Two years ago at the start of my degree, a portion of our research methods grade was based on writing a bi-weekly blog (and comments) on research methods in psychology. There was some pretty common traps that students starting out on their academic writing fell in to.
Firstly, we had about a thousand blogs on ethics, validity and whether outliers should be removed or not. Because of this it did make me wonder what there was to write about beyond this. Two years on I think I have the answer, and it has been a light bulb moment for me as I contemplate gearing up for a higher academic work load.
Imagine you are a PhD student, and the first phase of your study is to read a whole pile of journal articles which you will then need to understand and use to plan your own research.
If you take your highlighter to it in depth you’ll be reading for far longer than three years. If you read merely to say you did it your recollection will be similar to that of attending lectures. If you want an idea of what results were found, then the abstract and elements of the conclusion often do the job for you. My question here is: what are you actually reading for?
As we blogged for our science of education blog this semester I eventually worked out that there was good marks to be earned by critiquing the evidence already cited by other students. Looking out for things like conflicts of interest or invalid measures. In short, marks came from evaluating the research methods.
I’m seeing the same pattern as I’m starting to write my dissertation. Prior to my academic blogging experiences I was stalling for what to write, anxious about the task ahead of writing a good literature review. But when you see a 2000 word literature review as no more than 10x 200 word critiques (blog comments) the job seems a lot more manageable.
This perspective of examining the research methods gives purpose to the review I am conducting, as it really does set the stage for my own research. It shows the challenges to overcome and the cause/effect relations between different variables and study techniques. And in doing so, your work then carries the general results and findings thus far.
Now I don’t claim for one second that my undergraduate work compares like for like with the work of a PhD student. However undergraduate learning is a taster, modelled around high level academic study, so these ideas seem to take me a step closer to developing professional skills. Academics aren’t there to memorise literature. They definitely aren’t there to copy it either. You’re trying to seek and sense so that you can add new value later on. Considering, evaluating and comparing the research methods looks like a really balanced way to objectively evaluate research to expound on its potential.