[Itech] Fwd: Tomorrow's Professor eNewsletter: 1349. Making the Most of Small-Scale Research

Teresa Franklin franklit at ohio.edu
Fri Sep 12 09:04:53 EDT 2014

Hi All,

Thought I would share this.  Please share with others that you think would
enjoy this.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Rick Reis <reis at stanford.edu>
Date: Fri, Sep 12, 2014 at 12:17 AM
Subject: Tomorrow's Professor eNewsletter: 1349. Making the Most of
Small-Scale Research
To: tomorrows-professor at lists.stanford.edu

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Tomorrow's Professor eNewsletter, Sponsored by Stanford Center for Teaching
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*A key question for all small-scale researchers is: how much is it possible
to achieve in work of modest scope?  Even if small in scale, a tightly
focused study that is well designed and executed can contribute to the
delineation of an issue or problem in the field of enquiry.  It may open up
a new avenue for investigation, illuminate and exemplify a substantive
topic already identified within the field, or approach a familiar
substantive issue from a different theoretical perspective.  Less commonly,
it might even develop a new methodological approach to a topic.  *

1349. Making the Most of Small-Scale Research


[image: Rick Reis]

The posting below looks at what makes for quality small-scale research and
the reasons why such research can be important. It is from Chapter 2 -
Designing and writing about research: developing a critical frame of mind,
by Louise Poulson and Mike Wallace, in the book, Learning to Read
Critically in Educational Leadership and Management, edited by Mike Wallace
and Louise Poulson. SAGE Publications, Ltd. 1 Oliver's Yard, 55 City Road,
London EC1Y 1SP http://www.sagepub.com/books.nav. Copyright © 2003 by Sage
Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

reis at stanford.edu

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Tomorrow's Research

---------- 1768 words ----------

Making the Most of Small-Scale Research

While much small-scale research is undertaken for dissertations and theses,
many experienced professional researchers periodically engage in studies of
similar scope.  Sometimes their purpose is to explore a new idea or topic
to find out whether it is feasible for a research enquiry, or to pilot a
particular approach or instrument prior to undertaking a larger study.  At
other times small-scale research might be part of a major investigation, as
where a case study is conducted of a specific aspect of the wider
phenomenon being explored.  Large studies often combine different
components, each of which may vary widely in scope.  The research reports
in Part 2 offer examples of such small-scale research and also individual
components of larger studies, some of which are more ambitious than you
could realistically attempt for a dissertation or thesis.  However, while
the context in which such studies were done may be different from that of
an individual completing a research investigation for a dissertation or
thesis, many principles and procedures are similar.  In the physical and
natural sciences, doctoral theses may be written about an aspect of a much
larger study when students work with their supervisor as part of a team in
a laboratory.  But in the humanities and the social sciences it is more
likely that as a student you will work alone, perhaps researching a problem
or an issue arising from your professional context.

A key question for all small-scale researchers is: how much is it possible
to achieve in work of modest scope?  Even if small in scale, a tightly
focused study that is well designed and executed can contribute to the
delineation of an issue or problem in the field of enquiry.  It may open up
a new avenue for investigation, illuminate and exemplify a substantive
topic already identified within the field, or approach a familiar
substantive issue from a different theoretical perspective.  Less commonly,
it might even develop a new methodological approach to a topic.

For a dissertation or thesis, one of the first things to do is to clarify
the focus and define the parameters of the research.  In short, you should
identify your intellectual project:  consider what you will concentrate on,
and what is practicable for a lone researcher with limited resources and a
tight time-scale.  A challenge facing you is to design a study that is both
practicable and of sufficient scope and significance to yield worthwhile
data.  Be wary of pre-judging what you will find (see Chapter 7).

Someone may be interested in an example of national policy change and how
it impacts on practice in organizations affected. Obviously, a wide-ranging
empirical investigation of the national context of policy implementation in
a representative sample of organizations would be beyond the scope of most
individual dissertations or theses. But an individual researcher could
reasonably undertake a clearly delineated study of implementation in a
locality, or even a single institution within a bounded time-scale.  While
the scope of such a study might be limited, if it were carefully thought
out and conceptualized, it would still have the potential to make a
contribution to understanding of the phenomenon.  To do so, it would have
to be narrowly focused, with a clear specification of what was being
undertaken and an explanation of how it would be done.  The specific
problem or topic being studied would have to be linked to the wider context
of the field of enquiry, indicating why it was a significant problem to
study.  In the example above, this linkage might be to the wider policy
context, and perhaps to changing notions of practice in the organizations
to implement change.

A further means of strengthening the significance of a small-scale study is
by making clear links between the work being conducted and existing
literature in the field and, if appropriate, related fields.  These links
can be made in relation to three aspects of your enquiry (paralleling the
focus for an academic literature review outlined in Chapter 1):

1. the substantive focus of the study - the particular topic or issue that
constitutes the substance of the investigation within a field of enquiry;

2. the theoretical issues - how particular concepts, or theoretical
perspectives, may guide and inform the study, and what the strengths and
limitations of such perspectives are;

3. methodological approaches - in a particular field a methodology might be
accepted as standard practice.  You may use this approach in your study, or
turn to a different methodology, perhaps by attempting to gain in-depth
knowledge of a phenomenon in a particular context.

