Brainstorm for issues

Most practitioner-researchers and action-researchers will have begun their inquiries in an informal way well in advance of designing a research project and submitting it to the Foundation. Basically, practitioner research, participatory research, and action research begins with...

  • Having some thoughts about changes you might want to make in your practice and/or organization

  • Wondering how things might work better in your practice

  • Thinking about issues and challenges in your local setting

  • Observing and reflecting on your practice

  • Reading about what others are doing to improve the area of practice in which you are employed and comparing your situation with those described by other

Here is another way to identify issues/topics for research.


Looking ahead: Why make this effort?

Practitioner-researchers have reported one or more of the items listed below when asked what they have gotten from their efforts.

Being a practitioner-researcher:
• Helps you observe your students more effectively
• Helps you to see the “bigger picture” of your practice
• Encourages you to question the things you do in your work
• Helps you to develop new/different ways of approaching your practice
• Challenges you
• Allows me to interact with other teachers/counselors in new ways and to share and learn from others
• Encourages me to read other research and to seek information
• Keeps me thinking about how to improve
• Helps me to feel empowered as a professional

Getting Started

Practitioner researchers begin their inquiries in an informal way long before they design an actual research project. Practitioner research begins when:
• You reflect on your practice
• You take a closer look at what happens in your classroom or counseling center
• You look for new ways to meet site challenges
• You wonder why things happen the way they do
• You communicate with others regarding practices at your site
• You have some ideas you want to explore or changes you want to make

Generating questions

Here are some prompts that many practitioner-researchers have found useful:
• Lately, I’ve noticed . . .
• What would happen if . . .
• It’s funny how my students . . .
• I’ve always wondered . . .
• I worry about . . .
• How can I . . .

1Adapted and modified by L. Rowell (2016) from Field-Based Research: A Working Guide (1992). Published by the Province of British Columbia Ministry of Education and Ministry Responsible for Multiculturalism and Human Rights.

Develop a focus

To move to the next step, practitioner-researchers then develop a focus for their project. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. A simple process can include addressing the following questions:

  1. What question, problem, or issue is causing the most concern?
  2. What do you want to accomplish…
    1. For yourself (e.g., as a teacher, a nurse practitioner, a youth/community leader, or a social worker)?
    2. For others (e.g., your students, your participants, your community)?
  3. How would you state the problem or issue you are most concerned with as a question that can be researched?


Here is an example of a worksheet for developing a focus.

Worksheet: Developing Specific Research Questions2

  1. What is your topic of interest?
  2. What are some of the things you may know about this topic from the literature or your personal/professional experiences?
  3. What is the potential gap in knowledge/understanding of this phenomenon? That is, what is missing from the literature on this topic, in your view at this time? (Although we know X, Y, Z about this phenomenon, we DO NOT KNOW….)
  4. Take the “gap” in knowledge and turn it into a goal/purpose statement. For example: The purpose of this study is to …
  5. What are the specific research questions that elaborate your research purpose?Formulating research questions is the most challenging task of the research process. Research questions provide focus and inform your choices of a research design and methods. Spending sufficient time to formulate research questions will help you in the long run.

2Adapted and modified by Social Publishers Foundation (2016) from E. Polush’s unpublished materials.

First Time Conducting Practitioner-Research?

Note. The Foundation provides MENTORING services for those who need assistance with project design, proposal writing, and report writing. If you would like to receive assistance, please contact us by writing to [email protected].


If this is the first time you plan to conduct practitioner-research, participatory research, or action research, there are many references available for you. A few titles are listed below.

Dana, N. F., & Yondol-Hoppey, D. (2014). The reflective educator’s guide to classroom research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Greenwood, D. J., & Levin, M. (2007). Introduction to action research: Social Research for social change (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Kapoor, D., & Jordan, S. (Eds). (2009). Education, participatory action research, and social change: International perspectives. New York: Palgrave McMillan.

Koshy, V. (2010). Action research for improving educational practice: A step-by-step guide (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Mertler, C. A. (2014). Action research: Improving schools and empowering educators. Los Angeles: Sage.

Pine, G. J. (2009). Teacher action research: Building knowledge democracies. Los Angeles: Sage.

Rowell, L. L., Bruce, C. D., Shosh, J. M., & Riel, M. M. (Eds.). (2017). Palgrave international handbook of action research. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Shagoury, R., & Power, B. (2012). Living the questions: A guide for teacher-researchers (2nd ed.). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Stringer, E., & Dwyer, R. (2005). Action research in human services. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.