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Goldilocks and the Russian Dolls

Updated on July 27, 2018

Research Questions - What are they?

When writing your Ph.D., it is often necessary to find "Research Questions", which will help you focus on what is necessary, help you write your thesis and help you to stay on track, instead of wandering all over the place and possibly getting lost. Finding your research questions is not always easy and this lens shows you the best way to work them out. The Goldilocks test will show you how to do it "just right" and the Russian Dolls principle will show you how to dig down to find the central kernel of information that you need.

There are other methods for developing or determining your research questions and these are also included.

I have to declare a very deep interest in this module. I am currently working out my hypothesis for my own studies, although I have already found some research questions on which I am working. So, I am researching this lens for my benefit, as much as for yours. And I am writing it with my research journal open by my side to note down any useful points that come to me as I am writing this. You may also find it useful to have your research journal open while you read this lens too. :), whether that's a real writing book or a computerised word processing document, even a Notepad page. If you want to know more about research journals, there is a separate module further down the page.

Note: It is believed that the "Goldilocks" picture is in the Public Domain. It came from an old book that someone had uploaded, although the page has since been taken down. The "Russian Dolls" are mine and I took the picture of them and amalgamated the two together.

WARNING - don't make your research questions or hypothesis public!

Do NOT post your research questions or hypothesis in a public place. Somebody else might think "Why didn't I think of that?" If they publish a paper on "your" hypothesis, bang goes your claim to unique and original content. That means BANG goes your Ph.D.! Only discuss with your supervisor.

Goldilocks? Russian Dolls?

How Can They Help Me Write My Ph. D.?

The Russian Dolls' principle and the Goldilocks test have a great deal to do with writing a Ph.D. They help you find your research question(s) which is a CRUCIAL part of writing a Ph.D. The Goldilocks test looks at whether your subject is too "hot" (e.g. of a sensitive nature), too big (would take several Ph.Ds to do) or just right. The Russian Dolls' principle helps you dig down under the surface of the research question you THINK you might write on, to find the correct question to start with. Both these ideas were showcased in a Harvard business book too, several years ago, so the ideas are good for any kind of thinking, not just for academic writing.

Note: It is important to understand that RESEARCH Questions are NOT survey or questionnaire questions. Those are the questions you might ask someone if you were carrying out a survey of some kind. Not all researchers use questionnaires but all researchers NEED Research Questions.

Research Questions - Tell Me More? - Do I need to know about Research Questions?

Helps people see if others also need to find out about Research Questions

Do You Need to Know about Research Questions?

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But What do I write about?

Finding the topics you want to write on

OK, it's all very well saying that you can refine your questions and make sure they are just right, but first, what is the actual topic you want to write about? How do you work that out? (You can skip this module if you already know the answer to this. On the other hand, you might just find out something useful. :))

You need to know what your topic is, so you can then work out the research questions on which you will focus your research work and for which you will do your literature review.

A really useful site to use is at: Education Plymouth University this is a web page on research in Education and it has some very useful points on it. It also covers Goldilocks and the Russian Dolls in a slightly different way from Clough and Nutbrown, although the ideas are taken from (and credited to) the Clough and Nutbrown book.

Section 1. of the Plymouth web page (about halfway down a very long page) helps you to generate ideas and questions for your research. Without these questions you won't get anywhere. They also help guide your work and give you a means of evaluating it (evaluating = "am I answering the question?").

You may also be able to get your research questions from the thesis title you signed up to when you started your Ph.D., or the thesis title you have now modified it to, in discussion with your supervisor. To give you an example of how this can be done, I did a search on "Ph.D. University" in Google and found a site called Find a Ph.D. Project. I have never seen that site before but it lists many Ph.D. opportunities in UK universities. Some of them are basically "click here to see all opportunities at our university", others give the full title of a Ph.D. you could apply for, for instance, Understanding neighbourhood effects - An analysis of Aberdeen Housing Sub-Markets. This kind of title will help you find research questions for your project. I know absolutely NOTHING about this subject but if I were doing research on this, my initial work would be around "neighbourhood projects" and "Housing sub-Markets in Aberdeen". These are very simplistic topics but the Goldilocks Test and the Russian Dolls principle, discussed in the next module, would help me refine these to something that could be used as part of my research. You will also find some information on developing topics like this into more complex questions further down this page.

