A New Appreciation for Quantitative Methods

I am currently finishing up an edition review for another class, in which I discuss editorial decisions made throughout the Riverside Chaucer (1987). The research conducted is quite familiar to me, mainly focussing on literature and content analysis, with some manuscript studies in there as well. In doing my research for this assignment, I was struck by how similar these methods are to some of the studies we have discussed in class, especially ethnography and discourse analysis, as well as some of the more quantitative methods.
In compiling an edition of the Canterbury Tales, scholarly editors have to go through all of the existing (and acceptable) manuscripts and collate them, determining variants in spelling or word choice, etc., in order to decide what manuscript to use a base text, or whether to compile several manuscripts in order to create a new edition. I had never thought of it before, but thanks to my new found knowledge of research methods, doing this work would involve so much more quantitative analysis than I ever realized. You would have to count and record every variant in every manuscript, and then use your data to decide what edition is most accurate for your purposes. This is a far cry from the textual analysis I had always seen it as.
I have been doing research in this area for a few years now, but it was not until this past week that I saw manuscript studies as being so data-centric and quantitative, something I can surely attribute to my introduction to those methods in this course.

Adieu or not ?

Just like research is never ending in the life of a researcher, so also I do not want this blog to be totally over for us. I had started on an uncertain process, as I had never blogged before nor was very fond of publishing my private thoughts. But this was another domain – where you shared your ideas with your peers. As well as for the world to see !!! Sometimes I was unsure whether to be formal and at other times just gave in to the feelings, the tensions and the questions that overwhelmed me. Gradually a realization came over me that this was also a way of finding out for ourselves what we were searching for at that moment in time. It was like a research into our deepest thoughts and obligations brought out in print.

Now, as I struggle to make my real research more meaningful, my methods click, my hypothesis achievable – I feel that I have certainly gained as much from this blogging and unravelling of thought process as the Research methods class itself.

Texts and more...

Around the beginning of the Research Methods course, I was excited to have found a book like Luker as text. I did not have the patience then to wait for every class and read the assigned chapters. I went through the entire book immediately with a hope to learning an important aspect of the academic world and also enjoying it immensely. I was finished with the preliminary reading within a few days but the thoughts lingered with me. As I started work with the Research Proposal I realized the necessity and utility of Knight. Knight and other research texts I had come across in the past, somehow fill me with more confidence about the task at hand. They provide a rigorous understanding of the definitions, descriptions, explanations about methods and how to go about practically doing them. Luker in retrospect is more of an overview for me. Even though not “a sugar-coated bitter pill” in the words of Shaw, Luker’s book nicely and gently introduces us to research and tries to make us get rid of some inherent fears we may have of committing to and accomplishing such work.

Comparing Luker and Knight close to the end of the proposal, provided me with an understanding of how much information/knowledge I needed from whom and when. I realize that it has surely been fruitful to experience the different ways of approaching a subject and accepting the various perspectives as that has allowed us to open up our minds and enabled us to see more.

Source Dilemma

I'm having a bit of a dilemma right now over a certain source and whether to use it or not. First of all, the research I'm proposing involves computer-mediated discourse analysis and political discussions in certain forums online. Sound familiar? It's similar to the research conducted by Kushin and Kitchener in their article "Getting political on social network sites", on which I did my peer review assignment (I had picked my topic long before reading these articles). My dilemma is that in reviewing this article and the research conducted, I am aware of all the flaws in the research design and implementation. However, their research would be very useful in order to provide a sort of background and support for the research I'm proposing. But since I have found it to be flawed, is it ill-advised to use this article as a source in my proposal?
In fact, I think it might not be that much of a dilemma after all. Their only similarities are in method employed (which isn't unique to their study) and the general subject area of focus. Also, it might be easier to justify the need for my research if one of the fundamental studies in this area has some serious flaws and biases all the way down from research design to implementation and data analysis. I don't think I really have a choice but to use this study as one of my sources, as long as I acknowledge its' weaknesses and don't repeat them.

Thankful for Salsa Dancing

I'm currently working on my research proposal, and I'm finding that the methods section is giving me more trouble than I expected. I'm not used to doing research in a way that requires me to define my method and explain its' parameters, but I guess doing discourse analysis of human subjects is a bit different from a literature analysis. I am struggling a bit to define my method, as I will be drawing on a few different ones in order to do my hypothetical research. Herring's computer-mediated discourse analysis will likely serve as my main method, but I am not ruling out drawing on other methods as I move forward and as they are appropriate. However, this leaves me to find out what else I can use that would be useful in my study, so I've been doing a lot of research on research methods (which is a bit too meta for me).
Luker's salsa dancing social scientist idea has never been more useful to me than now, because picking one method and sticking with it seems to be a bit too narrow a path for me and my research tastes. Following her allows me some more freedom when deciding on a method for my research, which suits me perfectly, especially when the research I'm proposing would require a wider range of methods in order to have any conclusiveness.

User-centred research at U of T

University of Toronto has its own guidelines for researchers and I thought I would have a look at them given that we are having a guest speaker who can address our concerns. I also plan to have University of Toronto students as my user base for a part of the study. I would then need to “gain access to data about students, staff and faculty held by the University of Toronto”. Interestingly the Office of the Vice President and Provost’s site informs that a considerable amount of research is conducted involving members of the university community. The Office of the Vice President Research has a Research Ethics Board (REB, that has to approve the research to be done and must be contacted at the research planning stages. I was excited to learn that I could request for data held on the Repository of Student Information (ROSI), the Human Resources Information System, or collected through surveys such as the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). This would help to conduct research of 'student users' from various departments independent of each other.

Guidelines are provided in keeping with the following aims(which sounded very thoughtful to me, both with respect to those researched and the researcher): “to prevent survey fatigue, protect confidentiality and employee rights, and ensure that access does not conflict with any current or planned research to be conducted by the University or its administrative/academic units”.

Disclosing Cognition

The ethics of research was an interesting topic to read about this week (though, to continue my last post’s line of thought, this segmentation is a bit artificial for me: its not ‘ethics’ as a subcategory of ‘research’ but ethical choices seem to underscore the entire research initiative). My own research topic doesn’t dive very deep into these professional ethics, but Knight’s discussion of achieving ‘disclosure’ with participants had touched on what I’ve been grappling with lately.

My research proposal began with a strong interest in the cultural meaning assigned to an object (a typeface), so I have spent a lot of time working out my historical analysis methodology. I had always worried that this approach would veer off into a grand narrative that might loose contact with the current world. In my proposal, I counterbalanced this method with the addition of a focus group to maintain the individual perspective.

Describing the focus group in more detail has been a struggle; how to do you test for the psychology of aesthetics? While Knight suggests building a trusting relationship or an insider approach to understand what the participants think, I doubt that our aesthetic preferences are so well-thought out that can be readily articulated by the participant.