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Eddy博士將解釋國際期刊出版的基本知識,與您分享他作為一名研究員多年來積累的經驗。他會不定期撰寫有關期刊出版的重要內容。請閱讀Eddy博士分享如何成功發表論文的技巧。


發表計畫
找到對的研究問題是成功出版的第一步

撰寫學術論文最首要步驟是選擇可拓展知識和為科學及人文研究增添新元素的主題。因此,期刊編輯顯然不可能接受一篇研究問題不夠好的論文。

明確的研究問題可使研究人員更清晰地發展研究計畫、設計研究和分析數據,從而提升論文的出版機會。1,2明確的研究問題還能給期刊編輯和同儕評審良好的第一印象。相反地,不當的研究問題則會產生反效果,降低出版機會就是其中之一,因為這可能表示這份研究沒有經過慎重的考量。3

雖然一篇論文可包括多個研究問題,但最好的做法是著重在一個主要研究問題。那麼要如何才能確定研究問題是否恰當呢?雖然答案可能會根據論文類型和不同學科而有所差異,但無論是撰寫關於莎士比亞、幹細胞或是鋼鐵加工的論文,仍有幾條需確記的準則。

那會如何?

所有研究問題最重要的是能通過“那會如何?”的考驗:通過研究問題推導出的結論必須重要、有趣且有內涵。一旦您已經決定可能的研究結果,總要問自己“那會如何?”。

舉例來說,“優秀的外科醫生較容易有長手指?”這樣的研究問題顯然不可能會產生有價值的知識。相反地,一個目標明確的研究問題如“靈敏度測試能預測醫生的手術能力嗎?”則可幫助醫療培訓專家改善手術技巧培訓課程。
不明顯性

研究成果缺乏獨創性,也就是創新性,是論文退稿最常見的原因之一。科學期刊編輯強調創新和“不明顯性”,研究問題不能已有明顯或確切的答案。4,5某些期刊有高達90%的拒稿率,因此,透過以下方式確保論文與眾不同且提供重要價值
  1. 貢獻實用的新資訊或可引起進一步的研究
  2. 結合現有資訊並拓展其普遍性和應用性
  3. 提供可推翻文獻記載的證據
  4. 審查、分析文獻記錄
好的研究問題可從對現有慣例和問題有批判性思考、對舊問題採用新觀念或新方法以及當您向他人教導相關主題時所產生的想法而產生。7

複製有時也是可接受的

並非所有的論文都必須提供絕對未知的資訊。例如:可探討其他研究者的研究成果是否可複製(尤其是存在爭議或證據不足但又非常有意義的研究成果〉、針對某一群體的結論是否也適用在其他群體或採用新方法解釋已知關係;一項可證明他人的研究成果而消除其侷限性的研究也非常有意義。7

如果您的研究結論滿足以上三個要求,則您可能已找到了有價值的研究問題了。

尋找和確定恰當研究問題的技巧

臨床實驗或田野調查以及您自己的研究興趣對於確定潛在研究方向非常重要。然而,仔細查閱既有文獻,來確定研究問題沒有失去關聯性也是非常必要的。此外,還應隨時掌握學科領域發展避免重覆別人已做過的研究〈現今生活充斥非常多科學資訊,這已不再是不可能發生的事了〉。

您也可以透過查閱文獻尋找新的研究問題。例如:許多論文的「討論」部分都會談到未解決的問題及可從事的其他實驗或研究。尤其是當某項研究的結論或普遍性存在爭議時,您可嘗試複製實驗來驗證其結論。4總之,當您發現既有文獻的漏洞和缺點時,就有可能找到恰當的研究問題。

還有很多其他找到恰當的研究問題的方法,參加學術會議就是其中之一,在學術會議中可能會發表近期的新發展,或者研究成果在未發表前,特定領域裡的活躍研究人員早有聽聞7,因此參加這樣的學術會議以及與領域專家交流,對自己的研究也會十分有幫助。贊助機構發出的研究計畫徵稿通知也可能啟發您的研究想法並獲得贊助。

