Module 3: your research question and the research process [weeks 5, 6]
Competency III: To demonstrate an understanding of the steps used to formulate an effective research question, and the steps involved in conducting and documenting research.
WEEK 5 (9/28/2015 - 10/4/2015)
Essential question(s): What are the main components involved in conducting research? What is the process used to conduct and documenting research? What is the importance of a research question? How do we develop an effective research question?
Recall earlier that we distinguished between two different organizational forms of academic writing: the essay and the research report involving original research. In the previous module we were concerned with essays. Here in this module we are concerned with research reports.
One of the primary goals of higher education, particularly at the doctoral level, is the production of original research.
Research follows basic guidelines. While there are variations to these, research proceeds in roughly the manner described below. Note that the process used to conduct research defines the sections of the final research document, in your case a dissertation:
1. Determine your research question, and provide introductory information. What do you want to know? Everything flows from this. You will be spending a good deal of time with your question, so make sure it is one that interests you. I spend much of my time with students helping them clarify their questions. Your question is your foundation. And what happens to the rest of the house if your foundation is not solid? Note that some research requires that you turn your question into a hypothesis. But the hypothesis began as a question.
Also involved at this point are subtasks, such as identifying and operationalizing variables. More about hypotheses and variables later in the program. Also addressed here are the following topics: Why is my question important? Where does it fit into the overall discussion and research going on in my area? What are the ethical considerations of conducting my research?
2. Conduct a literature review and establish a theoretical basis for your work. Here you address three questions: What is the appropriate theoretical basis for my work? What have other researchers discovered in my area? What methodologies did they use to do so? You are "standing on the shoulders of giants," as Newton once said, looking at what others have theorized, researched and discovered. You are looking not only at their results, but also at their methodologies so that you can make an informed decision about the methodology you want to use for your own research.
3. Articulate your methodology. Having decided on your question, and having reviewed the literature and established your theoretical base, you articulate the methodology you have selected to use to address your question. Ethnography? Questionnaires with statistical analysis? Text analysis? Whatever you elect to use, you need to show why the methodology you have selected provides the best means of answering your question or addressing your hypothesis.
3.5 Explain the process (optional, depends). Whether you include this section or not depends on your research process. If your project entailed having respondents answer a questionnaire posted on Survey Monkey, then there isn't much to say. But sometimes the process of actually carrying out your research and collecting the data is more complex, in which case a separate section explaining the research process can be appropriate. But most times you can simply fold comments about process into your presentation of results.
4. Present your results. With your results in hand, you now lay them out clearly. You begin drawing inferences from the data and making connections between your question and what you have discovered. As mentioned above, you may also include a description of the research process at the beginning of this section.
5. Discuss, analyze your results. Here you talk about what your the results mean. What are the implications? What is the story behind the data? Speculation about the future meaning of your findings is permitted here.
6. Conclusion and call for further study. At the end of your study you draw out whatever points are particularly important to you. In addition, you identify areas of future research related to your area. It is always helpful to ask yourself the question, "If I could continue this line of research, what would I do next?" You will find calls for further study at the end of most research reports. They are often a good source of ideas for research projects.
It's a rap song
A good way to remember the research process is as an acronym: Q-L-M, P-A-C. This stands for Question-Lit Review-Methodology, Presentation of results-Analysis of results-Conclusion and call for further study. Q-L-M, P-A-C // Q-L-M, P-A-C. In fact, extra credit to anyone who can build a rap song around this acronym. I think it has rhythm.
Refining your research question: Using the "question funnel"
For the moment, let's address the issue of developing the all-important research question.
Einstein famously said that if he were given an hour to solve a problem he would spend 55 minutes figuring out the question, and five minutes on coming up with a solution. Research begins with a question.
In the case of formal research, it begins with a specific, doable question. It needs to observe certain practical parameters so that it can be carried out.
I call the process of helping students refine their research question "going down the research funnel." Watch this screen cast to understand what I mean. The Research Funnel - Refining your research question.
