How Do You Know You Have a Research-Worthy Problem?

How Do You Know You Have a Research-Worthy Problem?

At our February Knowledge Without Boundaries workshop, I received a copy of Framework of Problem-Based Research: A Guide for Novice Researchers on the Development of a Research-Worthy Problem. In the article, Ellis and Levy (2008) write to novice researchers in an effort to provide a roadmap to discovering research-worthy problems.

Ellis and Levy define research-worthiness, describe its characteristics, provide examples, and describe what is not a research-worthy problem. The article reminds me of the Frayer model graphic organizer that is often used in grade and middle school classrooms to help learners understand the depth of a term by analyzing what a term is and what a term is not. Because this article includes a comprehensive breakdown of research-worthiness and the process for discovering a research-worthy problem—a prerequisite for beginning a research project--I highly recommend novice researchers read it and take notes.

Ellis and Levy (2008) identify a research-worthy problem as an impactful problem that does not have a current viable solution and solving it will result in “an original contribution to the applicable body of knowledge” (p. 24). However, the authors caution that a research-worthy problem is not based on superficial observations. It is not based merely on relationships between data. It does not produce a simple yes or no response. Nevertheless, these elements may be part of the journey to discovering a research-worthy problem.

Ellis and Levy (2008) outline a process for developing a research-worthy problem: look, read, synthesize, and consult.

  • Look at personal interests and experiences.
  • Read scholarly literature to learn about what has already been discovered and what gaps need to be filled.  
  • Synthesize scholarly literature to identify similarities and differences.
  • Consult by seeking feedback from an experienced researcher.

Researcher beware. Be prepared to begin the process over again if the experienced researcher informs you that your research problem may not make a contribution to the body of knowledge. Remember, researching is a journey. Learn to sight-see along the way, strategize to find alternate routes, and keep your focus on your destination.

Tell us what you think.

How do you know you have developed a research-worthy problem? With whom will you consult?



Ellis, T., & Levy, Y. (2008, January). Framework of problem-based research: A guide for novice researchers on the development of a research-worthy problem. Informing Science: The International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline, 11, 17-33.

West Virginia Department of Education. (n.d.). West Virginia department of education. Retrieved from

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Domonique White



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