Supporting Your Study and Research
Regardless of which module you are studying with me, or whether I am supervising your research at Masters or Doctoral level, much of the content on this page is relevant to you.
Whilst the majority of the comments and suggestions here are my own… and you have probably heard me say them a thousand times… they are the best advice that I can offer.
In some places, I will direct you to the good advice and work of others who have provided a useful resource or have written about something better than I could.
So, regardless of the reason why you are visiting this page – whether to write an essay or to work on part of your research project – there are some basic rules and principles that should be followed. These are reflected in the advice given here. So, read closely and do exactly what the advice tells you – there is no need to ‘interpret’ what is being said!
The Library and the Importance of the Subject Librarian
For lots of reasons that should be obvious, we place enormous emphasis on the library and the resources that can be found there – either in hard copy or electronically. Importantly, the TCD library is a legal deposit library (read here for what this means).
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about the library is that we are exceptionally lucky to have the support and expertise of Geraldine Fitzgerald – the ‘Subject Librarian’ for Education. If you are in doubt about how to use the library or how to get better search results, have a look at the Education Subject Guide on the Library website. This is a great ‘jumping off point’ for much of what you might be looking for. If you get stuck or need additional help, please do contact Geraldine. However, please ‘have a go’ yourself before you make contact with Geraldine. If you do need Geraldine’s help, make sure that you have a good think about what it is you are looking for, what you need explained, etc. Remember that whilst Geraldine knows all about the library and how to help you, she probably doesn’t know about your project specifically- so, have an ‘intelligent’ list of questions ready and a good summary of what you have already tried and what problems you encountered, etc.
Blogs: Some Useful Insights from Others
Over the past year or so, I have been exploring how social media can be of use in supporting what we do in terms of studying and research. From my experience with Twitter, I have found a few useful ‘bloggers’ that I have come to enjoy. Perhaps you will enjoy their writings and musings too. Here are a few people that I follow on Twitter and receive new blogs from.
Pat Thomson’s blog and writings were brought to my attention by Geraldine Fitzgerald, the Education Subject Librarian at TCD. Pat is a Professor of Education in the School of Education at the University of Nottingham. Her research is centred primarily on how schools might change to become more engaging and meaningful for more children and young people. The reason why I am suggesting that you read Pat’s blogs is that she is interested in researcher education and the writing that scholars want to, and must, do. For example, Pat has a useful blog about metacommentary– that is , the need to ‘signpost’ your writing.
To give you a ‘flavour’ of the things that Pat blogs about, here is a link to the Top 10 Blogs of 2013.
See also Pat’s co-authored book (with Barbara Kamler): Writing for peer reviewed journals: Strategies for getting published. (Routledge – ISBN: 0415809312).
Dr Inger Mewburn is the managing editor of The Thesis Whisperer Blog and works at the ANU, Canberra, Australia.
Anna Sharman is a freelance editor, proofreader, scientific publishing consultant, and trainer. Anna’s blog ‘sharmanedit’ is well worth exploring.
Some Useful Blog Posts
As I read tweets and blogs, I sometimes finds little ‘pearls of wisdom’ that either remind me of important issues and concepts, give me renewed enthusiasm for research projects that I am working on, or educate me about something new. So, just in case they might be useful for you, I have listed them below.
- Paul Spencer offers 2 great blogs – one about the viva voce and one about how long the viva voce will be.
- Raul Pacheco-Vega has provided a very helpful list of curators and social media hashtags.
What’s in a Name ?
Thinking About Methodology and Methods: Thematic Analysis
Thematic analysis is a very useful approach to the analysis of qualitative data, especially the kind of data generated if you have used questionnaires with the opportunity for respondents to provide qualitative responses/additional material.
I have used this approach to help with the analysis of data from questionnaires. For example, see the paper that I co-authored with Christopher Alan Lewis (Mc Guckin & Lewis, 2008) that explored how school principals in Northern Ireland managed bully/victim problems in schools. See also the paper by Lucie Corcoran and myself that explored how school principals in Ireland managed traditional bullying and cyberbullying (Corocran & Mc Guckin, 2014).
A very useful and freely available paper that outlines some of the basic principles and guideline steps to conducting a thematic analysis has been provided by Braun and Clarke (2006). Initially, the paper guides you in relation to becoming familiar with data by transcribing it and reading it. It then helps you to understand how to generate ‘codes’ and coding interesting features that you identify in the data. Data relevant to each code are then collated and codes are collated into potential themes, with all relevant data gathered to each suggested theme.
You could also have a look at the good advice provided by Darren Langdridge in relation to first, second, and third order coding, followed by thematic analysis (Langdridge 2004). Darren usefully informs us that coding refers to the method of assigning labels to chunks of textual data, with each order of coding becoming increasingly interpretive, as opposed to merely descriptive. Following third order coding, the major themes or concepts emerging from the data are identified. The themes are then reviewed by ensuring that they are appropriate with regard to coded extracts and the data set in its entirety. Themes are then defined and named so as to refine the specific aspects of each theme. Only the most frequently emerging themes are reported in depth in your project/paper.