Finding the Nuggets in the Deep Pond - You're looking for the small important things in a huge pool

Searching hard
Searching hard

A boy enjoys looking for critters in the water by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

This is a Public Domain picture from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Mind Map for Research Questions - This could go in your Research Journal

Mind Map on Research Questions
Mind Map on Research Questions

While you're reading this lens, make notes, draw diagrams, draw a mind map. They will all help you make connections and help you sort out the relationships between the various parts of your thesis.

A Student's Guide to Methodology by Clough and Nutbrown
A Student's Guide to Methodology by Clough and Nutbrown

Using the BOOK: A Student's Guide to Methodology

Get the basics from the book

Clough and Nutbrown wrote the book "The Student's Guide to Methodology", which includes the Goldilocks Test and the Russian Dolls Principle. The book has the basics of using these and I will cover these in this module. Clough and Nutbrown use the Russian Doll metaphor to illustrate how you need to dig deep into your original ideas for research to define the central kernel of what you will be looking at, that is, the tiny doll in the middle of all the layers. They then run these questions through the "Goldilocks Test", (too big, too small, too sensitive) to check out whether those questions are suitable for the current circumstances. For instance, research that focuses on an area of discrimination, using individual interviews might not be appropriate in the middle of a legal, political or media battle focusing on that area in that particular place at that particular time.

The Clough and Nutbrown book gives a detailed case study, starting on page 38, of how to set about devising research questions, starting from the initial decision to cover an area, details of the problems seen and key people involved. It then provides some draft research questions and shows how the Goldilocks Test and the Russian Dolls principle can be used to find the "Right" research questions for this study. It also provides a draft framework (table) that you can plug your own initial research questions into, to develop them into your final, refined research questions.

This method of refining research questions is further discussed and illustrated with different examples and a PowerPoint slideshow in the Plymouth Education site, which is covered in more detail in the next module.

Others have also provided additional information on using these to develop your Research Questions and this is also covered further down the lens.

Get the Book: A Student's Guide to Methodology

Plymouth Education Site

Internet site with detailed help on refining research questions

Plymouth University Education page is a very long page with a wealth of detailed, useful information. It bears close examination because it is extremely helpful for ANY area of research not just education. It also gives access to a very useful PowerPoint presentation which further explains the Goldilocks test and Russian Doll principle. I went through it with my Research Journal open by my side and just plugged MY areas into what they were saying and came up with useful credible research questions that have been accepted by the viva panel that my University requires all students to complete at the end of their first year of study. Watching the PowerPoint presentation will require having PowerPoint on your computer, as the link given will download the presentation to your computer. Once you open it and start it going, it runs automatically after that. The presentation can be accessed from this link, which downloads the presentation to your computer.

Sources for Research Question Development on the Internet

other places to find help

There are some useful sites on the Internet where you can find help on developing Research Questions.

One web site is at Gradshare.com This site gives a full explanation on developing research questions and gives some in-depth examples of how to pose a research question and 6 criteria to use.

These criteria are:

1. identify your theoretical construct

2. make it concrete and specific

3. in general, do not include your data source (some exceptions)

4. identify YOUR contribution to theory

5. make sure the answer is not already known

6. should have the capacity to generate complex results.

This web site gives specific examples and clarifies exactly how each of these criteria should be used. It also provides a VERY useful list of the types of question beginnings that typify research questions that are likely to produce robust findings. It also suggests that you develop only one research question but gives an example of where more than one would be necessary, such as where basic information about a theoretical construct does not exist.

Conceptual Conversations

University of Texas

This website suggests that you find a partner with whom you can have some long conversations for developing your dissertation topic. This may not necessarily be at Ph.D. level, however, the site gives some VERY useful questions that you can use to choose a topic and develop your proposal. The site appears to be primarily aimed at those just starting out on the research process and uses what it calls "conceptual conversations". If your supervisor is not available and you can't find a willing partner to listen and keep you talking, these questions could also be used as prompts for writing in your research journal. You do HAVE a Research Journal?

Research Journal - Do you have a Research Journal?

