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Educational Research

Chapter 2
Selecting and Defining a Research Topic
Gay, Mills, and Airasian

Topics Discussed in this


Identifying a Research Topic

Reviewing the Literature
Developing and Stating

Identifying a Topic

A research topic focuses the study

to a defined, manageable size

It provides structure for the steps in

the scientific method
It is discussed in many ways

Research question
Research problem
Purpose of the research

Identifying a Topic

Four main sources of topics

Theory an organized body of concepts,

generalizations and principles that can be
subjected to investigation

Provides conceptually rich topics

Provides confirmation of some aspects of theory

Personal experience
Library immersion
Obj. 1.1

Identifying a Topic

Narrowing and focusing topics

Three problems with broad topics

Enlarges the scope of the review of the

literature beyond reason
Complicates the organization of the
review of the literature itself
Creates studies that are too general, too
difficult to carry out, and too difficult to
Obj. 1.3

Identifying a Topic

Suggestions for narrowing topics

Talk to experts in the field

Professors in your college or department

Researchers you know

Read secondary sources that provide

overviews of your topic


Obj. 1.2. & 1.4

Identifying a Topic

Quantitative and qualitative

studies differences in when a
topic is narrowed

Quantitative studies tend to narrow

the topic initially
Qualitative studies tend to narrow the
topic throughout the research process
Obj. 1.4

Identifying a Topic

Researchable and non-researchable


Researchable topics

can be investigated through the collection and

analysis of data.
have theoretical or practical significance.
have been conducted ethically.
contribute to the educational processes
can be adequately researched given the expertise,
resources, and time constraints of the researcher.
Obj. 1.5

Identifying a Topic

Non-researchable topics

address philosophical or ethical issues.

Cannot be resolved through the collection and

analysis of data

address should questions.

Ultimately these are matters of opinion

Obj. 1.6

Identifying a Topic

The formal statement of a

quantitative research topic

identifies the variables of interest.

describes the specific relationship
between the variables.
identifies the nature of the
Obj. 1.7 &

Identifying a Topic

The formal statement of a qualitative

research topic

emerges over the course of the study.

begins as an initial statement that tends
to be stated as a general issue or
becomes focused as more is learned
about the context, participants, and
phenomena of interest.
is typically stated late in a written study.
Obj. 1.8

The Literature Review

The review of the literature
involves the systematic
identification, location, and
analysis of documents containing
information related to the research
Obj. 2.1

The Literature Review

Functions of a literature review

Determine what has been done already

Provide insight necessary to develop a
logical framework into which the topic fits
Provides the rationale for the hypotheses
being investigated and the justification of
the significance of the study
Identifies potentially useful methodological
Facilitates the interpretation of the results
Obj. 2.2

The Literature Review

General recommendations for the

scope of the review

Bigger does not mean better

Heavily researched topics provide
enough references to focus only on the
major studies
Lesser researched topics require
reviewing any study related in some
meaningful way even if this means
searching related fields
Obj. 2.3

The Literature Review

Four stages when conducting a


Identifying key words to guide the search

Identifying sources
Abstracting the information found in the
Analyzing, organizing and reporting the
Obj. 2.4

The Literature Review

Identifying key words

Importance of experimenting with

several key words and combinations
of them
Using legal key words for particular
data bases

ERIC Thesaurus

Accessed through the ERIC homepage

Obj. 2.4 & 2.8

The Literature Review

Identifying sources

Characteristics of sources

Primary and secondary

Empirical and opinion

Importance of using secondary

sources such as handbooks,
encyclopedias, and reviews early in
the review process
Obj. 2.6

The Literature Review

Identifying sources

Broadening and narrowing keyword


Three important Boolean operators

AND narrows a search

OR broadens a search
NOT narrows a search

Narrowing and focusing by date of

publication, specific authors, titles, etc.
Obj. 2.5

The Literature Review

Identifying sources

Searching for books

Electronic databases of university libraries

Keyword searches

Searching for journals or papers

Indices usually accessed more easily through the
library at your university using EBSCO or other such
search tools

