At its most basic, this is the ideas stage, when you decide what interests you. It is worth keeping a journal to record your thinking and reflections on intellectual issues as a repository of possible research ideas and problems. But as well as coming from personal reflection, research ideas are also generated by people and organisations you work with, or groups you want to help in some way.
Focussing your research question is a continual process during the first phase of a research project, but it doesn’t usually end there. You often have to come back to refine your research question during the course of research as findings emerge and are interpreted. This was demonstrated in the Massey and Wield paper on science parks studied in unit 4. Their paper argues that conceptualization and reconceptualization is possible and required throughout research. The main points of reference in conceptualisation and reconceptualisation are the literature (what theories are relevant), the methodology you are using, and for practical and policy oriented research, the concerns of potential client or user groups. The other central considerations are scale, resources (people and time) and access. In other words, is it doable with the resources available, and can you get the information required? You can start with a preliminary question, then cycle between each of these until you have refined a question where the theory and method fit well together. It may help to break your central question down into a hierarchy of questions, with the answers to the sub-questions leading to the central question.