#2 – Ideas, Literature Review, Ethics & Politics in Research
I. Planning a Research Project
II. Research Ideas
III. Preparing & Doing Research
IV. Literature Review
V. Ethics & Politics in Social Research
Planning a Research Project
- Knowing what is required to do, or what you want to do;
- Thinking about your research area;
- Using your supervisor to the fullest extent: getting help & feedback, taking criticisms positively, following suggestions, …
- Managing time and resources
- Develop a timetable (preferable together with supervisor);
- Time-consuming: gaining access, analyzing data, writing up, ethical clearance.
- Find out what, if any, resources can be put at your disposal for carrying out your research.
- Funding, assistance, equipment, data analysis software …
- Formulating suitable research questions
- Process of developing research questions:
- General research area that interests us;
- Select aspect of research area;
- Research questions (a wide pool);
- Narrow down to develop a tighter & clearer focus and to select related & specific research questions.
Sources of research area
|Puzzles-inconsistent views concerning one topic|
|New developments in society
|Social or behavioral problem
|Vague and fleeting thoughts
Formulating suitable research questions
- Criteria for evaluating research questions
- Be clear; be linked to each other;
- Be researchable, not too abstract to be converted into researchable/operational terms;
- Have some connection(s) with established theory & research;
- Be able to make an original contribution, however small, to the topic;
- Neither too broad nor too narrow.
Preparing & Doing Research
Writing your research proposal
To outline what your research project will be about and how you intend to go about it:
|what is/are your research topic/objectives?|
|why is your research topic (or why are those research objectives) important?|
|what is/are your research question/questions?|
|what does the literature have to say about your research topic/objectives and research question(s)?
|who will be your research participants? how to select them? How are you going to collect data relevant to research question(s)? what research methods are you intending to use?
|why are the research methods/sources you have selected the appropriate ones for your research and how will those resources be funded?|
|what is your timetable for the different stages of the project?|
|what problems (access to organizations) do you anticipate in doing the research?|
|what are the possible ethical problems associated with your research?|
|How will you analyze your data?|
Preparing for your research
|Develop data-collection instruments after having identified research questions reasonably clearly|
|If possible, conduct a small pilot study to determine how well the research instruments work.|
|Access issues- confirm at the earliest opportunity that you have the necessary permission to conduct research at the setting/organization|
|What do you need to study in order to investigate your research questions?|
|How easily can you gain access to a sampling frame?|
|What kind of sampling strategy will you employ?|
|Can you justify your choice of sampling method?|
|Any possible ethical problems(s) associated with your research methods or your approach to contacting people?|
Getting Started: Literature Review
Reviewing the existing literature
Narrative review (traditional kind):
To arrive at an overview of a field of study through a reasonably comprehensive assessment & critical interpretation of the literature, as a prelude to conducting one’s own research in the area.
To establish why the researcher conducted the research & what its contribution is likely to be.
Purpose of exploring the existing literature
|what is already known about this area?|
|what concepts and theories are relevant to this area?|
|what research methods and research designs have been employed in studying this area?|
|Are there any significant controversies?|
|Are there any consistencies in findings related to this area?|
|Are there any unanswered research question in this area?|
|How does this literature relate to your research questions? – possibility to revise and refine your research questions in the process of literature review.|
Reviewing the existing literature
Getting the most from your readings
|Take good notes, including details of the material you read.|
|Develop critical reading skills- moving beyond mere description and summary asking questions about the significance of the work; how does the item relate to others you have read? any strengths and deficiencies? any implication of the author\’s ideas and/ or findings?|
|Search and review of literature should be guided by research questions and used as a means of showing why your research questions are important.|
|Returning to much of the examined literature late in the discussion and conclusion parts|
|Only put relevant literature, which can assist developing an argument into a literature review.|
|Reading literature should not be stopped once you begin designing your research.|
|Use literature should to tell a story about the research project.|
|Have a comprehensive coverage of the literature.|
- A replicable, scientific & transparent process aiming to minimize bias through exhaustive literature search of published & unpublished studies and by providing an audit trail of the reviewer’s decisions, procedures & conclusions.
