Preparing for Research
- Understand the difference between primary and secondary research.
- Be able to properly select a research method for primary research.
- Understand that a working thesis should not be used as a final thesis.
- Be able to choose what model is most appropriate for the working thesis.
Conducting primary research is an excellent skill for students to develop using various methods such as interviews, surveys, or observations. Primary research is the collection of original real-world data that can be used in academic, business, or simply personal situations. While it may seem confusing, it is important to keep in mind that primary research reports often incorporate background information from secondary sources to present prior knowledge and relevance of the subject. Primary research should be focused on forming new conclusions on collected data as opposed to paraphrasing what other sources have already concluded.
When considering how to conduct primary research, it is important to note that there are three basic methods for collecting data. Choosing a method requires not only deciding what type of information is best for the research, but also considering who the subject of the data collection will be. Therefore, when deciding between interviews, surveys, and observations, the following information will be useful for making the proper decision.
Observational studies should be used in situations where it is better to watch instead of asking. Observers should always be observing the actions of the subject(s), not the attitudes. Essentially, the actions of the subject(s) should theoretically not change whether they are being observed or not. Unfortunately, this will likely not be the case. Whenever an observation study is taking place, the observers are always a part of the situation they are observing themselves. A prime example of this is when a teacher is being evaluated in the classroom. The observer is obviously meant to be ignored, but it is no secret that both the students and the teacher will be on their best behavior. In any case, the observations should leave the data collector with questions instead of predictions. If the observer has confirmation bias before going into the study, their results will blatantly display their bias and be regarded as inaccurate. Therefore, confirmation bias is one of the most common flaws found in observational studies.
Interviews are used for studies that only require a small number of people and aim for in depth and personal answers. Interviews can be conducted in one-on-one or small group settings. Interviews often include gathering background information from the interviewee that can also be analyzed to draw conclusions from. Prior to the interview, the interviewer should provide the participants with a consent form that outlines the purpose, use of the information, and requests permission to use their responses as part of the research. To record the responses from the interviewee, some use an audio recording device to save the conversation verbatim. Others may use a laptop or notebook to write down the information. No matter the recording method, it is important to remember that only the important information needs to be quoted in the research report and the rest of the information can be summarized. The interview questions themselves should be open-ended questions and not binary questions. Asking open-ended questions allows the interviewer to draw more information and opinions out of the person being interviewed, thus allowing for a better and more in-depth analysis of the information. Interviews are also the most appropriate when looking for an expert opinion on the subject.
Surveys are usually used in studies that require responses from a large number of people. The information gathered from surveys is normally used to discover what a large population thinks or believes, and the participants are normally kept anonymous. The questions used in a survey should be as simple as possible and are normally short answer or multiple choice. Surveys often ask some general demographical questions in the beginning such as religious affiliation, gender, age, etc. Prior to creating these questions, the researcher should brainstorm which factors may affect the results and why. One of the most important aspects of survey studies is to not make generalizations that the data cannot support. For example, if the survey asks ten college students if they like pizza, it would be inappropriate to conclude that all college students like pizza.
A working thesis can be a difficult concept to understand, however it is essentially a rough draft of the final thesis. A working thesis is the first attempt at an assertion of your position. A working thesis should never be accepted as a final thesis and as you further your research you should continue testing your assertions and modifying your working thesis throughout. When creating a working thesis, there are three basic models that can be used: Correcting-Misinterpretations Model, Filling the Gap Model, and the Modifying What Others Have Said Model. Each of these models is a different strategy for creating a working thesis.
This model is used to correct writers whose arguments you believe have misconstrued one or more important aspects of an issue. While not necessarily saying the other writers are incorrect, this model is used to correct what you believe your research can prove differently. An example of this model is as follows: “Although many scholars have argued about X & Y, a careful examination suggests Z.”
Filling the Gap Model
This model is used to fill in what other writers may have overlooked or ignored. A key part of this model is that you are filling in the previous research with your own primary research. An example of this model would be: “Although scholars have noted X & Y, they have missed the importance of Z.”
Modifying What Others Have Said Model
This model is used to modify other writers’ claims but realizing that mutual understanding is possible. While easily confused with the Correcting-Misinterpretations Model, the difference is the mutual understanding between the previous writer and yourself and agreeing with part of their argument. An example of this model would be: “Although I agree with X & Y, it is important to extend their ideas with Z.”
- Primary Research
- Secondary Research
- Working Thesis