In a discussion last week, I heard an interesting way of characterising levels of research enquiry:

  1. What is it? How do we name it, classify or group it?
  2. Why do we care about it? I.e., what interesting thing does it do?
  3. How does it do this interesting thing?

For example, let’s say we want to research the effects of HIIT training on 5k runners

  1. What are the characteristics of High Intensity Interval Training, defined in a clear enough way that excludes dissimilar training methods?
  2. What is the impact of HIIT training on leg strength, muscular endurance, lactate threshold and by how much?
  3. What are the causality mechanisms which flow from HIIT to the improvements in variables mentioned in #2?

The essential three questions here are: What? Why? How?