How to narrow down your research topic

September 17, 2017
Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the things novice and emerging researchers can struggle with is learning how to narrow down their research topic. Here are some resources that I’ve personally collected and curated to help you tackle this complex element of developing your research project. At the time of writing this post, all the links worked and none of these resources had pop-up ads, paywalls or require any kind of payment. These are freely available and should be widely accessible by students in most areas.

Written resources:

USC Libraries Research Guide – Organizing your social sciences research paper: Narrowing a Topic Idea – http://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/narrowtopic

USU: Ways to Narrow Down a Topic – http://ocw.usu.edu/English/intermediate-writing/english-2010/-2010/narrowing-topics-skinless_view.html

Thompson Rivers University: How to Narrow Your Research Topic – https://www.tru.ca/__shared/assets/How_to_Narrow_Down_Your_Research_Topic30237.pdf

BYU LibGuide: Step-by-Step Guide & Research Rescue: Finding and Narrowing your Topic – http://guides.lib.byu.edu/c.php?g=216340&p=1428396

Temple University: Narrowing Your Topic from Subject to Thesis (1-page worksheet) – https://www.temple.edu/writingctr/support-for-writers/documents/NarrowingYourTopicfromSubjecttoThesis-Worksheet.pdf

Starting a PhD: Choosing and Developing Your Research Topic – https://100thousandwords.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/starting-a-phd-%E2%80%93-choosing-and-developing-your-research-topic/

U Penn: Plain Talk About Your Dissertation Proposal – http://www.ling.upenn.edu/advice/green_proposal.html

You Tube videos:

Kansas State University Libraries: How to Develop a Good Research Topic – https://youtu.be/nXNztCLYgxc

M. Moilanen: Now to Narrow Down your Research Topic – https://youtu.be/EcYgNV_nQjk

Laurentian University: Narrowing Your Topic – https://youtu.be/JYYQTSXq6RI

Amanda Dinscore: Narrowing Your Topic – https://youtu.be/J1eVTf974R4

Steely Library NKU: Developing a Research Question – https://youtu.be/LWLYCYeCFak

Check out these related posts on this blog:

5 Websites to avoid referencing in your research papers  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1IA

12 Phrases to Avoid in Your Academic Research Papers http://wp.me/pNAh3-1JX

Why APA formatting matters http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hc

How many sources do you need in a literature review? http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hu

What’s the difference between a citation and a reference? http://wp.me/pNAh3-1F9

Why “as cited in” should be avoided in academic writing http://wp.me/pNAh3-1BH

10 Great writing resources for grad students – http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Bc

How to create a research paper outline: 5 great resources http://wp.me/pNAh3-1y6

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This blog has had over 1.6 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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Developing a Work Plan for Your Thesis

September 11, 2017

Sarah Eaton blog technology researchIn one of the graduate level courses I teach, students learn to develop a proposal for their thesis. One of the elements we talk about has nothing at all to do with the content or format of the proposal (both of which are important). It is developing a work plan for the proposal. I tell my students that in turn, the proposal work plan can be expanded upon and adapted to develop a work plan for your thesis.

Elements to include in a work plan are:

A weekly schedule, preferably aligned with the dates of your term. For example, a work plan for a 12-week semester would start with the first week of classes and end with the final week of classes.

Concrete tasks to do each week. “Read” is not a concrete task; it is a vague one. “Download and read 5 peer-reviewed articles in my topic area” is a concrete task.

Build in time to do drafts of your work. Neither a thesis, nor a proposal can be written at the eleventh hour. Building in time to outline and draft the work is crucial.

Be realistic. If you have a major life event happening in the middle of the semester, develop your work plan around that event. (For example, don’t plan on doing a significant amount of work if you or your partner is having a baby in week seven of the semester.)

Here are some of my favourite resources that I recommend to my students:

http://juxi.net/studies/SpaceMaster/Thesis/workplan.pdf

http://www.ed.ac.uk/files/atoms/files//pdpfinal_web_march_2015.pdf

http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2002/07/writing-research-plan

http://ebeit.mandela.ac.za/ebeit/media/Store/documents/Research%20Guidelines/TopicAndTitle/Example-of-Project-Plan-for-Research-Project.pdf

Some of these resources need to be adapted to fit a proposal, rather than an entire thesis. Their usefulness likes in helping you to conceptualize and develop your own work plan, customized to your project.

Learning how to manage your available time and knowing what you have to accomplish in a finite amount of time can help you chuck out your work into more manageable pieces. Having a week-by-week plan, that you construct yourself, can help you stay on track and meet your goals.

