It is raining. You are enjoying the cold breeze, clouds and drizzle. Finally, a break from the scorching heat. You are feeling a little romantic. You go to your room and observe that your lightbulb is not working.

What the hell! You say. And think;

Why is my bulb not working today? (Scientific question)

You come up with different possible answers (hypotheses);

  1. There is no electricity: load-shedding, welcome to Pakistan.
  2. The bulb is fused.
  3. Something is wrong with the wiring of my room.

The most important parts of a research proposal are its scientific question and hypothesis. The proposals usually have two problems; either no scientific question and hypothesis are defined or they are poorly defined. What is a scientific question? A scientific question is a question based on observation/literature review that can have an answer and be tested. It is typically a research gap/problem that has not been answered by any of the existing research in your field. Hypotheses are all the possible answers to your scientific question. You might ask how to identify a research gap. A comprehensive literature review is needed to
identify a research gap in your field. The best way to do that is to find top review articles published in Nature/Science or Annual reviews journals in your field. They typically tell us what we know about the field and the research gaps we need to work on. For example, you know that computers can read males’ minds, but no computer can read females’ minds . This could be your research gap. Based on this research gap, you have to define a scientific question. An excellent scientific question is very specific. In our first example, the question was “why is my bulb not working today?” It defines the location, the time and the problem. A poor scientific question is “why bulb is off?”

Scientists are strange. Whatever they do, they want to tell people. Identification of research gaps and hypotheses are lengthy processes, which take days and months of work. That is why we write about how we come up with these things. This, in turn, tell our readers/reviewers if a scientific question is worth investing time/money in. That the question, if answered, will substantially increase our understanding of nature. That the question can solve a problem or a knowledge gap. All of this information goes to the introduction part and takes others on a journey from the basic literature review to the identification of the hypothesis.

The next blog will be about how to test our hypothesis aka. the methods section. Stay tuned!

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