How to write Research methodology in Dissertation

how to design qualitative research methods and how to write methods for research paper and how to study for research methods and how to choose research methods
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Dr.JohnParker,Singapore,Researcher
Published Date:01-07-2017
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1 HowtoDefineYourProject Beforeyoustarttothinkaboutyour research,youneedto ask yourself a few questions. ASKINGQUESTIONS WhyhaveIdecidedtodosomeresearch? Iftheanswertothisquestionisbecauseyouhavebeentold todo so, either by your tutororbyyour boss, you needto think about how you’re to remain motivated throughout your project. Research can be a long process and take up much of your time. It is important to stay interested in what you’re doing if you are to completeyour project suc- cessfully. However, if you want to conduct some research because something has fascinated you, or you have identi- fiedagapintheresearchliterature,thenyouareluckyand should not have a problem with motivation. HowcanIremaininterestedinmyresearch? The obvious answer to this is to choose a topic which in- terests you. Most of you do have this choice within the limitations of your subject – be creative and think about something which will fascinateyou. However, if you have had the topic chosen for you, try instead choosing a re- search method which interests you. As you go on to read thisbookyouwillbecomemorefamiliarwiththedifferent methods and should be able to find something in which 12 / PRACTICAL RESEARCH METHODS you are interested. For example, mathematics might have motivated you at school. If so, you may find it interesting to delve deeper into statistical software. Or you might havebeeninvitedtotakepart inafocusgroupfor amar- ket research company and found it an interesting experi- ence. Perhaps now you would find it enjoyable to try running your own focus group? Or maybe you have been fascinated bya particular group of people andyou would like to immerse yourself within that group, taking part in their activities whilst studying their behaviour? WhatpersonalcharacteristicsdoIhavewhichmighthelpmeto completemyresearch? Think about your personal characteristics, likes and dis- likes, strengths and weaknesses when you’re planning your research. If you’re very good with people you might liketothinkaboutaprojectwhichwouldinvolveyoucon- ducting in-depth interviewswith peoplewhoyou findfas- cinating. If you absolutely hate mathematics and statistics, steer clear of large survey research. Are you good at socialising? Do people feel at ease with you and aretheywillingtoconfideinyou?Ordoyouprefertohide yourself away and number crunch, or spend hours on the internet? All of these personal characteristics suggest a leaningtowardscertaintypesofresearch.Asyoureadthis book you will find ideas forming – jot these down so that you can refer to them later when you come to plan your research. WhatskillsandexperiencedoIhavewhichmighthelpinmy research? If your research is to be employment based, the chances areyou will havework experiencewhich you’ll find usefulHOW TO DEFINE YOUR PROJECT / 3 when conducting your research project. This is valid ex- perience and you should make the most of it when plan- ning your research. Even if your project is not employment based, all of you will have other skills and experiencewhich will help. For example, if you have been a student for three years, you will have developed good literature search skills which will be very useful in the re- searchprocess.Some ofyoumayhavedevelopedcommit- tee skills, organisation skills and time management expertise. All of thesewill be extremely useful in your re- search.Thinkaboutyour existingskillsinrelationtoyour proposed project as it will help you to think about whether your knowledge, experience and skills will help you to address the problem you have identified. Many research projects fail becausepeople don’t take en- ough time to think about the issues involved before rush- ing to start the work. It is extremely important to spend time thinking about your project before you move on to the planning stage. Through careful thought you should stop yourself wasting time and energy on inappropriate methodsasyour researchprogresses.Considerthefollow- ing example: EXAMPLE 1: JAMES Jameswantedtofindoutaboutstudents’experiencesof housing in his university town. He designed and sent out a questionnaire to 1,000 students. When the replies started to come in, he realised that the questionnaires weren’t generating the type of information in which hewasinterested.Whenhetalkedthroughhisconcerns4 / PRACTICAL RESEARCH METHODS with his tutor, it emerged that James was really inter- ested in attitudes towards, and experiences of, rented accommodation.Hisquestionnairehadbeenpoorlyde- signedandwasnotgeneratingthistypeofinformation. He had to scrap the questionnaire and construct an- other which he combined with a number of one-to- one interviews to get more in-depth information. He had spent three months designing and administering a questionnairewhichhadnotproducedthetypeofinfor- mationherequired.Ifhehadspentmoretimethinking about the research, especially coming to terms with the difference