There are generally three broad sources of generating research problems. They are: Experience, Literature search and theory.
- Experience: Problems that may be subjected to research investigation can be identified from the day to day experience of the student or the researcher. In the course of normal daily activities, a keen research minded person can begin to raise issues and identify questions that can be answered successfully through research investigation. Situations may force someone to start questioning traditions, conventions and mindsets that have gone unchallenged in our immediate environment for a long time. Questions like; why are things done this way? What if it is done differently? Is there any reason behind a particular action….? What other alternatives can we explore in doing things….? Most researches started from questioning or seeking explanation to normal occurrence. For instance, Isaac Newton, who was credited with developing the law of gravity, initiated the search when sitting under a tree, an apple fell. He spent time trying to imagine what prompted the fall of the apple. Other questions asked was why it did not fall heavenwards. These questions and subsequent theorizations and investigations gave rise to the much cited law of gravity. For a long time it was believed that the earth is flat. Until a careful observation of events led to disagreements and investigations that led to a discovery that the earth is not flat.
- Literature Search: This is another source of identifying problems that can be researched on. There is sufficient evidence to show that no knowledge is entirely new. As a matter of fact knowledge is accumulative. Each builds on the foundation of others. Given this fact, it will be very helpful for researchers and students seeking for problem to research on to undertake extensive search of the literature to see what has been done by others. This familiarization with literature facilitates problem identification in the following ways: First, it helps the students and neophyte researcher to have an idea of researchable problems and expose such persons to the methodological and conceptual approaches for undertaking researches of various magnitudes. Second, problems investigated in other areas can be carried out in the researcher’s environment to ascertain whether there are differences. Of course, studies done in the past can be repeated for the sake of update.
- Theory: It has been discussed in greater detail in the previous section as to the relationship between theory and research. Familiarization with the existing theory in a particular field of interest can be of immense help to a researcher on the direction of research effort that will give empirical support or otherwise to the existing theory. For instance, when Mary Parker Follet theorized that what impacts on the productivity of workers is not so much of the physical working conditions as to the social environment in the work place; she immediately set the framework for research effort of Elton Mayo and his colleagues from Harvard School. That theory helped set out the variables to be investigated- social environment versus physical working environment. The outcome of the research popularized the theory and strengthened its assumptions and conclusions. The same could happen to any other theories in the social or any other sciences for that matter.