Linked to the idea of the “golden thread” (have a look at that blog) is that of a “genetic link” between what you have reviewed in your Literature Review and the content of the methodology / tools that you will use to collect your data.
You would be surprised how many times I have read finished research projects only to find that there is absolutely no link between what has been reviewed in the Literature Review and what was actually explored in the research process.
It is almost like the researcher found the best book in the topic area and produced a 20,000 word “re-heat” of what the author(s) had to say . . . followed by a Methodology Chapter that feels as if the researcher is saying “I’m using questionnaires and focus groups for this research because I enjoyed the lectures about these methods and they seem to be easier to do than the other methods”.
Quite often, as with genetics in general, you do not have a lot of control here. When you do have some control, you need to exercise this with great care.
So, as an example, let’s assume that your research is exploring issues related to bully/victim problems in schools. As part of your Literature Review, you might have a section that has reviewed the linkages between involvement in bullying and health and well-being. The assumption is that if this was important enough to review, then we should see some exploration of the issue in this research project. Of not, why review that material and make the reader (or External Examiner) read it . . . for no obvious purpose or link to the current research project?
So, we are now “correctly” assuming that your research project will explore, somehow, the linkage between involvement in bully/victim problems and indices of health and well-being.
So, we can now expect to see a “genetic” link between the outcome of the material reviewed and the method(s) used to further explore the issue(s) of concern (as highlighted in the Literature Review).
This leads to two issues that need to be addressed.
Firstly, your review will have highlighted an issue that needs your particular research project . . . so as to clear up some point of confusion / contradiction etc., or to extend this previous body of knowledge somehow.
Secondly, and linked to your answer to the first issue, is the amount of real control you have over the appropriate method(s) for the research.
For example, if all of the previous research in the area has used a quantitative / questionnaire approach, you would be hard pressed to have a legitimate reason to not follow the same approach / method . . . or even using the exact same questionnaire etc. as used previously in the studies reviewed.
A counter-argument here is that because all of this previous work has been of a quantitative nature, a more qualitative approach would “add” something new / warranted / extension of previous knowledge.
On some occasions, you might have to develop a tool (e.g., questionnaire) because nothing useful exists yet. If this is the case, then you should be able to fully “map” the content of the tool to the “stuff” that was reviewed in the Literature Review section of concern.
If you are doing this, a useful approach is to draw a table on a blank piece of paper. In the left hand column put the names of each section reviewed in the Literature Review. In the next column, jot down the issues that were important in each of those review sections – the issues that you told the reader would have to be further explored in this research project. So that you do not forget, put the salient references from the debate / argument / issue in the next column. In the last column, insert a couple of useful questions that, if included in your questionnaire or focus group, would allow you to seek an answer from your sample. After all, the methods that you use should be a “method” to collect data (evidence) to explore the Research Questions / Hypotheses of the research.
Why is all of this important?
Well, precisely because this genetic link extends well beyond the link between the Literature Review and Methodology. The Results obtained in the research will inform the Discussion section. What we now see is the material in the Literature Review being easily updated by the result of this (your) new research.
So, I hope you can see the obvious use of this “genetic approach” to writing and ensuring that each section of the final write-up is linked together in a meaningful way.
Posted on 4th October, 2015. Copyright Conor Mc Guckin