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Research Methods and Thinking

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Printed Date: 19 April 2014 at 11:18pm


Topic: Research Methods and Thinking
Posted By: bunter
Subject: Research Methods and Thinking
Date Posted: 02 October 2012 at 10:55am
Been posting in another thread so wondered is anyone interested in an education thread about research and projects that kind of thing. I will post the following as a sample of what we might look at:

Some Possible Definitions of Academic Research Styles
When setting out on a research program to find an answer to an interesting question, various styles of reporting are available to you. For example, one might investigate whether cascading styles sheets lead to simpler accessibility on Web pages or you might evaluate the role of email management in business success or you might diligently search Journals for the latest information on a new technology. These forms may usefully be subdivided into:
Project – where one collects original primary data at a point in time from a defined source or sources in order to answer a Research Question centred on solving or partially solving a known problem.

Dissertation – where one collects information from Journals or other respectable and academically acceptable primary sources. The intention usually is to speak at length for example about a new technology or idea by summarising the latest available information.   However, suitable student applications for this type of project may be rare because most students will not have easy or indeed any access to such materials unless they are at a large College or University

Thesis - Implies that the work is based on some hypothesis or premise, which is put forward without proof. The report then sets out to prove the premise and where this is not possible, to offer some discussion and evidence for its validity.
The distinction between types is made on the basis of whether primary data is involved or not. If it’s a dissertation it will involve a detailed search of the current literature meaning books for the groundwork and then on to journals and other primary sources but with no primary data. Alternatively, one could do the same work but define and collect primary data and use that data to generate your outcome and most often that would be called a project rather than dissertation. For Example:

Suppose a client wanted information on internet security trends in business because the problem amounts to management worry of moving to eBusiness. As a dissertation I go to the library and search through Journals, CISCO reports, British Standards etc looking for relevant information so that I could construct say a position paper as my outcome.

Alternatively, I do the work by interviewing security experts on current and suspected future security difficulties and technological trends. Once I have those transcripts, my primary data, I then use that data to generate a position paper. Be aware that here I am not suggesting you don't bother with the literature as that is obviously absurd because then YOU would not know enough to carry out the interviews, know what data you want or deal with the data when you get it

NOTE these are the generally understood meanings but the key is always no matter what it is called to ask if primary data is needed. It is therefore important that you know what your College or University is asking you to do.



Replies:
Posted By: bunter
Date Posted: 07 October 2012 at 8:25am
Primary Data
Primary Data, is new data in the sense that it will not exist as a set until I (you) define, collect and record it at a given point in time. But it must be collected for a specific purpose in that the primary data set is representative of some aspect of the area under investigation and can be processed to get a defined Outcome that will resolve or partially resolve a stated problem theme when used by situation actors. All projects must be based on the collection and processing of primary data. Consider the following examples illustrating the above primary data idea for several problem areas.

Example 1. Suppose I want as my project outcome to define all the various accounting functions so I pick up a manual for my in-house accounting system and then go though it looking for all the various accounting functions and listing them – is that primary data and is this a valid research purpose?

No because in the first place one might just regard the manual as listing the functions anyway so in effect the data already exists, secondly, this is just one book and so its content might be complex, trivial or totally unrepresentative.

Example 2. If I extract instances of phishing from an email log would that be primary data because clearly the email log (secondary data) exists.

This looks fine because although the data exists in the log when I extract it I form a new data set that did not exists as an entity before.

Example 3. If I conduct interviews in order to describe a user purpose regarding illegal software downloads in my company with selected employees would the interview transcripts be primary data?

This is fine because clearly the transcripts could NOT have existed before I conducted the interview so it represents a new set of data. In practice one would go through all the transcripts later using text processing ideas and so arrive at a more structured and organised set of data.

Example 4. If I look through written reports (secondary data) on security violations for a particular company with a view to identifying the root cause of each violation would that be primary data?

This is fine even though the violation reports exist (secondary data) the list of root causes (my primary data) did not so it is primary data.


Posted By: bunter
Date Posted: 12 October 2012 at 5:47am
Measurements and Scales
The concept of measurement requires some scale along which different values can be placed. Four types of scale are possible.