- Tend to follow the steps in order:
- Define the purpose & scope of the review;
- Seek out studies relevant to the scope & purpose of the review;
- Assess the relevance of each study for the research question(s);
- Analyze & appraise each study;
- Extract the results of each study & synthesize the results.
|summarizing the results of a large number of quantitative studies and conducting various analytical tests who whether or not a particular variable has an effect.|
|Aim to establish whether or not a particular variable has a certain effect by comparing the results of different studies.|
|Vulnerable to \”file drawer problem\”- Study finds no intended effect of independent variable- difficult to publish- the findings are simply filed away in a drawer. Findings of a meta-analysis will be based in favor of the independent variable being found to have a certain effect.|
|Meta-ethnography||To achieve interpretative synthesis of qualitative research and other secondary sources (a counterpart to meta-analysis in quantitative research).|
|Crucial: synthesis is focused primarily on the interpretations and explanations offered by the included studies, rather than on the data that these studies are based on.|
- Searching the existing literature ~ an ongoing process
- Electronic databases
- The single most useful source: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI)
- www.scopus.com/scopus/home.url; Cited Reference Search; INGENTA;
- Academic publishers (Cambridge Journals Online; SAGE);
- Newspaper archives; periodicals;
- Search engine: Google Scholar & amazon (be selective, critical evaluating);
- Email alert; catalogue of your own institution & other universities …
- Keywords & defining search parameters
- Crucial: using synonyms, alternative terms, wild card symbols; knowledgeable in your research area.
Referencing your work
- Referencing in literature review: to emphasize your understanding & knowledge of the subject: its historical development & your own research builds on the work of others.
- Referencing in other parts of your paper: different purposes (e.g., to help to reinforce your argument …).
- Most common referencing system – APA style (http://www.gcc.edu.hk/library/apa):
|Whenever paraphrasing the argument or ideas of an author or authors in writing: add in parentheses immediately afterwards the surname of the author and the year of publication.|
|If quoting the author: put quotation marks around the quotation; after the year of publication, include the page number where the quotation is from.|
|All books, articles, and other sources cited in the text are then given in a list of references at the end of the dissertation in alphabetical order by author surname.|
- The role of the bibliography
- Comprehensive coverage of the existing literature;
- Selectively focused & quality – reflecting the author’s informed judgement of the importance & suitability of sources
- Be cautious in using secondary referencing (referring to an article or book that has been cited in another source).
- Integrating the references into the text of the main body.
- Understanding the authors’ beliefs & approaches, accumulating knowledge.
Ethics in Social Research
Ethics of social research – related to the role of values in research process – Issues:
~How should we treat the people on whom we conduct research?
~Are there activities in which we should or should not engage due to our relations with them?
|Research ethics concerns the responsibility of researchers to be honest and respectful to all individuals who are affected by their research studies or their reports of the studies\’ results.|
|Ethical issues must be considered at each step in the research process: measurement techniques, participant selection, research strategies and designs, data collection and analysis, reporting results.|
American Psychological Association (APA) Guidelines
~Ethical guidelines for the use & treatment of human participants in research –
~First published in 1973; periodically revised.
APA Ethics Code: 10 ethical standards, researchers should be completely familiar with all of them before beginning any research with human participants.
~The Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee (IACUC) – examines all proposed research with respect to its treatment of nonhuman subjects – minimal discomfort/harm, general care, medical care …
~IACUC approval must be obtained prior to conducting any research with nonhuman subjects.
1. No Harm to participants – anticipate, guard against, minimize …
- Physical or psychological, induced to perform reprehensible acts;
- Monitoring participants’ well-being, halting the study at any sign of trouble.
- Data protection: maintaining the confidentiality & anonymity of records.
- Very important for establishing trust & future researches; however, may be difficulty for many forms of qualitative research; may present dilemmas for researchers.
- Possibility of harm to the researcher.