Note that the example I use in the screen cast was very straightforward, and probably would entail measuring and analyzing math scores. What if it were a case study? Or an action research project? Or an ethnographic study of a community? You still need "to draw the research box" referenced in the video. You need to define a subject of study that can be described in terms of:
Using action research
Action research is one of a number of approaches to research, many of which you will learn about in your program. We are going to use it to gain a sense of how research is conducted.
Wikipedia defines action research, in part, in the following manner:
Action research is either research initiated to solve an immediate problem or a reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individuals working with others in teams or as part of a "community of practice" to improve the way they address issues and solve problems...action research involves actively participating in a change situation, often via an existing organization, whilst simultaneously conducting research. Action research can also be undertaken by larger organizations or institutions, assisted or guided by professional researchers, with the aim of improving their strategies, practices and knowledge of the environments within which they practice. (Action research, n.d.)
We are actually using a variation of action research, in which you are working alone- I call it personal action research. You should know that there are those who feel action research can only be conducted in groups, but working alone is fine for our purposes in this course. You'll get used to these kinds of disagreements among researchers in academia as your academic career progresses.
Let me translate Wikipedia's definition into something more appropriate for this assignment: Action research enables researchers to investigate a particular phenomenon in their immediate surroundings for the purpose of answering a question about that phenomenon. It uses a research process that is very similar to the one discussed earlier.
Personal action research is commonly used as a way of studying one's immediate environment. A team leader may use it to study her team on the job because she wants to understand why things at work aren't going as smoothly this month as they did last month; a teacher might use it to study the dynamics in her classroom in the hopes of discovering why playground play has been so rough lately; a manager could use it to study interactivity in an office in the hopes of finding opportunities for collaboration among employees. The applications are endless. We often think of research as happening "out there," with others, in a setting beyond our immediate lives. But research can be very present and personal.
I chose personal action research because it easily focuses on you. While you can employ action research in your professional or social situations, you can also use it to study yourself. And you don't need to go anywhere. It happens wherever you are. I also chose it because it conforms to short time periods more easily than other research methods, and we only have a short period of time available to us.
This article comes from education, yet the process that it describes is widely applicable. As always, there will be variation from situation to situation in terms of how the research actually unfolds. But this article outlines clearly the steps to take when conducting action research in the author's arena. It is up to you to adapt it to your own situation.
Over this week and the next you will conduct a very brief personal action research project. You are tasked with studying some aspect of your professional or personal life. Here are some ideas:
Keep it doable. Keep in mind that you need to limit your project to something doable in practical term. If you are studying, say, the amount of time you spend on Facebook, then observe that for no more than a day or two. Keep it doable. Bear in mind, the goal here is not in-depth research. It is to familiarize you with using the research process as a lens through which to view the world of inquiry.
Having a hard time coming up with a question? Let me know and I will be happy to help you.
Finalize your question by Wednesday. You need to finalize your question by Wednesday, so you can discuss it in Moodle and begin collecting data over the weekend.
Our discussion this week has two parts. Part one:
WEEK 6 (10/5/2015 - 10/11/2015)
Essential question(s): What issues did you encounter when you actually conducted your research? What were your findings? Was there a difference between what you expected to find and what you actually discovered?
This week you are finishing your action research project and posting the results in the Moodle forum no later than Thursday, so others can respond.
Please do the following:
Instructions for posting and responding to research reports
Where to post: Post your essay in Week 6 of our Moodle conversation. This will keep it separate from our discussion.
You should post your report in Moodle by opening a new thread. All essays are due by Thursday night, midnight (PST). This leaves time to peer review work by Sunday.
Due date to post essay: Thursday, October 8, 2015.
Due date to post a response to your colleague's report: Sunday, October 11, 2015.
Carefully “curate” your own thread. Do so by providing a considered response to each review posted by your peers, and be prepared to follow up if the discussion continues.
All forum discussions must be concluded by Sunday night, midnight (PST).
Meta-perspective, self assessment
Provide a minimum one paragraph self-assessment/reflection. This should focus on what you learned and what you think your strengths and challenges are in terms of the content of this module. Please send this directly to me.