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Qualitative research calls for an in-depth investigation to study the perspective of a group of people, events and phenomena by interacting with people. In other words, this type of research helps to minimise the gap between you and the people that you want to research or study. Here are the steps that you should follow to make your research easier and effective.

Decide the questions that you want to answer through your research When it comes to researching a given problem, the first step is to be clear about what you want to find out through your research. Research questions help you frame directions to carry out your research in a systematic manner, and the same questions will also help you analyse which type of research you need to use to achieve the objectives of your study - qualitative or quantitative.

Here are a few questions from different studies that explicitly indicate you should conduct a qualitative research.

What are the cultural differences in teaching and learning? Why do children in rural areas show less participation in sports? How do changes in entry requirements of teachers affect students achievements? How is the culture of schools in rural areas different from the culture of schools in urban areas?

All these questions are open-ended that are not supposed to be fit into a given choice of options. Here you will find a variety of answers because each person has a different outlook to analyse a problem or situation. These questions are not focusing on the prevalence of a problem; instead, they want you to investigate “why”, “what” and “how”.

2. Data collection You may rely on different types of methodologies to find out the answer to your research questions. These methods include interviews, surveys, participant observations and document analysis.

Interviews The most critical question that bewilders scholars is where and how to conduct an interview. Since you are entering the lives of people to know their experiences and perceptions, it’s vital that you make them feel comfortable at the time of interview. It would be better if you let your interviewees decide on a place. However, it is quintessential to ensure that there arises no bias (either from your end or the interviewees).

Interviews can be taken one-on-one, and over telephone or emails, you have to decide which method will be the best one to get correct and relevant answers to meet your research objectives. If this is a face-to-face interview, you should take permission from your interviewees to tape the interrogation as it won’t be plausible to memorise everything. However, if it is prohibited, try to make notes quickly.

No matter which method you have been using for your interview, the first thing is to explain the purpose of your interview, discuss confidentiality, and how you will use information.

Observations Observation methods are also instrumental in conducting qualitative research as they help you analyse non-verbal expressions and feelings of informants such as what terms participants particularly used in communication, what information they were reluctant to share, how participants communicated with each other, and what were their reactions and feelings while discussing sensitive issues. Observation methods allow you to collect invisible data, or in other words, you can say that it gives you an answer to a question, “what you noticed?”

Official documents While personal documents pass on information about individuals to you, official documents help collect data about an organisation. For instance, if you want to conduct qualitative research on “how the culture of rural schools is different from the culture of urban schools”, in addition to interviewing students and teachers, you will also collect school data from school websites, newsletters, reports, and student handbooks.

3. Data analysis When you have completed your data collection, you will find a set of possible answers to a particular question. So now you have to analyse your data as objectively as possible.

Coding data Data coding is essential to organise data into categories and themes. It can be done by assigning a phrase, symbol, colour and number. This helps closely examine data and compare it with another piece of data to observe patterns. For instance, you have interviewed four people to know their views on “Why too many Indian cases are pending”, you found that each person had different opinions like: Poor investigation for any crime Lack of physical strength Lack of dedication and motivation to solve cases Lack of resources to nab criminals

You will make a tabular representation in which you would mention these opinions as themes, and also explain what exactly an interviewee told to define a particular reason/cause/opinion. Since it would be difficult to use their names on and on, you would give alphabets to their names.

Sorting data into categories Having identified themes and patterns in your data, you have to classify data. For instance, if you held qualitative research on “how changes in entry requirements of teachers affect students achievements”, you would define your data into categories such as entry requirements of TGTs, entry requirements of PGTs, the impact of entry requirements among high-school students, and the effects of entry requirements among senior-secondary students.

4. Write up the outcomes of your research Before writing up your findings, you have to analyse who your audience is. You will use formatting guidelines as prescribed by your university to lend increased comprehensibility to your research work. An important yet almost ignored part of your qualitative research is the need to appropriately and coherently present your research questions and objectives with the data collected. Providing a critical explanation of your findings is a must for qualitative research works.

You ought to be extra cautious while writing up your qualitative research thesis or dissertation. Relevant literature review, chosen methods, and data analysis are necessary ingredients to good qualitative academic research.

The discussion section in your thesis or dissertation includes the analysis of your data and findings. The aim of this section is to throw light on how your study moved to fill the research gap observed by you and what limitations you found during your own research. You will use relevant literature to compare your research outcomes with the previous authors’ findings. Here are the steps to organise all different elements of this section into a well-compiled and comprehensible discussion chapter.

Start with the research gap First few statements of the discussion section should be written with a purpose to remind the readers about the importance of your study. You will state the main problem that should be relevant or connected with what you mentioned in the introduction part. However, you should not iterate in the same way you followed in the introduction section. You will also explain how answering research questions will take current knowledge a step ahead. Understand it with a below example in which a problem and the significance has been discussed.

The current clinical mainstays for cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, surgical resection, and radiotherapy can cause systemic toxicity, significant trauma, and functional disruption of tissue, especially if repetitive treatment becomes necessary due to tumor recurrence. Hence there is significant clinical interest in alternative treatment strategies, for example, photodynamic therapy (PDT) which can effectively eradicate tumors and can be safely repeated if needed.

Provide critical analysis of your findings Here you will state the strategies, models and hypotheses that you used to find the answer to a research question. The focus of this section is to elucidate your findings explicitly that will help readers imbibe your contribution towards existing knowledge. Do not recapitulate what you mentioned in the results section. Once you have stated all details of your findings, you will explicate how your findings are relevant with current studies. You will produce an eloquent comparative report between studies. Compare the results you have obtained and how they are different (or similar) from the previous researches considering their data collection methods, sample selected, etc. Below is an excerpt taken from a research paper that states an approach and results.

Discuss the limitations of your study Do not forget to include the limitations of your study. Were there any factors that showed different results when included and excluded? What was the impact of sample size on your findings? How did limitations affect your analytical process? Did limitations affect your ability to generalise your findings? You have to discuss all these points to cover the scope of your study.

Discuss follow-up studies Write what follow up studies hinge on your findings. Consider directions for future studies that can be facilitated by your findings and can further provide significance to your study in future. Do not forget that suggesting future studies is an essential part of the discussion section.