Sustainability: Research Problem

Research Proposals in Sustainability organize elements of the research problem into three main sections:

  1. A brief Introduction to the research problem followed by a special section (a b-head) on Research Objectives and Significance
  2. A substantial Background section which reviews previous work on the problem, leading to justifying your own original research (see Background of the Problem)
  3. A clear presentation of your Research Questions and Hypotheses, with a Specific Aims section that lists the specific research tasks needed to address these

Research Objectives and Significance 

After beginning with a paragraph or two introducing the research problem, you should then provide a road map for your background review of the problem.

  • The broad objectives or goals of your research should echo the more specific research questions and hypotheses you will present after your review of background information
  • Your brief explanation of the significance of your research topic should answer the question: Why should we care?

Research Questions and Hypotheses

The Background review should funnel logically towards - and justify - your own research questions. There is some variation here for different types of thesis research problems.

  • Clear research questions and hypotheses concisely represent the research goals, or
  • The thesis involves modeling different scenarios to examine tradeoffs between variables (e.g., GIS modeling or cost-benefit analysis). Even in these cases, however, identify a set of questions and hypotheses that are examined by model scenarios
  • You may find that you have a single major research question and multiple specific hypotheses you will examine - or some other combination

Research questions must be answerable with your methods of data collection and analysis; research hypotheses must be testable.

Research Hypotheses

  • Test predictions of relationships between variables, comparisons among cases, etc.
  • Refer to specific variables or metrics and imply the type of analysis you will use (e.g., X is expected to increase with variable Y; case A will have higher metrics than B)

Finally, dissect the research questions and hypotheses in a Specific Aims section -- listing the tasks required to address the questions or test the hypotheses

  • This makes it easy to understand how answering questions and testing hypotheses will be addressed with the methods and research design covered in the next section of your proposal