A Practical Research Methods C Dawson pdf

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1 How to DefineYour Project

Before you start to think about your research, you need to ask yourself a few questions.


  As you go on to readthis book you will become more familiar with the different methods and should be able to find something in which 2 / P R A C T I C A L R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S you are interested. Myfirst question for this topic would be: do you really want to find out how many of the local residents are inter- 12 / P R A C T I C A L R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S ested, or do you want to find out the interests of resi- dents with children of the appropriate age who would ac-tually use the scheme?


  30 / P R A C T I C A L R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S H O W T O C H O O S E Y O U R R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S / 31 1. Thissuggests that soon there might be a new category of ques- tionnaire – the interactive questionnaire, which allows re-spondents to work with the researcher in both the development and completion of the questionnaire.


  Through participation within theirchosen culture and through careful observation, they hope to gain a deeper understanding into the behaviour,motivation and attitudes of the people under study. H O W T O C H O O S E Y O U R R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S / 33 Participant observation, as a research method, received bad press when a number of researchers became covertparticipant observers; entering organisations and partici- pating in their activities without anyone knowing thatthey were conducting research (see Chapter 13).


  Maybe you want to run a focus group to see what people think about the hypotheses you have gener- 34 / P R A C T I C A L R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S ated from the interviews. H O W T O C H O O S E Y O U R R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S / 35 Let us return to the three examples in the exercises given in the previous two chapters to find out which would bethe most appropriate methods for the research.


  Secondary researchIn the secondary research file, each page of notes can be headed by details of the publication in the same formatthat will be used in the bibliography – author and initials; date of publication; title of publication; place of publica- H O W T O C O N D U C T B A C K G R O U N D R E S E A R C H / 45 tion and publisher. This, they believe,might provide insights into the behaviour of the wider re- search population, but they accept that everyone is different 48 / P R A C T I C A L R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S and that if the research were to be conducted with another group of people the results might not be the same.


  Admit your mistakes, learn by them andchange to something more appropriate 52 / P R A C T I C A L R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S H O W T O C H O O S E Y O U R P A R T I C I P A N T S / 53 as your sample to overcome this problem. Even if you have not been asked specifically to produce a research proposal by yourboss or tutor, it is a good idea to do so, as it helps you to focus your ideas and provides a useful document foryou to reference, should your research wander off track a little.


  X It is important to make sure that your proposed meth- ods will address the problem you have identified and that you are able to display an understanding of thesemethods. For each type you will need to thinkabout how you are going to record the interview, what type of questions you need to ask, how you intend to establishrapport and how you can probe for more information.


  If you want to use video equipment it is preferable to obtain the help of someoneexperienced in the use of the equipment. It is useful to take a pen and notepad with you to the in- terview, even if you intend to use a recorder.


  If you’re nervous about working with a list of topics rather than a list of questions, a good way to overcome this is toask a few set questions first and then, once you and the interviewee have both relaxed, move on to a set of topics. If you take time to produce a detailed interview schedule, it helps you to focus your mind on your research topic,enabling you to think about all the areas which need to be covered.


  On the other hand, if your eyes wander all over the place and only briefly make contact with the eyes ofthe interviewee, low self-esteem, deceit or boredom H O W T O C O N D U C T I N T E R V I E W S / 71 can be indicated. You might find it useful to send a transcript to the inter- viewees – it is good for them to have a record of what hasbeen said and they might wish to add further information.


  8 How to Conduct Focus Groups As we saw in Chapter 3, a focus group is where a number of people are asked to come together in order to discuss acertain issue for the purpose of research. If you are interested in running focus groups for your re- search you will need to acquire a basic understanding ofhow people interact in a group setting and learn how to deal with awkward situations (see Table 8).


  Finishing the focus groupWhen you have finished your focus group, thank the par- ticipants for taking part and leave a contact name andnumber in case they wish to follow up any of the issues that have been raised during the discussion. Can we get some opinions from the rest of you please?’ Or ‘What do the rest of you think about that?’(This should counteract the one dominant argument by receiving other views on the same issue.) Leadership If it is obvious from the start that you have a clear leader who will influence the rest of the group, try to give themanother role which takes them away from the discussion, such as handing out refreshments or taking notes.


  Before the participants arrive, place it in the H O W T O C O N D U C T F O C U S G R O U P S / 81 centre of the room and test your voice from each seat, varying your pitch and tone. CHOOSING A VENUE It is extremely important to make sure you choose the right venue for your focus group as this will affect parti-cipation levels, the level of discussion and the standard of recording.


  H O W T O C O N D U C T F O C U S G R O U P S / 83 bond to be able to feel comfortable in a group and this will probably be the focus of your research. 9 How to Construct Questionnaires Once you have decided that a questionnaire is the most appropriate data collection method for your research, be-fore you go on to construct the questionnaire you need to think about what, exactly, you want from your research.


