Frank Rennie & Keith Smyth

Chapter 6 – Methods of research

All the content relating to the chapter above is below

The methods used by researchers to gather new data, which can then be used to address their research question (or hypothesis), will be very different between disciplines, and may even vary considerably between different projects in the same disciplinary area. The most important factors in the selection of research methods are that the methods need to be systematic, and also that they should be appropriate to the initial research question(s). The correct choice of methods is key to the production of good research results, and will influence all aspects of the subsequent research project, including timing, analysis, and interpretation. This book chapter does not try to give a comprehensive overview of research methods (there are many other books on this) but rather it attempts to highlight some of the key issues that the new researcher needs to consider at an early stage. The differing experiences of a range of active researchers are shared on the companion website to illustrate this process.

[Interviewer, off camera] So, when you are doing research, what methods do you like to use?

Generally, I use qualitative methods and I’ll use mixed methods but obviously if I need to, I’ll use some source of quantitative data gathering just for getting baselines etcetera.

[Interviewer, off camera] So why do you use these different types?

The types of methods I use are always determined by the research question. I think it’s really important to emphasise the research question is the thing that will determine the most appropriate method for gathering the data you need to answer that question.

[Interviewer, off camera] So what are your top three tips to consider?

Top three tips – keep it simple; research is always going to be complicated, so making sure that you’ve simplified things at every stage is really important, so applying that to methods, if you can manage to gather the data that you need to answer your research question, using two or three interviews then that’s all you need – you don’t need to go off and do half a dozen focus groups. So I think that’s probably about the most important top tip. The second top tip is probably ensuring that you’ve got redundancy when you’re gathering your data – in other words that would be something like having multiple methods of recording the interview. The interview is a one-shot deal, you can’t ask somebody to stop and then come back a little bit later to do the interview all over again. The answers that you get would be different anyway, so you need to make sure that you capture your data effectively that way. The other thing I would suggest is that you use your interview schedule very wisely and very carefully, be always ready to adapt that schedule should something interesting or different come up either in the interview or focus group.

[Interviewer, off camera] And do you have any tips of things to avoid?

Probably one of the things to avoid – this is going to sound odd, it’s not something to avoid, it’s probably something to ensure that you’re comfortable with. That’s when you are in an interview, and you’re interviewing participants, if there’s silence – let that silence run. Silence isn’t a problem. Very often, a little stretch of silence is probably all that you need to get the respondents to come up with something probably that the respondents themselves haven’t thought of, so I would say don’t avoid silence.

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)

This short video gives a good, basic introduction to different characteristics of research methods and their general purpose.

As with many of the educational resources on YouTube, a recommendation to similar topics, or related subjects, is prompted in the right-hand panel. Students are recommended to explore these additional links as appropriate. These video links are especially useful for students who are new to doing academic research projects.

In this video, Dr Greg Martin provides an introduction to research methods, methedology and study design. Specifically he takes a look at qualitative and quantitative research methods including case control studies, cohort studies, observational research etc.

Global health (and public health) is truly multidisciplinary and leans on epidemiology, health economics, health policy, statistics, ethics, demography…. the list goes on and on. This YouTube channel is here to provide you with some teaching and information on these topics. I’ve also posted some videos on how to find work in the global health space and how to raise money or get a grant for your projects.

Educational Videos YouTube 150x150 - Research Methods - Introduction

This is a link to a couple of podcasts produced by the University of Leicester explaining important steps for students to consider in research design.

The commentary is aimed primarily for psychology students, and is at Masters level, but the general principles are very useful for application to a wider range of academic subjects.

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university of leicester research methods - Research methods: Getting to grips with research design