Frank Rennie & Keith Smyth

Chapter 12 – Statistics in research

All the content relating to the chapter above is below

The importance of statistics will vary widely with difference research methodologies. For instance, a quantitative method of data collection is likely to produce numerical values for correlation and comparison, whereas a purely qualitative approach may not, and a mixed-methods research project will vary in emphasis. This book chapter suggests some important considerations for the inclusion of statistics in a research project, the most important one being that if you do not understand the statistic, do not use it! There are some basic steps to keep statistical presentations simple, relevant, and consistent, and the companion website contains some useful examples to get you started.

I think the first thing to think about is “Why do I need statistics?” Statistics are not necessarily the be all and end all of your dissertation. They’re useful to express things, to draw conclusions from things, to describe comparative issues, so you need to think about “Why do I want them in the first place?” There are several things immediately you ask yourself after that; Are the statistics relevant? If you’ve only got five people you’re interviewing, it’s not really sensible to start quoting things in percentages. 20% = 1 person – that’s a crazy way to look it with small samples. So you have to make them relevant to what the actual question is, and what you are trying to gather. I think the golden rule with statistics, is never use statistics that you don’t understand. Just because it looks impressive, you can get the equations on a page, and this sounds really authoritative, but in fact, if someone says to you “What does this mean?”, and you can’t tell them, you look pretty stupid. So make sure that you understand them, when you’re going to do them. It’s better to be able to use statistics in a robust way that illustrates the point you’re making, rather than to have spurious numbers that don’t tell us very much in the first place.

The golden rule is keep it simple. Keep it simple. Try to think of what you want to express. If you can express it in words, and you have numbers that you can use to back it up, then you can use the statistics to show how accurate that is, how much verification you can give to your project, but the temptation is there to go away and use statistics because everyone else has done them. It may not be relevant for your particular project. If you’re doing laboratory work for example, and lots of calculations and so forth, it’s really important to know exactly what the concentration is of the solution. If it’s going to be a question of interviewing lots and lots of people in the field, then it gets to the stage perhaps that it’s not really relevant whether one more person is added to the list. You’re looking at a qualitative study, which doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to equating percentages. So you need to think about why you’re doing that in the first place, and then look at… there are lots of textbooks and guides online as to how to use things, in particular packages. You want to look at these and find out if you can use that to illustrate the points you’re making, without getting too complex. The minute you get too complex, you begin to use the veracity of how true your solution is.

Coverall – intro, design, data, presenting… An online handbook produced by the University of Surrey to give students an introduction to research.

A link to an extensive set of notes from the University of Surrey dealing with the whole process of documenting research. It starts with a consideration of why we do research, works through a range of planning issues that need to be considered, and concludes with a section on how research result might be utilised. Contains some embedded links.

The contents are well-defined and easy to read, in short, informative sub-sections. Not all of the sections will be appropriate to every research project, so students will need to use their own judegement, but taken as a whole, the document gives a good overview of the kinds of issues which students need to consider when preparing a research dissertation.

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university of surrey importance pilot studies - Introduction to research - handbook

A set of short dissertation writing videos from Massey University with resources for students.

These are helpfully broken-up into separate tasks, such as preparing a proposal, writing a report, editing, and so on. Each video clip gives a general overview and some guidance for students to help manage the selected task.

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massey university dissertation videos - Dissertation videos from Massey University

This links to an assemblage of video clips relating to various aspects of research and the preparation of research reports.

Individual videos deal with different forms of research, evaluation, and project planning. The clips range from 30 minutes to an hour each, so you may wish to watch them in stages, or allow time to watch, pause, and take notes. Different videos will be appropriate to different subject matter, so you may want to discuss your initial options with your supervisor before you invest time learning a research method which is not suitable for the topic of your study.

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Educational Videos YouTube - Research and the preparation of research reports (by Dr Sam Fiala)