If the investigation makes strong substantive, theoretical and
methodological connections with other studies within the field, its
potential value will be enhanced.  In relation to a dissertation or thesis,
you might ask:

* How is my study similar to other work in substance, theory or

* In what ways does it build upon or extend previous work and is there
other research that confirms the direction of my findings?

* What does my study do that has not been done before?

It is important to remember that small-scale research need not always
generate its own data. The collection of primary data direct from the
subjects of your research is often the most time-consuming, expensive and
difficult part of an investigation. There are numerous statistical
databases and other archive materials now accessible through the internet
which could be used as the basis for study (see Chapter 4).  Gorard (2001)
exemplifies how he undertook a piece of small-scale research using
secondary data: statistical information that had already been collected and
was easily available through the internet from government sources.  He
explains that he started by questioning the assertion made in research
literature that schools in Wales did not perform as well as their
counterparts in England.  He then set out to test this assertion by using
existing statistical data to reanalyze the comparative results of
equivalent schools in both countries.  Gorard outlines how using secondary
data sources enabled him to tackle and important topic that would have been
impossible had he attempted to collect the data himself:

The findings of this simple value-added analysis run contrary to the
schooled for failure hypothesis (about schools in Welsh LEAs).  They
defended children, teachers and schools in Wales, and met with considerable
local media and some political interest.... The complete study, including
data collection, transcription and analysis took me one afternoon at an
additional cost of less than £10 for photocopying and access to census
figures.  I would have been very happy to conduct this study for my
masters' dissertation instead of traipsing round schools conducting yet
another survey (which is what I actually did).  I would have saved time,
money and produced interesting results for my discussion section. (Gorard,
2001: 48)

Note that Gorard had a clearly focused idea for a study.  It let to the
formulation of a clearly specified hypothesis, firmly grounded within
existing research literature.  He then tested this hypothesis, not by
attempting to collect new evidence himself, but by careful analysis of
existing data.  The outcome was an example of small-scale research that had
wider significance and impact.  It also showed how a key to successful
small-scale research is achieving a balance between a tightly focused topic
embodying a practicable design and making connections with the wider
context in which the problem has arisen.

What makes for a high-quality final written account of a small-scale study?
 Here are the top ten components we, as critical readers, would look for:

1. a clearly-focused substantive topic, with the focus sustained
throughout, incorporating a well-defined broad central question leading to
detailed research questions or hypotheses;

2. a critical review of literature in the field, and clear connections
drawn between existing knowledge and the small-scale study (in terms of the
substantive topic, theories and    concepts, and methodology);

3. an appropriate methodological approach and detailed methods for
answering the research questions or testing the hypotheses;

4. a well-structured and explicit design for the study whose methods are
fit for their purpose;

5. data that is analyzed thoroughly, with the processes of data
preparation, summary and analysis clearly set out;

6. discussion of the analysis or findings that relates back to the original
research questions or hypotheses, and to the critical review of the

7. a reflective summary of what the study has achieved, its strengths and
weaknesses, any problematic issues that arose, and any implications for
future research (and policy or practice  if appropriate);

8. accurate referencing, both in the text and in the references list, so
that, in principle, any reference may be followed-up;

9. clear expression with attention to writing style, punctuation, spelling
and grammar, so that the account may be easily understood; and

10.the development of a logical argument from the title to the end of the
account, providing as much backing as possible for the claims being made.

Make the most of your small-scale research by bearing these components in
mind, together with the principles of self-critical writing outlined in
Table 1.1 in the previous chapter, when planning the structure and
presentation of your dissertation or thesis.  It is also advisable to refer
from the outset to the statement of criteria used in assessing your work
that is likely to be included in the students' handbook for the programme.
 Ensure that your written account meets each of these criteria.

Box 2.1  Ten pitfalls to be avoided in a small-scale study
1. Too diffuse a focus for the study or attempting to collect too much data
to analyze.

2. A descriptive or uncritical review of the literature ('X said this; Y
said that').

3. Lack of linkage between the research questions and the review of

4. No connection made between the research questions and the methodology
and detailed methods of data collection chosen for the study.

5. Failure to make explicit how the study was designed: its time-scale, how
the research subjects or sites sampled were chosen, how research
instruments were designed and tested, or how   the data were analyzed.

6. Data not analyzed in sufficient detail or depth to provide an answer to
the research questions.

7. Inadequate description or explanation of what the data showed.

8. Lack of discussion of the findings and their significance, how they
answered the research questions, tested the research hypotheses, or
illuminated the issues studied.

9. Weak conclusions, and failure to return to the original questions or
hypotheses and say what the study has achieved, what problems were
encountered, and what issues arose from the  work.

10. Over-ambitious or over-generalized recommendations for policy or
practice that are not backed by evidence from the study.


Gorard, S. (2001) Quantitative Methods in Educational Research.  London:

Miles, M. and Huberman, M. (1994) Qualitative Data Analysis.  New York:
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*"A teacher affects eternity; [she]he can never tell where the influence
stops." - Henry Adams*Dr. Teresa Franklin
Professor, Educational Studies/Instructional Technology
Fulbright Research Scholar to Turkey 2013-14
The Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education
Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701
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