Forming Research Questions According to Gourley

Catherine Gourley, in her article Climb the Research Ladder, maps out the process by which a researcher may design his or her questions to effectively clarify not only what the researcher wants to know, but also to persuade others to agree with the researcher’s perspective (Climb, 2002).

Gourley’s research ladder has three rungs: the first level deals with the basic information, the second level seeks to analyze, and the third utilizes questions to make a point.

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For every rung in the research ladder, there are respective questions the researcher must pose. At the first level, the researcher wants information, so he or she will use the 4 W’s: Who? What? Where? When? Gourley says that the answers to these questions are direct, and it should be because these are simple, straightforward questions.

At the second level, the researcher probes deeper, and uses open-ended questions as the researcher seeks to analyze the topic. Gourley writes that the questions at this rung are How? And Why? Gourley further maintains that the answers are not simple or as readily available. The researcher must “consult multiple sources, and to make comparisons, link cause and effect, or identify steps in a process” (pg. 19).

Then, on the third level of the research ladder, the researcher must be more creative and critical, because there are no standard questions to pose. At this level, Gourley says that the researcher must pose rhetorical questions, questions that seek not merely to inform nor to analyze, but to make a point and persuade the reader based on the research. Moreover, Gourley shares that the answers to these questions cannot be found in any source but within the individual (pg.19). It is the individual’s response that matters at this level.
Finally, before Gourley closes her article, she advises the researcher to take the steps pf the research ladder: to “list the questions you want your research to answer” (pg 19). Gourley advises to start with Level 1 questions and then use the answers gleaned to make Level 2 questions. At the second level though, since analysis is required, the researcher must look carefully at the data. The answers to level 2 questions will largely help the researcher to formulate his or her opinions and judgments on the subject matter. And once the researcher has formed his or her ideas, then he or she can proceed at Level 3 to use rhetorical questions to persuade readers of the researcher’s point of view.

Work Cited:

Gourley, Catherine. “Climb the Research Ladder: Here’s How to Plan a Research Paper Based on Questions You Want to Answer (Trends)”, in Writing! 25.3, Nov-Dec 2002: 19(1).

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