How does one formulate research questions based on concepts and determine the variables that represent the concepts? How does one operationalize the variables by determining the tools and units...

How does one formulate research questions based on concepts and determine the variables that represent the concepts? How does one operationalize the variables by determining the tools and units with which one will measure the variables?

For the research questions, one may measure differences or relationships and choose among several survey questions as tools of measurement.

1.  Propose 3 possible research questions based on concepts.
2.  For 2 of the 3 research questions that you proposed last week, operationalize the variables to answer those questions.  If necessary, rephrase your questions or create new ones for which you can define variables that can be measured precisely.
3.  Pick one of your research questions for which you defined 2 good variables. For each of the variables for that research question, create a survey question to measure it. If necessary, rephrase your research question or create a new research question for which you can create survey questions to measure its variables precisely. You may:

Ask Questions about Differences
Ask Questions about Relationships (with (a) categorical variables or (b) numeric variables)

The research questions are framed with concepts, not variables. Second comes defining variables to represent those concepts.

Operationalizing variables provides the details of how the concepts composing the research question will be measured and with what units:

(1) the measurement tool.
(2) the measurement units.  

Types of survey questions you may ask are: 

Survey Questions for Nominal Data [naming choices]
Survey Questions for Ordinal Data [rank ordering choices]
Survey Questions for Interval Data [subsets, with non-zero values, of whole surveys]
Survey Questions for Ratio Data [something done how often]

[categorical variables: some categorical variable of a group of individuals varies based on another categorical variable; involves counting individuals and placing them in the combination of both categories.]

[numeric variables: some numeric characteristic of the individuals of interest changes some other numeric characteristic.]

[relationship:  if we ask a question represented by 2 categorical variables or 2 numeric variables, then we are asking a question about a relationship.]

Expert Answers
Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To complete your assignment, you'll first need to understand exactly what independent and dependent variables are. Independent variables stand alone and are not changed by other factors. Dependent variables are those that do change depending on other factors.

For example, suppose we wanted to conduct a study on the extent that sleep deficit affects thinking ability.

  • Thinking ability would be the element in the study that can change, so thinking ability is our dependent variable.
  • Sleep deficit is the factor that stands alone, and we are using sleep deficit to judge how thinking ability changes, so sleep deficit is our independent variable.

In an article posted on the National Center for Education Statistics website, the authors give us a very useful sentence to help us remember the definitions of independent and dependent variables:

(Independent variable) causes a change in (Dependent Variable) and it isn't possible that (Dependent Variable) could cause a change in (Independent variable).

Next, you'll need to understand exactly what operational variables are. An operational variable is a means we decide we will use to measure variables, either independent or dependent. It can be difficult to conduct research in social sciences because social sciences are all about the studies of general concepts like human emotions, actions, and psychological responses; thus, operationalization helps researchers figure out how to measure such abstract concepts. One determines operational variables based on the hypothesis; what's more hypotheses are often vague because they are based off of vague concepts, and operational variables help us define our focus more, thus helping us narrow our research, leading to more accurate results.

Martyn Shuttleworth gives us the example of a vague hypothesis:

Children grow more quickly if they eat vegetables.

One reason why this hypothesis is vague is because there are many children all over the world; children is a vague concept. So one operational variable would be our sample of children: Would they be from one country or multiple countries? Would the sample include both boys and girls? What age range would the sample include?

The term grow is also very vague since the concept of growth can be determined by weight, height, and even brain development. So a second operational variable would be our decided unit of measurement to determine growth, which might be weight.

The term quickly is also very vague because we need a unit of measurement to determine what the concept quickly means. Quickly could be measured over days, months, and even years. So, our third operational variable would be our unit of measurement to determine speed, which might be months.

For the purposes of your assignment, we could also easily turn the above hypothesis into a research question:

  • Do children grow more quickly if they eat vegetables?

Here, vegetables would be the one thing that can't be changed, so the concept vegetables would be our independent variable; children's growth is the one thing that can change, the one thing we are measuring, so the concept children's growth is the dependent variable.

And to reiterate our discussion of the operational variables:

  • Our first operational variable would be our sample selection of children (age, country, and sex).
  • Our second operational variable would be our unit of measurement to evaluate growth, which may be height.
  • Our third operational variable would be our unit of measure to determine what "quickly" means, or to determine speed, which may be months.

We can do something similar with the research question we asked earlier:

  • To what extent does sleep deficit affect thinking ability?

We already know that thinking ability is our independent variable and sleep is our dependent variable. Now, let's figure out the operational variables and how we might conduct our study.

The first vague concept is sleep deficit; we clearly need a way to measure quantity of sleep deficit. We might use a measurement of hours per day or even hours per week; let's go with hours per day. Hence, our first operational variable would be hours per day.

The next vague concept is thinking ability; how will we measure thinking ability? We could use something that's easily measured like test results, or we could even gauge test subjects' thinking ability by asking them a series of questions concerning any differences in ability they perceived themselves. We could even use a combination of both. Hence, our second operational variable would be our method of measuring thinking ability, which we've determined will be a combination of test scores and subjective questions posed to the test subjects.

The following could be examples of survey questions posed to the test subjects to gauge thinking ability:

  • Did you notice any instances of forgetfulness?
  • Did you notice any moments when you lost track of things you were trying to say?
  • Did you notice any changes in your ability to respond to problems?

Hence, all of the above are examples of how to pose research questions based on concepts, determine the independent and dependent variables, determine the operational variables, and determine survey questions that can help you reach a conclusion in your study.