Identify a good research question
Not all interesting questions make good research questions. Research generates conclusions based on an analysis of evidence. For example, “Are the prices charged by the XYZ pharmaceutical company fair?” is not a research question, because the answer rests on individual attitudes and beliefs. A question that can be answered by gathering evidence might be “What are the best measures for reducing the prices of drugs that our organization purchases from company X?”
Questions about study design rather than the underlying issue or problem are not research questions. A research question is a logical statement that progresses from what is known or believed to be true to that which is unknown and requires validation. Some questions are too broad and must be broken down into a logical series of steps. Rather than asking what can be done to reduce the amount of medications that are wasted each year in the United States, a more precise and manageable questions, “What can be done in our institution to reduce the number of intravenous preparations that are not used before their expiration date?” The latter question clearly expresses a precise locale and scope for study. Research has a purpose and objectives.The research question is the purpose stated in the form of a question. Research objectives specify exactly what is to be done to achieve the purpose. Both the purpose and objectives are clear and unambiguous: What do we need to know and why?
Meaningful inquiry ignores details and gets to the heart of the issue. One technique is to ask “why” five times in succession. Why did the patient have a poor outcome? If the answer is because she received the wrong treatment, the second question is “Why did she receive the wrong treatment?” If the answer is that the clinician was not aware of new information, then the third question becomes “Why was the clinician not aware of the new information?” The process continues through at least five iterations until questions about root causes are revealed.