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An Overview of Research Methods and Methodologies

Dr. Rebecca Rickly Texas Tech University

The scientist has no other method than doing his damnedest.


P.W. Bridgman, Reflections of a Physicist

Why Do I Need to Know About Different Methods?


As a graduate student...
To be able to read and understand the empirical literature in your field; to become a critical consumer of information.

As a graduate student preparing for a thesis or dissertation


To be able to both design and implement your thesis or dissertation as well as future studies that interest you.

Why Do I Need to Know About Different Methods?


As a future practitioner
To be able to intelligently participate in research projects, evaluations, and studies undertaken by your institution.

As an educated citizen ...


To understand the difference between scientifically acquired knowledge and other kinds of information.

Whats the Difference Between Method and Methodology?


Method: Techniques for gathering evidence The various ways of proceeding in gathering information Methodology: The underlying theory and analysis of how research does or should proceed, often influenced by discipline

(Sandra Harding)

Epistemology, Methodology, and Method


According to Sandra Harding: "a research method is a technique for (or way of proceeding in) gathering evidence" (p. 2) while "methodology is a theory and analysis of how research does or should proceed" (p. 3) and "an epistemology is a theory of knowledge" (p. 3).
From Is There a Feminist Method?

"It is the theory that decides what can be observed."


Albert Einstein

An Overview of Empirical Research Methods


Descriptive (Qualitative) Ethnography Case Study Suvey/Sampling Focus Groups Discourse/Text Analysis Quantitative Description Prediction/Classification

Experimental (Quantitative) True Experiment Quasi-Experiment Meta-Analysis


From Lauer and Asher, Composition Research: Empirical Designs and MacNealy, Empirical Research in Writing

Assessing Methods
Research Question(s) is/are key Methods must answer the research question(s) Methodology guides application Epistemology guides analysis All must include rigor

Ethnographies
+ Observational field work done in the actual context being studied + Focus on how individuals interrelate in their own environment (and the influence of this environment) - Difficult to interpret/analyze - Time consuming/expensive - Can influence subject behavior

Case Studies
+ Focus is on individual or small group + Able to conduct a comprehensive analysis from a comparison of cases + Allows for identification of variables or phenomenon to be studied - Time consuming - Depth rather than breadth - Not necessarily representative

Survey Research
+ An efficient means of gathering large amounts of data + Can be anonymous and inexpensive - Feedback often incomplete - Wording of instrument can bias feedback - Details often left out

Focus Groups
+ Aid in understanding audience, group, users + Small group interaction more than individual response + Helps identify and fill gaps in current knowledge re: perceptions, attitudes, feelings, etc. - Does not give statistics - Marketing tools seen as suspect - Analysis subjective

Discourse/Text Analysis
+ Examines actual discourse produced for a particular purpose (job, school) + Helps in understanding of context, production, audience, and text + Schedule for analysis not demanding - Labor intensive - Categories often fluid, making analysis difficult

Quantitative Descriptive Studies


+ Isolates systematically the most important variables (often from case studies) and to quantify and interrelate them (often via survey or questionnaire) + Possible to collect large amounts of data + Not as disruptive + Biases not as likely - Data restricted to information available

Prediction and Classification Studies


Goal is to predict behaviors: Prediction forecasts and interval variable (Diagnostic/TAAS scores) Classification forecasts a nominal variable (Major selection after taking 2311)

+ Important in industry, education to predict behaviors


- Need substantial population - Restricted range of variables can cause misinterpretation

- Variables cannot be added together; must be weighted and looked at in context of other variables

Positive Aspects of Descriptive/Qualitative Research


Naturalistic; allows for subjects to interact with environment Can use statistical analysis Seeks to further develop theory (not to influence action); Prescientific Coding schemes often arise from interplay between data and researchers knowledge of theory

Problems with Descriptive/Qualitative Research


Impossible to overlay structure Impossible to impose control Subject pool often limited, not representative Seen as more subjective, less rigorous Beneficial only in terms of initial investigation to form hypothesis

Experimental Research: True Experiment


+ Random sampling, or selection, of subjects (which are also stratified) + Introduction of a treatment + Use of a control group for comparing subjects who dont receive treatment with those who do - Adherence to scientific method (seen as positive, too) - Must have both internal and external validity - Treatment and control might seem artificial

Experimental Research: QuasiExperiment


+ Similar to Experiment, except that the subjects are not randomized. Intact groups are often used (for example, students in a classroom). + To draw more fully on the power of the experimental method, a pretest may be employed. + Employ treatment, control, and scientific method - Act of control and treatment makes situation artificial - Small subject pools

Meta-Analysis
+ Takes the results of true and quasi-experiments and identifies interrelationships of conclusions + Systematic + Replicable + Summarizes overall results - C/C apples and oranges? - Quality of studies used?