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This blog has had over 1.6 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Starting the School Year with Beginner’s Mind

September 2, 2017

celloA couple of months ago I took on the role of Interim Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning, for a six-month term. It has been an exciting time, with lots to learn and many new people to meet. I have been eager, but have learned already that some days there is a fine line between eagerness and exhaustion.

I have taken time to connect with leaders and administrators who have more experience in similar positions, to have coffee and ask for advice on how to succeed in the role. Without exception, their advice has included having a way to release stress and focus on something besides work.

This weekend I took their advice to heart, and in doing so, brought a decades-old dream come to life. When I was a child, like many of my classmates, I had the option to take music lessons. I immediately knew which instrument I wanted to study: the cello. My mother’s response was, “No, it’s too big and you’re too clumsy. I can’t afford to replace it if you break it. You can play the violin.”

So, for the next three or four years, I played the violin. I didn’t really like it. The neighbours didn’t appreciate it. The family cat certainly didn’t enjoy it. I puttered along for a few years, until my violin teacher discovered that, unlike my classmates, I had never learned how to read music. I learned by watching and listening. I learned to turn the pages of the music when everyone else did, but I had no idea what the notes on the page actually meant. In other words, I faked it. And I got away with it. To a point. I played well enough, learned mostly be ear and by watching others, but I never really excelled. After about four years, we started getting into symphony music and I crumbled. I just couldn’t keep up. When my teacher discovered my lack of literacy skills when it came to reading music and scolded me, I felt so embarrassed and ashamed that I gave up entirely. I handed in my violin and never took music lessons again.

Until now. Almost forty years later, I have returned to that childhood dream of learning to play the cello. This weekend, I rented a cello and signed myself up for regular weekly lessons. I have taken the cello out of its case to try it and see if any of the skills I had as a mediocre childhood violinist would transfer. As far as I can see, the answer is: hardly at all. I feel comfortable with the instrument, but it does not feel natural. I have tried bowing the strings a bit and it sounds bad. Interestingly, it does not sound as horrendous as I expected, but perhaps that is because I have memories of the high-pitched e-string on the violin. The deeper notes of the cello somehow seem less offensive.

I have decided to start my school year with Beginner’s Mind. This is a Zen concept which “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Beginners must also be patient with themselves as they learn and to accept where they are, while they strive to build mastery.

I will endeavour to practice my work as a new administrator and my learning as a novice student of music with a Beginner’s Mind. After over two decades as a teacher, it is easy for me to fall into the pattern of thinking and acting like an expert with my students. By putting myself in the position of being a novice learner, I will be reminded of what it is like not to know; to be excited one moment and frustrated the next; to be disciplined enough to practice even after a long day; to breathe and to learn to relax in order to learn better.

This time, I will not fake it. I will be humble enough to tell my teacher that I do not know how to read music and I will try, little by little, to learn in earnest, rather than merely cope. I will admit when I do not know something, rather than try to mask my lack of knowledge in order to fit in.

My goal for this academic year is to relish in the delights and drawbacks of being a beginner, and allow that mindset to help me become a better teacher. And yes, this time I intend to actually learn how to read music, too.

Related post: 7 tips for teachers to survive the school year http://wp.me/pNAh3-gz

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This blog has had over 1.6 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Making evidence informed decisions about formative written feedback for ELLs

July 6, 2017

iStock-woman at laptopI have been working on a research project with a former student, Lorelei Anselmo, about providing effective formative effective feedback for English Language Learners.

Here’s a piece featured on the Werklund School of Education’s “Research@Werklund” site:

Providing post-secondary ELLs with high quality feedback

Formative assessment provides students with feedback that focuses on growth, rather than a grade. Effective formative feedback can help students demonstrate that learning has taken place, and that the learners have used the suggestions to improve their work. Students who can reflect and act on feedback are more likely to be successful in their academic tasks – however, students of all ages must be taught how to use and apply feedback for it to be impactful.

In a study on international post-secondary English language learners (ELLs), Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton and Lorelei Anselmo, a Werklund MEd graduate, interviewed and surveyed 19 learners on their experiences with formative feedback, both in their home countries, and in Canada. The researchers examined what it means to deliver high quality feedback to students about their writing, and how these students perceive and experience receiving feedback. Read more…

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This blog has had over 1.6 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

 


Writing Educational Research (EDER 603.23)

May 11, 2017

U of C logo - 2015I am feeling energized! This spring, I get to teach one of my all-time favourite courses: Writing Educational Research (EDER 603.23). I’ll be working with Master of Education (M.Ed.) students to help them craft a term paper into a manuscript for publication.

