Published: October 8, 2012 by Dr. Bill Fisher
As we work with our research students here at SLIS one thing we try to stress is quality. This includes how to evaluate a piece of research to determine the quality of that research, as well as how to conduct research to insure it will be evaluated as a quality piece of work. As with most things, there are certain fundamentals that provide a solid basis for good research and examining (or re-examining) those fundamentals is always a worthwhile endeavor.
First, quality research begins with a well-defined question. What do you wish to examine and why? At the doctoral level this typically involves a question that has not been asked before, or at least asked in a certain way. Others may want to study something that’s been done before because they may have a question about the methodology used or the results that were found. Conditions may have changed over time, so asking the same question in the same way could now produce different results. What is important here is the researcher understanding what he/she is trying to do and why it is important to a certain audience.
A second fundamental of good research is to present your evidence clearly with a discussion/description of the data found and the analysis of that data so the research can be replicated by others. If you want someone to believe you, short of having them observe everything you do, the best way to make that happen is help them “discover” what you have discovered.
A third fundamental of good research is to present critical assumptions, contrary findings and alternative interpretations when you present your work. It is best from the start to work from a perspective that no matter how rigorous your methodology, you won’t cover everything so rather that try to ignore other viewpoints or possibilities, accept that they exist and recognize that no single piece of research is ever perfect.
Finally, take care in identifying uncertainties and avoid making exaggerated claims as you develop your conclusions from your research. A lot of what we see in our research literature may “prove” certain associations – things happening at the same time or very close in time; proving or demonstrating causation – one event causing another event – is much harder to prove so be sure you understand what your results tell you.
Research based on these fundamentals should be worth pursuing and interesting to read or hear about later.