Positive Aspects of Experimental Research


Tests the validity of generalizations Seen as rigorous Identifies a cause-and-effect relationship Seen as more objective, less subjective Can be predictive

Problems with Experimental Research


Generalizations need to be qualified according to limitation of research methods employed Controlled settings dont mirror actual conditions; unnatural Difficult to isolate a single variable Doesnt allow for self-reflection (built-in)

Testing the Waters


How do you come up with a good research question? How do you determine if the method you plan to use will answer your question? What epistemology should you use to analyze data?

Case Scenario
Test your research savvy with the following case. Assume that you are the Mayor of Greenwood, a small town in Illinois, and youve got to make a decision based on the information collected from the following research study.

Crime Reduction Program, City of Greenwood


The chief of police wants to experiment with increasing the number of patrol officers (X) to reduce the crime rate (Y). The chief invites all twelveprecinct captains to participate in the experiment; only the 103rd volunteers. In October, patrol officers in the 103rd are increased by 15%. Reported crime drops 5% between September & December. The chief now wants to implement the program citywide.

13d 0r

You are the mayor. Would you support this request based upon the results of this study?
Could severe weather in November and December have caused the crime rate to decline? Is crime seasonal, peaking in the summer and declining in the winter?

More Problems
Since the captain of the 103rd volunteered for the program, could he have already implemented other programs that account for the decline in crime? Since the officers in the 103rd knew they were involved in a priority program, is it possible that they recorded reported crime differently?

More Problems
Will the crime reduction impact last very long? Could random error in the measurement of the crime rate account for the difference? Was the crime rate in the entire city going down anyway?

What Makes Research Good?


Validity Reliability Replicability Consistent application/analysis Trustworthiness Rigor

Validity in Research
Refers to whether the research actually measures what it says itll measure. Validity is the strength of our conclusions, inferences or propositions.
Internal Validity: the difference in the dependent variable is actually a result of the independent variable External Validity: the results of the study are generalizable to other groups and environments outside the experimental setting Conclusion Validity: we can identify a relationship between treatment and observed outcome Construct Validity: we can generalize our conceptualized treatment and outcomes to broader constructs of the same concepts

Reliability in Research
The consistency of a measurement, or the degree to which an instrument measures the same way each time it is used under the same condition with the same subjects. In short, it is the repeatability of your measurement. A measure is considered reliable if a person's score on the same test given twice is similar. It is important to remember that reliability is not measured, it is estimated. Measured by test/retest and internal consistency.

Validity and Reliability


The relationship between reliability and validity is a fairly simple one to understand: a measurement can be reliable, but not valid. However, a measurement must first be reliable before it can be valid. Thus reliability is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of validity. In other words, a measurement may consistently assess a phenomena (or outcome), but unless that measurement tests what you want it to, it is not valid.

Rigor in Research
Validity and Reliability in conducting research Adequate presentation of findings: consistency, trustworthiness Appropriate representation of study for a particular field: disciplinary rigor Rhetorical Rigor: how you represent your research for a particular audience

Key Considerations to Design Your Research Approach


What question do you want to answer? For what purposes is the research being done? i.e., what do you want to be able to do or decide as a result of the research? Who are the audiences for the information from the research, e.g., teachers, students, other researchers, members of a disciplinary community, corporate entities, etc.? From what sources should the information be collected, e.g., students, teachers, targeted groups, certain documentation, etc.?

Key Considerations to Design Your Research Approach


What kinds of information are needed to make the decisions you need to make and/or to enlighten your intended audiences, e.g., do you need information to really understand a process, the students who engage in a process, strengths and weaknesses of a curriculum or program, benefits to students or institution or agency, how aspect of a program are problematic, etc.?

Key Considerations to Design Your Research Approach


How can that information be collected in a reasonable fashion, e.g., questionnaires, interviews, examining documentation, observing staff and/or clients in the program, conducting focus groups among staff and/or students, etc? How accurate will this information be? When is the information needed (so, by when must it be collected)? What resources are available to collect the information? How will this information be analyzed?

The Importance of Methods and Methodology


The most common error made in reading [and conducting] research is overlooking the methodology, and concentrating on the conclusions. Yet if the methodology isnt sound, the conclusions and subsequent recommendations wont be sound.
Patricia Goubil-Gambrell, additions mine

Thank you for your kind attention


Go forth and research. .but be careful out there.