Q: How are research questions related to the scope of a study?

1 Answer to this question

Thank you for this interesting question!

Broadly defined, the scope of a study constitutes the study’s focus, that is, what the study covers (and by extension, doesn’t cover): the areas the study is exploring and those it has excluded. A research question is a qualitative or quantitative enquiry that a study sets out to answer.

These two concepts can be viewed together in many ways, one of which is to think of research questions as a means to specify the scope.

Take cyberbullying as an example: this topic is very broad in scope, and spills over areas of psychology, education, and sociology, to name a few. If the study focuses on cyberbullying in general, it may not do complete justice to the topic, as it cannot possibly cover all aspects of cyberbullying. If, however, we think of specific aspects of cyberbullying that we would like to focus on (in the form of a research question), this can help us narrow the scope: How does cyberbullying affect attrition rates among students aged 12-15 years in rural Japan?

Another way to think of the relationship between the two concepts is as follows. Each research question has a scope in itself. For example, the research question specified above covers the following:

  • Focus: cyberbullying’s effect on attrition
  • Study’s subjects: 12-15-year-old students
  • Study area: Rural Japan

The summation of the scope of all research questions serves to define the overall scope of the study. Hence, corollary to the example provided above of a topic with a scope that’s too broad (cyberbullying), if we find that the overall scope of all our research questions together is too narrow, and thus our study’s scope is too narrow (for example, we’re only examining students of a certain age group in a certain area: are these findings generalizable?), we may wish to broaden scope by tweaking the questions or adding more questions.

From an alternative perspective, if we do not wish to tweak or add to these questions, analyzing them at least helps us place the study in context and understand its limitations and the need for further research to ensure generalizability at the outset instead of having to do so after the study’s been completed (by when it may be too late).

Hope that helps!