Frank Rennie & Keith Smyth

Chapter 5 – Information in research

All the content relating to the chapter above is below

Research is all about information and a systematic process for handling it. In addition to generating new information you will also review the literature associated with your research topic. It will become apparent very quickly that the volume of information that you generate and use will be substantial. The aim of this chapter is to encourage you to develop information management skills that will enable you to organise and use information efficiently and effectively. On the Companion Website, we will present you with the views and experiences of different researchers and show you how they have managed the information associated with their research. After engaging with this chapter you should be able to recognise the skills necessary for effective information management.

I think your starting point is to think about what you want your research to find out, what your focus is. If for example, you are looking at trends in population, then you may look towards things like census data. If you are interested in people’s behaviours and their attitudes and their experiences, then you probably want to start with some approach to qualitative data collection, people’s views and perspectives, their feelings about the world.

Again I think it depends on the approach that you’re taking, if you’re dealing with data that’s already in the public domain, social issue reports, census data, then it’s a case of how you log that data, how you make sure that you know exactly what’s in there at the point where you want to bring that data in to support your discussion and your conclusions. If its data that you’ve collected yourself, through interviews for example, then I think digital audio recording is a must, so that when you do come to the point of analysing your data, you’ve got all the data that you need. One of the drawbacks of using less complete methods of recording qualitative data, for example note taking, is that you only pay attention to the things that you are interested in, rather than the things that the person is saying. So I think anything that allows you to get a complete record is absolutely vital.

Yeah, I think the key word in any information we gather is validity. If we’re gathering literature, existing research, we want to be sure that it’s valid, that it’s reputable, it’s from a credible source, and it has direct relevance to the research question we are interested in.

In terms of prioritising the data that you might want to collect from your subjects, I think making sure that they are knowledgeable about the topic that you are interested in, or the experiences that you are interested in, that’s absolutely vital. I think it’s also really important to realise that you can’t possibly collect data from all the sources you’re interested in – so you prioritise by sampling. Sometimes you take a purposeful sample, you decide there’s a group of people, and you want to speak to all of them about a particular issue. Other times you need to sample carefully as you do in census data collection or opinion polls. We want to look at taking subsets of people that represent the wider groups we’re interested in, and then targeting them for data collection.

Yes, I think you need to be very careful to ensure you collect as full and complete records as possible. That can apply to collecting literature, so make sure you know exactly where you’ve found journal papers, make sure you know exactly the source when you go back to them and also you need to be sure of the full source of your data in terms of showing the validity and reliability of your own research findings. So for example, being able to give a full reference list so that people can find the sources that you’ve drawn upon. I think in terms of collecting your own original data for example through surveys or questionnaires, then be absolutely meticulous about creating a full record for an interview, through for example digital recording, be absolutely meticulous about being able to identify each person who has spoken, not by name, usually by some sort of number you might assign to each subject, but you need to be absolutely sure who’s said what, when it’s being said, and the broader context it sits within.

“Confidential Information” refers to all types of data security Levels (2-5). The higher the data level, the greater the required protection.

When planning your research, you will need to be clear about the sensitivity of your data and information in research. This is Harvard’s policy for doing just that. It is a little bit unexciting, but it is a policy document.

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harvard university data clasification ethics - Data security levels

Virginia Tech have developed a reasonably simple system for classifying the sensitivity of information in research.

This is particularly useful if you are planning research likely to involve sensitive information. It is not particularly detailed, but it is a good first port of call if you think you may be using sensitive data.

Sections include:

  • What is Sensitive Information?
  • Steps to Protect Participants
  • Additional Information to Provide in Consent Form
  • Collecting Data About Illegal Activities
  • Collecting Data About Suicidal Ideation or Intention

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virginia tech system classifying information - Research involving sensitive or illegal information

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)