有幾個具體框架來幫助研究人員按照步驟和因素確定研究問題,例如:PICOT、PESICO和FINER。利用這些框架可為研究人員,尤其是無經驗者提供有組織的創意發想,進一步確定研究問題。

PICOT: 人群、干預、對比、 結果、 時間範圍

PESICO: 人群/問題、環境、利害關係人、干預對比、結果

FINER: 可行性、趣味性、創新性、道德、關聯性

SPICE: 環境、人群、干預、對比、評估

使用PICOT確定研究問題
P: 年齡(成年病患)
I: 綜合療法(硬膜外陣痛配合醋氨酚和非類固醇抗炎藥物)
C: 單一療法(例如:硬膜外鎮痛)
O: 疼痛指數(及噁心或嘔吐)
T: 手術後24小時

research questions 研究問題: 對於成年病患進行排程手術,在手術24小時內,與硬膜外單一療法相比〈單模式〉,硬膜外陣痛配合醋氨酚配合非類固醇抗炎藥物治療〈多模式陣痛〉是否會有更高的疼痛指數及更低的附作用〈即噁心或嘔吐〉?
資料來源:Thabane et al. (2009)3

使用PESICO確定研究問題

人群/問題
(P)
一個發育不良的10歲兒童,幾乎喪失語言功能,但有良好協調功能
環境
(E)
目前在自足式特殊班教室上課,有時會參加普通班的活動
利害關係人
(S)
他的跨領域協助團隊,決定使用手語作為適合的溝通方式
干預
(I)
最有用或最有效率教導手語的方法是什麼
對比
(C)
與其他方法比較
結果
(O)
包括表情及/或傳神的自然語言或接受式語言?


結論
總而言之,研究問題是所有學術論文最關鍵的要素,也是論文發表過程中的首要環節。如果論文的研究成果無原創性、能夠輕易預測或沒有價值,則論文的出版機會可能性就會很小。此外,如果您的研究“使用錯誤的模型或研究設計、收集數據時無法有意義地評估假設條件、或測量次數太少導致得出的結論無法令人信服“9,花些時間確定適合的研究問題,可幫助您避免這些問題。

Contributors
Finding the right research question is the first step to successful publication

The first and most important step when writing an academic paper is choosing a topic that will advance knowledge and add another building block to the study of science and humanity. As a corollary, it*s quite unlikely that a journal editor will accept a paper that does not have a good research question.

A clearly defined research question increases chances of publication, because it gives the researchers greater clarity on developing the study protocol, designing the study, and analyzing the data.1,2 A well-defined research question also makes a good initial impression on journal editors and peer reviewers. In contrast, a poorly formulated research question can seriously harm your chances of publication, among other adverse effects, because it can easily lead to the perception that the research wasn*t well thought out.3

Although a single paper can address more than one research question, it is good practice to focus on one primary research question.3 So what makes a good research question? While the answer may vary for different types of papers and across disciplines, there are a few overall criteria that you should keep in mind, whether you are writing about Shakespeare, stem cells, or steel processing.

So what?

First and foremost, any research question should pass the ※so what?§ test4: the findings that result from pursuing this question must be important, interesting, and meaningful. Once you have determined the possible outcomes of your research, always ask yourself ※So what?§

For example, the research question ※Are good surgeons likely to have long fingers?§ is highly unlikely to yield any meaningful knowledge. On the other hand, a targeted question like ※Do dexterity tests predict surgical performance among residents?§ could help medical training professionals improve training programs in surgical techniques.
Unobviousness

Lack of originality in findings - in other words, ※novelty§ - is one of the most common reasons for rejection by journals. Editors of scientific journals stress on novelty and ※unobviousness§; the research question should not already have an obvious or undisputed answer.4,5 As some journals reject up to 90% of the papers submitted for publication, it is important to ensure that your paper stands out and provides value in one of the following ways6:
  1. contributes new information that has real-world application or leads to further lines of research,
  2. corroborates existing information and extends their generalizability or applicability,
  3. provides findings that contradict the literature, or
  4. critically reviews and analyzes the literature.
Good research questions can arise from critical thinking about current practices and problems, from applying new concepts or methods to old problems, and from ideas that emerge when you teach your subject to others. 7

Replication is acceptable#sometimes

Not all papers convey absolutely unknown information. For instance, it may be interesting to know whether other researchers* observations can be replicated (especially if the observations were controversial or weak but significant), whether the findings in one population also apply to others, or to clarify known relationships by using new methodologies. A study that validates the findings of other ones while doing away with their limitations can also be very useful.7

If your findings are likely to fulfill the above three requirements, you*ve probably got a worthwhile research question.

