ED 633 Week Three (Spring 2022)

Hi everyone,

 

As I think about some of the things I have seen new researchers struggle with, I can say with some confidence that they sometimes put the cart before the horse.

In many ways, that has been the message of the first two lectures — know your questions before you pick the methodology.

Don’t choose the methodology before establishing your questions.

 

 

It probably seems obvious. But perhaps there is something in the way human beings approach tasks that make it easy to put the methodology before the questions.

Perhaps the problem occurs when our past experience has only exposed us, or mostly exposed us, to a narrow way of thinking about research. If our previous experience has us thinking only about pushing, then we might be more unlikely to think about the possibility of pulling — especially if we are thinking about the cart rather than what we are trying to accomplish with it.

 

Maybe this is all just getting confusing. Let us consider all of this in a slightly different manner.

Perhaps it would help to realize that research methodologies didn’t always exist. They had to be invented or created. And, of course, they were created to help deal with particular types of questions. Let us imagine that we didn’t have any research methodologies. There was no such thing as quantitative research, or qualitative research, or mixed methods research.

We know that we begin with questions and wonder. So, what are our questions directed at? In other words, what is it that we are questioning? I guess the short answer to that is phenomena.

What is phenomena, or a phenomenon?

It is something that is observed or experienced. We observe something, or experience something, and we want to know more about it. Of course, depending on what we observe or experience will give us some sort of indication as to how we will go about exploring the phenomena. An experience such as the way we look at each other will suggest a different way of exploring than when we observe objects that can be measured.

We are curious to know what something is like, or what something is doing. Why?

We want to know what something means to us. We don’t do research just for the sake of doing research. We want to learn more about something (some phenomena) so that we can do something with it. We want to change our practice in a meaningful way.

So to change how we do something in a meaningful way, we will want to come up with some meaningful answers. Research provides us with meaningful answers.

What are meaningful answers? They are answers that we can use and that we can share with others. As soon as we make the leap from having personal knowledge to knowledge that we can share with others, we might say that our knowledge changes to objective or sharable knowledge. In a way, doing research is a shift from the personal to the public.

What something means.

We try to figure this out using some sort of systematic and logical method.

While the initial questions themselves might not be arrived at systematically or logically, once we begin to develop some sort of understanding that we can share with others, our pursuit becomes somewhat more systematic.

Kumar’s summary from last day

“A research study can be carried out with four objectives: to describe a situation, phenomenon, problem or issue (descriptive research); to establish or explore a relationship between two or more variables (correlational research); to explain why certain things happen the way they do (explanatory research); and to examine the feasibility of conducting a study or exploring a subject area where nothing or little is known (exploratory research). From the point of view of the mode of enquiry, there are two types of research: quantitative (structured approach) and qualitative (unstructured approach). The main objective of a qualitative study is to describe the variation and diversity in a phenomenon, situation or attitude with a very flexible approach so as to identify as much variation and diversity as possible, whereas quantitative research, in addition, helps you to quantify the variation and diversity. There are many who strongly advocate a combined approach to social enquiries.” (Research Methodology, Kumar)

The Research Process

Dr. Kumar provides us with the journey metaphor to think about the development of our own research.

First: we decide what we want to find out (research questions or problems).

Second: we think about how we would go about finding out the answers to our questions (research methodology)

Third: We try to determine how we might collect our information.

In figure 2.1 Kumar breaks the process into three distinct phases. In phase one we begin by deciding what we want to do or what questions we want to ask. In phase two we move into the planning phase. That is, how do we plan to go about finding answers to our questions. In other words, how will we gather evidence to answer our questions. In phase three, we will begin collecting our evidence. We refer to this as conducting our research.

Research questions vs research objectives

Research questions take the form of questions. Research objectives are statements of achievements expressed using action-oriented words.

You can see, in figure 2.2 in your text, how each phase of the research journey process (deciding what, planning how, and conducting the study) has specific tasks attached to demonstrate just how one might move through the process.

Most importantly, as has been emphasized, is clearly establishing your question before you jump into the completion tasks. Your questions become the basis for your research objectives.

You will see that Dr. Kumar summarized the eight proposed operational research steps. Even though we go into depth on each step in the future chapters, let’s spend some time feeling comfortable enough with the process that we could answer an interview question about the basic steps one might take in conducting research.

Let this be our next interview question:

Question 9. You have talked a bit about the difference between qualitative and quantitative methods. Would you mind telling us the steps one might follow in doing a research study? (Here I am hoping that you will reflect long enough on these steps that you can simply talk about them in your own words. This will be helpful in the development of your synoptic view of conducting research).

This takes us to the end of Chapter Two.

Chapter Three: The Literature Review

Chapter three launches us into understanding the ‘literature review.”

You may have noticed, on figure 2.2 The Research Journey, that there is a ‘Literature Review’ that branches off of five of the eight steps. Importantly for us at this point in our research journey, the literature review is connected to our formulation of a research problem and conceptualizing a research design.

You might wonder why the “literature review” process shows up so early in our journey. Well, the reason is this: You have to have some background knowledge to know what sorts of questions you might ask, and what sorts of questions might have already been considered by others. If you wanted to do research on the best time for Canadian children to start playing competitive curling, it would probably be a good use of your time to find out as much as you can (within reason) as to what has already been researched — especially if you weren’t already and expert on children’s curling in Canada.

As Kumar says: the literature review provides a theoretical background to your study, helps you establish the links between what you are proposing to examine and what has already been studied, enables you to show how your findings have contributed to the existing body of knowledge in your profession, and helps you to integrate your research findings into the existing body of knowledge.

