The Study Dude – Change the World

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to do a narrative study on Mama June’s experience with turkey neck.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s Study Dude helps you straighten out your worldview, choose your method, and settle on a recipe for stellar study design. John W. Creswell, author of Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches?and umpteen-dozen other books?has laid the cobblestone for your dissertation.

Solve a Problem, or Find the Meaning, or Change the World: Worldviews
Worldviews, otherwise known by highbrows as paradigms, help you to position your research in a larger framework. What does that mean in straight English? It means you can either oppose injustices, discover what people think of experiences, solve a problem, or make claims on how the world works. And that’s about it. Step outside the lines and you will get dinged. Ah, the flexibility of academia. Maybe that explains why we still haven’t pierced our flags into another solar system’s soil.

If you want to change the world, then look to the advocacy paradigm. The advocacy paradigm involves research on views from a number of marginalized populations, including feminists, LGBT, and people with disabilities.

I often wondered why feminist perspectives and queer theory took off with such rage, but disability theory seemed to shrivel in its own shadows. You see, I took an eye-opening course in Community Rehabilitation that focused on disability advocacy. The instructor taught that we should celebrate?and not shun?people with disabilities’ diversities. Murdering people with disabilities in the name of mercy killings, for instance, should never be accepted: after all, disability is not a problem, but a uniqueness, and everything unique has something to offer. Yet, the discourse I learned from disability studies some fifteen years ago hardly made a dent in today’s media. Why? Perhaps the advocacy worldview needs polishing to better include the needs of people with disabilities.

Regardless of issues I may have with the limitations of worldviews, you pretty much have to pick one worldview and stick with it. Creswell outlines the four worldviews you can choose from:
1. The post-positivist worldview takes a quantitative position (which means they deal with a lot of surveys, experiments, and numerical stuff). If you want to study post-positivism, look at authors such as Comte, Mill, Durkheim, and Locke (as cited by Smith in Creswell), Phillips, and Burbules. Post-positivists believe that things serve as causes and result in outcomes. For instance, the fall of a leaf from a tree (the outcome) is partly caused by gravity and partly caused by the wind (the causes). Post-positivists are called reductionist, meaning that they reduce these causes and outcomes into tiny, discrete ideas. For instance, gravity will be one concept, wind pressure another, wind direction another, the speed at which the leaf falls yet a possible other. Post-positivist start with a theory and then work toward testing it to see if the theory can be refuted (rejected) or not. For instance, the theory might say that a wind pressure threshold of such-and-such, combined with the force of gravity will cause a leaf to fall from a tree. Perhaps not a great example, but I hope you at least get the drift. Post-positivist research is deductive, which means they start with a theory and then test it to see if it’s wrong or not.

2. The social constructivists take a qualitative position (which means they deal with a lot of note-taking, interviews, focus groups–textual stuff). If you want to study social constructivism, look to authors such as Mannheim, Berger and Luekman, Lincoln and Guba, Schwandt, Nueman, and Crotty. Social constructivists believe that “individuals develop [or construct] subjective meanings of their experiences” (p. 8) and meaning is created socially. In plain English, that means we have our own views and opinions of things and Yahoo! media does influence us more than we would like to think. Interviews and focus groups will have open-ended questions that allow participants to explore the topic from their own points-of-view. Finding themes for constructivist research is a difficult task, as constructivists believe that multiple meanings exist?as many meanings as there exist different subjective experiences. Or, in other words, five different people will have different interpretations of something.

How can you possibly capture so many points of views into a theme? It’s not easy, if not impossible, says social constructivists. Instead, you, as the researcher, interpret your findings in part from your own personal experiences. Yes, your experiences meld into those of your subjects. These meanings are moulded by social and historical contexts. Also, constructivist research is inductive, which means that you let a theory emerge from the data. You don’t start with a hypothesis based on hours and hours of research. Instead, with constructivist research, you explore and discover things.

3. The advocacy (or participatory) worldview also takes a qualitative perspective. If you want to study advocacy or participatory perspectives, look to authors such as Marx, Adorno, Marcuse, Habermas, and Freire (as cited by Nueman in Creswell, 2009), Heron and Reason, Kemmis and Wilkinson. The advocacy or participatory worldviews believe that research and political agendas go hand-in-hand. The goal is to change the lives of marginalized individuals. Participants are directly involved in the research process, sometimes contributing to the writing of the article or the choosing of research questions and so forth. Feminist perspectives, racialized discourses, critical theory, queer theory, and disability theory all tend to fall under this worldview.

4. The pragmatic worldview takes a mixed methods approach, or at least, allows the researcher to pick and choose the best fitting methods for their purposes. If you want to study pragmatic perspectives, look to authors such as Pierce, James, Mead, Dewey, Rorty, Murphy, Patton, and Cherryholmes. The pragmatic worldview focuses on practical actions and consequences–answers to problems. Pragmatists don’t need to stick to one worldview. They can pick and choose from both qualitative and quantitative worldviews as they see fit. There is no fixed truth?truth is whatever practically works at any given point in time. Because pragmatists see research done in social, historical, and political contexts, a postmodern view can be added (which focuses on the goals of political and social change).