between qualitative and quantitative research, he would have saved himself a lot of time and energy (see Chapter 2). THEFIVE‘WS’ When you start to think about your research project, a useful way of remembering the important questions to ask is to think of the five ‘Ws’: X What? X Why? X Who? X Where? X When? Once you have thought about these five ‘Ws’ you can move on to think about how you are going to collect your data.HOW TO DEFINE YOUR PROJECT / 5 What? What is your research? This question needs to be an- sweredasspecificallyaspossible.Oneofthehardestparts in the early stages is to be able to define your project, so much research fails because the researcher has been un- able to do this. Auseful tip is to sum up, in one sentence only, your research. If you are unable to do this, the chances are your research topic is too broad, ill thought out or too obscure. Why? Whydoyouwanttodotheresearch?Whatisitspurpose? Okay, you might have been told to do some research by your tutor or by your boss, but there should be another reason why you have chosen your particular subject. It might be solely to dowith the fact that you are interested in the topic. This is a good start as you need to be inter- ested in your research if you are to keep up your enthu- siasm and remain motivated. Or you might have identified a gap in the research literature – this is good as it shows you have carried out careful background re- search. Or perhaps you want to try to obtain funding for a particular service or enterprise and you need to do some research first to findout if there is demandfor what you are proposing. Whateveryourreason,thinkverycarefullyaboutwhyyou are doing the research as this will affect your topic, the way you conduct the research and the way in which you report the results. If you’re doing it for a university dis- sertation or project, does your proposed research provide the opportunity to reach the required intellectual stan-6 / PRACTICAL RESEARCH METHODS dard? Will your research generate enough material to write a dissertation of the required length? Or will your researchgeneratetoomuchdatathatwouldbeimpossible to summarise into a report of the required length? If you’re conducting research for funding purposes, have you found out whether your proposed funding body re- quires the information to be presented in a specific for- mat? If so, you need to plan your research in a way which will meet that format. Who? Whowill beyour participants? (In this book, peoplewho take part in research will be called participants or respon- dents, rather than ‘subjects’, which is a term that I have never liked.) At this stage of the research process, you needn’t worry too much about exactly how many partici- pantswilltakepartinyourresearchasthiswillbecovered later (see Chapter 5). However, you should think about thetypeofpeoplewithwhomyouwillneedtogetintouch with and whether it will be possible for you to contact them. If you have to conduct your research within a par- ticular time scale, there’s little point choosing a topic whichwould includepeoplewhoare difficult or expensive to contact. Also, bear in mind that the Internet now pro- vides opportunities for contacting people cheaply, espe- cially if you’re a student with free internet access. Where? Where are you going to conduct your research? Thinking aboutthisquestioningeographicaltermswillhelpyouto narrowdownyour researchtopic.Also,youneedtothink about the resources in terms of budget and time that areHOW TO DEFINE YOUR PROJECT / 7 available to you. If you’re a student who will not receive travel expenses or any other out of pocket expenses, choose a location close to home, college or university. If you’reamemberofacommunitygrouponalimitedbud- get,onlyworkinareaswithinwalkingdistancewhichwill cut down on travel expenses. Also,youneedtothinkaboutwhereyou’llbecarryingout your research in terms of venue. If you’re going to con- duct interviews or focus groups, where will you hold them? Is there a room at your institution which would befreeofcharge,orareyougoingtoconducttheminpar- ticipants’ own homes? Would it be safe for you to do so? Would you be comfortable doing so? If you’ve answered ‘no’ to eitherof these last two questions, maybeyou need to think again about your research topic. In 15 years I have encountered only one uncomfortable situation in a stranger’s home. It can happen and you must never put yourself in a dangerous situation. Think very carefully about whether yourchosen topic and method might have an influence on personal safety. When? When areyou going to do your research? Thinking about thisquestionwillhelpyoutosortoutwhethertheresearch project you have proposed is possible within your time scale. It will also help you to think more about your par- ticipants, when you need to contact them and whether they will be available at that time. For example, if you want to go into schools and observe classroom practice, you wouldn’t choose to do this research during the sum- mer holiday. It might sound obvious, but I have found8 / PRACTICAL RESEARCH METHODS some students present a well-written research proposal which, in practical terms, will not work because the par- ticipants will be unavailable during the proposed data collection stage. Once