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On Research #8 - How to formulate a research problem 精选

已有 15021 次阅读 2007-10-6 06:07 |系统分类:科研笔记

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I have been having a series of brainstorming sessions with Tsinghua graduate students trying to formulation different problems for them to solve. As I have said before, Face-to-face interactions are absolutely necessary in the problem formulation stage. After you have a well posed problem, e-mail communications and interactions can be very efficient and effective. In the extreme case, you can even hired an specialist to solve the well posed problem for you。
Here below is a short summary I pass out to them for consideration.
On Formulating A Problem For Research
Y.C. Ho
Almost all our education through undergraduate university emphasizing solving problems and exercises already formulated using the tools taught in textbooks and classes. But research represents a different endeavor. In research one is venturing into unknown territory. This is particularly true if the topics and problem areas have not been previously explored by others. While working within an established framework extending the results of others also constitutes valid research. You are mostly engaged in incremental addition of new knowledge. It is the investigation of totally unexplored area that is mostly likely to yield breakthrough and significant advances.
One of the most important tasks of research into new areas is the proper formulation of problems. By formulation I mean the task of transforming vague notions and ideas into a conceptually well-defined problem. Here one needs to be able 
1. to decide what is the conceptual framework or the big picture one is trying to capture
2. to separate details from the major features one is trying to capture
3. to be patient and not seek an answer to any problem too quickly. This is particularly important since we have been conditioned to give answers rather than asking questions
4. to understand what is a well posed problem or a well-defined question versus vaguely worded and/or inarticulate questions.
Unfortunately, there are no ready formuli or algorithm one can follow to accomplish the above. One must learn from experience.
The main task of a PhD advisor is to teach the above to a student by the Socrates method of question-and-answer give-and-take dialogue through examples. A student tries to formulate a problem and defends his formulation to his advisor. The advisor tries to point out the weakness or sloppiness of the student’s presentation.
During this stage, the appropriateness of the problem is less important than the “well-posed” ness. It is only after a problem is well posed can refinements be made to render the problem more significant. To this end, point #3 above is worth repeating.
1. 确定问题的概念框架或是你希望构建的大的理论框架。
2. 将你希望得到的主要结果与细节分开。
3. 要有耐心,不要急着马上给出问题的答案。我们已经习惯了解决问题而非提出问题的,因此这一点尤为重要。
4. 了解什么是好的或者清晰的问题,它们和模糊或者不准确的问题之间有什么区别。
Zfl200122 2007-10-6 22:41:24


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