Research and evaluation for busy students and practitioners

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There is help for you if you are studying research methods, including revision questions. There is a page on the point of networking and how to go about it and links to online resources for time management which you may find useful.

Studying research methods


The idea of studying research methods may seem odd. Research methods are designed to help us study other things, so why study the methods themselves? The answer is: the more we know about, and understand, the methods we use to conduct research, the more confidently we can rely on the findings of that research.

The multi-layered nature of research methods is partly what makes it such a fascinating subject to study. Research methods link theory and practice in two separate ways: the theory of method with the practice of method, and the theory of the topic under investigation with its practice. It can be argued, therefore, that the study of research methods requires more awareness of theory and practice than the study of other subjects.

As well as having several layers, research methods is also a subject with many facets. Whether you have a penchant for maths or photography, spreadsheets or storytelling, writing or jigsaw puzzles, you will find a research method that appeals to you. Of course you will also need to study the parts you don’t find so attractive – which is where our book comes in, to offer help and advice, tips and guidance. Good luck – and enjoy!

The point of networking


When you start doing research, your horizons can shrink to form very small boundaries around your work. Much research is designed to fill tiny gaps in knowledge. There may be lots of people in your department, and of course it’s worth talking to them about your plans and ideas, and listening to theirs, for mutual support and learning. But it’s likely that none of them will share your specific area of interest.

So how do you find the people who are interested in the same small part of our world as you? Usually online. You’ll know from the book about research-specific social networks such as Zotero and Mendeley, but more general social networks, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, are also very useful for finding researchers with similar interests.

The most useful part of LinkedIn is the groups. At the time of writing, these include: Qualitative Research Using Social Media, NVivo Users Group, and Frontiers in Quant Research. There are many, many more. You can search the groups on LinkedIn, and once you join a couple, LinkedIn will suggest more for you. You can also create your own group if you wish. Membership of, and active participation in, a group, will put you in touch with others in your field, and enable you to ask questions and form relationships.

Another arena which offers lots of scope for this is Twitter. Your manager or supervisor may well be on Twitter and, if so, you can learn a lot by following them and finding out what they’re interested in. Look for people whose work you read and like, and follow them too. Check out relevant hashtags – words preceded by the hash symbol, used to help people identify tweets on a particular theme – such as #research or #dissertation or #[your subject]. These will help you to find others with similar interests, even if they’re on the other side of the world.

Resources for time management


NB: many of these resources are designed by and for those in academia, but they are equally useful for those in other contexts.

Time management resources collated by staff at Sheffield University, UK 

More resources from Seattle Pacific University, US

And some from the Australian National University

Time management resources from NACADA, US (NACADA supports 'academic advisers', but these resources are useful for anyone)

Online time management games  


If there are any essential resources we’ve left out, please let the publisher or the author know.

Multiple choice quiz


Select the correct definition:

1. Epistemology






2. Focus group






3. Informal theory






4. Subjectivity






5. Sample






6. Research proposal






7. Questionnaire






8. Purposive sample






9. Primary data






10. Pilot study






11. Methodology






12. Metadata






13. Variable






14. Grey literature






15. Generalisability







Show me the answers!


 

Question 1: The correct answer is the Answer 3.

Question 2: The correct answer is Answer 2.

Question 3: The correct answer is Answer 3.

Question 4: The correct answer is Answer 4.

Question 5: The correct answer is Answer 3.

Question 6: The correct answer is Answer 4.

Question 7: The correct answer is Answer 4.

Question 8: The correct answer is Answer 2.

Question 9: The correct answer is Answer 4.

Question 10: The correct answer is Answer 3.

Question 11: The correct answer is Answer 2.

Question 12: The correct answer is Answer 4.

Question 13: The correct answer is Answer 2.

Question 14: The correct answer is Answer 1.

Question 15: The correct answer is Answer 3.

Research and evaluation management quiz


Take this quiz to find out what kind of researcher you are – and, perhaps, learn a little about what kind of researcher you would like to be. (NB: in the quiz, 'research' includes 'evaluation'.) Keep a note of your answers as you go.


1. You have been asked to design a research project and present your design at a meeting. Do you:

(a) Scribble some notes on the back of an envelope on the way to the meeting, and improvise your presentation.

(b) Worry about it quite a lot without actually doing a great deal, then stay up late the night before the meeting to try and put something together.

(c) Do a bit of thinking and relevant web surfing, and create a broad design without going into too much detail as the people at the meeting may want to give some input.

(d) Plan three possible designs to present, write a script for your presentation and learn it off by heart, and spend a few hours making some beautiful PowerPoint slides.


2. You are sure that the search terms you have devised for your literature review or document analysis won't produce very many hits. However, you are horrified to discover that in fact they yield around 60,000 search results. Do you:

(a) Choose a few that look interesting, skim through them and decide you can work on that basis.

(b) Panic and consider ditching the project altogether.

(c) Work out a way to refine the search terms and thereby reduce the material to a manageable amount.

(d) Clear your diary for the next month and read as many as you can.


3. For your research, you need to interview staff and students on a university campus. However, the students seem unexpectedly reluctant to talk to you. Do you:

(a) Offer incentives in the form of beer and chocolate.

(b) Collar them and plead with them to take part in your research.

(c) Ask why they are reluctant, and whether another method of enquiry would be more acceptable to them.

(d) Spend all the time you can on campus in an effort to get enough participants.


4. During an interview, a student reveals that they were sexually assaulted by a lecturer last week. They say they haven't told anyone else, and they are clearly distressed. Do you:

(a) Suggest they seek counselling, then carry on with the interview.

