Creating a question for your dissertation.

I’ve just launched our Undergraduate dissertation for the nursing students.  These third years will, over the next 6 months, develop a research question and answer it using a critical systematised review method.  The task seems to create a great deal of anxiety and we try to manage that by using a check-list approach.

The very first task is coming up with a research question.  For those of us in working in academe and the NHS this seems like a fairly easy task – we are often brimming over with questions we want to know the answer to.  However, many UG students find this task really difficult.  So how do you come up with a research question when you feel like your head has suddenly emptied of all thought?

Well, you have to start by trusting yourself.  Anxiety seems to be the enemy of creativity.  Get a sheet of paper and just write down what you are interested in.  It doesn’t matter what words you use – don’t worry about the right vocabulary just write.  There is a free writing technique that can be used to overcome a real block.  In free writing you just write down what you see in front of you, and then carry on writing anything that comes to mind.  This can be helpful to get over the fear of the blank page.  It doesn’t matter that most of what you have written will have to go in the bin – it got you started and so it is useful.

Now, you should have some words and these words will hopefully trigger you to write other words and gradually you will see emerge something that interests you.  Grab the thing that interests you and pursue it.  Write down why it interests you.  If you can’t grab hold of the thoughts then start talking.  Talk to yourself, your cat, a person, and tell them about your idea.  If you have to start with just saying a word then do that.  If you have chosen to discuss your idea with a human they can help you to explore it by asking you questions.  Jot down some notes.  At the end of the process you will have an idea of what your question might look like.  It doesn’t matter at this stage it is fully formed or not – it is a question of sorts – you have succeeded.

The next stage is to refine the question and that will be dealt with in another blog.