Category Archives: Research Design

A metaphor and a simple framework for thinking about research design

Hi

I’ve published a video, freely available on youtube, outlining a framework I’ve been using for thinking about research design, particularly in social sciences.

It is based on 4 central ideas, that gradually adopt a more fine-grained focus, and a necessary gesture towards analysis: hence the idea of a 4+ part framework.

The parts are:

1. Strategy – the big picture, how you name the kind of research you are doing. This does a lot of work in setting the tone and character of your research, signals to others what they might expect, and from this, many implications for other parts of design flow.

2. Sampling – not necessarily implying positivistic / quantitative notions, but pointing to the need to think seriously about who is involved in research (or what, if you’re looking at documents for example), who isn’t, what your relationships with these people or objects are, what inclusions and exclusions there are, whether and how these matter etc.

3. Methods – the broad tools you use in your research to gather information (or generate data, if you’re coming from a more constructivist paradigm where things aren’t out there waiting to be discovered…). I raise the question of alignment between these and your research questions, but distinguish methodological issues from…

4. Techniques – this is how you use the tools in (3). What kind of interview are you doing? How are you observing? What is your survey like? Here I point explicitly to aesthetic aspects of the accomplishment or performance of research methods, the art that goes with the (social) science.

4+ – Analysis. Learning from my own mistakes in the (now dim and distant) past: going and getting data, or designing research without thinking through how the analysis will proceed is a no-go. It doesn’t mean you can predict and anticipate exactly what you’ll do analytically, but it’s better to think ahead than to get what looks like great data and then realise there’s no sensible way to analyse it that links to your research question (I say this from experience!).

 

The tree metaphor

The video makes use of a tree metaphor, talking about research as planting seeds and growing a tree.

Where do you plant the seeds here and not there (ie. why this topic / question and not another? what other trees are growing here? what else has been done?)

How tall does your tree have to be? (ie. what do you have to do to stand out and make a new contribution in this field?)

How thick is your trunk? (ie. how do your make your research sturdy, able to withstand the odd thing going wrong, and the gusty winds of academic critique?)

How wide are your branches? (ie. how far can your analysis take you beyond what you studied to saying something of wider relevance? This doesn’t mean empirical generalisability necessarily!)

How tasty is your fruit? (ie. how palatable are your conclusions? or at least, how inviting is what you have to say in terms of capturing people’s attention. You don’t necessarily want to say what people want to hear, but you’ve got to get them enticed somehow!).

 

The prezi itself can be viewed at http://prezi.com/kzirzw3yhl9m/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share but this will be without the audio commentary on the video.

 

I hope you find this helpful!

PS.

I should acknowledge that this post and the video float in a void in terms of references to methods literature. I’m not claiming anything revolutionary here and am sure that may people talk about similar issues in research design. The tree metaphor is probably new (at least as far as I’m aware), and I think some clarity around saying design involves thinking about strategy, sampling, methods, techniques (oh, and analysis!) may be helpful. These terms are used in many different ways in the literature. This is simply how I find it useful to think about them.

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More on Hammersley, critique, and a taster on research design

Hi

I’ve done a couple of prezi’s, elaborating my adaptation and interpretation of Hammersley’s framework for critical reading of ethnography, which as you know by now, I think has currency as a framework for critique more generally.

Hopwood’s interpretation of Hammersley framework

The first prezi explains, with a visual accompaniment (partly prompted by a nudge in the comments to one of my posts about a lack of visuals!), how I think the whole thing works. It goes alongside the podcast I’ve published previously. See below for some brief comments on research design.

Hammersley-Hopwood framework for researchers to complete

The second prezi is very simple, and is essentially a ‘fill in the blanks’ version aimed at helping social science researchers (maybe others, too! I’d be fascinated to know if it works in other areas), to think about their research. It has deliberate (but for now unexplained) ‘fit’ with Kamler’s approach to writing abstracts (Locate, focus, report, argue). If you haven’t finished your research yet, it’s still very possible to complete the whole thing. Imagining or projecting what your claims and conclusions might be is really important. Normally we have some sense of what kind of things we might find and why they might be important. Of course we still want to leave space for the empirical world to surprise us!

Hopwood research design 4-part  framework

I just want to explain some references in the first prezi to a 4-part design framework. This is my  system for clarifying different components of research design. I’m not claiming it’s totally unique or original. It’s just the way of working / use of terms I’ve come to find useful.

1. Research Strategy – this is the big picture. Are you doing a case study? What kind of cases?  Ethnography? What of? What kind of ethnography? Longitudinal design? How long? What sequence?

2. Sampling and selection – this goes down a level to think about sampling. Samples include who your participants are (if any) and how they relate to a wider population. But let me be clear this isn’t a kow-tow to positivism. It’s about the fact that we nearly always study something smaller than the phenomenon of interest. This involves selections or samples in space, time, people, documents etc.

3. Methods for data generation – what it sounds like it is! Are you using a survey? interviews? observation? document collection? visual methods? why?

4. Techniques for data generation – this goes into a bit more detail, and refers to the craft and artistry involved. Within a survey, what kinds of items are you using? how have they been piloted? what kind of interview are you doing (semi-structured? life history?), and how good an interviewer are you? (probing questions, noting body language etc). If you’re observing, what are you looking for, what are you noticing? how structured is your observation? what kind of notes are being produced? when are they being written up?

This is rather cursory, but is there in case the references to the framework in the prezi are a bit cryptic!