Why do I love this course? Because it generates results! Some of the students who take this course really do end up getting their work published in peer-reviewed journals, conference proceedings, books and professional publications. Here are some real-life examples of students who have taken this course with me and have published their work:

There are additional students who have written to me to tell me they have manuscripts in progress. I really love to see authentic, real-world outcomes from student learning and these are some fabulous examples.

Course description

Here is the official description of the course:

This course will focus on examining and developing the skills associated with crafting an academic report and discussion on research data. Topics include genres and purposes of academic writing, as well as venues for presentation and publication. An academic paper is more than a compilation of relevant literature, attending information and a conclusion.

An acceptable paper, whether intended for an academic or a professional audience, and whether a report of findings or a theoretical-philosophical argument, takes a clearly defined idea, situates it in the current literature, and supports it with a well-structured discussion. The principal intentions of this course are to introduce students to the various structures of academic and professional papers and to provide support in their efforts to craft, present and potentially publish their written work.

A traditional approach to writing educational research involves first learning about writing, then learning to write. Learners first study sample texts, analyzing them and then dissecting them, examining their structure, argument and style. The next step often involves producing an original piece of writing that mimics the style, tone and structure of the sample text. The final step is to integrate elements of the student’s own voice and style with elements of the texts they have previously studied. The rationale behind this approach is that the student must first learn what counts as excellent writing by learning about writing. Only then are they prepared to write themselves.

This course takes a non-traditional approach to learning to write about research for scholarly or professional purposes. Students will focus on writing, offering feedback to peers, revising, and incorporating feedback.

Students take on three key roles during this course:

  1. Writer – Crafting an original work intended for sharing in a public forum.
  2. Reviewer – Developing your skills offering substantive and supportive feedback to peers to help them improve their writing so that they, too, are successful in sharing their work in a public forum.
  3. Reviser – Learning to consider and incorporate peer feedback thoughtfully. As scholars and professionals, we recognize that our work is stronger when we incorporate revisions from trusted colleagues whose intention is to help us succeed.

Check out a copy of the course outline here:

EDER_603.23_L09_Eaton_SP2017 – approved

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This blog has had over 1.6 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Readings for Writing Educational Research (EDER 603.23)

April 10, 2017

I have taught this course a dozen times now. Every semester, I find great new resources to share with students. Sometimes students share resources they have found during their learning journey, too. In this blog post, I collect, curate and share information about the required readings, along with some excellent supplementary resources to help you learn to improve your academic writing.

I offer a big shoutout of appreciation and acknowledgement to the students who have added resources to this list over the years.

Required Readings

  1. Belcher, W. L. (2009). Writing your journal article in 12 weeks: A guide to academic publishing success. SAGE Publications, Inc.
  2. American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Online resources (Available at no cost. Also, see the course outline for resources specific to the University of Calgary)

  1. Basics of APA Style (Tutorial): http://www.apastyle.org/learn/tutorials/basics-tutorial.aspx
  2. Workbook to accompany Belcher’s text: http://www.wendybelcher.com/pages/WorkbookForms.htm

Recommended readings on writing for publication in research and professional journals

  1. Bednar, J. A. (n.d.). Tips for Academic Writing and Other Formal Writing.   Retrieved from http://homepages.inf.ed.ac.uk/jbednar/writingtips.html

  2.  Fisher, J. P., Jansen, J. A., Johnson, P. C., & Mikos, A. G. (n.d.). Guidelines for writing a research paper for publication. Retrieved from https://www.liebertpub.com/media/pdf/English-Research-Article-Writing-Guide.pdf

  3. Hartley. (2008). Academic writing and publishing: A practical handbook. Retrieved from http://inf.ucv.ro/~mirel/courses/MIAM114/docs/academicwriting.pdf

  4. Hess, D. R. (2004). How to write an effective discussion. Respiratory Care, 49(10), 1238-1241. Retrieved from http://site.ufvjm.edu.br/ppgodonto/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Artigo_6-1.pdf

  5. Liumbruno, G. M., Velati, C., Pasqualetti, P., & Franchini, M. (2013). How to write a scientific manuscript for publication. Blood Transfusion, 11(2), 217-226. doi:10.2450/2012.0247-12

  6. Lowe, C., & Zemliansky, P. (Eds.). Writing spaces: Readings on writing (Vol. 1). West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press. Retrieved from http://writingspaces.org/sites/default/files/writing-spaces-readings-on-writing-vol-1.pdf

  7. Pautasso, M. (2013). Ten simple rules for writing a literature review.   Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003149