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101.
Corcoran, L., & Mc Guckin, C. (2014). Addressing bullying problems in Irish schools and in cyberspace: A challenge for school management. Educational Research, 56(1), 48-64. doi:10.1080/00131881.2013.874150
Langdridge, D. (2004). Introduction to research methods and data analysis in psychology. Glasgow: Pearson Education.
Mc Guckin, C., & Lewis, C. A. (2008). Management of bullying in Northern Ireland schools: A pre-legislative survey. Educational Research 50(1), 9-23. doi: 10.1080/00131880801920361
Thinking About Methodology and Methods: The Delphi Method
As a basic summary of the method, the Delphi Method is a consensus seeking approach whereby a panel of experts answer questionnaires in two or more rounds. After each round, the researcher (i.e., the communication facilitator) provides an anonymous summary of the experts’ forecasts/opinions/views from the previous round as well as the reasons they provided for their judgments. Thus, the panel of experts are encouraged to consider/revise their earlier answers in light of the responses from the other members of their panel. The central point of the method is that during the procedure, the range of the answers will decrease and the group will converge towards the ‘correct’ answer. The procedure ends after a pre-defined stop criterion is met (e.g., the number of rounds, the achievement of consensus, the stability of results).
It has been used, in my experience, far too little in social science research – particularly the kinds of research projects that explore new and complex issues that confront psychologists and educators. If we accept that much of the research we conduct seeks to ‘add new knowledge,’ then perhaps we should be including methods like the Delphi Method in our early explorations of these issues.
For example, the issue of cyberbullying has been one of these ‘new’ research areas where researchers, policy makers, and practitioners alike have been seeking ‘new knowledge’ and ‘consensus’ regarding basic issues such as: how do we define cyberbullying? What should (and should not) be studied in this emerging area of enquiry?
One of our colleagues in The Netherlands, Niels Jacobs, has been doing some work in this area using the Delphi Method. Neils has very kindly uploaded some slides that are worth having a look at:
Some food for thought!
Thinking About Methodology and Methods: Desire Paths…!
Now, before I get criticised for including a discussion of the notion of ‘desire paths’ in a section on methodology, I am minded by the following quote:
We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question that divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct.
So, what is a desire path?
Well, from my understanding, the term desire path (and it’s associated names – e.g., desire line, social trail) refers to a pathway that has been created as a consequence of foot or bicycle traffic. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination. Technical and measurable aspects of the path (e.g., width, depth, erosion) are indicators of the amount of use the path receives. In reality, desire paths are what we recognise in our built environment as shortcuts where the standard route seems to be too cumbersome or circuitous, or where a standard route does not even exist.
And so… what is it that I like about this borrowed concept from the world of town planning and other disciplines within the built environment?
Well, I hope that this example is useful. Importantly, I would like to conduct some research exploring desire paths as understood in the following way.
So, imagine what we could learn if we were to conduct research that explores the ‘deviation’ between the de jure approach to intervention and prevention programmes (e.g., the programme, policy, etc.) as advocated by authority figures (e.g., the Department of Education and Skills, researchers) and the de facto approach that exists in reality (i.e., what is being implemented in schools). Schools and educators quite often develop and implement interventions and preventions that make ‘local sense’ to their schools and pupils. Whilst some of these will mimic quite closely what is advocated by the authority figures, some will be so different that there is no convergence between what is being implemented on the ground and the approach envisaged by authority figures. Thus, in terms of desire paths, we could explore these non-standard (de facto) approaches by using methodology to explore the technical issues related to ‘width’, ‘depth’, ‘erosion’, etc.
Is it just crazy enough?
Methodology: Search Engines
What is it? Dr Neil Jacobs and Rachel Bruce from Jisc’s digital infrastructure team share their top ten resources for researchers from across the web.
Key feature: Allows you to compare and contrast the following search engines.
Open access search engines
What is it? An experimental service, allowing keyword and semantic search of over 10 million open access articles.
Key feature: If you find an article you like, CORE will find similar ones by analysing the text of that article.
What is it? BASE is one of the world’s most voluminous search engines for academics with open access web resources from over 2,000 sources.
Key feature: Allows you to search intellectually selected resources and their bibliographic data, including those from the so-called ‘deep web’, which are ignored by commercial search engines. There are several options for sorting the results list and you can browse by Dewey Decimal Classification and document type.
What is it? A Jisc service allowing you to look through the catalogues of over 70 major UK and Irish libraries.
Key feature: Good for locating books and other material held in research collections in the UK; especially useful for humanities.
What is it? Google Scholar is a freely accessible web search engine that indexes the full text of scholarly literature across an array of publishing formats and disciplines.
What is it? Microsoft Academic Search is a free academic search engine developed by Microsoft Research. It covers more than 48 million publications and over 20 million authors across a variety of domains with updates added each week.