TOPIC: I am studying X
QUESTION: because I want to find out who/why/how Y
RATIONALE: in order to understand how/why/what Z


What is the research problem you are contributing to the answering of?


Significant to "the research community"


Practical problems vs. Research Problems

For your topic, articulate a practical problem and a research problem.

Topics vs. problems. When talking to public a researcher with a problem may well talk in terms of topics.
A topic is something you read about.
A problem is something you generate solutions for.

The structure of problems
A status quo + undesirable consequences or costs

Name a condition or status quo + a cost we'd like to avoid or a benefit we'd like to get

For RESEARCH problems, the status quo resides in the conceptual world of the discipline. The cost is also different: basically, continued ignorance.

Not knowing X means we can't know Y.

You do not have a research problem until you can firmly answer the SO WHAT if we don't know Z? question. (54)

To be a research question, part 2, your question, has to imply or be grounded in us not knowing something.


Pure research is when not-knowing matters only to insiders.

Detecting Pure Research
Look at the rationale part of your statement: if not something we can do but something we should know. The consequences are conceptual, rather than tangible, and the rationale is about knowing rather than about doing.

You can't just name a possible tangible result (people will be able to be better consumers of art). Rather try this reverse:

TOPIC: I am studying X
QUESTION: because I want to find out who/why/how Y
RATIONALE: in order to understand how/why/what Z

ASK: if my readers want Z, would they think the way to that is Y?

NOTE: The point is this illuminates when you are just grabbing for a rationale. For applied research you have to ask the question that needs to be answered to get what we want.

SIGNIFICANCE can = potential applied benefit


Ask for help but don't just do what you are told.
Finding problems in what you read: look for contradictions, disagreements.
But don't spend time trying to refute something that wasn't said in the first place. Or of saying that someone should have studied something other than what they studied.
Find Puzzles and the significance of believing something that's not quite correct.
Exploit the ends of books and papers where authors hand you "next questions"

Taxonomy of contradictions - chapter 8

  • Subtantive
  • Feature
    • Category
    • Part-Whole
    • Internal Development
    • External Cause-Effect
    • Value
  • Perspectival
    • We used to think X but now Y
    • Most people think X but Y

New Version:

1. Name your topic:
I am writing about X
2. State your indirect question (and thereby define the condition of your problem
…because I am trying to show you who/how/why Y
3. State how your answer will help the reader understand something more important yet (and thereby define the cost of not knowing the answer)
…in order to explain to you how/why Z.


  1. What is pure vs. applied research?
  2. What is up with this, according to Booth, et al.?
    • Topic: I am studying difference among nineteenth century versions of the story of the Alamo
    • Question: because I want to find out how politicians use d stories of great events to shape public opinion,
    • Rationale: in order to help people protect themselves from unscrupulous politicians and become better voters.