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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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.


What if you’re wrong? A question for researchers

July 14, 2017

Part of my work involves coaching graduate students who are learning to become researchers. It is not uncommon for students to start out their journey thinking that research is about proving what you already know – or think you know. And so, we start out our journey with some provocative questions, designed to break away from entrenched ways of thinking about the world.

A couple of questions my students hear me ask like a broken record are:

  • How do you define… ? (e.g. How do you define “leadership”?)
  • What counts as… And how do you know? (e.g. What counts as “the right answer” and how do you know?)
  • Who decides? (e.g. “Who decides what it means to be a leader?”)
  • According to whom…? What literature have you consulted to substantiate this claim? (e.g. “Leadership, according to whom? What literature have you consulted to substantiate this claim?”)

As we evolve as researchers, we necessarily dig deep into these kinds of questions.

When you become a “Master Researcher” (which is effectively what you have signed up for with a Master’s degree), you come to realize that it is no longer enough to “just know” something. We recognize that our personal experience, however powerful, is limited. We not only understand, but we insist on acknowledging, that what we think we know might be wrong.

I often ask students, “What if you’re wrong?”

If the first reaction to that question is a visceral twisting of your gut, a gob smacked open mouth and an instant response of “I am not wrong!” Well, then… you’re probably wrong. And chances are, you have some “un-learning” to do before you can produce quality research in the social sciences (or perhaps any field).

Once you get to the point where you can react with deep curiosity, with a surprising dose of delight and your instant response is, “Well, indeed! What IF I am wrong? What would that mean? I have no idea. I could be wrong. Hmmm… What a delicious puzzle. I really want to understand what would mean to be wrong, as much as it would to be right. Let the discovery begin!”

The less attached we become to being “right”, the more skilled of a researcher we can become.

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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.

 


Summer course – Research Methodology in Education

June 19, 2017

I am pleased to be teaching Research Methodology in Education this summer for our Master of Education students. This is an online course offered from July 4 to August 16, 2017.

Course description

This first course in educational research methodologies provides the background necessary to make intelligent decisions around the kinds of research questions that might be asked and the sort(s) of insights and answers particular methods can provide.

Learner outcomes

Throughout the course of study students will be able to:

  • Identify viable and interesting research questions, both in their own potential research endeavours and in the work of published academics
  • Identify, compare and critique a variety of educational research methodologies based on their primary assumptions and methods
  • Evaluate the relevance of educational research methodologies with special consideration being given to stated research questions and the knowledge being sought
  • Differentiate between the central tenets of qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis strategies with special consideration being given to the strengths, weaknesses and relevance of each in education
  • Assess the validity of a variety of research methods, both qualitative and quantitative, commonly used in education
  • Examine and interrogate the relationships between research questions, research methods and interpretation of findings in educational studies
  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of ethical issues in educational research, particularly with regard to the use of human participants
  • Formulate and evaluate their own preliminary research questions in response to both their research interests and professional context
  • Understand how action research applies to educational settings and contexts

Required readings

Creswell, J. W. (2014).  Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed).  Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Hendricks, C. (2016). Improving schools through Action Research: A reflective practice approach (4th ed.), Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Here’s a copy of the course outline: EDER_603.21_Su2017_Eaton_approved

This marks the tenth time I have taught this course online. I love working with students to help them gain a strong foundation in research methodology. I can’t wait to get started with this year’s group!

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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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