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Framing Research Question - Statswork

Framing Your Research Problem

In acknowledging that people ‘frame’ research problems in practitioner research (for those not ‘in practice’ as such – practice can be as a researcher) - by approaching them in certain ways - the influence of several factors on how people see things is made explicit. For any given individual, such factors will include.
Direct personal experience of their own practice and that of others they have worked with;
The views and opinions of other practitioners they have listened to, read or had discussions with;
Previous literature produced around the identified problem; and last, but not least
Their personal underpinning beliefs about the research process – relating to views on

The nature of knowledge (ontological considerations)

The potential for and desirability of the researcher being objective as opposed to subjective in their approach (epistemological considerations)

Appropriate values to uphold (axiological considerations); and

Appropriate modes of enquiry (methodological considerations).

Such personal, underpinning beliefs about the research process will dictate what an individual considers to be ‘good’ / ‘proper’ / ‘quality’ research. As Brewer and Hunter note

“… selection of methods is more likely to reflect researchers’ different conceptions of what constitutes a good piece of finished social research – and although one might admire and praise the techniques of a different practitioner – the responsive inner smile to a good piece of research is more likely to be evoked by those styles that resonate with one’s own methodological predilections” (Brewer & Hunter 2006 p13/ 1989 p26 emphasis in original)

The framing process is, to some extent, acknowledged within a ‘background to the study’ section in the write up of research proposals or completed research reports. However, such ‘background’ is often only articulated with respect to previous literature. This may be due to the traditions of the research approach adopted (see Creswell 2003) or word restrictions for proposals and/or journal articles. Often though – especially in the case of traditional approaches to research – the researcher(s) may not have thought through, articulated, documented and so not necessarily acknowledged influences beyond previous research in the area.

Thus, some researchers may carry out research without being explicitly aware of influences on their approach to a given problem, or may even be completely ignorant of them. Alternatively, if such influences are given only superficial thought, spurious claims may be made. So, some researchers may claim allegiances to a certain research approach, whilst their [proposed] study - in its aims and/or choice of method and/or style of presentation – contradicts these claims.

Articulating and Documenting the Framing Process

One way of beginning to address some, if not all, of these ‘influences’ is to begin to keep a research journal from very early in the research process – not just as the research begins. Given that certain entries may be of relevance to several research projects it may be preferable to consider such a record to be a research jotter – which is ongoing and can be raided at appropriate times to identify potential influences on a specific piece of research. Subheadings, coding or flags could be utilised to ensure that different sources of influence are being documented.

Such documentation, whilst good practice may also prove a boon later in the research process – for example perhaps allowing:

  • informal observation to be given credence as preliminary data;
  • personal dissonance with a standard research approach or method from within your field of practice to be acknowledged early in the research process (facilitating accommodation, one way or the other, before any research is embarked on);
  • research methods, or to some extent approaches, to be given greater consideration within any design – despite a tendency for them to be at odds with your preferred way of approaching research design;
  • potential bias – whatever your views on this may be – to be identified and either acknowledged or addressed at an early stage of the research process.

As noted above, write ups of research in professional and academic journals may not expect, or allow sufficient space, to write in any depth about background influences to studies. However, research dissertations – particularly at post-graduate level – are, in my view, increasingly expected to include the demonstration of an understanding of the various influences on the research carried out – whether this be in a specific section, or throughout the dissertation. Research monographs, though not a popular way of writing up research, also allow for such articulation of background influences to the study to be reported on. In either case, a comprehensive journal with jottings on the ‘natural history’ of the study, may well prove indispensable.

If jottings are kept electronically, verbal, written and visual images may be collected in a more convenient way than if ‘manual’ records were to be kept [dependent upon hardware and software available].

Such a journal may not, however, facilitate reflection on all aspects of a researcher’s personal underpinning beliefs about the research process – being likely to focus more on the methodological and perhaps axiological considerations, than those relating to ontology and epistemology.

References

Brewer J & Hunter A (1989) MultimethodRresearch: a synthesis of styles (Sage)

Brewer J & Hunter A (2006) Foundations of Multimethod Research: synthesizing styles (Sage)

Creswell J.W (2003) Research Design: qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches (Sage).

Guba EG (1990) The alternative paragigm dialog in Guba EG (ed) The Paradigm Dialog (Sage)

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