Education Index
Psychological Abstracts
Dissertation Abstracts
Readers Guide to Periodical Literature
Obj. 2.7 & 2.10

The Literature Review

Identifying sources

Searching the web

Search engines

Subject directories

Google, Excite, HotBot

Yahoo!, Web Crawler, Lycos

Meta search engines

Dogpile, Mamma, Vroosh

The Literature Review

Identifying sources

Educational sites

ERIC, Ingenta, New Jour, Education Week, National

Center for Education Statistics, US Dept. of
Education, Developing Educational Standards,
Education Resource Organization Directory

Evaluating web sites

Quality, honesty, bias, and authenticity

Thinking Critically about WWW Resources,
Critically Analyzing Information Sources
Obj. 2.11 & 2.12

The Literature Review

Abstracting the references

Locating, reviewing, summarizing, and

classifying references
Seven steps

Read the article abstract

Skim the entire article
Record complete bibliographic information
Classify and code the article
Summarize the article
Identify thoughts about the article you believe
Indicate direct quotes properly
Obj. 4.1

The Literature Review

Recommended strategies when abstracting

Begin with the most recent references and

move toward the most dated
Record all bibliographic information

Author, date of publication, title, journal name or book

title or website name, volume and issue, pages,
library call number or URL

Identify direct quotes and record page numbers

Identify main ideas

Literature Review

Analyzing, organizing and reporting

Technical nature of reporting

Formal language
Adherence to prescribed styles (e.g., APA)

Outline the review

Group by topics
Analyze for similarities and differences within
Discuss the least relevant studies first, followed by the
most relevant studies
Summarize the review and discuss the implications
related to the research problem

Literature Review

Differences between quantitative

and qualitative reviews

Quantitative reviews are typically

conducted in the initial stages of the
Qualitative reviews are ongoing
throughout the entire study reflecting
the need to understand data as it is
collected, analyzed, and interpreted
Obj. 3.1

Developing Hypotheses

Two views of hypotheses

Inductive a generalization made from

a number of observations

Typical of qualitative studies

Deductive derived from theory and

aimed at providing evidence to
support, expand, or contradict aspects
of that theory

Typical of quantitative studies

Obj. 5.1 & 5.4

Developing Hypotheses

Defining a hypothesis

A researchers tentative prediction of

the results of the research

Formulated on the basis of knowledge of

the underlying theory or implications
from the literature review
Testing a hypothesis leads to support of
the hypothesis or lack thereof
Obj. 5.1

Developing Hypotheses

A good quantitative hypothesis

is based on sound reasoning.

provides a reasonable explanation for
the predicted outcome.
clearly and concisely states the
expected relationships between
is testable.
Obj. 5.2

Developing Hypotheses

Types of quantitative hypotheses

Research hypotheses state the expected

relationship between two variables

Non-directional a statement that no relationship

or difference exists between the variables
Directional a statement of the expected
direction of the relationship or difference between
Null a statistical statement that no statistically
significant relationship or difference exists
between variables
Obj. 5.5 & 5.6

Developing Hypotheses



There is no
relationship between
math attitudes and
math achievement

There is a strong positive

relationship between math
attitudes and math

H0: = 0

There is no difference
in the achievement of
students using
technology or not
using it

Students using technology

will have higher levels of
achievement than students
who are not using it

H0: 1 - 2 = 0

Obj. 5.5 & 5.6

Developing Hypotheses

Hypotheses in qualitative studies

Given the nature of qualitative

research, formal a priori hypotheses
are not stated

Generative role of qualitative research

Testing role of quantitative research

Focus is on generating new hypotheses

as a result of the study (i.e., inductive
Obj. 5.10

Stating Hypotheses

Formats for quantitative experimental studies

P who get X do better on Y than P who do not get X

P represents the participant

X represents the treatment
Y represents the outcome

Testing hypotheses

Statistical analysis of data

Importance of the results regardless of the
Results support or fail to support hypotheses, but
they never prove or disprove hypotheses
Obj. 5.7 & 5.9