How to Study Turkey Neck and Other Phenomena: Methods
Methods are playtime for academic researchers. As a researcher, you get to pick how you want to perform your research, although your choice is limited by your choice of worldview. For instance, if you want to do a post-positivist quantitative study, you have to settle on either surveys or experiments. In a future Study Dude article, I will delve into experimental designs?an area I’ve longed to explore since I first fixated on the phenomenon of motion parallax. But for now, bear with the Study Dude’s limited knowledge of experiments.

If you want to do a qualitative study, you can choose your research methods from a smorgasbord of options, including grounded theory. Grounded theory helps you to build a theory from scratch. (And if you read last month’s Study Dude articles, you discovered how much fun you can have building theory.)

My favourite research strategy, however, involves mixed methods. I wish I knew I had the option to do mixed methods research in graduate studies, as I’m a pragmatist at heart. On one hand, I like mixed methods as I don’t like to be chained down to one worldview, and I prefer to solve problems rather than rant (really!). On the other hand, the issue with doing mixed method research is that I don’t have thousands of hours to dedicate to both quantitative and qualitative research. Who wants to do a national survey plus a hundred hours of interview transcriptions in a one-year MA program? Not me.

So, listen to the master: Creswell helps you to choose your research strategy appropriately.
– In quantitative research you can choose from surveys or experimental designs. Surveys can involve questionnaires or very close-ended structured interview questions. Experiments compare two groups: a treatment group that receives a, well, treatment, and a second group that doesn’t get a treatment.
– In qualitative research, you can choose from ethnography, grounded theory, case studies, phenomenology, and narrative studies.
– Ethnography uses lengthy observations and interviews to study groups in their natural cultural settings.
– Grounded theory builds a theory based on the perceptions of research subjects. You constantly compare your latest findings with findings you’ve already discovered, and themes naturally emerge.
– Case studies use all kinds of data collection methods in order to study activities, events, and processes of people?or even of just one person. I’m not clear on what a person’s processes might involve. Maybe processes involve studies of things like steps for getting dressed in the morning if you are physically disabled.
– Phenomenological studies “identifies the essence of human experience about a phenomenon as described by participants” (p. 13). Researcher’s experiences don’t count here?just the subjects.
– Narrative research involves the study of stories of one or more participant’s lives. The researcher takes the story and turns it into what is called a narrative chronology. The researcher’s point-of-view get added into the story to make what is called a collaborative narrative.

It’s All Personal to Me: Choosing a Research Design
When choosing your research design, Creswell says that your personal experiences come into play. Yes, your personal strengths can determine what research strategy you choose. For instance, I worked in market research for a while and excelled at math, so I have a loving relationship with numbers. Yet, I also learned to love writing through drafting these Study Dude articles. Just recently, I began writing as a journalist for several print publications in Alberta. And people who love to write should focus on qualitative methods. As I love both quantitative and qualitative worlds, I feel an urge to take on a mixed methods strategy. Such a strategy might add another year or two to a dissertation, but I could instead perform the qualitative part in the master’s program and save the quantitative part for a PhD. Or could I? When in doubt, ask your supervisor.

When choosing a research design, you also need to consider your audience. In my faculty of Communications and Culture, quantitative methods were spat on. So, I settled on a grounded theory study. Talk to your faculty about your choices of methods, and proceed cautiously. You might find that the math department steers clear of feminist approaches while the feminist department may venture into experiments. It all depends.

Creswell spells out the criteria for choosing your research design: your considerations include what worldview you feel fits, what methods you aim to use (such as interviews or surveys), and what strategy you want to use (such as quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods approaches). They also depend on on your research problem, your personal experiences, and your audience.
– Your research problem will affect your design. Use a quantitative approach when you want to test a theory, when you want to see how useful tweaking or adding a variable might be, or when you want to see what stuff led to what outcomes. Otherwise a qualitative approach might be better.
– As for personal experiences, if you have a knack for statistics, then why not use a quantitative approach (if your faculty will allow it, of course). If instead you prefer writing to numbers, you might choose a qualitative approach. If still instead you like both writing and stats, then maybe do a mixed methods approach. But be cautious, a mixed method approach requires both quantitative and qualitative research, so your time and resources will be doubly spent.
– When it comes to your audience, you want to choose your research so that it appeals to journal reviewers, journal readers, your thesis committee, your department, and your conference attendees. These people might have a preferred style: quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods.

Next week, I will show you how limited the theories you can choose from really are. Universities lean heavily to the political left for a reason: the methods are mostly leftist.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Creswell, John W. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.