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Lesson A-3

Assessing the Questions or 
Hypotheses Addressed

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Questions or hypotheses provide further focus to a study.  In qualitative research, the investigation may begin with a few or no questions, and generate questions from the observations.  Survey research often has a few general questions, each of which are investigated with several additional more specific questions.  Experimental research may start with questions, but translates them into hypotheses, which state tentative answers to specific questions of interest, usually postulating no difference, and then test the hypotheses. 

There are four common types of research questions, and the type of question has critical implications for the appropriate research design. 

  1. Descriptive questions (about the characteristics of something).  Example: What is the average math achievement of the nationís fourth graders?  What is the career satisfaction of DC computer industry professional employees?
  2. Associational questions (about categorical differences or correlations).  Example: How does the math achievement of the nationís fourth grade Hispanic youth compare with that of the nationís fourth grade African-American youth?  Are District of Columbia computer industry professional employees more or less satisfied with their careers than are DC media industry professional employees?
  3. Causal questions (about what causes observed differences or changes).  Example: What accounts for the wide variation in math achievement among fourth grade Hispanic youth?  Will two hours a week of Math Explosion exercises over a semester raise the math achievement of low-achieving fourth grade Hispanic youth?
  4. Benefit-cost questions (about whether the benefits of a given intervention are worth more than the costs).  Example: Do the benefits of Math Buster exercises exceed the costs of the computer laboratory, software, and laboratory supervision?  Is the benefit/cost ratio of Math Explosion exercises greater than the benefit/cost ratio of after school tutoring by the teachers?
The first listed types of questions are generally easier to answer than the latter ones.  For descriptive questions, there is only the need to measure the characteristics of interest in the population of interest.  For associational questions, categorical comparisons or correlations then are computed for the measured characteristics.  To answer causal questions, there is a need to establish (a) association, (b) temporal ordering (the alleged causal variables must occur before the outcome variables of interest), and (c) isolation (ascertaining that other variables may not have caused the outcomes).  For benefit-cost questions, there is also a need to compare the value of the benefits to the costs of the intervention program. 
Assessment QuestionsKey Assessment Questions
3. What are the questions investigated or hypotheses tests?  (Make sure to distinguish among the four types of questions indicated above.) 
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