Constructing and refining a research question is one of the first, and most critical, steps in the research process. The research question serves as the foundation for every decision made for the remainder of the research. So what kinds of questions do researchers ask?
|Evaluative||What is the effectiveness of a particular social program, intervention, or practice?
For example, â€œAre â€˜Boot Camp’ programs more or less effective when compared to â€˜Restorative’ programs at reducing recidivism?â€
|Explanatory||What is the cause and effect relationship between a series of variables? Often seen as the preeminent goal of research, the ability to explain how a social phenomenon works.
For example, â€œWhat causes repeat offenders to engage in criminal activity?â€
|Predictive||How well can we predict the occurrence of a behavior or response if we know certain characteristics or other information? While we may not be able to explain a phenomenon, might we be able to predict its occurrence?
For example, â€œWhat adolescent behaviors are key predictors of future repeat violent criminals?â€
|Exploratory||How do people get along in situations under observation, what meaning do they ascribe to their actions, what are their key concerns? Exploratory research is often done at the beginning of an exploration of a phenomenon in order to build a foundation for future research.
For example in the 1970s and 1980s as restorative justice was entering the modern criminological landscape a research question might have been, â€œWhat was the experience of repeat offenders who experienced restorative justice interventions as compared to the traditional incarceration experience?â€
|Descriptive||The ability to describe and define a social phenomenon is at the core of any empirically based research question.
For example, descriptive research focuses on questions such as, â€œHow much do repeat offenders make up the criminal justice system?â€ or â€œHow often do adolescents engage in criminal activity?â€
Each of these questions sets the stage, and a different stage at that, for how the research question can be explored.