ED 633 Week Four (Spring 2022)

Hi everyone,

Last day we spent a bit of time developing our understanding of the literature review. I shared with you a short video whereby the host talked about a rather easy way of turning your research paper summaries into a coherent and meaningful review. 

I think it is worth emphasizing some points that Dr. Kumar articulates that are critical — at least from my experience reading students’ literature reviews.

Last week I mentioned a problem that I often encounter. That is that the literature reviews are submitted as summaries and not reviews. That isn’t too much of a problem. Summaries, as we know, can quite easily be rewritten as reviews — at least most of the time. What do I mean by most of the time? If the papers chosen to summarize don’t fit into a logical theme framework, we are not much better off than when we started. When the literature that was summarized does not fit your established frame of inquiry, the summaries come across as unrelated to the study. Then, as you can imagine, developing a review from unrelated literature is a real challenge. This is not to discount the importance of divergent views and ideas. But when you are working on a rather tight schedule, as most of us are in graduate school, it might we worth staying focussed. I have had many students come to me with wonderfully creative project and research ideas. And I remind them, unless you want to give up your life completely, you will have a very, very, difficult time completing a project as complex as this. Sometime we have to remind ourselves that the research we do in graduate school has to be commensurate with the goals and the time we have. Sometimes it is better to keep things simple, finish ahead of time if possible, and then, add more if you have the time.  Add more is actually something that happens rarely. It is more common that there is a frenzied race to the finish line. It doesn’t have to be that way.

If we heed the advice of our textbook author, our organized procedure will simplify our work.

If we slow down, establish and pick our relevant theories as articulated in the literature, also known as developing our theoretical framework, we will be in a much better position to develop our conceptual framework. 

Perhaps it would help to create a visual here.

Imagine you have 30 research papers printed off. Each is related to your area of interest. You carefully lay them out on the floor in some organized way — perhaps according to the findings of the paper, or the questions posed by each papers’s author. You lay them out in your organized wan then then, looking down at them you say to yourself, “there is a framework of theories.” Recognizing what you have (your framework of theories organized in some way) you could easily explain your framework to someone unfamiliar with what you are doing. Imagine your child walks in the room and asks what you are doing. You could easily explain it. You could explain why you have chosen the papers, how they fit together, and importantly, what might be missing. “I have created a section over here that speaks to these ideas, and another section over here that speaks to some different but related ideas. This is my framework of theories. I call this my theoretical framework as it exists in relation to my area of interest.” The person you are explaining this to points to an area in the middle without any papers. “Why did you leave that space empty?” they ask. You reply, “That’s an area that need to be filled in. More research is needed there. That’s the area I will be exploring in my research. I will develop some concepts to fill in that area. That is where my conceptual framework will reside. My conceptual framework will be nicely couched right there in that theoretical framework. Once I have completed my research, I can show exactly how my concepts will be related to what already exists in the research. I will be able to talk about how my research is clearly related to other research that has already been done.”

That’s one way I think about the relationship between the theoretical and conceptual frameworks. Another way is this:

Imagine all of the research papers organized on the floor. They are organized is such a way that the ideas connect in some way to each other. Then, within that organization there is a paper (or papers) exploring something that is very interesting to me. I take a big read felt pen a draw a circle around the paper or papers with the specific idea (notice I say idea and not ideas) of interest. That is what I will focus on. And the idea is already situated or couched within a theoretical framework. 

So there we have it. We begin with a theoretical framework so that we can determine what we will research and how our research will contribute to the “big picture.” 

Please keep in mind, you might think of the process very differently. But this is a metaphor that works for me. Perhaps it will help as you think about the development of your theoretical and conceptual framework.

I should emphasize something here that Dr. Kumar writes. I have highlighted it in my e-book. (I believe this is on page 114 of the textbook.

“Developing a conceptual framework

The conceptual framework is the basis of your research is the basis of your research problem. It stems from the theoretical framework and usually focuses on the section(s) which become the basis of your study. Where as the theoretical framework consists of the theories or issues in which your study is embedded, the conceptual framework describes the aspects you selected from the theoretical framework to become the basis of your enquiry. . . the theoretical framework includes all the theories that have been put forward to explain the relationships between [two things that interest you]. However, out of these, you may be planning to test [or explore] only one [particular aspect]. . . The conceptual framework grows out of the theoretical framework and relates only and specifically to your research problem. The conceptual framework becomes the foundation of your study.”

Let me once again talk about a few problems I have encountered more than once. Novice researchers will often forego the process of developing a theoretical framework or establishing a conceptual framework. Lacking this, it is difficult to determine how the research being done by the student is couched in an already established frame of theories. This, of course, is not always necessary. But, when trying to defend a a Master’s thesis or project, the readers and reviews will want to know how your research is situated in previous research. So, as you can probably see, simply providing a number of summaries in your literature will not be as relevant as reviewing the literature and weaving the main ideas together in such a way that they clearly support what you are proposing to explore in your own research. 

Another problem I encounter is that the student’s research problem is ill defined — very often far to broad. One of the reasons for this I have learned after having many conversations with students, is that they have a look at other Master’s theses or projects and see that the length is somewhere between 50 and 200 pages (somewhere in that range). The first thought is, “how can I come up with that much material?” So, the inclination is to broaden the research question, perhaps even trying to incorporate a few questions in the mix so that there is enough to write about. This never seems to end well. Just because one’s question and examination is narrow and focused doesn’t mean that the results won’t be far reaching and broad in nature. I have never heard of anyone not completing their research projects because their research question was too narrow or specific. I have witnessed many flounder with unwieldy and broad unrefined research questions. This is not the time, as Firestein might say, to fart around. That part is done.