Nominal- a scale used to represent unordered variables. For example we might collect statistics on colour preference. Clearly there is no sense in which a preference for BLUE is greater than RED so in this case any convenient ordering arrangement will do.

Ordinal- a scale used to represent an ordered series of positional relationships. That is where values only indicate position in a series. For example, in an examination we can say that one student got more marks than another. However, we cannot say that a student with 50% knows twice as much as one with 25% or that a student with 100% knows everything and one with 0% knows nothing.

Interval- On interval scales, one unit on the scale represents the same magnitude across the whole range of the scale. For example, if anxiety were measured on an interval scale between 1 and 10, then a difference between a score of 8 and a score of 9 would be assumed to be the same difference in anxiety as that between a score of 2 and 3 or 5 and 6. But interval scales do not have a true zero point; in this case we cannot say what zero anxiety means or that one person is twice as anxious as someone else.

Ratio - a scale where a particular interval is the same anywhere on the scale and it is meaningful to refer to zero or say that one value is a certain multiple of another. It is therefore meaningful on such a scale to say how many times higher one score is than another. Ideally we want a ratio scale because it is mathematically tractable; we can talk about zero, we can say something is a certain multiple of another value, we can do exact comparisons. When we use statistics on numbers we want the data to be at least ordinal.


Posted By: bunter
Date Posted: 13 October 2012 at 10:52pm
In research the outcome will mainly set out to do one of the following: understand something, explore something, describe something, explain something, improve something, build something or prove something. To do any of this you need a method, a best way of working and this is referred to as a Research Method.

A Research Method is a model or framework in which you set your research design – this is useful because each model will have features that suit what it is you are doing as well as perhaps suit your temperament as a researcher. Here are some very common Research Methods:

     Case Studies,
     Vignettes, 
     Action Research, 
     Experiments, 
     Quasi-Experiments,
     Surveys, 
     Biographies/History, 
     Grounded Theory, 
     Ethnography,
     Requirements Gathering

Choosing a research method will depend on many factors and you can see from this list it is nota simple matter:

Context, Time available, Skills available, Practicalities, Access to data, Reason for the study, What kind of outcome you want, Cost, Quantitative/qualitative, Scope and scale, Control, Sensitivity of the data and so on.

The simplest guide to choosing a method is to think about your basic intention – ask am I setting out to: understand, explore, describe, explain, improve, build or prove. Here are some methods that are well suited to particular research intentions:

     Case Studies - understanding a situation
     Vignettes - explaining a situation or phenomenon 
     Action Research - improving a situation or process 
     Experiments - proving a nominal theory of some kind 
     Surveys - describing a situation
     Grounded Theory - exploring a situation or setting

Example
Suppose my research was about looking at the trustworthiness (problem theme) of computer users in a situation where personal data is being handled such as in a hospital pharmacy. Here we are trying explore trustworthiness and the scale is large and the data is very sensitive in terms of accuracy, potential loss or improper disclosure. I decide therefore that I need and exploratory study to try to identify key points and ideas in trustworthiness. This makes me think of Vignettes. Vignettes are like a tiny case study, an outline, a sketch, a cartoon that just illustrates ONE important point at a time so a collection of these would indicate several important aspects of Trustworthiness and those aspects could then form the basis for a more extensive study or to initiate debate about the problem theme.


Posted By: bunter
Date Posted: 19 October 2012 at 4:32am
The odd thing about research is that everyone thinks they can do it but the fact is that this is almost never the case. It follows that research is something that hasto be learned and practiced if it is to be carried out honestly and skillfully.

These days most Universities provide Research Methods or courses in Critical Thinking but all they do is furnish you with the tools. The point is to be good at research you have to do it, practice it. It cannot really be learned any other way. This stream of threads is interesting as in it we can find all sorts of claims, usually supplied without any proof so would you know how to set about checking them? To illustrate what I am saying I thought it useful to talk about conspiracy theories, which about in the modern world and easily gain a band of loyal and often vociferous follows.

A conspiracy theory arises when people want to believe something, or when someone wants a group to believe what they say. Ad populum is just one way that such a theory gets spread and so in effect they stick their heads in the sand and refuse to countenance any contrary evidence and instead start to believe "everybody knows...".

