Exercise 1: From research topics to research aims and questions

A research topic is a subject or issue that a researcher wishes to study. A broad research topic needs to be made more specific by refining it into research aims and research questions. Research aims state the purpose of a study. Research questions present a study’s aims in the form of questions that the research seeks to answer.

In qualitative psychological research, research aims and research questions often focus on people’s experiences of specific phenomena or particular aspects of those experiences. In other words, the focus is often on people’s understandings of and thoughts and feelings about those experiences, their responses to them and the implications that they hold for them (although this does not capture all qualitative research in psychology).

To take an example, a qualitative study in health psychology might aim to examine the experiences of young people with Type 1 diabetes in living with and managing their condition. That aim could be translated into one or more specific research questions, such as ‘How do young people with Type 1 diabetes respond to the challenges associated with managing their condition?’

Research aims, research questions and interview questions (and the differences between them) are explained further in Chapter 4 on ‘Interviews and interviewing’ in the section entitled ‘Research questions and structure in interview studies’. Read that section. Then develop research aims and questions for qualitative psychological research that would address one or more of the research topics below (or other topics of your choice).

Any research topic will lend itself to a range of suitable research aims and research questions so do not limit yourself to one research aim and question per topic. Remember that you are aiming to produce qualitative research aims and questions so avoid features that are associated with quantitative research (for example, any suggestion of hypothesis-testing):

  • Chronic pain
  • The Covid-19 pandemic that began in 2020
  • Insomnia
  • Autism and neurodiversity
  • Peer pressure
  • Social media and well-being
  • Racism and its effects
  • Gender roles in our society
  • The functioning of work teams or sports teams
  • Rehabilitation in prisons