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.


Indigenous Research Methodologies: Resources and Readings

July 7, 2017

Let me start by stating the obvious. I am not an Indigenous person and as such, my understandings of Indigenous ways of knowing and understanding the world are limited. Having said that, I find myself working with students who want to conduct research about Indigenous issues. When that happens, I counsel my students to consider using Indigenous research methodologies to shape and inform their projects, as opposed to relying only on sources that have been so-far accepted as being “the norm” in Western educational research context.

Here is a list of some resources students have shared with me. In turn, I share them here. I do not claim that this is a complete or exhaustive list, but rather it is a starting point.

It is important for me to add that I also counsel students to work with one or more members of the Indigenous communities they wish to study to receive authentic guidance on their projects.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Aubrey Hanson, my colleague in the Werklund School of Education, who offered advice and feedback on this post.

Resources

  • Absolon, K. E. (2012). Kaandossiwin: how we come to know. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishers.
  • Ball, J. &  Janyst, P. (2008).  Enacting Research Ethics in Partnerships with Indigenous Communities in Canada: ‘Do it in a Good Way’. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics: An International Journal 3(2), 33-51.
  • Brown, L., & Strega, S. (Eds.). (2005). Research As resistance: Critical, Indigenous and anti-oppressive approaches. Toronto: Canadian Scholars.
  • Cadwallader, N., Quigley, C., Yazzie-Mintz, T. (2011). Enacting decolonized methodologies: The doing of research in educational communities. Qualitative Inquiry (18)1, 3-15
  • Castellano, M.B. (2004). “Ethics of Aboriginal Research.” Journal of Aboriginal Health, 1(1), 98-114. Retrieved from http://www.naho.ca/jah/english/jah01_01/journal_p98-114.pdf
  • Chilisa, B. (2012). Indigenous reserach methodologies. Los Angeles: Sage.
  • Kovach, M. (2010). Conversational method in Indigenous research. First Peoples Child and Family Review,5(1), 40-48.
  • Kovach, M. (2010). Indigenous methodologies: characteristics, conversations and contexts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Lambert, L. (2014). Research for indigenous survival: Indigenous research methodologies in the behavioral sciences. Brantford, ON: Salish Kootenai College Press.
  • Lavallé, L. (Producer). (2016). Reconciling Ethical Research with Métis, Inuit, and First Nations People (video). Retrieved from https://youtu.be/D5qh7MY4el0
  • Ledoux, J. (2006). Integrating Aboriginal perspectives into curricula: A literature review. The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, 26(2), 265-288.
  • Lincoln, Y. S., Tuhiwai Smith, L., & Denzin, N. K. (Eds.). (2008). Handbook of critical and indigenous methodologies. Los Angeles: Sage.
  • Mertens, D. M., Cram, F., & Chilisa, B. (Eds.). (2013). Indigenous pathways into social research: Voices of a new generation. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
  • Michell, H. (2009). Gathering berries in northern contexts: A Woodlands Cree metaphor for community-based research.  Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health, 7(1): 65-73.
  • Mihesuah, D. A., & Wilson, A. C. (Eds.). (2004). Indigenizing the academy: Transforming scholarship and empowering communities. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Retrieved from https://muse.jhu.edu/chapter/334026
  • Schnarch, Brian. (2009). “Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession (OCAP) or Self-Determination Applied to Research, A Critical Analysis of
    Contemporary First Nations Research and Some Options for First Nations Communities.” Journal of Aboriginal Health, 14.16. NAHO Conference Our People Our Health.
  • Tuhiwai Smith, L. (2012). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. New York: Zed Books Ltd.
  • Wotherspoon, T. (2006). Teachers’ ’work in Aboriginal communities. Comparative and International Education Society, 50(4), 672-694.
  • Wallace, & Rick. (2011). Power, practice and a critical pedagogy for non-Indigenous allies. The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, 31(2).
  • Walter, M., & Andersen, C. (2013). Indigenous Statistics: a quantitative research methodology. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
  • Wilson, S. (2001). What is Indigenous reserach methodology. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 25(2), 175-179.
  • Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony- Indigenous research methods. Halifax: Fernward Press.

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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.

