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Skills for Learning

Research Skills

Overview

Research is the collection of data with the aim of gathering information on a particular topic. Research helps us to make sense of the world. It informs our actions and decision making. There are several stages involved in the research process: identifying the research topic, reviewing the literature, research design, data collection, and analysing and presenting your data.

The purposes of research

All research is carried out with a specific purpose. This purpose will influence how the research is approached.

Research can be:

Investigates an area or issue where little previous work has been carried out. In an organisational setting, it may be used to discover whether or not a problem exists. An example would be an investigation of customers’ perceptions of products/services.

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Examines current situations and speculates about their future implications. For example, the introduction of a government policy might have implications for those who implement it. Research can be used to investigate these implications and develop future approaches to these issues.

Aims to gather information on relationships, patterns and links between variables. An example would be research on the link between students' study skills and course drop-out rates.

Investigates why relationships, patterns and links occur. For instance, it might ask how study skills support can improve student retention. It may also look at other relevant factors (such as the types of study skills support available).

Develops a model to predict the likely course of events given particular variables or circumstances. This can be used, for example, to predict customers’ buying behaviour in retail.

Evaluates the impact of something – e.g. a new policy, event, law, treatment regime or system. For example, an evaluation of the impact of the Olympic Games on host nations.

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Information timelines

We all use information, but where does this information come from? Who writes it? What happens to it next? When do you get to see it? The following timelines show how information becomes an established part of the literature on a topic.

Timeline

Research usually takes place in a university, in industry or in an organisation. It can be difficult to find out about ongoing research. However, sources like working papers and online blogs may provide some insight. In addition, funding organisations (e.g. ESRC, AHRC) may provide details of ongoing projects.

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Once research has been completed, researchers usually want to publish their results; an exception to this might be commercially sensitive research. A common outlet for new ideas is to present a conference paper. Conference papers can be gathered together and published as 'conference proceedings'. Other publication outlets for researchers include magazines and academic journals. Researchers are most likely to want to publish in a 'peer reviewed' journal, where articles will need to be approved by a number of other academics or researchers.

Two to three years after publication, the research is now well known. Other authors may begin referring to papers on the research in their own work. 'Review' articles on related topics may also refer to the research.

If the research is sufficiently important or innovative, the ideas may be appearing in textbooks by now. These processes help the information to become more widespread.

Not all research will go through all these stages. Some research is never published or reviewed.

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Stages in the research process

A research project can be planned as a step-by-step process. Many researchers, however, would describe research as a cycle of activity. You revisit various stages and activities as the work progresses.

The nature of the research process can mean changing your plans as you progress. You may even need to go back to redo some of the work. For example, you might have problems with gathering data, meaning that you have to modify your previously specified aims. Be prepared to be flexible and adaptable during the research process.

A suggested step-by-step process can be found below:

Stages

Deciding on the research question(s) or hypotheses, describing the aims of the project, identifying how to collect or generate the data.

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Placing the research within the context of similar research by others.

Deciding the structure/design for the chosen topic(s).

Using the chosen research method(s) to gather or generate data on the chosen topic(s).

Analysing the data, considering the results and drawing conclusions.

Writing up the dissertation, thesis or report, and distributing the final piece

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