Harness your curiosity and use it to undertake your own research projects in a scholarly manner!
Quite. #FLcuriosity, aka Developing your research project, eight weeks from 27 June, University of Southampton.
Week 1: starting an academic research project
- think about what inspires you (broad topic area)
- consider what skills you might develop through undertaking a research project (transferable skills)
- think very clearly about what exactly you are getting into by undertaking a research project (checklist)
A good research project will look at the work of previous scholars, will build upon that, while adding original views and interpretations, so that you get the opportunity to make an original contribution to the subject that interests you.
Week 2: drafting a research proposal
You might just end up researching and carrying on finding things that you find are really interesting, but never narrow down a research question…work out what you’re interested in…not coming up with a list of everything but rather picking something and sticking to it and creating a research question from that.
- document your thoughts as you go along in a research log (mindmaps!)
- home in on a research topic that meets your requirements
- develop a draft hypothesis that is broad enough to give you scope to explore but narrow enough to be manageable
- write a draft research proposal (approx 200 words)
Either work downwards, or if you already have a topic you wish to explore, work backwards to broaden out your focus to identify what subject it is that your project actually falls under – and accompanying approach and methodology.
Week 3: undertaking research and recording your findings
How to find and select reliable sources, as well as how to record the origins of these sources to make sure you can prove where your evidence came from.
Should be ‘meat and drink’:
- familiarise yourself with commonly used book and journal terminology
- put a system in place for systematically checking out sources and recording your findings
- consider why searching out primary sources rather than using secondary information can give you the ‘edge’ in your research project
- experiment with ‘exploding’ out the terms of your draft title to get you started with your research (try post-its or a mindmap); it’s about knowing a lot about a little, not vice versa, so keep the theme of your research narrow, focused, and ideally measurable:
Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is rubbish.
Week 4: choosing an appropriate methodology
- find out what type of research methods are appropriate for your topic
- consider the benefits and drawbacks for the research methods you have selected and whether your research questions and hypotheses may need re-thinking
- update your research proposal to include your methodologies
The different types of methodology are broadly split between:
- quantitative – produce quantifiable outcomes; you are likely to have clearly set out responses (variables) to questions you ask, eg yes/no responses, likelihood or degrees of satisfaction questions on a given scale, allowing for statistically reliable and significant analysis of and between variables, which may infer something about the sample population, and if a representative sample, the wider target population
- qualitative – do not provide as structured responses and as such fewer inferences can be made beyond the individuals sampled, however less structure means less restricted answers, often providing very rich and contextual data; we might want to know beyond a yes or no answer, instead trying to achieve a ‘well maybe, I’m not sure though, because of x, y and z’ type answer that tells us far more
- consider also mixed methods
- which sources of information might be instrumental in answering your research question?
- how will you obtain sources of information appropriate for your research project?
- how may you wish to analyse them?
- how you might wish to look at your source material and what methods of analysis will you use to investigate it more closely?
- consider the potential biases you may encounter with the sources of information and analyses you have chosen – think about how these biases could impact upon your project and weigh up some of the advantages and disadvantages of your choice accordingly
Week 5: academic reading and note taking
Academic reading is a very practical way of dealing with books and materials. Instead of reading through every single piece of the material, begin by going straight to the sign posts:
- chapters – read the opening and concluding paragraphs and ask: “is this relevant?”
- index – look for keywords
- signal words – ‘therefore’, ‘on the other hand’
Three main approaches:
- scanning – locate specific information (statistics, details, particular names or keywords) by just looking at the page, in particular the key terms
- skimming – read a longish text or parts of one (eg the first and last couple of lines of paragraphs) to get the gist (the main idea) of what it contains; the aim is not to get a detailed understanding but rather an overview that may be relevant to your enquiry
- critical close reading
- see Barbara Fillip on What happens when I read a non-fiction book and Different ways of reading
At the heart of much academic writing is an argument. An academic argument can vary in form according to the subject area; however, there are shared common elements (claim, data, justification). You need to be able to deconstruct and understand an academic argument when reading and create an argument in your own writing.
Effective note taking means identifying the information which is relevant without noting everything down. Using appropriate academic reading skills can save you time. When note taking, where possible put the information in your own words and, if you don’t, make sure that you have a system that makes this clear otherwise you could end up plagiarising.
Note taking tools:
- blogging and mind mapping
- annotating – highlighting, underlining, writing in the margin; summarise afterwards to avoid plagiarism
- Docear – imports and organises PDFs with notes into a mind map
- Read Cube, Scrivner and Zotero – all show PDFs in one half and a notebook on the other half to take notes while reading
- a notebook – half-processed writing
Week 6: referencing
By the end of this week you will be aware of the different styles of referencing and know how to set your references out to an academic standard.
Understanding academic integrity (Soton’s regs) and plagiarism. Referencing styles, including Harvard, Chicago, Modern Humanities Research Association (MRHA; Soton guide), Modern Language Association (MLA), OSCOLA…
A Harvard reference, yuk:
Lipson, C (2006) Cite Right: A Quick Guide to Citation Styles – MLA, APA, Chicago, the Sciences, Professions, and More London: The University of Chicago Press
Useful online tools include Endnote and Mendeley (tutorial).
Week 7: writing up your research
Ways of making sense of the sources and results you have gathered and how to go about structuring your essay, as an essay plan:
- establish a time limit and/or word count
- lay your sources out, either physically or digitally, and work out which ones fit to which parts of your essay
- for or against style essay – arrange them on two sides
- introduction – set out the context and tell the reader what they’re going to be told, what your overall position will be and exactly how you plan to guide the reader through your work
- ie context, hypothesis, structure
- main body – explore in more depth the importance of your research, what the background to it is, and what work has already been done in this field
- show examples as evidence of the issues that you’ve considered in shaping your general point of view
- for each section outline your point, provide evidence for it, then link it back to your research question, and on again to your next point
- make a counterargument for every point to show that you’ve thoroughly considered all sides of the argument
- literature review – document work that exists in your field already, its significance, and your take on it
- methodology section – explain complicated methods, or forms of analysis
- ie overview, examples, paragraphs
- conclusion – a very clear statement of your argument in a way that satisfies your research questions
- what the implications of your work are, who agrees with you, and where further research might be useful
- reveal your results, followed by a discussion which indicates what their significance is and the impact on your research questions
- tie all the strands of evidence together into one coherent piece of work
- ie answer, argument, implications
Write an abstract (around 200 words) after you have finished writing up your research project, summarising what your project contains:
- what you set out to do and why (hypothesis and research questions)
- how you did it (methodology)
- what you found (results and conclusions)
- recommendations (whether you have any will depend on the type of research project)
Week 8: presenting your research
A bit academic, at this juncture.