you have thought about these five ‘Ws’, try to sum upyourproposedproject inonesentence.Whenyouhave done this, take it to several people, including your boss and/or tutor, andask them if it makes sense. Do they un- derstand what your research is about? If they don’t, ask them to explain their confusion, revise your statement and take it back to them. Ican’toveremphasisetheimportanceofthisstageofthere- searchprocess.Ifyougetitrightnow,youwillfindthatthe restofyourworkshouldflowsmoothly.However,ifyouget it wrong, your problems could well escalate. The following exercisewill help you to think more aboutthese issues. EXERCISE 1 Have a look at the three projects below and see if you canspotanypotentialproblems.Whatquestionswould you ask to make the researchers focus in on their pro- posedproject?Do you have anysuggestionsfor the im- provement of these statements? Statement 1: This research aims to find out what people think about television.HOW TO DEFINE YOUR PROJECT / 9 Statement 2: My project isto do some research into Alz- heimer’s disease, to find out what people do when their relatives have it and what support they can get and how nurses deal with it. Statement 3: We want to find out how many of the local residentsareinterestedinaplayschemeforchildrendur- ing the summer holiday. Points to consider Statement 1: This research aims to find out what people think about television. This proposed project is both broad and obscure. My first two questions would be: what people and what television? Then I would ask: what isthe purpose of this research? Whowould be in- terested in the results? TV companies already employ market researchers to conduct a great deal of research intopublic viewing,and they have muchlarger budgets available to them. There’s little point in repeating re- search if it cannot be improved upon. However, if the researcher has an interest in this parti- cular issue, or is perhaps on a media studies course, thereareanumberofwaysinwhichthisresearchcould become more manageable. The researcher could focus inonaparticulartypeofprogrammeand/or aparticu- lar type of person. For example, she could decide to show an Open University programme to potential OU students and find out what they thought about the pro-10 / PRACTICAL RESEARCH METHODS gramme in a series of focus groups. Or she could choose children’s programming and find out what tea- chers think about the educational value of these pro- grammes. Or she could ask business people what they thinkaboutaprogrammeaimedspecificallyatthebusi- ness community. Finally, maybe she could ask fellow studentsto keep a diaryof their television viewing over aweekandtheninterviewthemabouttheirviewingha- bits. There are many different possibilities within this field. The researcher needs to decide exactly where her inter- ests lie and focus in on those interests. Statement 2: My project isto do some research into Alz- heimer’s disease, to find out what people do when their relatives have it and what support they can get and how nurses deal with it. The main problem with this statement is the grammar. The topic itself is more focused as the researcher has mentioned, specifically, the areas he wishes to consider – nurses’ attitudes, carers’ experiences and available support.Histopic isimmediatelymoremanageablebe- cause heis only considering nurses orcarers whocome intocontactwithsufferersofAlzheimer’sdisease.How- ever, he needs to think about whether he is going to consider hospitals, residential homes, or both, and in what areas. Also, is he going to contact people who look after their relatives at home?HOW TO DEFINE YOUR PROJECT / 11 Although,onthesurface,thisprojectappearsmore manageable, this researcher has a major point to con- sider. In the UK all social research which is carried out on health care premises comes under the jurisdic- tion of Research Ethics Committees. These committees were set up to ensure that research does not harm pa- tients in any way and that it is done in their best inter- ests. In the USA a similar function is carried out by Institutional Review Boards. This means that the re- searcher would have to get his project approved by the appropriate committee before he could go ahead with the research,andit isnot guaranteed that his pro- ject would begivenapproval. Ashewould have to sub- mit a full and detailed proposal to the committee, he could be conducting a lot of preliminary work, only to be turned down. Researchers need to think carefully whether this is a route they wish to take, and if so, ob- tain the appropriate advice before committing them- selves. Statement 3: We want to find out how many of the local residentsareinterestedinaplayschemeforchildrendur- ing the summer holiday. This project put forward by a tenants’ association ap- pears to be straightforward and manageable, although there are still several issues which need addressing. My firstquestionforthistopicwouldbe:doyoureallywant to find out how many of the local residents are inter-12 / PRACTICAL RESEARCH METHODS ested, or do you want to find out the interests of resi- dents with children of the appropriate age whowould ac- tually use the scheme? If the latter is the case, this narrows down the research population and makes it more