Below we discuss a typical research setup. It is intended as a guideline to PhD and MSc students in creating their thesis plans and/or structuring their introductory chapter.
Discuss the context of your research domain. What are the core concepts involved? What is the “playing field”?
Using the concepts as defined in the discussion of the problem area you are now in a position to define the problem you want to work on:
- What is the problem you aim to work on?
- Who ‘suffers’ from this problem? How ‘bad’ is this?
- What is the state of the art with regards to these issues?
- What are remaining challenges?
The problem definition provides insight into the problem you want to work on. However, this is not focussed enough yet. You need to make this more concrete in terms of a number of research questions you want to see answered in your investigations. This provides you with more focus.
Posing a research question is ‘easy’. It does not yet pose any ambition with regards to the breath and depth of the answer. Therefore, the next step is to make the research questions more concrete in terms of the deliverables, applications, etc, you are aiming for. For example: Research question 1 will be answered by the creation of a mathematical model by which the performance of applications can be predicted based on their architectures, in conjunction with a mechanism to gage the reliability of these predictions.
The discussion of the problem area and the problem definition provide the motivation of your investigations (Why?). The research questions and objectives provide the requirements on your investigations (What?). The next step is to articulate (and motivate) the approach you will take in meeting the objectives, in other words, the research approach (How?). The research approach you use should be motivated at least in terms of its aptness to obtain the stated objectives.