An entry in my research journal
An entry in my research journal

A research journal is vital for anyone doing research of any kind. It isn't for showing to anyone else (unless you choose). It is ONLY for you. It can be hardcopy or electronic, it can have lined paper or plain, it can include doodles, newspaper clippings, cartoons, odd notes, observations, references to books and articles you think might be useful, films you have seen or notes on a program you heard on the radio, or an overheard conversation on the bus. It is useful for students, writers of all kinds, artists, cooks experimenting with new recipes, artisans or craft workers wanting to keep records of new techniques and materials tried, in short, anyone who needs to remember something! It does NOT require perfection, it's NOT for sharing (unless you choose), so it can be as messy as you like, with notes, different colors of ink, stuck in bits, elastic bands and sticky bits holding things in, provided you can interpret it when you need it! If you find it difficult to break the tyranny of a blank sheet of paper, waiting for a da Vinci or Einsteinian comment, then write in bold letters at the top: "NOT SURE MODE". That can help break the thought patterns that your writing or inclusions will not be good enough. They will be good enough for the purpose that you need. :)

Have you got a Research Journal?

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Writer's Block
Writer's Block

I Can't Get Started to Write!

Get Writing

Someone (even before the advent of typewriters and word processors) once found that it was difficult to overcome "the tyranny of the blank page". That's why it's called writers' block - writer's are "blocked" from writing and not necessarily from the visit to the pub or evening BBQ session the night before! There is more on how to break the block in my previous lens in this series, on Best Books and Posts for Your PH.D.

Have You Got Writer's Block? - Do you want help to overcome writer's block?

There are a great many books available on getting stuck into writing of any kind, not just your Ph.D. Your writing might be a lens, a poem, a cookery recipe, a letter, a novel, an instruction manual, a screenplay, anything at all. Would you be interested in a lens about getting writing, and about overcoming Writer's Block?

Would you like to know how to overcome Writer's Block?

See results

More Useful Sites for helping develop your Research Questions

Research Questions (continued)

Developing research questions - PDF download

dissertation recipes PDF download

This site provides a downloadable 3-page PDF document which gives you information and examples of research questions in a number of different areas, mainly education and social sciences. It also provides a useful checklist that you can use to test your research questions against.

Develop your dissertation topic

help on writing your dissertation

This site provides help on understanding the requirements for a dissertation and how to manage this large piece of work

Writing

Get writing

If you enjoyed this hub and would now like to write one yourself, why not join Hub Pages? Joining any writing site and doing some writing will help you with your thesis or dissertation. Even join a blogging site - by writing a little every day, you can improve your motivation and ability to write your dissertation.

This lens has covered how to produce a research question when writing and researching for your Ph.D. (doctorate). Please share your thoughts on this.

Your Thoughts on Producing Research Questions?

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    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      7 months ago

      Thank you very much. We can learn a lot from fairy tales and other old works

    • RobinReenters profile image

      Robin Carretti 

      7 months ago from Hightstown

      It's fascinating what you can learn out of things you hold so dear to your heart I loved Goldilocks and the Russian dolls is a work like no other art your read was delightfully inspiring to me thanks

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      10 months ago

      Goldilocks has turned out to be a very useful person, from a start as a burglar!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      10 months ago from England

      The term goldilocks is used so much these days, from Astronomy to math etc. this is so useful for people who need this information.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      17 months ago from Texas

      Thank you so much for the clarification, I have not thought of fairy tales in that way, I wish I had thought of them in that way long ago.

      Blessings always

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      17 months ago

      Hi Shyron,

      I look on Goldilocks and the three bears as being a fairy tale, though I suppose it doesn't actually include any fairies. The term "goldilocks" is used quite a lot in science these days as denoting an area that is neither too much nor too little, as in "The earth occupies a Goldilocks slot in its orbit around the sun", because it is neither too close (and thus too hot) nor too far away (and thus too cold). Goldilocks provides a good way of explaining certain concepts, as does Red Riding Hood (don't talk to strangers, don't wander from the path), Sleeping Beauty (you can't keep children from ALL sources of harm, better teach them how to deal with it rather than hide it all away) and The Three Billy Goats Gruff (if you are greedy, you may lose the lot). Other stories cover these points too, including Aesop's fables and many of the country-specific fairy takes.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      18 months ago from Texas

      I came back to read this again.