manageable. Findingoutwhethersomeoneisinterestedinsomething isnotactuallythesameasfindingoutwhethersomeone wouldusetheservice.Forexample,Imightthinkaplay schemeisagoodideaforotherchildrenasitmightkeep them off the streets, but not for my little darlings who are too occupied with their computer. If I said ‘yes, I aminterested’,thiscouldbemisleadingasIhavenoin- tention of using the service. However, if the purpose of the research is to obtain funding for the scheme, then the more people who express an interest, the better, although the tenants’ association would have to be careful not to produce misleading information. I would also find out whether the tenants’ association was interested only in the issue of how many people were interested in it and would use the play scheme. If they were doing this research anyway, would it be a va- luable addition to find out what sort of scheme resi- dents would like, and what activities their children would like? Would residents have any reservations about sending their children? If they do have reserva- tions, what are they? Who would residents want to run the scheme? Would they be willing to provide help and support themselves?HOW TO DEFINE YOUR PROJECT / 13 SUMMARY X Youmusttaketimetothinkaboutyourresearchasthis will save you problems later. X When you’re thinking about your research, ask your- self the five ‘Ws’: – What is my research? – Why do I want to do the research? – Who are my research participants? – Where am I going to do the research? – When am I going to do the research? X Sum up your research project in one sentence. X Discuss your sentence with your tutor or boss and re- vise if there is any confusion.2 HowtoDecideUpona Methodology Once you have answered the five ‘Ws’ you can go on to think about how you’re going to do your research. The first thing you need to do is to think about your research methodology. This isthe philosophyor the general princi- ple which will guide your research. It is the overall ap- proach to studying your topic and includes issues you need to think about such as the constraints, dilemmas and ethical choices within your research. Now that you have read Chapter 1, some of these issues will be fresh in your mind. Your research methodology is different to your research methods – these are the tools you use to gather data, such as questionnaires or interviews, and these will be discussed in Chapter 3. UNDERSTANDINGTHEDIFFERENCEBETWEEN QUALITATIVEANDQUANTITATIVERESEARCH When you start to think about your research methodol- ogy, you need to think about the differences between qua- litative and quantitative research. Qualitative research explores attitudes, behaviour and ex- periences through such methods as interviews or focus groups. It attempts to get an in-depth opinion from par- ticipants. As it is attitudes, behaviour and experiences 14HOW TO DECIDE UPON A METHODOLOGY / 15 which are important, fewer people take part in the re- search, but the contact with these people tends to last a lot longer. Under the umbrella of qualitative research there are many different methodologies. Examples of some of these methodologies are summarised below. If you wish to pursue anyof these in more depth, useful re- ferences are included at the end of this chapter. Quantitative research generates statistics through the use of large-scale survey research, using methods such as questionnaires or structured interviews. If a market re- searcher has stopped you on the streets, or you have filled inaquestionnairewhichhasarrivedthroughthepost,this falls under the umbrella of quantitative research. This type of research reaches many more people, but the con- tact with those people is much quicker than it is in quali- tative research. Qualitativeversusquantitativeinquiry Over the years there has been a large amount of complex discussion and argument surrounding the topic of re- searchmethodologyandthetheoryofhowinquiryshould proceed. Much of this debate has centred on the issue of qualitative versus quantitative inquiry – which might be the best and which is more ‘scientific’. Different meth- odologies become popular at different social, political, historical and cultural times in our development, and, in my opinion, all methodologies have their specific strengths and weaknesses. These should be acknowledged and addressed by the researcher. At the end of this chap- ter references are given if you are interested in following up any of these issues. Certainly, if you were to do so, it16 / PRACTICAL RESEARCH METHODS wouldhelpyoutothinkaboutyourresearchmethodology in considerable depth. Decidingwhichmethodologyisrightforyou Don’t fall into the trap which many beginning (and ex- perienced) researchers do in thinkingthat quantitative re- search is ‘better’ than qualitative research. Neither is better than the other – they are just different and both have their strengths and weaknesses. What you will find, however, is that your instincts probably lean you towards one rather than the other. Listen to these instincts asyou will find it more productive to conduct the type of re- search with which you will feel comfortable, especially if you’retokeepyourmotivationlevelshigh.Also,beaware ofthefactthatyourtutororbossmightpreferonetypeof research over the