Module 1: Finding a Research Problem


After doing this assignment, you should be able to:

  • Craft a well-constructed research problem statement
  • Craft a well-constructed research question
  • Review past literature that is relevant to your research question
  • Design a basic research methodology that is grounded in both past research and a specific problem you want to solve


On this module, you are encouraged to use any technologies  available to you, including word processors, web browsers, and online applications (e-mail, chat, blogging, productivity, workflow, etc.). We will cover some of these technologies as we go along, but you can use any that you are proficient with or want to experiment with on this module.

You will definitely need access to the following technologies to complete this module:

  1. A working and recently-updated Internet browser (Google Chrome, Firefox, or Safari are recommended)
  2. A word-processing application (e.g. Word, Pages, Writer, etc.)
  3. A reliable email client (Outlook, Apple’s Mail, or Gmail are recommended)


I have found that the best way to learn to be a researcher is to jump in and conduct some research, and so your assignment in this module is to design a research proposal for a pilot study you will conduct in this class. This proposal should be grounded not only in a specific question you want to answer through your study, but also in the work of past researchers working in your topic area.

Your first task, as I mention below, is thus to think about the potential audience for your research, namely fellow researchers, and how your research will fit in with what they’ve already found.

Deliverables You Must Produce for this Project

The following must be posted to Blackboard by the following date / time:

The following must be posted to this course website by the following date / time:

  • A copy of your research proposal – 9/10/14 by Midnight ET
  • An answer to my research question (see below) on the posts of each of your peers – 9/15/14 by Midnight ET


The primary audience for your module is myself, an experienced researcher who will assess your proposal for not its validity as a statement of potential research. Fellow researchers you will conduct this study for are an important audience to consider as well, however.

To Complete This Project (Workflow)

1) 8/27/14 by Midnight Eastern Time >>

Do Homework #1

2) 8/28/14-9/8/14 >>

As I mentioned above, the key to research is to begin by thinking about a potential audience for it as soon as you start, meaning a group of real, live people who are interested in questions like the one you’re trying to answer. The first step in any research endeavor, then, is to figure out what other researchers are talking about.

Do a literature review:

A literature review is simple; you find the sources that are most pertinent to the research area you are investigating. Locating those sources, however, may be difficult, largely because if you are in this class, chances are you don’t know where all these sources are.

Below are some common means of finding sources for a literature review. Be sure to check out the TPC Library Page that the library has made for us via the Useful Links page.

  1. Library databases: databases that are specific to an area, like the humanities, may contain useful sources
  2. Specific journals: if you have been following a particular journal or journals and see like-minded researchers appearing year after year, you can mine these issues for pertinent sources, or even site entire issues if they help you make some important claim
  3. Field-specific databases: these databases are largely maintained outside of library control in order to represent fields that aren’t completely archived in any common database (again, see the TPC Library Page for examples of these)
  4. Internet search: Google Scholar and can give you glimpses into many different fields, but remember that since Technical and Professional Communication is not as established as most older disciplines, results will probably vary strongly from one search to the other, using these tools.
  5. People: Got a friend you know is an expert in a particular area? Why not ask him or her for some recommended readings to get yourself started?

Use this literature review and your interest in a particular research area to craft a research proposal:

  1. Problem statement: a problem statement is a brief literature review that basically states “here’s what we know… here’s what we don’t know” concerning your research area. Basically, you should sum up where knowledge is regarding your intended research topic, from your literature review, and then explain what you want to explore. Typically, problem statements make brief reference to sources to support important or out-on-a-limb claims.
  2. Research question: a research question should be specific and should clearly link back to your problem statement. It should be something you (and other researchers) are genuinely unsure about and need further research to answer. You can have multiple research questions as long as they are clearly linked to the same study. You would never want more than 3 or 4 research questions for a given study, however.
  3. Methodology: at this point, think of a methodology as a general approach to research. Think about types of subjects (people, essentially) you might want to gather data from, types of data you might want to gather, and ways you might go about gathering this data. Don’t worry about jargon, just explain what you want to do, given your problem statement and research questions.

3) If you want feedback from me on a draft of your proposal, you must get it to me no later than 9/8/10 by 5:00 PM.

4) 9/10/14 by Midnight ET >>

Revise all your documents and hand them in:

5) 9/15/14 by Midnight ET >>

Post an answer to the following research question as a comment on the posts of each person’s webpage on this course website.

Each module, I will ask you a research question, which you must post a response to as a comment on the posts of each of your peers. Your research question for this module is the following:

  • Looking at this author’s research proposal: is it clear what they are going to study and why? Does their research question and problem statement follow clearly from their review of past literature? Do you feel they are thinking about a particular audience of fellow researchers?

Grading Criteria

Can be found here: grading criteria for this module