Research projects form an important part of theological education. But where do you begin? More importantly, how do you lay a foundation in research that will yield fruitful and trust-worthy results? At least part of that answer lies in establishing a strong foundation to support your investigative work. There are eight significant steps in establishing a research question and a hypothesis.
I lay out the eight-step process of “narrowing and fastening” the initial phase of determining your research question and hypothesis in a recent example from my own work (see Berner, 2013). I have used the public policy case I am working on at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (let the acclaimed School of Government there receive due credit for the guided insights here). These steps (in a Master of Public Administration research project) are similar to the preliminary research work I conducted at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David’s College (Doctor of Philosophy studies). You can use this model for your own work in theological studies (or otherwise) at any academic level. Be sure, however, that you follow your institution’s guidence.
I quote my research process paper in full here for your benefit. It was originally layed out in Turabian.
“Having enjoyed the insights of my colleagues on my previous research question I, now, wish to submit a 2.0 version with slight, but necessary, amendment.
The Eight Steps in Research Design
- Explain the larger issue you are researching: There is considerable anecdotal evidence that recent social changes mandated by civilian political administrations has had an impact on the career decisions of U.S. Armed Forces Chaplains. In the U.S. Armed Forces, as in the military-naval forces of British, Canadian, and other Western nations, Chaplains are commissioned officers. The Department of Defense, through the Army, Navy, and Air Force, invests a considerable amount of tax-payer dollars to the training of these officers. For a significant number of officers the repeal of “Don’t ask-Don’t Tell” and the “Defense of Marriage Act” has created uncomfortable ethical challenges, at best, and forced early career-ending decisions about service in the military, at worst.
- Isolate the singular problem that requires your research: If the scenario related above has, indeed, created a climate in which the nation’s Armed Forces Chaplains are leaving, then the nation should understand the essential problem: a climate, potentially, exists that is perceived as restrictions on First Amendment rights that are having an impact on officer retention.
- Describe the problem: Many perceive that the recent social changes to basic human and family relationships have created an environment that restricts the freedom of religion of Armed Forces Chaplains. Caveats for implementation of the social order changes have been given for Chaplains, but perception may be reality. The perception is that there is undue pressure to conform to a system of values that has no precedent and is out of sync with the faith of the Chaplain corps, comprised of Christian and Jewish clergy.
- State what do you need to know, generally, to answer your research question (s): We need to discover if the perception actually does exist and if so how that perception is impacting retention.
- State what do you need to know, specifically, to answer your research question (s): Has the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act created a perception of religious restriction that is leading to Chaplains resigning their commission?
- State what you need to know, more exactly, to answer your research question (s): How, exactly, has the repeal of sanctity of marriage policies impacted retention in the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps? Has it impacted some denominations more than others? Has it created retention issues in, e.g., Captains more than Majors?
- Explain how you will gather your data for your research: We will seek data collected from surveys on a test group to inform, confirm, or deny the hypothesis and test it against a controlling factor by comparing the retention rates of U.S. Army Chaplain Corps with the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps.
- State the present quality of the available data (literature, studies, etc.) to support your research: A preliminary review suggests that the data are limited and an instrument must be created (e.g., a survey for a representative test group of Army and Navy Chaplains) to test the hypothesis and answer the research question and subsidiary questions.
The Research Question
How have recent policy changes regarding sanctity of marriage impacted Chaplain Retention in the United States Army?
The previous question was too broad and faced considerable challenges on both data and time feasibility. This revised question more carefully narrows the research and uses one service as a controlling
The recent policy changes concerning Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act in the U.S. Armed Forces have created a perception of restrictions on religious liberty that is negatively impacting Chaplain Retention in the U.S. Army.”
Copyright © 2015 MICHAEL A. MILTON, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. Please use and dissiminate this for free educational use with appropriate citation.
Berner, Maureen. Statistics for Public Administration: Practical Uses for Better Decision Making. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: ICMA Press, 2013.