It Starts with a Question.
Ah, the classic question! "What is research?!"
- In education, as in all other topic areas, the key thing to remember is: IT ALL STARTS WITH A QUESTION! (need to know, curiosity, etc., etc.!)
- if it is in a question form, we call it a research question: e.g., "What is the relationship between motivation to teach and satisfaction level as a first-year teacher?"
- if it is in a declarative sentence form, we call it a problem statement: e.g., "This study is to determine the relationship between motivation to teach and satisfaction level as a first-year teacher."
- I consider the above two forms to be EQUIVALENT and leave it up to YOU as to which way you'd prefer to state your "curiosity." But some professors (and particularly, your dissertation chair) may have a preference as to one form or the other. Guess the moral is: "Know thy audience (and act accordingly)!"
- P.S. As a result of my own non-preference, I'll go ahead & use the terms interchangeably; e.g., "answering your research question(s)," vs. "addressing your problem statement." Remember -- the ONLY difference is in the sentence structure! (question: interrogative sentence; statement: declarative sentence)
- I've asked this "loaded question" in the past as to "what is research? what is its driving force?" And guess what answer I typically get: STATISTICS or DATA ANALYSIS!!!
- It's admittedly natural to give more weight to the "scariest" or "most complicated" part! BUT -- the statistics, as in all other parts of the research process, all centers around the RESEARCH QUESTION OR PROBLEM STATEMENT!!!!
Diagram of the Research Process
These, then, would be the key steps in the research process:
- Identify your research question or problem statement.
This can come from:
- Something in prior research that piques your interest;
- A need to know based on practice (e.g., you observe a problem at
work and wish to understand its causes better; and/or need to develop
a solution to the problem)
- "Just because" curiosity about something!
- Specify the related research design ("blueprint"
or "plan of attack" that you'll use to obtain the answer(s)
to your research question(s)/problem statement.
We'll learn that these research designs come in "families," some of
which "cleanly link" to given research questions or problem statements.
of Survey Research
- Population and Sample: the WHO of your study (the
population being "to whom do you wish to project or generalize your
findings?" and the sample being "the subjects you actually observe,
interview, send surveys to, etc., etc., or otherwise 'study' to get
an answer to your question")
For practical purposes, we'll see later on that it might not be too
feasible, time- and/or cost-wise to personally study EVERYONE
to whom we wish to project or generalize! The task, then, will be
to select or "draw" a smaller subset of subjects to actually "use"
in our study. This is called a sample. We'll be learning various ways
to draw a sample, as well as the relative tradeoffs of each different
Also -- please notice that I said "WHO" when it came to population
and sample. These don't HAVE to be PERSONS (although they usually
are: e.g., "all 4th-grade special education students enrolled in Arizona
public schools for the 1993-94 academic year"); they CAN be THINGS
(e.g., "all related special education curricula being used for/with
these students"). In this case, we can say "WHAT" instead of "WHO."
But since in the majority of "real-life" cases we are dealing with
PERSONS instead of THINGS, I'll use "who" and "subjects" for population
and sample references. And it'll be understood that these CAN be THINGS
- The "Instrumentation" or "Sources of Information"
-- e.g., your "hands-on tools" for obtaining information needed
for and about the population and sample in order to answer your research
"Instrumentation" is any such tool involving "live and in-person"
collection of information. Some examples are as follows:
- Mass-mailed rating scale surveys:
- Surveys with open-ended, fill-in-the-blank items;
- Questions about background and purchasing habits asked of subjects
in a telephone interview;
- Open-ended questions about people's attitudes, feelings, likes
and dislikes asked of 6-12 subjects in a relaxed setting for about
one hour (this is called a "focus group interview");
- The same types of open-ended attitudinal questions asked of
subjects one by one, either in person or by telephone (this is
called an "individual interview");
- Your log book of notes of your observations taken of discipline
methods used by a teacher in a primary grade classroom.
There are many other examples. Do you see how, in each of the above
cases, it involves "live and in person" collection of data -- even if,
as in the case of the mass-mailed surveys, you may never actually meet
the subjects? But it's still a "live" person giving you the answers
(hopefully, anyway ... !!!).
"Sources of Information," in contrast, involve getting your data
from EXISTING sources -- e.g., what we call "archival information."
The data already exist and you are locating, identifying and 'pulling
from' these sources to fit YOUR research needs. Just a few examples
of such sources of information are as follows:
- Pulling off the 4th grade ITBS scores in reading and math for the
last 5 years from existing computerized databases in the school district
- Obtaining diaries written and kept by an individual who may be
deceased but who is the focus of your area of interest -- and reading
and selectively making notes and pulling quotations from these diaries;
- Obtaining policies on hiring and firing of school district classified
staff from three preselected district offices -- and again, selectively
'reading and pulling' from these the information that you need to
answer your particular research question(s).
Do you see how, in the above examples, the data/information/records,
etc., ALREADY EXISTED (e.g., YOU weren't the 'original compiler')
and may in fact have been created for totally different purposes
at the time? But now you are needing to locate and use these sources
to address your own particular, unique problem statement or needs
Once you have completed this assignment, you should:
Go on to Group Assignment 1
Go back to It Starts with Question
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