Have a look at Jon Lewis's book "Cover-ups" (ISBN 9781845 296087) where he describes 100 conspiracies some true and some manufactured. But here we are speaking of 'conspiracy theories'; which are usually understood to mean according to Mintz "belief in the primacy of conspiracies in the unfolding of history which serves the needs of diverse political and social groups. It identifies elites, blames them for economic and social catastrophes, and assumes that things will be better once popular action can remove them from positions of power. As such, conspiracy theories do not typify a particular epoch or ideology".

The list of conspiracy theories covers clandestine government plans, elaborate murder plots, suppression of secret technology and knowledge, and other supposed schemes behind certain political, cultural, and historical events. While a conspiracy is defined by law as an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime, fraud, or other wrongful act, A conspiracy theory attempts to attribute the ultimate cause of an event (usually major political, social, historical, or cultural events), chain of events, or the concealment of causes from public knowledge, to a secret and often deceptive plan by a group of people or organizations. 

In the UK only two years ago an example occurred where Andrew Wakefield was struck of the medical practitioner register because he linked autism and the MMR vaccine causing widespread panic as almost every one believed him yet his methods and data were both later shown to be seriously flawed and although it is 10 years since the publication he has been totally unable to validate his results and his findings have never been replicated. One has to remember here that his original paper was nevertheless published in the Lancet although subsequently it was withdrawn. 


Posted By: bunter
Date Posted: 22 October 2012 at 9:36am
Just to continue on the theme of conspiracies I thought you might be interested in what is called 'denialism', you know the sort of thing when sometimes obvious truth are denied.

These guidelines have been copied from New Scientist 15th May 2010. Interested to hear what you think or perhaps you have examples? The point about this list is that we all need to be aware of these essentially dishonest tactics and not get taken in by them and instead vigorously oppose them, indeed if you look though this board or others you may spot some of these tactics being used, it will not be easy to see them unless you are on your guard and are prepared to find out the truth. Be aware that we all have a tendency to lean towards things we want to be true and might sweep under the carpet our doubts but that is a destructive and disreputable route so don't take it.

May Martin McKee, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who also studies denial, has identified six tactics that all denialist movements use. "I'm not suggesting there is a manual somewhere, but one can see these elements, to varying degrees, in many settings," he says (The European journal of Public Health, vol 19, p2).

1. Allege that there's a conspiracy. Claim that scientific consensus has arisen through collusion rather than the accumulation of evidence.

2. Use fake experts to support your story. "Denial always starts with a cadre of pseudo-experts with some credentials that create a façade of credibility," says Seth Kalichman of the University of Connecticut.

3. Cherry-pick the evidence: trumpet whatever appears to support your case and ignore or rubbish the rest. Carry on trotting out supportive evidence even after it has been discredited.

4. Create impossible standards for your opponents. Claim that the existing evidence is not good enough and demand more. If your opponent comes up with evidence you have demanded, move the goalposts.

5. Use logical fallacies. Hitler opposed smoking, so anti-smoking measures are Nazi. Deliberately misrepresent the scientific consensus and then knock down your straw man.

6. Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature. Insist "both sides" must be heard and cry censorship when "dissenting" arguments or experts are rejected.


Posted By: bunter
Date Posted: 12 November 2012 at 8:39am
In research it is important that you don't block out explicitly or implicitly things you may not like or don't agree with otherwise you will miss major truths.

To have an open mind means to be willing to consider or receive new and different ideas. It means being flexible and adaptive to new experiences and ideas although it does not mean you have to accept everything you hear.

People who are open-minded are willing to change their views when presented with new facts and evidence. Those who are not, and are resistant to change will find life less rewarding and satisfying, not to mention dull. If we limit ourselves to what we know and were more comfortable with in the past, we will become more and more frustrated.

If we choose to approach life in the same way day after day, as well as becoming bored and uninspired, we will reduce our intellectual aptitude. If, on the other hand, we seek new ways of doing and looking at things, we will expand our intellectual capability, find life more exciting, and broaden our experiences. Most people agree that open-mindedness is one of the fundamental aims of education, always elusive but eminently worth pursuing. It is the childlike attitude of wonder and interest in new ideas coupled with a determination to have one's beliefs properly grounded.

