It is possible to
distinguish two broad approaches to problem formula-tion-deductive and
inductive. The exponents of positivist epistemologypatronise deductive approach
while the advocates of ethnomethodologyprefer inductive approach. The deductive
approach takes a set ofproposi-tions derived in an a priori manner through
deductive reasoning from atheoretical premise as starting point of problem
formulation, Thesepropositions define the lines of inquiry and are tested for
their validity interms of the systematically collected evidence. In simple
words, it viewsproblem formulation in terms of developing a set of hypotheses
whichwill be tested in the inquiry. For this purpose, it insists on having
aresearch design, a representative sample, an idea of independent anddependent
variables, and a standard instrument.The inductive approach, on the other hand,
recommends “directnaturalistic examination of the empirical social
world” for purposes ofproblem formulation. It implies that the
investigator will first acquire a”close and reasonably full
familiarity” with the area of life under studyand will then progressively
sharpen his focus as the inquiry proceeds.The inductive approach expects a
researcher to go to the field with anopen mind, having no a priori assumptions,
and to develop, focus andsharpen his investigation in the light of his
understanding of the realityin the field so that the research problem is
grounded in the empiricalworld. In Blumer’s words, it is a flexible procedure
“in which thescholar shifts from one to another line of inquiry, adopts
new points ofobservation as his study progresses, moves in new directions
previouslyunthought of, and changes his recognition of what are relevant data
ashe acquires more information and better understanding.” Clearly,
theinductive procedure of problem formulation stands in sharp contrast tothe
fixed and circumscribed procedure of positivist deductive procedure.This does
not mean that there is no direction to the inquiry; it means thatthe focus is
originally broad but becomes progressively specified as theinquiry goes
forward.These methodological positions notwithstanding, problem
formulationsignifies an attempt to specify the direction of inquiry. This
involvesthree tasks:Framing the title, formulating research issues,
andoperationalising the concepts.A title is a formal shorthand statement of the
problem. It is supposedto signify the focus of inquiry. Framing a title is no
easy task. Generallyone comes across two types of titles-descriptive and
analytical. Adescriptive title is framed in terms of the content of study while
ananalytical title points out the perspective ofstudy. Examples
ofdescriptivetitle are: “Law Colleges, and Law Students in Bihar”,
“Indian SupremeCourt Judges: A Portrait”, “Lawyers at a District
Court”. What these

indicate is the scope and content of each study. On the other hand,analytical
titles bring in sharp focus either an issue or the perspective ofthe study.
Examples of an analytical title are : “Kinship in ProfessionalRelations: A
Study of North Indian District Lawyers”, “Barristers andBrahmins in
India:Legal Cultures and Social Change”, “Layers inGovernment:The
Most Serviceable Instruments of Authority”, “SelfService or Community
Service: A Study of Lawyers as Professionals”.Clearly, all these titles
either throw up an issue or signify the perspectiveused in the study. Few will
dispute that an analytical title is better thana descriptive title, provided
the study is designed to deal with an analyticalissue or is informed of a
perspective. An analytical title is certainly morecomplete in that it indicates
both the content and the perspective of thestudy. In terms of format such a
title usually has two parts-main andsub-title-as is evident from the analytical
titles cited above. It is adifferent matter that in some of them the analytical
point is reflected inthe main title while in others in the sub-title. It is
generally preferable toformulate the main title in terms of an analytical issue
or perspective.The central task involved in problem formulation is that of
framingthe terms of inquiry. The specific terms of inquiry may be
formulatedeither in terms of research questions or guiding hypotheses. Merton,
forinstance, has underlined the importance ofresearch questions for framingthe
terms of inquiry. In particular, he mentions three types of questions:
originating question, the question ofrationale and the specifying questions.
Originating question is a statement of what one wants to know and it canrange
from ascertaining facts to explain empirical uniformities or varia-tions. The
question of rationale states why the originating question isworth asking and
what will happen to other parts of knowledge orpractice as a result of
answering the question. The specifying questionsare concerned with specifying
the conditions that point toward possibleanswers to the originating question in
terms that satisfy the rationale.These questions can now be illustrated with
some examples. Supposewe are interested in assessing the role ofeducation in
promoting attitudinalmodernity in developing societies. Thus our originating
question is :Whether or not education promotes individual modernity
particularly ina developing society, say in India? The question of rationale
will have todeal with the theoretical significance and policy relevance of the
originat-ing question. The specifying questions may be as follows : What is
itabout education that tends to stimulate modernity’? Is it level, or spread,or
structure, or curriculum, or extra-curricular programme that augmentsmodernity?
Under what conditions education tends to enhance modernity’?These are obviously
specifying questions as they seek to specify theconditions which affect the
role of education in modernity.The terms of inquiry may as well be formulated
in the form ofhypotheses. A hypothesis is a hunch, a testable proposition the

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which remains to be determined. Framing the terms of inquiry interms of
hypotheses presupposes some prior knowledge about thephenomenon. Like research
questions, it is possible to think of twocategories of hypotheses-master
hypothesis and subsidiary hypothesis.This can again be illustrated with
examples relating to the same theme.The example of master hypothesis on
education and modernity is : Thelevel of education is positively related to
modernity, viz., the higher thelevel of education the greater the modernity.
This hypothesis may alsobe formulated in the form of null hypothesis as follows
: There is norelationship between level of education and modernity. Examples
ofsubsidiary hypothesis are : Science students tend to be more modemthan arts
students; hostelers are likely to be more modem than dayscholars; those who
participate in extra-curricular activities tend to bemore modem than those who
do not.Operationalisation is another important task involved in
problemformulation. Operationalisation means devising empirical referents of
anabstract concept. To continue with the problem of education and moder-nity,
we have the concept of modernity here. Unless defined in preciseoperational
terms, modernity may mean different things to differentpeople. It, therefore,
needs to be defined in operational terms. Notionally,it may be defined as a set
of such attitudes as secular, rational,universalistic, etc. These constituents
of modernity need to be given anempirical rendering. Take, for instance, the
term “secular”. It hasseveral connotations. Equal regard for all
religions is one meaning ofsecularity. Withdrawal of the authority of religion
from other thanreligious spheres is another. First we have to specify its
meaning. Let liSdefine it in terms of equal regard for all religions. Having
done this,certain items are to be framed to tap equal regard for all
religions.Instances of such items are: “No religion is as good as my own”;
“worldwill be a better place to live in if all people adopt my
reIigion.” A positiveresponse to these items is indicative of religious
intolerance while anegative response is indicative of religious tolerance. This
is how aconcept is operationalised.Now some general considerations. Specificity
and clarity are the twomajor qualities of a sound formulation. In fact,
formulation of a researchproblem is a process of progressive elimination of the
irrelevant andspecification of the relevant. A good formulation is specific in
terms ofits scope and coverage, perspective and focus, and universe and
sample.Generally, there is a tendency on the part of a novice to embark on
tooambitious a formulation to be manageable. Nothing can be more inimicalto
research than this. Hence, this tendency needs to be kept in check.Clarity is
another desirable quality of an appropriate formulation. Wordshaving more than
one meaning or dubious implications have got to becarefully avoided. Vague and
imprecise expressions must be shunned too.

An example in point is
the following formulation:”Structural Effectsof Marriage Legislation on
Society”. The word “structural” here does nothave a definite
meaning. Similarly, the word “society” is too broad tomean much. This
formulation can more appropriately be reformulated asfollows:”Effects of
Marriage Legisiation on Social structure of a community”.Indeed the
particular comments should be specified.Theseare  some of the guiding consideration which may
be helpful in identification and formulation of a research problem