d i g i t a l   a d v i s o r . . .

Research: The Big Mystery

A 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:

  • Contribute 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.

  • Produce 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.

There 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.

Good 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.

Good 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 on controlling your Self.

Good 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.

Good 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 design decisions from her study and the research report from the same study are available here.

Good 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 Research Reports.

The 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


Evaluating Research

Reasoning with Evidence

Doing Your Own Research