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Topic selection,

problem formulation
and ethics in research
GEOG 316
JA Yaro

Selecting a Topic
Choose a topic that:
Is original in formulation - Addresses new issues
Is manageable and narrowly defined, one that can be
effectively presented within the parameters of the assignment.
Touches your life in a significant way and that you have a
natural interest in.
Allows you to bring insight to the situation and enlighten others.
Lends itself to questions.
Pick topics from courses/lectures and newspapers that touch
on contemporary issues
Talk to your supervisor or lecturer who has discussed an issue
of interest to you

Where do you see problems that


can ignite your mind to think about
research?

Classroom
School
Community
Own teaching experiences
Classroom lectures
Class discussions
Seminars/workshops/paper presentations
Internet
Out-of-class exchanges of ideas with fellow students and professors
Reading assignments
Textbooks
Special assignments
Research reports
Term papers
Consultation with
Course instructor
Advisor
Major Professor
Faculty member

Number ONE Requirement


You need to have an inquisitive and
imaginative mind
You need a Questioning attitude
Wonder why?

Characteristics of good
topics?

1. Interesting keeps the researcher interested in it


throughout the research process
2. Researchable can be investigated through the
collection and analysis of data

3. Significant contributes to the improvement and


understanding of educational theory and practice
4. Manageable fits the level of researchers level of
research skills, needed resources, and time restrictions
5. Ethical does not embarrass or harm participants

Is my project research?
Does your project generate a research problem or a set of
questions that are worth asking?
Originality: dont cook up old ideas and methods
fashionable a decade ago
Topicality: is your topic and subject of contemporary
interest to academics or public?
Is the project geographical: does place or space matter or
make a difference? Show some spatial variation in
distribution, experiences
Is the project practical: in terms of cost, time and
personnel

The research problem


A research problem is the demarcation of a knowledge
area within a certain context involving the WHO or WHAT,
the WHERE, the WHEN and the WHY of the situation.
The problem is the aspect the researcher worries about, thinks
about, and wants to find a solution for. It explains in short the
aim of the research
Are there questions about this problem to which answers have
not been found up to the present?
Three sources usually contribute to problem identification:
Own experience or the experience of others may be a source of
problem supply.
Scientific literature: Look for gaps in the literature
Theories: Shortcomings in theories could be researched.

Your Problem should


contain:
Outline the general context of the problem area.
Highlight key theories, concepts and ideas
current in this area.
What appear to be some of the underlying
assumptions of this area?
Why are these issues identified important?
What needs to be solved?
State in such a way that it would lead to
analytical thinking with the aim of possibly
concluding solutions to the stated problem.

An example of topic and problem identification


STEPS

EXAMPLE

Select a broad Costs of education


area
of
interesta
research topic

To move from
topic
to
a
manageable
research
problem,
ask
questions
about the topic
such as "who /
what / where /
when/ why /
how?"

STRATEGIES/SO
URCES
Personal
interest
Professional
significance
Readings
Conversations with
faculty and peers

What are the issues in the costs of Read abstracts of


higher education?
literature
for
What is Ghana doing to control overview
the costs of higher education?
What are the factors responsible
for tuition increases?
How effective are cost sharing
programs in controlling costs of
higher education?

Select one narrowly Are government subsidies


defined problem
effective for holding down
the costs of university
Ask
relevant
education?
questions that will Which regions offer
help
answer
the scholarship/loan
problem
programs?
What are potential savings
realized by participating in
a program?
What are the risks to
individuals?
What is the cost to
government to support
such programs?

Read
several
articles on the
narrower
focus;
note
possible
methodologies
that might be
used in your
project

Write
a
problem The costs of higher education are Incorporate
statement consisting of escalating X times faster than the readings-toseveral sentences
economy. Students
date to
that briefly frame the
issues
to
be
investigated,
indicate
the significance of the
question, and includes a
declaration of what you
will do

are graduating with SSNIT debt


far surpassing earlier generations.
Various sectors have proposed
plans to minimize university costs.
Among the potential solutions are
loan
programs
offered
by
individual regions. Yet questions
exist regarding the stability of
tuition savings programs. "In this
project I will..." or "This study
will..."

Determine
this working
statement.
Of course, as
your
work
progresses,
you
may
need
to
modify this
problem
statement.

CHECKLIST FOR TESTING THE FEASIBILITY OF THE RESEARCH


PROBLEM

Is the problem of current interest? Will the research results have social, educational
or scientific value?
Will it be possible to apply the results in practice?
Will the research opt new problems and lead to further research?
Is the research problem important? Will you be proud of the result?
Is there enough scope left within the area of research (field of research)?
Can you find an answer to the problem through research? Will you be able to
handle the research problem?
Will it be possible for another researcher to repeat the research?
Do you have the necessary knowledge and skills to do the research? Are you
qualified to undertake the research?
Is the problem important to you and are you motivated to undertake the research?
Is the research viable in your situation? Do you have enough time, money and
energy to complete the project?
Will you be able to complete the project within the time available?

Ethics in research

Research involving human


subjects in the Medical, Social
and Behavioral Sciences poses
complex ethical issues.

It requires careful thought and


consideration on the part of both
researchers and research
participants.

Prospective participants must be


given adequate information on
both the possible risks and the
potential benefits of their
involvement to allow them to
make informed decisions

But it
pays well
It has its
disadvantages

13

Integrity of Research
Research should be designed to meet
clear objectives honestly
Should not be subject to undue or
improper influences
including conflicts of interest

or falsified, or contain plagiarised


material, or presented in ways that are
designed to mislead

Ethical concerns
Respect for persons

Informed consent
understands whats involved
knows what will be done with the data
can freely choose to take part or not

Confidentiality; anonymity
whether or not assurances given
n.b. data protection implications

Risk of other disadvantage or harm


distress, embarrassment, loss

Some respondents or data collection environments may


pose risks to the researcher (or other data gatherers)
Foresees possible risks and provides a means of
managing those risks

Ethical Issues
Justification for the
research
Access to
participants/Privacy
Informed consent
Potential harm
16

With research involving


human subjects the risks
and costs must be
balanced against the
potential benefits
Trivial or repetitive
research is may be
unethical where the
subjects are at risk
After years of experimentation the
scientist proved that children
become addicted to nicotine
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Autonomy
The ethical principle of
autonomy means that each
person should be given the
respect, time, and
opportunity necessary to
make his or her own
decisions.
Prospective participants must
be given the information they
will need to decide to enter a
study or not to participate.
There should not be pressure
to participate.
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Vulnerable participants
Potentially vulnerable participants
such as children, the elderly, the
mentally ill may be incapable of
understanding information that
would enable them to make an
informed decision about study
participation.
Consequently, careful consideration
of their situation and needs is
required, and extra care must be
taken to protect them.
For example, how will you assess
the diminished capacity of an
elderly individual, who will be the
guardian, and how and when will
you involve another individual as
guardian in the process?

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Sources for further Reading


P. A. Twumasi 1986. Social research in rural
communities: The problems of fieldwork in Ghana.
Ghana Universities Press. Accra. Pages 1-11
Robin Flowerdew and David Martin (eds) 1997. Methods
in Human Geography. A guide for students doing
research projects. Longman. Pages 31-56
Rob Kitchin and Nicholas J. Tate 2000. Conducting
research in Human Geography: Theory, Methodology
and Practice. Pearson education limited. Singapore.
Pages 1-44