- Not possible to identify in all circumstances whether harm is likely: informed consent must be obtained.
2. Informed consent:
- Prospective research participants should be given as much info as might be needed to make a rational, informed decision about whether or not to participate in a study.
- Components: information, understanding, voluntary participation.
- Implication: participants should be fully informed about the research process.
- Easier said than done:
- Extremely difficult to present absolutely all info required to make informed decision.
- Individual differences among participants in understanding the nature of the study.
- Informed consent forms: a statement of all the elements of informed consent, signed by research participants.
- Very much linked to “informed consent” & “anonymity & confidentiality”:
- No names or other identification appear on data records;
- Using pseudonyms in transcripts & beyond;
- storing interview tapes, transcripts, & participants’ contact details separately;
- Use a coding system to keep track of which participant names go with which datasets.
- Covert methods: usually deemed to be violating the privacy principle.
- Is related to all methods of social research
4. Deception: researchers represent their work as something other than what it is / Not telling participants the true purpose of the study, aiming to examine behavior under “normal”/ ”natural” circumstances.
- Why to object deception? – not a nice thing; adversely affecting the image of research.
- Widespread in social research, WHY?
- Rarely feasible or desirable to provide participants with a totally complete account of what the research is about, the research may not proceed as planned.
- Participants may modify their natural behavior.
- Debriefing: provide a full description of the study\’s true purpose asap after participation is completed; explain the nature of & justification for any deceptions used.
Scientific Integrity – Fraud in science
- Error (失誤): an honest mistake that occurs in the research process.
- Fraud (舞弊, 欺詐): explicit effort to falsify or misrepresent data. (e.g., making up or changing data to make it support the hypothesis)
|Why is fraud in science committed?||Competitive nature of an academic career|
|Researcher\’s exceedingly high need for success and the admiration coming along with it.|
|safeguards against fraud||Replicating- repeating a research study using the same basic procedures used in the original|
|Peer review- editor of the journal and a few experts in the field review the paper in extreme detail.|
Avoiding Plagiarism (剽竊)
Plagiarism: presenting someone else’s ideas/writings/inventions as one’s own.
- a serious breach of ethics & honesty, should be guarded against at all cost.
- can occur on a variety of different levels:
- literally copy an entire paper word for word & present it as your own work;
- copy & paste passages from articles & sites found on the Internet;
- only changing a few words; changing most wording but keeping the same structure;
- outside ideas & phrases appear in your paper without appropriate citation.
- Not plagiarism : rephrasing in your own words, using your own structure, & a citation for the original source is an acceptable paraphrase.
Ethics & the issue of quality
- Research Ethics Committee (in US context) safeguards ethical clearance on social research: a slow & stringent process, only 15% of application are cleared in the first round.
- RECs frequently raise issues about the quality of a research: no quality = unethical.
- Gaining REC clearance may have implications for the research process, which in turn may impact the research quality:
- In addition to the traditional domains of ethical consideration, researchers have to defend their methodological techniques – sampling, interview guide, questionnaire … à direction, process, & quality of research will all be affected.
- Growing frustration about the amount of time taken to proceed the research because of the lengthy process of clearance
- The difficulties of ethical decision-making
- Less guidance on marginal inappropriate practice;
- Clash between the ethically desirable and the practical: requirement to sign a “informed consent” form reduces prospective participants’ willingness to participate in survey research.
- New media (internet) & difficult decisions:
- What is or is not “sensitive material” in chatrooms, email discussion groups?
- Visual ethnography: how to obtain informed consent of everyone who appears in photographs?
Politics in Social Research
Politics: the working-through of power & contests
- Social researchers are sometimes put in the position where they take sides.
- Issue of funding research.
- Gaining access & getting on in organization – constant negotiation & renegotiation
- Teams – various and/or diverging career & objectives of team members.
- Pressure restricting the publication of findings.
- The use made of findings by others can be the focus of further political plots.
- Politics of methods – competing claims to methodological proficiency/expertise