      Fairy stories? Sorry I don't understand the reference.

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      18 months ago

      Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. Fairy stories can have so many uses!

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      19 months ago from Texas

      Hello RoadMonkey, this is a useful and informative hub and I am sure I will be back often.

      Blessings from one grandma to another

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      20 months ago

      Two very interesting subjects!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      20 months ago from England

      This was really interesting. I didn't actually go on to college or university, but I did go to evening classes in psychology and creative writing, really useful for readers.

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      2 years ago

      I have a set of Russian dolls, someone gave me and I used those for the picture.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      There obviously is little chance that I'll be getting my doctorate anytime soon, but this got me to thinking that I don't think I've ever actually seen Russian dolls, and for some reason I find that amazing. Of course I've seen them on television and in magazines, but I've never actually held one.....now I need to rectify that deficiency. :)

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      3 years ago

      Thank you very much

    • justmesuzanne profile image

      justmesuzanne 

      3 years ago from Texas

      An unusual topic very thoroughly covered! Voted up, useful and interesting! :)

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 

      3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      wonderful article, i thought this is a remake story

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      3 years ago

      Thank you very much

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      This is a great article and I am sure you will be very successful in all you do. Very good advice.

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      4 years ago

      Thank you very much Suzette. I think I can learn a great deal from you and how you share your own and others' work and the amount of research you put into your topics!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      4 years ago from Taos, NM

      Wonderful article on a good strategy for writing a dissertation for a PhD degree. I like your analogies to Goldilocks and Russian Dolls as they work well for this topic. This brought back memories for me as I have written a Master's Thesis and I had to come up with research questions and follow the research methodology. I can just imagine what you are going through writing a dissertation. You give great suggestions and advice. The best advice is not telling anyone about your research. They can read it when you are published!

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 

      4 years ago from Arizona

      I don't have a Ph.D. but I think that a lot of your advice applies to writing in general and I found it very interesting.

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      4 years ago

      @susan369: Thank you! And, thanks for visiting.

    • profile image

      susan369 

      4 years ago

      Wow, I admire you for taking on a PhD in your retirement. A very informative lens!

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      4 years ago

      @lesliesinclair: Yes, I think that's very true. Thanks for visiting and commenting

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 

      4 years ago

      Knowing what difference the idea does or will make is critical for me to make a connection with my motivation factor, regarding writing.

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      4 years ago

      @TreasuresBrenda: Yes, indeed, not always, but in terms of a PhD, your research MUST be new and unique (novel), so you don't give away your ideas until you publish them as yours. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 

      4 years ago from Canada

      Keeping a good idea close to your chest is important in many walks of life!

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      4 years ago

      @mel-kav: Thank you for your comments and for visiting.

    • mel-kav profile image

      mel-kav 

      4 years ago

      Very informative and useful strategies here. Well presented lens. Thanks for sharing.

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      4 years ago

      @rob-hemphill: Keeping focused is useful. Thanks for visiting

    • rob-hemphill profile image

      Rob Hemphill 

      4 years ago from Ireland

      Very interesting read. Keeping focused while writing without interruption or deviation is the key for me.

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      4 years ago

      @smine27: Sometimes, it's useful to draw out a mindmap of what you have already done on that lens. It then usually "pops out" at you, as to what is missing. I find that happening for me, anyway. Thanks for visiting.

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 

      4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Strange how I have lots of ideas but I still get writer's block sometimes...right in the middle of creating a lens!

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      4 years ago

      @TanoCalvenoa: Yes, I often find my best ideas arriving while I am in bed or the bath or doing something that occupies my hands, such as ironing or the dishes. Thanks for visiting.

    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 

      4 years ago

      I'm glad I don't have writer's block. Problem for me is finding enough time to write down all my ideas.

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you very much and thank you for visiting.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      Impressive lens, keep the good work. :)

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      5 years ago

      @Pat Goltz: Glad you found it enlightening. Thank you very much for visiting and commenting.

