Developing a research question is an essential step in the research process as it determines the research direction to be taken. Sandberg and Alvesson (2011) point out that the development of innovative research questions is particularly important because the questions open up new research areas, can be instrumental in resolving long-standing controversies and is also capable of integrating different approaches to research, hence turning the research approaches conventional. A good research question grounded incredible theory helps in establishing research hypotheses that are effective towards attaining the intended research objectives.
There are various ways of developing research questions. Sandberg and Alvesson (2011) describe the gap-spotting technique for the development of research questions with the argument that it is the most commonly used approach, and can vary in size and complexity. Gap–spotting is the method of choice in research question development by many researchers because of its advantages such as: it is less demanding, uncontroversial and safe, it is founded on a scientific ideal of knowledge accumulation, is encouraged by many crediting institutions in academia, it is also encouraged by most contemporary journal formats, it always makes sense in application, and the alternative approach is difficult (Sandberg & Alvesson, 2011). There are however other approaches to the formation of research questions including critical confrontation, development of new ideas, quasi problematization and problematization (Sandberg & Alvesson, 2011). The choice of a research question will influence the choice of methods in research as well as the research outcomes and their implications in management practice.
The other approach to research hypothesis generation is the problematization method. Problematization entails a series of six steps that include the application of six principles namely, identification of literature domain, identification of the assumptions underlying the identified domain, evaluation of the different assumptions, development of alternative grounds for other assumptions, consideration of the new assumptions within the context of the intended audience and evaluation of the alternative assumptions (Alvesson & Sandberg, 2011). Identifying the area of interest is also mentioned by Ratan, Anand and Rata (2019) as the preliminary step in the development of any research question, whether through problematization or gap-spotting. Therefore, the outlined problematization principles can also be considered as steps towards effective research hypothesis development and are applicable in any form of research.
The gap-spotting and the problematization techniques in the development of research questions are not mutually exclusive. By exploring the existing gaps in the literature, it is possible to develop theories that link the existing information to the information that would have filled in the gap. The studies by Alvesson and Sandberg (2011), and Sandberg and Alvesson (2011) present a continuum of research on the development of research hypotheses. Both articles extend the discussions of the other, introducing new concepts and highlighting the existing gaps, a combination of both problematization and gap-spotting.
The proposed research question based on the outlined methods is as follows:
Does effective leader-member exchange result in enhanced organizational performance measured in revenues?
The corresponding research hypothesis is:
There is a positive correlation between effective leader-member exchange and organizational performance in revenues.
Alvesson, M., & Sandberg, J. (2011). Generating research questions through problematization. Academy of Management Review, 36(2), 247-271.
Ratan, S. K., Anand, T., & Ratan, J. Formulation of research question – stepwise approach. Journal of Indian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, 24(1), 15-20. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6322175/
Sandberg, J., & Alvesson, M. (2011). Ways of construction research questions: gap-spotting or problematization? Organization, 18, 23-44.