It is probably worth keeping in mind that in this initial phase of considering the literature we are not expected to have a clear, finalized, research problem. By reviewing the literature at this point, we are learning enough about the context of our area of study so that we can eventually produce a refined problem statement.

Herein lies the paradox of the literature review. Presumably you have to have a some good questions in mind to begin your study. At the same time, by doing as much reading as you can, you will better be able to develop appropriate questions. Thus, the more you read in your area of interest, the better focused your research will be, the better choice of methodology you will make, the broader and deeper your knowledge will be, and the better you will be able to contextualize your findings.

Are you ready to begin thinking about an area of research for your Master’s thesis or project?

At this point in your journey, it would probably be worth beginning thinking about the sort of questions you would be interested in researching. Once you have begun to hone in on some questions, your next step is to being reading some of the literature that speaks to your area of interest.

A Problem that I often encounter

There is something that I do encounter often when I read graduate student research projects and theses. The literature reviews are often literature summaries rather than reviews. Literature reviews and literature summaries are two different things. Try not to fall into the trap of simply doing literature summaries. Your research will benefit more from doing a good review. The difference between the two is something that Dr. Kumar speaks to in the section Difference Between a Literature Review and a Summary of the Literature. It is worth being clear on this.

Questions continued:

Question 10. Can you tell us what area of research you are interested in and how you became interested in that area?

Once you are finished answering this question, please email the responses to your first 10 questions.

 

The Literature Review

To bring this week’s work to a close, I would like to I would like to share with you a talk about the literature review by Dr. Taylor that I think you might find useful. Now in some ways Dr. Taylor is talking about the literature review as a form of research in and of itself. And you should know, even this is a valid form of research. You could, rather than doing a quantitative study, do an analysis of an idea you have based on the review of the literature. From this, you could come up with your own theory. No experimental methods, no questionnaires, no statistics. Rather, conceptual analyses or theory development.

I like this talk because in the span of this short presentation, you will acquire a good sense of how a literature can be written. You will get a nice synoptic understanding. Of course much more can be said about the literature review process. There are lengthy books about “The Literature Review.” But I think this will give you a great start without ever feeling that the literature review is overwhelming in any way.

Some key points worth noting are:

The literature review can begin to define many of the concepts that you have to be familiar with to adequately develop your research questions. For example, one of the things your research committee will want to know is how you have defined your terms. Defining terms is more difficult that simply stating dictionary definitions of the terms you are using. Every term you use is couched in some sort of context and your literature review will help you develop that context. For example, if you use the term cultural diversity, your readers will want you to specify how you are using that term. If you use the term ‘best practice’ your readers will want to know what you mean by that.

A second thing that will be helpful is that you will find that experts have already developed and answers some of the contextual questions you are posing. In other words,

So, a helpful thing to keep in mind is that you are always asking questions when you are doing your literature review. You are finding background information and developing your own depth and breadth of understanding.

There are some other specific reasons I find this talk by Dr. Taylor valuable. Let me point to another problem I encounter with new student researchers doing their literature reviews. Often, the student researcher will produce a literature review that doesn’t grow out of their questions. They have compiled a number of articles that might be related to their topic, but they are not answering the questions the have in mind. Why? As is often the case, the new researcher has launched into the literature review before establishing relevant questions. We should know by now, don’t put the cart before the horse. When the literature review is not focussed, the literature requires all sorts of revision at the end because the review lacks clarity of purpose.

You will also see, from Dr. Taylor’s talk, just how some student researchers might have compiled a research summary (I will say with question-relevant sources), but end their literature review at that point. Summaries, no review. Furthermore, the literature summaries provided lack any transition statements between paragraphs thus leaving the reader with a disjointed feeling. I think Dr. Taylor shows a convenient way to organize the summaries into a logical and meaningful order.

Another thing I encounter in reading student research is that students have submitted the final draft of their research and many of their sources are missing. Then comes the somewhat agonizing task of searching for the missing references.

Another good point the presenter gives is how to ensure the reader of the literature review knows who is being talked about within the paragraph. This is sometimes confusing when students are putting their literature reviews together. Sometimes new research writers don’t clearly specify who is doing the talking or who is being referred to when developing the paragraphs within the literature review.

Finally, Dr. Taylor makes a great point we should keep in mind. A good literature review will help make you the expert. Of course you will want to have committee members who have expertise in the field, but you need to be somewhat of an expert in your area of research. Your thesis or project committee members will expect that you have a reasonable amount of background understanding and some knowledge of the state of the art. Of course, all within reason. Everyone recognizes that a good deal of the Master’s thesis and project is to learn how to do research.

How To Write a Literature Review

 

I hope you found this helpful.

Finally, as a last note. I don’t want to leave you with the impression that what you have just viewed regarding how to write a literature review is all there is to writing literature reviews. We might call it Writing a Literature Review Lite. But, as I said, it is a good starting place. And I do recognize that your time is limited in your graduate program.

If you do want a more comprehensive understanding of the literature review. Let me offer a couple of books that I find informative and readable on the literature review. One nice thing, I suppose, is that most textbooks on literature reviews that I have encountered are not very lengthy.

Doing the Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination by Chris Hart. 

 

The Literature Review: 6 Steps to Success

 

And, Writing the Literature Review: A Practical Guide, by Efron and Ravid.

 

No doubt, you will find many more valuable texts on developing literature reviews if you look.

 

As a reminder, please do email me your first set of responses. Thanks!

 

 

Until next time,