    • Pat Goltz profile image

      Pat Goltz 

      5 years ago

      I always thought your major professor basically came up with the question, though obviously you have a right to make suggestions, and to veto an idea or work with him to come up with the question. This was enlightening.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      Love the Russian Dolls always have done I have never had any but still like to see them just the same.xxx

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      5 years ago

      @anonymous: That must have been a great school! Wish my teachers had known about it when I was at school but that was a very long time ago. :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      We had a method similar to this taught to us at School and it has stayed with me forever I can tell you.

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      5 years ago

      @ismeedee: Thank you for visiting. Glad you liked the lens. Yes, Goldilocks is very useful, isn't she?

    • ismeedee profile image

      ismeedee 

      5 years ago

      Wow this is a great resource for university students and the Goldlilocks analogy is a good one. Astronomers coin the phrase Goldilocks Zone which refers to the area in space where it is not too hot or too cold to sustain life!

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      5 years ago

      @Kalafina: Thank you for visiting. Sorry to hear about your illness, I hope it improves and you can get back to reading medical journals. My father used to get medical journals when I was a child and I used to love reading through them!

    • Kalafina profile image

      Kalafina 

      5 years ago

      Loved this lens. I wanted to study fibrodysplasia ossicans progressiva in zebrafish or using viruses (no level 4 viral hemorrhagic fevers!) as a means to possibly use for gene therapy. I must be honest. Because of my now health problems I have difficulty reading long paragraps together so I had to do more of a skim then full read of your work. Ah how I miss those days of medical journals! Congrats on your success in life!

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you very much. Glad you liked them and thank you for your visit.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      My goodness your articles are so interesting. I'm impressed once again. :)

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      5 years ago

      @TolovajWordsmith: Yes, narrowing the research to something you can actually do and complete can be tough. Hopefully Golidlocks can help with that. Thank you for visiting.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 

      5 years ago from Ljubljana

      I like to research and it seems good questions are really not so hard to find when you dig in interesting material. Staying focused and narrowing the research is much harder, at least for me...

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      5 years ago

      @Cari Kay 11: Thank you. Glad you liked it.

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      5 years ago

      @TaraWojt: Thank you very much

    • Cari Kay 11 profile image

      Kay 

      5 years ago

      Your bio alone has me blessing this page but, really, great information!!!

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      6 years ago

      @TaraWojt: Thank you very much.

    • TaraWojt profile image

      Tara Wojtaszek 

      6 years ago

      Very interesting and well presented.

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      6 years ago

      Thank you very much for visiting. We all have our strengths in different areas and I would not have been able to do this study back when I was young because I would not have had the skills or tenacity. We can do different things at different times. :)

    • Annbulance2000 profile image

      Annbulance2000 

      6 years ago

      I think I know why I did not go to university and went to college instead.I can see how you will achieve a PHD and I would struggle even to start one. Well done for being so tenacious and good luck. I was merely attracted by the matryoshka. To me they symbolise my family all hugging one another. Thanks for this interesting lense. I am afraid my brain does not work well with the information you have provided, but that's not unusual, my school reports were mostly, "Anna is a difficult person to help, she does not seem to pay attention when it is needed." however I am going to visit another of your lenses because I like your layout and approach with words and somehow I find you inspiring.

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      6 years ago

      @TheGourmetCoffe: Thank you very much X 3! LOL

    • TheGourmetCoffe profile image

      TheGourmetCoffe 

      6 years ago

      Enjoyed your lens very much, quite insightful, thank you for sharing your insights! Also "liked" your lens!

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      6 years ago

      @JoshK47: Thank you very much.

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      6 years ago

      @Stress-Coach: Thanks. Glad it's useful for you. That's always nice to know.

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      6 years ago

      @stacytm lm: No, I don't think so. LOL Though it's very nice of you to say that. I think the main requirement is dogged persistence!

    • RoadMonkey profile imageAUTHOR

      RoadMonkey 

      6 years ago

      @strategery: Thanks very much. You're welcome. I am only now able to see the comments. I was getting emails about them but unable to see them.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 

      6 years ago

      Very interesting!

    • profile image

      Stress-Coach 

      6 years ago

      again another fantastic lens very valuable information for some research I am doing for my business thank you

    • stacytm lm profile image

      stacytm lm 

      6 years ago

      you must be very clever :)

    • profile image

      strategery 

      6 years ago

      Very good info to have! Thank you for sharing!

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