Tips for finding and formulating good research questions

Clinical or field experience, as well as your own research interests, is obviously important in identifying potential lines of research. However, a thorough review of the existing literature is always critical to make sure your question hasn*t become irrelevant. In addition, keep abreast of current developments in the field to avoid doing the very same thing someone else has done (with the enormous amount of scientific output being produced nowadays, this is not an unlikely scenario).

You can also find new research questions from the literature. For instance, the Discussion section of many papers often mentions unresolved questions and additional experiments or studies that can be done. In particular, if the conclusions or generalizability of another study has attracted a lot of controversy, you could attempt to replicate the study in order to validate its results.4 In sum, a good research question can arise when you identify gaps and weaknesses in the existing literature.

There are a number of other ways of finding a good research question. Attending conferences is one of them. Recent advances in a particular field may be presented at academic conferences or just be known to active researchers in a particular field long before they are published.7 Thus, participating in such conferences and networking with experts in the field can be a valuable aid in your own research. Invitations for research proposals by funding bodies can also give you specific research ideas that are likely to be approved for funding.

Specific frameworks have been developed to help researchers formulate research questions step by step and factor by factor. Examples of such frameworks are PICOT, PESICO, and FINER.3,8 Using these templates can give researchers, especially novice researchers, a structured method for brainstorming and finalizing their research questions.

PICOT: Population, Intervention, Control, Outcome, Time Frame

PESICO: Person/problem, Environments, Stakeholders, Intervention, Comparison, Outcomes

FINER: Feasible, Interesting, Novel, Ethical, Relevant

SPICE: Setting, Population, Intervention, Comparison, Evaluation

Using PICOT to build the research question
P: Age (adult patients)
I: Multimodal treatment (epidural analgesia in combination with acetaminophen and NSAIDs)
C: Single-modal treatment (e.g., epidural alone)
O: Pain score (nausea or vomiting)
T: Over 24 hours following surgery

research questions Research Question: In adult patients undergoing elective surgery, does treatment with epidural analgesia in combination with acetaminophen and NSAIDs
(multi-modal analgesia) compared with epidural alone
(single-modal) lead to better pain scores and less side-effects (i.e. nausea or vomiting) over 24 hours following surgery?
Source: Thabane et al. (2009) 3

Using PESICO to build the research question

Person/Problem (P) In a 10-year old child with developmental disabilities and little or no functional speech but good fine-motor skills Environment
(E)
who is currently attending a self-contained classroom and part-time included in regular class activities
Stakeholders (S) whose interdisciplinary support team has determined to target manual signing as an appropriate mode of communication Intervention
(I)
what strategy is most effective or efficient for introducing manual signs
Comparison
(C)
as compared to other strategies
Outcomes
(O)
in terms of expressive signing, and/or expressive natural speech, and/or receptive speech?

Source
: Schlosser, Koul, & Costello (2007)8

Finally, a novice researcher can greatly benefit from having a good mentor. A senior colleague who not only has more experience in doing studies but also whose work is published in peer-reviewed journals can provide very valuable advice. Another excellent guide would be a statistician, who can guide you in choosing the right sample size, units of analysis, and determinants of statistical significance.

Conclusion
To conclude, the research question is the most crucial element of any academic paper and the first and most important stage in the publication process. A paper with results that are unoriginal, predictable, or trivial is less likely to be published. Further, it may be of no use to rewrite or change the presentation of your paper if your study has ※used the wrong model or study design, collected data in a manner that would not allow a meaningful examination of the hypothesis, or made too few measurements to permit confident conclusions to be drawn.§9 Spending time to develop a well-formulated research question will help you avoid these problems.
Contributors