate or invalidate fo this assumption will be — When English reading fluency is low how does a user use her/his phone (that by default is set up in English)?
Converting the assumption into a question allows researchers to answer the same question with other alternatives. This makes room in the researcher’s enquiry for aspects they don’t know that they don’t know (posterior)
What happens once these questions are written?
Let’s say a researcher visits a field with this question (When English reading fluency is low how does a user use her/his phone that by default is set up in English?) in mind the researcher may discover that users with low reading fluency, rely on other experienced friends and family members to assist them to use their devices. When no one is around these users memorise how to do certain tasks, what buttons to click, where to tap, swipe, pinch by looking at the colours of buttons, icons and UI elements on the screens, rather than reading text.
This new information then becomes insight for the researcher to act upon. The researcher can now add this new information and change assumption 01 into another question — In what cases do users with low English reading fluency not take assistance to change their device language into a language they are comfortable in? How do they use their devices then?
And then the cycle continues…