  If you’re sure that a questionnaire is the most appropriate method for your research, you need to decide whether youintend to construct a closed-ended, open-ended or combi- nation questionnaire. In open questions respondents usetheir own words to answer a question, whereas in closed questions prewritten response categories are provided (seeTable 9) Also, you need to think about whether your ques- tionnaire is to be self-administered, that is, the respondentfills it in on his own, away from the researcher, or whether it is to be interviewer administered.




  Then you would need to ask: ‘If you wash your car, H O W T O C O N S T R U C T Q U E S T I O N N A I R E S / 91 how many times a year?’ By wording the question in this way and by being careful about the frequency list, you’renot leading the respondent into answering in a certain way. Have a look at Exercise 2 which will help you to think about some of the issues involved in the wording andstructuring of questions.


  If you’re constructing a combined questionnaire, keep your open-ended ques-tions for the end as, once someone has spent time com- pleting the rest of the questionnaire, they are morelikely to continue with those questions which take a little more effort to complete. I tend to includeit at the end, as I believe people are more likely to fill in this information when they have already invested time H O W T O C O N S T R U C T Q U E S T I O N N A I R E S / 95 and energy in completing the rest of the form.


  X Include details about how the questionnaire is to be re- turned (making sure you enclose a pre-paid envelope if you need the respondent to return the form to you). The researcher participates in the community while obser- ving others within that community, and as such she must 102 / P R A C T I C A L R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S be a researcher 24 hours a day.


  If you do expect to encounter difficulties, one way to over- come this problem is to befriend a member of that com-munity who could act as a gatekeeper and help you to get to know other people. In the early stages it is better to answer any questions or suspicions directly and honestly rather H O W T O C A R R Y O U T P A R T I C I P A N T O B S E R V A T I O N / 103 than try to avoid them or shrug them off.


  As time moves on your notes will be to do with a prelimin- ary analysis and the forming of hypotheses which you cango on to check out with your informants. H O W T O C A R R Y O U T P A R T I C I P A N T O B S E R V A T I O N / 107 Most of your analysis takes place in the field so that you can cross check and verify your hypotheses.


  X It is sometimes quicker and more economical to wait for questions to come to the researcher, rather than ask questions of informants in the early stages of astudy. 11 How toAnalyseYour Data The methods you use to analyse your data will depend on whether you have chosen to conduct qualitative or quanti-tative research, and this choice will be influenced by per- sonal and methodological preference and educationalbackground.


  They want to make surethat their measurements are stable and consistent and that there are no errors or bias present, either from the respon-dents or from the researcher. For quantitative data,the analysis can be left until the end of the data collection process, and if it is a large survey, statistical software is theeasiest and most efficient method to use.


  You can think of the different types of qualitative data analysis as positioned on a continuum (see Fig.4) At theone end are the highly qualitative, reflective types of ana- lysis, whereas on the other end are those which treat thequalitative data in a quantitative way, by counting and coding data. 118 / P R A C T I C A L R E S E A R C H M E T H O D S Content analysisFor those types of analyses at the other end of the quali- tative data continuum, the process is much more mechan-ical with the analysis being left until the data has been collected.


  You will have checked that your questionnaire isproperly constructed and worded, you will have made sure that there are no variations in the way the formsare administered and you will have checked over and over again that there is no missing or ambiguous information. It took Tom one month to design and pilot the question- naire, another month to administer the questionnaireand two months to analyse the results and write the re- port.


  Arithmetic meanIn mathematics, if you want to find a simple average of the data, you would add up the values and divide by the num-ber of items. H O W T O A N A L Y S E Y O U R D A T A / 129 X A simple average is called an arithmetic mean; the middle value of a range is called the median; the most frequently occurring value is called the mode.

12 How to ReportYour Findings

Once you have completed your research and analysed your data, there are three main ways of reporting yourfindings – written reports and journal articles, both of which can be reproduced on-line, and oral presentations.


  It is then up to you whether you want to fol- low these guidelines and conduct a piece of research whichwill fit well into the set format, or whether you have a burning passion to conduct something a little more inno-vative and become a trailblazer in the process. However, remem-ber that one of the purposes of your report is to convince people that you have produced a good, sound piece of re-search and the more professional your report looks the better your chances of success.


  If the report is a dis-sertation or thesis, the title page will include details about the purpose of the report, for example ‘A thesis submittedin partial fulfilment of the requirements of Sheffield Hal- lam University for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy’. If you are an undergrad-uate student you will need to raise some of the methodo- logical and theoretical issues pertinent to your work, butif you are a postgraduate student you will need also to be aware of the epistemological and ontological issues in-volved.

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