(b) Listen to them talk about the incident for as long as they need while offering lots of sympathy.

(c) Stop the interview, acknowledge that they are the victim of a crime and talk through their options for dealing with it.

(d) Accompany them to the police station to report the crime, then invite them out for a drink to cheer them up and devise a plan for lodging a complaint with the university.


5. You have also collected video data from six monthly meetings at the Student's Union. However, one of the Union officials takes offence at a remark you made, and demands that his data is withdrawn from your research. He is in all the videos so this would mean you cannot use any of the video data you have so painstakingly collected. Do you:

(a) Delete the video data, as it's not your fault and anyway it'll save you time at the analysis stage.

(b) Have several sleepless nights because you've upset someone and are struggling to work out what to do next.

(c) Arrange a meeting with the official to talk through the problem before making a decision about what to do with the data.

(d) Teach yourself to use video editing software and spend several weeks editing him out in the images and painstakingly deleting all his speech.


6. You had planned to use emergent coding, but when you start, you realise it will take far too long to code all your data properly. Do you:

(a) Whizz through the data once, making sure every piece of data is coded with something or other.

(b) Spend ages reading methods books to find an alternative, while your sense of dread increases because you are running out of time and still don’t know what to do.

(c) Use emergent coding with a sample of your data, then create a coding frame from that to make the rest of the process quicker and easier.

(d) Stay up late night after night, drinking too much coffee, and grind your way through the coding as systematically as you can.


7. You finally finish the coding, and your thematic analysis goes smoothly, until you realise you have opposing findings from the staff and the student interviews. Do you:

(a) Describe both sets of findings and comment that they are not in agreement.

(b) Go back over your coding and analysis again and again, desperately trying to find a way to reconcile the findings.

(c) Look at the findings in detail, in the context of your literature review and methodology, to work out why you have opposing findings and what they might mean.

(d) Re-code and re-analyse the data twice, using narrative and discourse analytic techniques, to see whether that makes a difference.


8. You don't much like writing and you're not looking forward to writing up your research. Do you:

(a) Wait for inspiration till the eleventh hour, then write as economically as you think you can get away with.

(b) Read several books on how to write, and go on a weekend writing course, before you feel able to start.

(c) Work out how many words you need to write each week, leaving a couple of weeks in hand in case of emergency, and meet your weekly target each Sunday night or sooner.

(d) Write the report in half the available time so you have plenty of time to edit, get friends to proof-read for you, and polish every sentence till it shines.


9. You need to present your findings to your participants and to other staff and students from the university at a big meeting in the main lecture hall. Do you:

(a) Figure out a good joke to start with and reckon you can wing it from there.

(b) Prepare carefully but find it hard to sleep the week before the presentation, impossible to eat on the day, and run to the bathroom to throw up a few minutes before you begin.

(c) Prepare an engaging presentation, keeping the language appropriate for people whose first language isn't the same as yours.

(d) Arrange several rehearsals with different groups of friends and family, providing them all with scorecards so they can mark you out of 10.


10. The university agreed to a detailed dissemination plan at the start of your research, but since then they have had a restructure and nobody is interested. When you encourage them to disseminate, all they do is put your report on their website, several clicks away from the home page. You hold the copyright to the report so you can disseminate yourself. Do you:

(a) Not bother – you're sick of the whole thing anyway.

(b) Intend to, but get so bogged down in trying to work out how best to disseminate that you end up never getting around to doing anything about it.

(c) Put the link out on social media, write about your research for a couple of high-profile blogs, and put the links to those posts out on social media too.

(d) Spend much of your free time over the next two years researching university websites worldwide to try to work out who, at each university, will be most receptive to your report – and then emailing it to them with a carefully tailored covering message.



Now check your scores. Are they mostly As, Bs, Cs, or Ds? Or are they a mixture?

Mostly As: You are a Carefree Researcher.

You're not really committed to research, but you have some relevant skills and you are very confident – often over-confident, which may cause you problems. Ethics don't concern you, though they should. You seem to be temperamentally unsuited to doing research. However, if you have to do research, and you want or need to do well, have a look at the Good Researcher's responses, i.e. the Cs. Try to move closer to that approach.

Mostly Bs: You are an Anxious Researcher.

You worry a lot, about everything, and that holds you back. Doing research may not suit you, as uncertainty and discomfort are inevitable in the pursuit of new knowledge. But if you have to do some research, aim to worry less and achieve more. Go back over the quiz and read the Good Researcher's responses, i.e. the Cs, for clues about how to adopt a decision-making style that moves your projects forwards.

Mostly Cs: You are a Good Researcher.

You treat people humanely and know how to manage yourself as well. Others look to you for advice and support, which you give freely but without depleting your own resources. Your time management, organisational skills and negotiating skills are excellent. You know your limitations, and are happy to learn. Research may already be part or all of your work, but if it isn't, you could consider taking up a research career.

Mostly Ds: You are a Perfectionist Researcher.

You do high quality work but at great cost to yourself and probably to your loved ones too. Try easing up on yourself a little – or even a lot. The sky won't fall in and you'll have a happier life. Take a look at the Good Researcher's responses, i.e. the Cs, to help you work out how to rein in your perfectionist tendencies where research is concerned.

A mixture of As, Bs, Cs and Ds: You are an Inconsistent Researcher.

You have some good strengths and some sizeable areas of weakness. Maybe you like research but haven't done much of it, or you don't like research but have some of the necessary skills. Either way, if you can work out how to reduce your weaknesses and increase your strengths, you could with time become a good researcher.