When I first came to the Institute, I had the pleasure of supporting the students who were on the ‘Conceptualising and Designing Research’ (CDR) course which was compulsory for all doctoral students. It was a course that I had always wanted to take in order to understand the issues that social science researchers had to be aware of when designing a research project. I never had the time but now we have a book that reflects most of the contents of the course – for it has chapters by the course leader Jon Swain and by others who taught on the course – Mano Candappa, Olga Cara, Professor Jane Hurry, Will Gibson, Rebecca O’Connell and Charlie Owen. What it doesn’t have is a chapter on historical research because the book focuses on the research projects most often undertaken by the majority of doctoral students in education. The book has much to offer and it is therefore a pleasure to feature it on Newsam News.
There is a new book on the market that is a landmark in the field of designing research, and is an ideal companion for any postgraduate student or early career academic conducting research across education and educational studies. How to design your doctoral research: concepts and methodologies (Sage, 2017) is edited by Jon Swain, who is a senior researcher and lecturer at UCL IOE. Jon used to be programme leader for the MPhil/PhD and one of the core, 30-hour, research training courses he ran for 7 years was called CDR (Conceptualising and Designing Research). CDR had a number of presenters who are highly experienced tutors and researchers who work, and have published extensively, in their particular field. Typically, each tutor/researcher began their session by introducing and raising issues about the key principles of their particular research design, and then used their own research project(s) as a vehicle to ground it in the real world with real life examples. In this way, students were introduced to different designs and types of research and evaluation, and were able to position research in its wider historical, political, social and ethical contexts. It is these presentations/workshops that form the core basis of the book. The designs include case studies, ethnography, experimental design, and survey research, and there is also a chapter on mixed methods.
The book is not about how to do research; rather its aim is to help doctoral students design and conceptualise their particular research projects, understand the philosophical foundations of their work, refine their research questions and choose a coherent methodology. Getting this right will go a long way in determining the satisfaction of the examiners.
Students begin their doctoral studies from a wide range of backgrounds, interests, and experiences of working in a variety of research traditions. While some have relatively deep understandings of different research approaches and designs, others have little idea of what, for example, the characteristics of ethnography are, or perhaps, what the difference is between epistemology and ontology. Whilst some students already have their research proposals and designs more or less worked out, the majority discuss and reflect on what they see and hear during their core research training, and in resultant discussions with colleagues and their supervisors many begin to change their designs. Some modify them a little, others more dramatically. The book captures the experience of uncertainty that many novice researchers feel, and draws on examples of students’ questions and the issues they face.
Although the subject matter (for example, ethical considerations or theories of knowledge) can be complex, the collected authors chart a clear course through this complexity. The generic structure is clear, logically sequenced and transparent, and the writing style is engaging and knowledgeable. How to design your doctoral research is divided into two sections: the first part looks at concepts and issues that inform research design, and the second part looks at the application of concepts in different research designs that use both quantitative and qualitative approaches. In other words, ideas and concepts that are introduced in the first half of the book are developed and illustrated in the later design chapters.
The book has an international element and also a broader appeal outside of education/schools: some of the contexts contain a number of multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary examples, such as child minders, asylum seekers and Muslim communities in China. The book also covers the growing area of internet research, which not only has a profound impact on the way ideas are formed and knowledge is created, but is also has its own particular social and ethical, implications which arise from mass public access to information resources such as discussion forums.
At the end of each chapter there is a section called ‘Areas for Discussion’, which highlights issues raised in the chapter to generate student discussions/activity. Also at the end of each chapter, is an Annotated Bibliography with a list of additional readings, which authors have found particularly influential. There is a companion website that provides a wealth of online resources to aid study and assist in teaching. There are also weblinks, which are clearly marked by icons in the margins of the text, and which direct readers to relevant websites and further readings. These help connect doctoral students and researchers to real world organisations and issues, and key articles to reinforce knowledge and understanding.
This is definitely a ‘must-read’ book for doctoral students and early career researchers in education.