Presenting the questionIt is generally easiest to present the research topic as a question, but it is not essential. Here are some examples of how to present a research topic:You do not have to start the paper with the research question. Another way to start the paper is by making a general statement about a phenomenon of interest, as a way of grabbing the reader’s attention. However, the object of the specific research, i.e., the question that you are asking, should be brought up by the second paragraph. Justifying the questionOne important goal of the introduction is to gain and keep the reader’s interest. Readers have many other things they could read or do. Why should they read this particular paper? Readers (including editors) want to read a paper if they think the answers to the question presented in the study will help them understand theoretical issues in a new way or will help them solve practical problems. Therefore you must list the theoretical or practical fields that the research question is related to.The research question can involve a theoretical issue in several different ways. One way is that the answer to the question would help us decide between two rival theories. For example, there are two rival theories about the association between inter-class differences in the use of language and students’ success in school. One view is that children of lower-class parents have a linguistic deficit, which makes it more difficult for them to think abstractly. The other theory claims that the differences in manners of speaking among people of different socioeconomic classes do indeed lead to a lack of fit between the type of speech lower-class children use at home and the type of speech used at school, but these difference do not make it difficult for the children to think abstractly. A study comparing the ability of children from different socioeconomic classes to perform tasks requiring abstract thinking, but independent – or almost independent – of material taught in school – for example, giving instructions to pedestrians, could help us decide which of these two approaches is correct.The research question can also involve the generalizability of a conclusion from a previous study. For example, Bryant, Comisky & Zillmann, 1979 (cited by Rubin & McNeil, 1988:150) found that American university lecturers’ use of humor pertaining to the subject of the course helps the students learn the material, while humor that is irrelevant to the subject makes it more difficult for the students to learn the material. A similar study in Israeli universities could test the generalizability of Bryant et al.’s findings.Not all theoretically interesting questions are connected to an already existing theory or the generalizability of such a theory. Descriptive research can improve our understanding of a phenomenon and help us formulate new theories to be tested in studies designed for this purpose. For example, we do not have a theory explaining the spread of a language, and there are very few analyses of this phenomenon. A description of how Arab youngsters in a town in northern Israel learn Hebrew, which can tell us which of them have acquired proficiency in Hebrew, and when, where, how and why they accomplished this, could contribute to our understanding of the phenomenon of language spread.Some studies of theoretical interest suggest immediate applications, while others do not. For example, the hypothesis that children with a lower socioeconomic background lack verbal proficiency suggests the idea of programs for enriching the verbal environment of these children at preschool ages, while the rival hypothesis that suggests that teachers should be taught the differences in language styles in different socioeconomic groups. But it is not only an association with a theory that makes research interesting. Some studies are interesting because they involve practical problems. For example, hundreds of 18-year-old Israelis are functionally illiterate at the time that they are inducted into the army. Why is this the case? Studies that reveal the causes of this situation could help us increase the number of literate individuals. Another example is the fact that, on average, Jewish Israelis have difficulty learning Arabic. Why should this be? Studies that discover the reasons could help us enhance Jewish Israelis’ performance in learning Arabic.One could argue that there is very little theoretical research in education and the social sciences that has no practical application and very little practical research that does not increase our understanding of basic phenomena. Nevertheless, if a study has both theoretical and practical interest, this is all to the good. If, however, you are more interested in one aspect than the other, the readers should be told which of these aspects motivated you to perform the study.You must convince the readers that the research deals with a question whose answer is not obvious. For example, readers would not understand the point of asking if there is a connection between social class and reading comprehension, since this connection is well-known. To provide evidence that the answer to question motivating the research is not obvious, you must show how the present study is different from previous ones. Does this study investigate variables that were neglected by other studies? Does it investigate a hypothesis or generalization that were suggested by other studies? Does it describe a phenomenon that has hardly been studied? Does it correct a flaw in the research methods used in previous studies?
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