Posted on: February 12, 2020
Excerpted and adapted from Chapter 1 of Doing Academic Research: A Practical Guide to Research Methods and Analysis by Ted Gournelos, Joshua R. Hammonds, and Maridath A. Wilson. For examples of research methods—including Textual Analysis, In-depth Interviews, Metasynthesis, and more—follow this link to download the full first chapter.
Starting a new research project can seem like a daunting task. The thought of starting something big, like a report for your boss or a new book, is often terrifying. Research is scary because there are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to study and conduct that research. What’s going to work? What do people want to know? What’s interesting about this project? Or perhaps more importantly, what’s new about this project?
The good news is that while conducting research is hard, there are some ways to narrow your focus and make getting started easier. Here are some simple tips to consider:
1. First and foremost, ask yourself - What can I study that I don’t think will bore me and my readers, or make me hate it?
a. Start a project because you’re fascinated by it, not because it is easy. Then figure out how to make it possible to do in whatever time frame you have been given. Time is an important factor in research because, in theory, all research projects could go on forever. Remember that research is a process, and there is always room for more depth or more reach.
2. Once you’ve chosen a general topic, you need to figure out how you want to do the study. Researchers often split work into three categories or perspectives, or what we call “paradigms”: the Empirical, the Interpretive, and the Critical. Choosing a paradigm is important because it allows you to start forming some research questions (RQs).
a. Empirical scholars tend to believe that the topic they’re studying is discoverable, often through measurable data with numbers. They want certainty, and so they tend to focus on large amounts of data that they can extract and analyze in a very methodical way that leaves little room for variation.
b. Interpretive researchers, on the other hand, look at research slightly different. They’re looking at how things might be portrayed, received, understood, and reacted to by the people in that room. Interpretive scholars are often more concerned about how we think and feel, the unique factors of what drives our behaviors and reaction, than they are about measuring finite patterns and outcomes.
c. Critical scholars simply add a layer to empirical and interpretive research by asking why things are happening in relation to the world more broadly. They’re concerned with relationships involving power, ethics, and institutions (including their own power and influence) and are constantly questioning even their own analyses.
3. Next, we suggest that you ask yourself the question - What do you want to know? This will not only benefit your research by gaining further clarity, but also allow you to understand the method of your experiment.
a. If you want to know how something is portrayed, discussed in the media, and/or made part of an organization or institution, you might want to choose a text-centered method.
b. If you want to see how people respond to something, are influenced by something, or discuss something among themselves, you might want to go with a people-centered method.
c. If you want to determine reactions that people might have to a specific stimulus specific enough that it can be both repeated and contained in a controlled environment), then you’re probably going for an experiment-centered method.
4. Remember that you don’t have to do any of this alone! Other scholars have struggled with finding a topic, creating research questions, and choosing methods since . . . well, since people started doing research. You aren’t the first and you won’t be the last. Minimize the stress by reading other scholars and don’t forget to talk to people, including your friends, your family, your professor, and your colleagues.