Who, What, Where, When, Why, and other W's...except of course How: Another Jumbled Sense-Making Ramble
The week of December 15, 2008...that is my set deadline to have my End of Coursework questions set in stone. That's about 7 weeks away, so I need to get seriously ponderous! I was on the bus today, standing room only, being jostled about and thinking about what my questions should be.
Certainly when writing research questions (such as those for a dissertation) one has to consider the famous W's (who, what, where, when, why) and the odd H (how). In a field such as Information Science, asking who, where, and when questions don't typically make for deep engaging studies, as one has an idea of the population being studied and at what point in time/space the sample is coming from. So that leaves what, why, and "how" questions. I had one professor who insisted that how questions SHOULD make up 90-95% of research questions in our field. Yet, the professor I have worked with who is the most widely published in the field that I know personally, almost always poses "what" questions. I think most would be somewhere in the middle, and the rule of thumb I have always tried to follow is to ask the question that is appropriate to the research question at hand. For my EoC, I suspect these will be "what" questions.
"What" questions largely imply gaining insight into the nature of a phenomenon, while "how" questions largely imply understanding a process, or perhaps a theory. For example, in the research group I am in, we are studying FLOSS (free/libre open source software) development teams, and we are trying to understand the different types of contributions different categories of team members make (which I will refer to as roles). So we often ask questions such as "what are the differences between XXXX and YYYY roles in how they contribute to the development of blah blah blah". To ask a question like "why does, or how do XXXX and YYYY contribute differently to the development of blah blah blah" implies that there is a clear existing difference. Such a question would be great as a follow up, should a difference be evidenced previously. However, if we want to study a FLOSS process such as software development, we might want to ask "how does XXXX contribute to the development of blah blah blah, and how does YYYY contribute to the development of blah blah blah". This is descriptive of process, or useful in theory building (which is a manner of describing a phenomenon). To take this "how" question and turn it into a "what" (such as "what differences do XXXX and YYYY contribute", which as worded would be a follow up) considers the fundamentals and descriptions thereof, but not necessarily process.
The lines are somewhat blurry, and I have perhaps not done the best job of articulating the inherent assumptions of the various W's and the odd H. My bumpy bus ride, or lack of sleep may be to blame. What I have concluded though is that for EoC I will probably be asking "what" questions. End of Coursework is about demonstrating mastery of the field (what most programs call comprehensive or qualitative exams). One has to show balance of both depth (deep knowledge of a very narrow tiny subject matter) and bredth (knowledge of related subjects and awareness of how they all tie together). So its all about "what", right?
I was firmly decided on "what" questions until I began articulating and reasoning this out. "What" may provide many of the foundational necessities to master a field. Yet, I may want to ask "how" questions as well, as to understand the process of evolution of the subject matter I am considering. "Why" questions may be beneficial as well because they can provide roots of relevence, or additional depth to compliment "what" questions. And I probably shouldn't ignore "when" and "where", because I need to identify my narrow slice of academia in the spot of time/space it belongs.
Yah, so...back to square one!
But seriously, I suspect I will be building the buttress of my EoC on "what"s, siding it with "how", and reinforcing it with "why". Seven weeks to go...
Let's see how many times my mind changes between now and then...