Formulating the research question is a key but complex task in qualitative studies. The question should be framed consistently with the approach chosen; in other words, question and approach are interdependent. This article aims to contribute to the understanding of the nature of the research question; to this end, we address its meaning by presenting two qualitative approaches: applied hermeneutic phenomenology and grounded theory. Although both approaches draw from the experience of the participants in research, they are vastly different and comparing them provides an exemplar of the important decision-making required for crafting research questions epistemologically aligned with their designs. From this starting point, in this paper we discuss the specific nature of the research question in two qualitative approaches: applied hermeneutic phenomenology and grounded theory. In hermeneutic phenomenology, the question is related to the phenomena of lived experience, with the goal to describe its disclosed/apprehended essence, in the meaning structures of the studied experience. In grounded theory, the question is driven by the purpose of developing theory in a specific field, either to grant exhaustive knowledge in the exploration of hitherto little-known situations or to further our understanding of human behavior. Taking the research question as our central theme, we divide this article into three parts. First, we specify the main characteristics of each of the two approaches. Second, we discuss the formulation of the research question in each. Third, we offer an example of a research question for each of the approaches.


phenomenology, hermeneutics, grounded theory, research question, qualitative research

Author Bio(s)

Pilar Folgueiras Bertomeu is Professor of Socio-educational research and citizenship education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Barcelona, Spain. She has researched in the fields of participation and education for critical citizenship. In the methodological field she works with methodologies oriented towards social change, qualitative methods, and mixed methodologies. Pilar can be reached at pfolgueiras@ub.edu

María Paz Sandín Esteban is Professor of Qualitative Research in the Faculty of Education at the University of Barcelona, Spain. She has researched in the fields of intercultural education and teacher training with participatory, ethnographic, and improvement-oriented studies as well as studying and writing about qualitative research methods. María Paz can be reached at mpsandin@ub.edu.


This work was carried out with the support of the State Research Agency (AEI). Spain

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.




Orcid. Pilar Folgueiras-Bertomeu: 0000-0002-1343-0312 Orcid. María Paz Sandín-Esteban: 0000-0003-1836-6126



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