When the novice researcher hasn’t narrowed the subject area into a manageable subarea, and then developed objectives, the project or research becomes so unweildy that the completion date is continually pushed back. It is, in my experience, easier to start with a narrow focus and do a thorough job. Again, we have to remind ourselves, this is a Master’s theses (or project), not your life’s work. 

Let me summarize a few things now that Dr. Kumar has said to us thus far. 

“research is a process for collecting, analysing and interpreting information to answer questions. But to qualify as research, the process must have certain characteristics: it must, as far as possible, be controlled, rigorous, systematic, valid and verifiable, empirical and critical.”

“there are two broad categories: pure research and applied research.” In our Master’s research we typically stick with applied research.

“broadly a research endeavour can be classified as descriptive, correlational, explanatory or exploratory.”

While in practice, most studies are a combination of the first three, when you do research for your Master’s degree, you will probably stick to one of the four types of research, given the time you have. It is possible that you will combine research types as a form of mixed research — but that becomes more challenging with the time you have available to you.

The process you adopt to find answers to your research questions. Broadly, there are two approaches to enquiry:

the structured approach;

the unstructured approach.

Dr. Kumar says:

“In the structured approach everything that forms the research process – objectives, design, sample, and the questions that you plan to ask of respondents – is predetermined. The unstructured approach, by contrast, allows flexibility in all these aspects of the process. ”

“The structured approach to enquiry is usually classified as quantitative research and unstructured as qualitative research. ”

 

Dr. Kumar then lays out an 8-step model that is broken down into three distinct phases with steps in each phase. 

Phase One: Decide what to research. 

Step one: formulating a research problem.

Phase Two: Planning a research study

Step Two: conceptualizing a research design.

Step Three: constructing an instrument for data collection

Step Four: selecting a sample

Step Five: writing a research proposal

Phase Three: conducting a research study

Step Six: collecting data

Step Seven: processing and displaying data.

Step Eight: writing a research report

Kumar continues: One of the essential preliminary tasks when you undertake a research study is to go through the existing literature in order to acquaint yourself with the available body of knowledge in your area of interest. Reviewing the literature can be time consuming, daunting and frustrating, but it is also rewarding. The literature review is an integral part of the research process and makes a valuable contribution to almost every operational step. It has value even before the first step; that is, when you are merely thinking about a research question that you may want to find answers to through your research journey. In the initial stages of research it helps you to establish the theoretical roots of your study, clarify your ideas and develop your research methodology. Later in the process, the literature review serves to enhance and consolidate your own knowledge base and helps you to integrate your findings with the existing body of knowledge. Since an important responsibility in research is to compare your findings with those of others, it is here that the literature review plays an extremely important role. During the write-up of your report it helps you to integrate your findings with existing knowledge – that is, to either support or contradict earlier research. The higher the academic level of your research, the more important a thorough integration of your findings with existing literature becomes.

 

In summary, a literature review has the following functions:

It provides a theoretical background to your study.

It helps you establish the links between what you are proposing to examine and what has already been studied.

It enables you to show how your findings have contributed to the existing body of knowledge in your profession. It helps you to integrate your research findings into the existing body of knowledge.

In relation to your own study, the literature review can help in four ways. It can:

1. bring clarity and focus to your research problem;

2. improve your research methodology;

3. broaden your knowledge base in your research area; and

4. contextualize your findings.

 

The Research Problem

We have no reached chapter four of our textbook: Formulating a Research Problem.

While this is perhaps the most challenging part of the research process, it is, in my mind, the most exciting.  Presumably, we have worked to develop our questions, by reviewing available and interesting literature, and, as Firestein says, farting around, we are ready to begin to hone in on a problem. We keep in mind that we will continue our literature review, but we have completed enough of the review to begin to clarify our problem.

As Dr. Kumar says regarding the research problem:

The formulation of a research problem is the first and most important step of the research process. It is like the identification of a destination before undertaking a journey. In the absence of a destination, it is impossible to identify the shortest – or indeed any – route. Similarly, in the absence of a clear research problem, a clear and economical plan is impossible.

This, in my experience is the most important step. As I have mentioned, without clarity regarding the problem, there is no clear starting point or direction. It is worth devoting a sufficient amount of time here. And it is worth considering carefully your interest in the problem, the magnitude of the proposed study, how you will measure or develop (or reveal) concepts, your own level of expertise, the relevance of your research to your own professional or life interests, the availability of data (in whatever form you require), and of course any ethical issues that have to be considered while you pursue your research.

So, this week, let us let us spend our time thinking about possible research problems. Let us do so in an organized fashion (following the steps proposed by Dr. Kumar) so that we ensure we are considering the many contingencies that might come our way. 

 

I would like to share a video here that speaks to the idea of the theoretical and conceptual frameworks as they apply to your research. Please know that your research might not be designed as an experimental study, with an hypothesis and quantitative measurements. But I think you will find the idea of choosing what to investigate will reinforce some of the ideas we are considering this week. This also introduces the idea of the importance of considering ethical issues in your research. The researchers here talk about animals. You will likely have to consider ethical issues as they relate to people. We will get to that a bit later. But for now, please enjoy the following:

Choosing What To Investigate

 

 

 

Questions continued:

Just as a reminder, the last question, Question 10 was: Can you tell us what area of research you are interested in and how you became interested in that area?

Today’s Question:

Question 11: As you developed your research (let’s pretend that you have done more research than you have actually done at this point) would you tell us about some of the different broad-based ideas that you had as you formulated the theoretical research in your area? (Notice in the previous video how the researchers had a number of interesting questions around the idea of artificial light (the broad-based ideas) but honed in on a very specific question. I am hoping you will, by this point, have a number of broad-based questions that are (or will be) contributing to your theoretical framework from which you will derive a more specific question or problem to explore).

I hope that makes sense 🙂

 

Until next time, have a great week!