 


How to develop your Knowledge Mobilization Plan (KMP)

March 8, 2017

This week in one of my courses, I’m working with doctoral students to help them understand and figure out how to develop a Knowledge Mobilization Plan (KMP) for their research projects. The KMP is a required element of their project this term.

Here are some resources I shared to help them understand what KMPs are and how to build one:

https://research.usask.ca/documents/Knowledge_Mobilization.pdf

http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/research/UserFiles/File/Amanda%20Cooper%20Building%20KM%20Plans%20UT%20Final%20Post%20Version.pdf

https://www.edu.uwo.ca/research/documents/Thinking_About_Knowledge_Mobilization_Plans.pdf

http://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca/funding-financement/policies-politiques/knowledge_mobilisation-mobilisation_des_connaissances-eng.aspx

http://www.slideshare.net/sreibling/how-to-write-a-knowledge-mobilization-plan

https://www.mta.ca/uploadedFiles/Community/Research_and_creative/Research_Office/Mount_Allison_Connects/Institute_events/Building%20a%20Knowledge%20Mobilization%20Strategy.pdf

I also shared my approach to knowledge mobilization for my own research. I use a multi-dimensional approach that includes four different audiences:

  1. Academic – Academic (peer-reviewed) articles, academic conferences
  2. Professional – Professional journal articles (edited); Professional reports; professional conferences (e.g. teachers’ conventions); professional development workshops
  3. Social media – My blog Twitter (@DrSarahEaton); LinkedIn; Research Gate & Academia.edu. (Note: Those last two are are like LinkedIn, but directed towards those working in research).
  4.  Community – This can include public presentations or workshops. The key is to tailor these to a broad general audience.

I am to get my work out to as many different audiences as possible and to create a digital footprint for the work, so that if someone comes across it years down the road and they are interested long after I have moved on to new projects, they can still find out about the project.

I also look for ways to link the “products” or “outputs” of my projects. For example, I just led a project on signature pedagogies for e-learning in Higher education. I had the report archived on the University’s digital repository, so the citation looks like this:

Eaton, S. E., Brown, B., Schroeder, M., Lock, J. & Jacobsen, M. (2017). Signature pedagogies for e-learning in higher education and beyond. Calgary: University of Calgary. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1880/51848

I then blogged about the report on this blog: Signature pedagogies for e-learning in higher education and beyond http://wp.me/pNAh3-1MP

I then Tweeted about the report, which then got Re-tweeted by two of the co-authors:

RT

Brown RT.jpg

I also posted or submitted a copy of the report at:

  • Research Gate:
  • Academia.edu
  • LinkedIn.
  • ERIC (When there is a full report available).

Basically, I try to get the word out in any many ways as possible.

All this, by the way, took less than two hours to do. I have had these accounts set up for some years now and this has been a fairly consistent process for me when I want to mobilize knowledge about a project.

Here is an infographic I created to help you visualize how you might develop your own KMP. Not all the elements I talked about in this post fit onto the infographic, so don’t think of the visual as exhaustive:KMP.jpg

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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.


How to conduct focus groups: Free online resources for researchers

February 6, 2017

I have been putting some resources together for graduate students on how to conduct focus groups. Here are over a dozen freely available online resources on how to plan, implement, record and analyze focus groups:

  1. Dawson, S., Manderson, L., & Tallo, V. L. (1992). The focus group manual. Retrieved from http://www.ircwash.org/sites/default/files/125-10840.pdf
  2. Education Training Services. (n.d.). Focus Group Planning Checklist. Retrieved from http://www.etr.org/cisp/access-resources/focus-areas/organizational-development/focus-groups-planning-checklist-pdf/
  3. Elliot & Associates. (2005). Guidelines for conducting a focus group. Retrieved from https://assessment.trinity.duke.edu/documents/How_to_Conduct_a_Focus_Group.pdf
  4. Family Health International. (n.d.). Qualitative focus groups: A data collector’s field guide. Retrieved from https://sa-assessment.uoregon.edu/Portals/0/focusgroups1.pdf
  5. Com. (n.d.). Moderator Check List to Conduct Focus Groups or Depth Interviews. Retrieved from http://www.focusgrouptips.com/conduct-focus-groups.html
  6. Harrell, M. C., & Bradley, M. A. (2009). Training manual: Data collection methods: Semi-structured interviews and focus groups. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. Retrieved from http://www.mbamedicine.activemoodle.com/mod/resource/view.php?id=486
  7. Jordan Civil Society Program (CSP). (2012). How to engage your stakeholders in designing, monitoring and evaluating your Programs: A step-by-step guide to focus group research for non-governmental organizations Retrieved from http://staff.estem-uc.edu.au/taipham/files/2013/01/A-Step-by-Step-Guide-to-Focus-Group-Research.pdf
  8. Kielman, K., Cataldo, F., & Seeley, J. (2012). Introduction to qualitative research methodology: A training manual. Department for International Development (DfID). Retrieved from https://rbfhealth.org/sites/rbf/files/Introduction%20to%20Qualitative%20Research%20Methodology%20-%20A%20Training%20Manual.pdf
  9. Modesto, T. S. (Ed.) (2013). Preparing your dissertation at a distance: A research guide. Virtual University for the Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Centre for Distanced Education (CDE) – (SADC-CDE). Retrieved from http://www.sadc.int/files/3713/7821/2867/Dissertation_PDF.pdf
  10. Reilly, L. (2013). Training handbook: Organizing and facilitating focus groups. Alexandria: VA. National School Boards Association. Retrieved from https://cdn-files.nsba.org/s3fs-public/05_PET_FocusGroups_Handbook.pdf?cVFz.heuGUiKZnO.caQz8Qjftx7AV9Fk
  11. Shallwani, S., & Mohammed, S. (2007). Community-based participatory research: A training manual for community-based researchers. Retrieved from http://www.livingknowledge.org/fileadmin/Dateien-Living-Knowledge/Dokumente_Dateien/Toolbox/LK_A_Training_manual.pdf
  12. Temple University. (2004). Module III: Qualitative data: Focus group tools. Rapid policy assessment and response. Retrieved from http://www.temple.edu/lawschool/phrhcs/rpar/tools/english/Module%20III_tools.pdf.
  13. Temple University. (2004). Module III: Qualitative data: Focus groups: Training materials. Rapid policy assessment and response. Retrieved from http://www.temple.edu/lawschool/phrhcs/rpar/tools/english/Module%20III_training.pdf.
  14. S. Environmental Protection Agency. Focus group check list. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/focus_group_checklist.doc

I’ll update this list as I find more resources.

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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.


12 Phrases to Avoid in Your Academic Research Papers

January 18, 2016
Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Over and over again I see these phrases in research papers. Every single time I ask students to consider an alternative. Here are a dozen phrases to eliminate in your academic writing and why:

#1: I hope that…

#2:  I believe that…

#3: I feel that…

#4: In my opinion…

Research is not concerned with what we feel, believe or hope. It is also not concerned with our opinions. Research is about posing a substantive question that merits an in-depth investigation and  providing credible evidence to address that question. These phrases may work in reflection papers or journals, but less so in research writing. Omit these touchy-feely phrases and focus on the business of providing evidence to support your discussion.

#5: Clearly…

#6: As you can clearly see…

#7: As this clearly demonstrates…

This can come across as defensive. It may seem like you are implying the reader is an idiot if he or she do not agree with you. Even if you feel that way, refrain from letting the reader know, as it will undoubtedly annoy him or her.

#8: As stated previously…

#9: As I have already mentioned / pointed out/ stated…

#10: As already noted in a previous section of this paper…

These phrases can sound condescending. I have yet to see a case where these phrases (and the remainder of the sentence that follows) add anything useful to the discussion. Keep your writing precise and pithy. Avoid repeating yourself.

#11: The only conclusion is…

#12 The only logical conclusion is…

This can sound arrogant, defensive or both. The underlying message is that anyone who disagrees with you is an imbecile. It makes it sound like you flat out reject the possibility that there could possibly be any other conclusion, which is rarely (if ever) a good idea in research. (Remember the Copernican Revolution.)

Instead of using phrases like these that can make you sound arrogant or defensive (even when that is not your intention), focus instead on writing in a pragmatic and straightforward way that lets the evidence speak for itself.

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Update: August, 2017 – 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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