Within academia, there are two main types of research: quantitative and qualitative. In quantitative research, researchers use experimental designs to examine the relationship among variables. Qualitative research, on the other hand, is a more person-centered approach commonly used in the social sciences and humanities, though in recent years researchers in the hard sciences have conducted qualitative research to identify variables relevant to their quantitative research. In qualitative research studies, researchers gather information directly from their subjects, typically through observation or interviews.
Make a list of keywords associated with your area of interest. For example, if you are interested in online education programs, some of your keywords might be "online degrees," "online schools," "online universities" and "distance learning."
Search for your keywords in a database of scholarly literature such as ProQuest, Web of Knowledge, WorldCat or EBSCOhost. Check with your institution's library to see which databases are available for you.
Scan the most recently published articles to get a sense of their content. Read more closely the "discussion" sections at the ends of the articles. In this section, researchers typically reveal avenues for future research.
Choose one of the avenues for future research described in these articles. Base your decision primarily on the idea's suitability for qualitative research. Indicators of an idea's suitability would be words such as "explore," "describe," "experience," and "explain." Avoid any ideas with the words "cause" and "effect." These words are more suitable for quantitative research studies.
Rephrase this idea as a question. For example, if the authors write that "future research should explore differences between successful and unsuccessful students' perceptions of the online learning environment," you could rephrase the idea as, "How do successful students' perceptions of online learning environments differ from those of unsuccessful students?"
When choosing one of the avenues for further research, you should choose the one that you find to be the most interesting. Research can be a long, involved process, and the more interested you are in the subject, the less painful it will be.