Research: The Big Mystery
central criterion for earning a Ph.D. is that you demonstrate
that you can contribute to the development of knowledge
in your field. The way scholarly knowledge is developed,
however, is quite different from the way your everyday
knowledge is developed. Scholarly knowledge is developed
through a unique form of written conversation, in which
any number of people may participate, but each must add
to the ongoing conversation and each must justify his
contribution. This is what you must learn to do.
Here is a quick
list of what a study should accomplish:
to an ongoing conversation. That means that the questions
you pose must be questions that are of interest to the
larger community, and must derive from the ongoing conversation.
This is why your professors require you to write a literature
review. You need to show your readers how your study
follows from concerns raised by others. For more
on this, see my page on What
makes a question important.
new knowledge or insights that help people in the community
understand a particular phenomena or solve a particular
puzzle. But, knowing that others in the community will
critique your proposed knowledge, you need to be able
to show them how you gathered your clues and how you
interpreted them, so that they can decide whether your
contribution is credible. For more on this, see my page on how
to justify your study.
is no one best way to do research. The strategy that works
best for the problem you are studying won't necessarily
work for someone else's problem. Instead of prescribing
a set of specific methods for research, the National Research
Council recently developed a set
of standards for ensuring
that a research study contributes to this ongoing conversation.
Here are the standards they suggested for individual research
reports of the sort you will eventually be producing.
research reports poses significant questions
that can be addressed empirically. For help with your
research questions, go to my page on what
makes a question important and what
makes a question answerable.
research reports link research to relevant theory.
For help on how to do that, go to my page on using
theory and frameworks. A related and important feature
of good research is that it relies on theory instead of tacit
beliefs. For help on finding your own tacit belief and learning how
to control them, see my pages on how
beliefs influence research and
research reports use methods that permit direct
investigation of the question. For help in thinking
about methods, go to my page on standard
approaches to educational research and my page on
Justifying your Strategy.
research reports provide coherent and explicit
chains of reasoning. For help with reasoning
through your study, go to my page on justifying your
research strategy. You might also benefit from
examining a sample of a study in which the reasoning
is laid out explicitly. I stole some documents from
Mary Kennedy that might help here. Both the original
decisions from her study and the
research report from the same study are available
research reports disclose their methods
for professional scrutiny and critique. For help on
revealing your methods, see my page on Justifying
your Strategy and my page on Writing
pages in this research section of your DA are designed
to help you find your way through this process. They address
all aspects of the research process. Most of them address
conceptual issues associated with research; however, you
should also read my page on schedule,
which gives some guidelines for anticipating all the steps
that are needed and how long each step will likely take.
© Mary Kennedy, 2006