  8. Rocco, T. S., & Hatcher, T. (2011). The handbook of scholarly writing and publishing. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Recommended readings on how to give (and receive) peer review and peer feedback (and deal with rejection)

  1. Durso, T. (1997). Editors’ advice to rejected authors: Just try, try again. The Scientist. Retrieved from http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/18603/title/Editors–Advice-To-Rejected-Authors–Just-Try–Try-Again/
  2. Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112. Retrieved from http://education.qld.gov.au/staff/development/performance/resources/readings/power-feedback.pdf doi:10.3102/003465430298487
  3. Seals, D. R., & Tanaka, H. (2000). Manuscript peer review: a helpful checklist for students and novice referees. Advances in physiology education, 23(1), 52-58.
  4. Shashok, K. (2008). Content and communication: How can peer review provide helpful feedback about the writing? BMC Medical Research Methodology, 8(1), 3. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-8-3.

Recommended supplementary readings on how to get published

  1. Belcher, W. L. (2009). Reflections on ten years of teaching writing for publication to graduate students and junior faculty. Journal of scholarly publishing, 40(2), 184-200. doi:10.3138/jsp.40.2.184
  2. Lovejoy, T. I., Revenson, T. A., & France, C. R. (2011). Reviewing Manuscripts for Peer-Review Journals: A Primer for Novice and Seasoned Reviewers. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 42(1), 1-13. doi:10.1007/s12160-011-9269-x

  3. McGrail, M. R., Rickard, C., & Jones, R. (2006). Publish or perish: a systematic review of interventions to increase academic publication rates. Higher Education Research and Development.
  4. Parsons, J. (2016). How to write an article for The Canadian Journal for Teacher Research (CJTR) from your graduate work? The Canadian Journal for Teacher Research. Retrieved from http://www.teacherresearch.ca/blog/article/2016/02/01/292-how-to-write-an-article-for-the-canadian-journal-for-teacher-research-cjtr-from-your-graduate-work
  5. Pearce II, J. A. (2012). Revising manuscripts for premier entrepreneurship journals. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 36(2), 193-203. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6520.2012.00502.x

  6. Zwaaf, E. (2013). 8 Reasons I accepted your article. Elsevier. Retrieved from https://www.elsevier.com/connect/8-reasons-i-accepted-your-article

A note to other professors and educators: I am happy for you to share this list with your own students. Instead of copying and pasting this blog post into your own course outline (because that would be plagiarism), please put a link to this blog post in your syllabus.

Related posts:

How to provide peer review feedback http://wp.me/pNAh3-1qH

How writers can learn to accept criticism http://wp.me/pNAh3-1oA

What’s the difference between a citation and a reference? http://wp.me/pNAh3-1F9

Why APA formatting matters http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hc

12 Phrases to Avoid in Your Academic Research Papers http://wp.me/pNAh3-1JX

How many sources do you need in a literature review?  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hu

What’s the difference between a manuscript and an article? http://wp.me/pNAh3-1SV

Why “as cited in” should be avoided in academic writing  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1BH

10 Great writing resources for grad students – http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Bc

How to create a research paper outline: 5 great resources http://wp.me/pNAh3-1y6

Template for a 10-page graduate research paper in social sciences http://wp.me/pNAh3-1s2

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Share this post: Readings for Writing Educational Research (EDER 603.23) http://wp.me/pNAh3-1OJ

This blog has had over 1.6 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


25 Strategies to Prevent Plagiarism

March 17, 2017

As part of the workshops the research team and I have been offering on plagiarism, we give participants a copy of this handout, with 25 strategies on how to prevent plagiarism in their classes.

25 Strategies to Prevent Plagiarism

We talk about some of these strategies during the workshops. Participants report that they do not know how to prevent plagiarism. Sometimes, participants tell us that it has never occurred to them that they could incorporate prevention strategies into their teaching practice, but instead, they have only thought about — and struggled with — how to address plagiarism after it has occurred. In the workshops, we talk about how instructors can implement plagiarism prevention strategies in their own courses. The discussion becomes more productive and more positive when we focus on what we can do to help students cultivate their understanding of academic and research integrity, as part of developing their reputation as emerging professionals.

Workshop participants report back that they have appreciated having these strategies on a single-page handout. So, I am sharing the handout here with you, so you can use it, too. The audience for our workshops is instructors in higher education institutions, but many of the strategies can be adapted for K-12 and other contexts, too.

Funding for this study was provided by  the University of Calgary Werklund School of Education Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Grant.

Here are some other posts related to this research project:

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Share this post: 25 Strategies to Prevent Plagiarism http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Oi

This blog has had over 1.6 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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