other. If this isthe case, you might have a harder time justifying your chosen methodology, if it goes against their preferences. EXAMPLES OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH METHODOLGIES Action research Some researchers believe that action research is a re- search method, but in my opinion it is better under- stood as a methodology. In action research, the researcher works in close collaboration with a group of people to improve a situation in a particular setting. The researcher does not ‘do’ research ‘on’ people, but instead works with them, acting as afacilitator. There- fore, good group management skills and an under- standing of group dynamics are important skills forHOW TO DECIDE UPON A METHODOLOGY / 17 the researcher to acquire. This type of research is pop- ular in areas such as organisational management, com- munity development, education and agriculture. Action research begins with a process of communica- tionandagreementbetweenpeoplewhowanttochange somethingtogether.Obviously,notallpeoplewithinan organisation will be willing to become co-researchers, so action research tends to take place with a small group of dedicated people who are open to new ideas and willing to step back and reflect on these ideas. The group then movesthrough four stages of planning, acting, observing and reflecting. This process may hap- pen several times before everyone is happy that the changes have been implemented in the best possible way. In action research various types of research meth- od may be used, for example: the diagnosing and eval- uating stage questionnaires, interviews and focus groups may be used to gauge opinion on the proposed changes. Ethnography Ethnography has its roots in anthropology and was a popularformofinquiryattheturnofthecenturywhen anthropologiststravelled theworld in search of remote tribes. The emphasis in ethnography is on describing andinterpretingculturalbehaviour.Ethnographersim- merse themselves in the lives and culture of the group being studied, often living with that group for months onend.Theseresearchersparticipateinagroups’activ- ities whilst observing its behaviour, taking notes, con- ducting interviews, analysing, reflecting and writing18 / PRACTICAL RESEARCH METHODS reports – this may becalled fieldwork or participant ob- servation. Ethnographers highlight the importance of thewrittentextbecausethisishowtheyportraythecul- ture they are studying. Feminist research Thereissomeargumentaboutwhetherfeminist inquiry should be considered a methodology or epistemology, but in my opinion it can be both. (As we have seen, methodology is the philosophy or the general principle which will guide your research. Epistemology, on the other hand, is the study of the nature of knowledge and justification. It looks at from where knowledge has come and how we know what we know.) Feminist researchers argue that for too long the lives and experi- ences of women have been ignored or misrepresented. Often, in the past, research was conducted on male ‘subjects’andtheresultsgeneralisedtothewholepopu- lation. Feminist researchers critique both the research topicsandthemethodsused;especiallythosewhichem- phasiseobjective,scientific‘truth’.Withitsemphasison participative, qualitative inquiry, feminist research has providedavaluablealternativeframeworkforresearch- erswhohavefeltuncomfortablewithtreatingpeopleas research ‘objects’. Under the umbrella of feminist re- search are various different standpoints – these are dis- cussed in considerable depth in some of the texts listed at the end of this chapter. Grounded theory Grounded theory is a methodology which was first laid out in 1967 by two researchers named Glaser andHOW TO DECIDE UPON A METHODOLOGY / 19 Strauss. It tendsto be a popular form of inquiry in the areasofeducationandhealthresearch.Theemphasisin this methodology is on the generation of theory which isgroundedinthedata–thismeansthatithasemerged from the data. This is different from other types of re- search which might seek to test a hypothesis that has beenformulatedbytheresearcher.Ingroundedtheory, methodssuchasfocusgroupsandinterviewstendtobe thepreferreddatacollectionmethod,alongwithacom- prehensive literature review which takes place through- out the data collection process. This literature review helps to explain emerging results. In grounded theorystudies the number of people to be interviewed is not specified at the beginning of the re- search. This is because the researcher, at the outset, is unsure of where the research will take her. Instead, she continues with the datacollection until ‘saturation’ point is reached, that is, no new information is being provided. Grounded theory istherefore flexible and en- ables new issues to emerge that the researcher may not have thought about previously. So, how do you decidewhich is the best methodology for your research? Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to de- cidefirst ofall whetheryou should considerqualitative or quantitative research. Have another look at the five ‘Ws’ discussed in Chapter 1. If you have not already done so, gothrougheachquestioninrelationtoyourownresearch. Onceyou have done this, clues will start to emerge about what is the best form of inquiry for you.