Bertrand Russell regarded open-mindedness as the virtue that prevents habit and desire from making us unable or unwilling to entertain the idea that earlier beliefs (of whatever kind) may have to be revised or abandoned; its main value lies in challenging the fanaticism that comes from a conviction that our views are absolutely certain, that WE are right.

'You are obstinate, he is pigheaded, I needless to say, I merely hold firm opinions.' This is Russell's memorable way of making the point that it is enormously difficult to recognise one's own tendencies towards closed-mindedness. We see ourselves as eminently reasonable, and our views as open to discussion, even though it may be perfectly clear to others that we are only going through the motions of giving a serious hearing to a rival


Posted By: Matt Browne
Date Posted: 13 November 2012 at 9:14am
Good stuff. Thanks for sharing.

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A religion that's intolerant of other religions can't be the world's best religion --Abdel Samad
Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people--Eleanor Roosevelt


Posted By: bunter
Date Posted: 21 November 2012 at 1:30pm
Become self-aware
Most of us think we know who we are but often that knowing excludes or pushes into the shadows the uncomfortable things about our personalities and character tending to make us look for excuses rather than facing up to and fixing any failings we have. 

It is vital to know how you see and organises your world and generate meaning from your experiences. You may think of this as examining Weltanschauung, which is often loosely translated as world-view but carries the idea that our world view is shaped by who we are: our culture, our teachers, our religion, our family, our friends, our choices and indeed a whole host of things over which we have in general little control in their formative years and means that two people will not act in an identical way even when confronted by identical circumstances. Indeed, we ourselves may not think, feel and act in the same way from one more or less identical situation to another at a different time or place. 

We cannot do much about who we are but we can become more aware of ourselves, our thinking, our feelings our actions; that will help us stop blaming everything or everyone but ourselves and over time our learning will change who we are because the meaning systems that people adopt, usually unconsciously, are as important or perhaps more important than logic in shaping their thinking. There is nothing really new here for Socrates, almost 3,000 years ago said "The unexamined life is not worth living" because for him growing in knowledge and character was everything. So if something in our lives or experienced cannot be questioned, no matter what it is, then ir may ultimately destroy our growth because it means we have no-go areas where learning cannot take place.

This really is about managing ourselves and not running away or trying to hide flaws in our character and knowledge, and we all have them, but facing up to them and working to eradicate them. Bill Hybels when talking about himself said "It's a terribly lonely feeling to have no one to blame, look to no one to rescue you. It's rotten to realise that to find the bad guy, you just have to look in the mirror. The truth is that the only person who can put a sustainability programme together for us is us. Anything else is a self-leadership fumble, an illusion."


Posted By: bunter
Date Posted: 30 November 2012 at 9:38am
Is your life a muddle? I don't know if it helps but one might think of marble solitaire as a parable of life, your life. In marble solitaire one has to build up a simple pattern, or you can say discipline of moves and if you do, you will always end up with just one marble right in the centre of the board. Without a pattern and the discipline that goes with it you will always be in the unsatisfying position of having marbles left over, which can be all over the place and you never get to the centre. For marble solitaire there are many, many different move patterns that will work but trying to get to the centre without a pattern discipline will leave you continually frustrated and disappointed.

Now what is the centre for you? Interestingly, religious communities have solved this and believers will say their day is centred around God and spiritual devotions and almost always they give themselves as volunteers for other activities within their community and outside it and of course they feel part of a wider supportive and loving community.

For those without faith there are nevertheless ways of centering one's days: it might be around music or sport or volunteering or drama, the list is endless but it most cases the centre is into some community or other. Some centre things around their normal work but I don't think that is a good idea. What we are talking about is a pattern of daily living that brings you a sense of contentment.

Incidentally, there have been studies that show that many decide, even though they have no particular faith allegiance, to join a faith community where they feel at home, cared for and their children grow up in the same safe environment even though they do not necessarily commit as such to any creed.

Takes some time and think about what has been said here and find a discipline, a pattern that centres you daily living. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it like this "Spirituality [you put in your own word] without discipline is like a river without its banks." St Paul said "At the time, discipline isn't much fun. It always feels like it's going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely"


Posted By: Matt Browne
Date Posted: 02 December 2012 at 3:01am
Bunter, do you know Roy Baumeister's book "Willpower"? It's about the science of discipline and willpower. One of the most excellent books I've ever read.



