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Write Your Questions Down Before You Pay for Your Research

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My last article for this department addresses the problems of failing to collect the data needed for an analysis because the business questions that need to be answered were not thought through before the research was done. Note that I said "business" questions, not "research" questions or "survey" questions (etc.). Someone, perferably the end user who is asking the questions (and footing the bill for the research in the process), needs to write down exactly what it is he wants to know from the research and whether it involves a survey, secondary data analysis, focus groups, or any other formal activity.

Writing down business questions to be answered helps several people in the research process. First and foremost, it helps the end user articulate exactly what his problem is and what he needs to know. The end user should not have to write down statements about level of confidence, Type II error, or any of the other mumbo-jumbo usually used to smokescreen the results. However, the end user should be able to write down a clearly defined business question and expect an answer and a construct to get that answer.

The process of listing business questions before data collection for analysis is similar to what has been called "developing an analysis plan." The analysis plan is actually the second step in the research process, because you first need to know the questions to be answered. And they cannot be ambiguous questions--they have to get to a specific point.

Writing down the questions protects the end user in two ways--it makes expectations clear to the research team assisting with the research (as in how to answer questions--are numbers expected or just a simple yes or no?) and it makes it possible to determine when a question is being asked that cannot...