-------------
A religion that's intolerant of other religions can't be the world's best religion --Abdel Samad
Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people--Eleanor Roosevelt


Posted By: bunter
Date Posted: 02 December 2012 at 7:52am
Originally posted by Matt Browne

Bunter, do you know Roy Baumeister's book "Willpower"? It's about the science of discipline and willpower. One of the most excellent books I've ever read.
I don't know it but looks like it could be good, so made a note of it for future reference.


Posted By: bunter
Date Posted: 10 December 2012 at 9:42am
Once you have collected your primary data (see earlier post for definition and examples). But today I will just give an analogy of the whole process.

Processing Primary Data
When thinking about your primary data, keep in mind that its is what you will uses as the basis for generating your project outcome. It follows that if you say your outcome is a strategy, or a model, or a position paper then it only makes sense if you know what primary data you want and a way to combine them (called pre and post processing) so that you can manufacture that particular outcome. Suppose by way of analogy, one was making a wedding cake (analogous to your project outcome). Essentially any recipe (analogous to a research design) is in 3 parts: ingredients, quantities and making process.

Ingredients (analogous to defining and locating the primary data) - We define the ingredients we need, make a list of them and then locate a shop that sells the ingredients.

Quantities (analogous to collecting the data) - We use our ingredient list and add quantities and go get them. But of course as we collect them they will not automatically be in the right quantities and forms. Therefore at the end of this we will have bags of currents, icing sugar, flour, nuts and so on but obviously in this state we cannot use them directly to get the outcome.

Making (analogous to pre-processing and post processing to finally generate the outcome)

Pre-process by measuring out the various ingredients and put the correct amounts into individual bowls ready for the final stage. We use the last part of the recipe to take the bowls analogous to post processing to finally generate the outcome (bake the cake)


Implicit in this is that the levels of skill needed becomes higher and higher the closer you get to generating the outcome. Summarising: if I were making a cake (outcome) then I assemble the ingredients (the data) but I also need secondary information/data and skills: a recipe to tell me what to do, instructions on how to use the kitchen gadgets, how to set the timer, how to check cooking progress, how to manage costs, how to serve it up, definition of terms, I might watch a cooking program on TV and so on but no one would think of these extra things as ingredients (primary data) would they. By analogy this is saying you need literature support to do the work which you can use to help you know what to do and help you find meaning in your results.


Posted By: bunter
Date Posted: 10 December 2012 at 9:42am
Originally posted by bunter

Once you have collected your primary data (see earlier post for definition and examples). But today I will just give an analogy of the whole process.

Processing Primary Data
When thinking about your primary data, keep in mind that its is what you will uses as the basis for generating your project outcome. It follows that if you say your outcome is a strategy, or a model, or a position paper then it only makes sense if you know what primary data you want and a way to combine them (called pre and post processing) so that you can manufacture that particular outcome. Suppose by way of analogy, one was making a wedding cake (analogous to your project outcome). Essentially any recipe (analogous to a research design) is in 3 parts: ingredients, quantities and making process.

Ingredients (analogous to defining and locating the primary data) - We define the ingredients we need, make a list of them and then locate a shop that sells the ingredients.

Quantities (analogous to collecting the data) - We use our ingredient list and add quantities and go get them. But of course as we collect them they will not automatically be in the right quantities and forms. Therefore at the end of this we will have bags of currents, icing sugar, flour, nuts and so on but obviously in this state we cannot use them directly to get the outcome.

Making (analogous to pre-processing and post processing to finally generate the outcome)

Pre-process by measuring out the various ingredients and put the correct amounts into individual bowls ready for the final stage. We use the last part of the recipe to take the bowls analogous to post processing to finally generate the outcome (bake the cake)
Implicit in this is that the levels of skill needed becomes higher and higher the closer you get to generating the outcome. Summarising: if I were making a cake (outcome) then I assemble the ingredients (the data) but I also need secondary information/data and skills: a recipe to tell me what to do, instructions on how to use the kitchen gadgets, how to set the timer, how to check cooking progress, how to manage costs, how to serve it up, definition of terms, I might watch a cooking program on TV and so on but no one would think of these extra things as ingredients (primary data) would they. By analogy this is saying you need literature support to do the work which you can use to help you know what to do and help you find meaning in your results.



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