Research Proposal Open Thread

I know we don’t technically need to keep blogging these next couple of weeks, but given that our big final assignment is coming up I thought we might all need a space to discuss, ask questions, and maybe vent our frustrations every once in a while.

Personally, I haven’t reached the writing (or even outlining) stage yet, but I’ve taken a bit of time to read up on research methods and to scope out sources for my lit review, as well as some content to analyze. Since my research is going to be primarily historical I’ve been reading up on historical research methods, mainly in Historical Research: A Guide by W. H. McDowell (a pretty good book, though I’m unsure of its audience at times – parts of it seem to be geared towards undergrads, but others seem like they would be completely inaccessible to anyone without at least some graduate-level education) and David Landes and Charles Tilly’s History as Social Science, which I haven’t had a chance to really get into yet, but which looks interesting so far. I’m also hoping to read more about the type of qualitative content analysis that we did last week, since that seems like it will be very relevant to the research I’m hoping to do. The empirical methods are less relevant to me, though I’m not ruling them out just yet.

How’s everyone else’s work going so far? Almost finished? Almost started? Somewhere in between?


6 thoughts on “Research Proposal Open Thread

  1. Milo Anderson

    Hi Brett,

    This time I’m trying to start the writing early, rather than doing research / think&outline / write in three discrete steps like I usually do. However, I’m about 250 words in and I’m stuck.

    I looked at the Locke “Proposals that work” book that Joan put on reserve, and it had some great advice on thinking about the introduction, the purpose of the study, and the thesis statement or question within a conceptual framework that is drawn from the literature review. This makes me think I need to write the literature review first, then the background, then the introduction.

    Also, I don’t understand how we are supposed to limit the scope of our lit review. My notes and the syllabus say that we aren’t supposed to look at everything, but we should describe the “bodies of literature and key texts” that we will use for the final literature review. How can we know what this is without doing the final review itself? How can we know in advance what is relevant?

  2. hannahmasterman

    Hi guys,

    I got a rough, rough, rough draft written. I don’t know about the quality of it (and I’m scared of reading it over and finding out). There are things that definitively need going back and fixing, though.
    I read in the book by Babbie at the inforum that the research methodology section should include a measurements part which describes any measurement you use. This confused me, as the only method I’m using is interviewing which isn’t really a measurement. In the end, I described the technique I’m using to do the interview (which is based on a sense-making approach). I don’t know if that is right, though. Does anyone have a thought?

    Milo, I know what you mean about the lit review. I did a lot of reading for this paper, so there was a lot I could include in the review. My approach was the opposite to yours, though. I wrote my background, then my method then I wrote the lit review last. That means I knew exactly how many words it could be, so it helped limit what I said. What I found when writing the review is that certain concepts and themes emerged as more important to my research question, so I discussed the papers addressing them at length. Other papers that seemed less important I mentioned in passing, especially if they were big papers that a lot of others in the field cited. If this were a non-mini lit review, I would have discussed those papers a bit more.

    Best of luck all!

  3. Brett Phillipson Post author

    Ugh, you guys are so far ahead of me. I spent basically all of last week and this weekend working on my INF1310 video project, so I haven’t really progressed at all beyond where I was when I wrote this post.

    I’m definitely going to have to check out that Locke book. I’ve written research proposals before (not just for this class) but none this long or this detailed, so I’m definitely going to need some guidance. Writing the lit review first makes sense to me, though I can see why one might want to do it differently. Literature reviews are one thing that I don’t have too much trouble with, maybe because when I did my M.A. it seemed like ALL I did was write massive, comprehensive lit reviews for my coursework. In history you’re kind of expected to know almost everything that has been written about a topic before you can even start thinking about adding to that body of research. That’s probably true of most fields, but historians seem particularly obsessed with literature reviews.

    One thing I suggest is to look for published review articles that are more or less related to what you’re writing about. I don’t know how common these are in the social sciences, but I’m sure they exist. Obviously that’s not a substitute for reading at least some of the actual literature, but it can provide you with a sort of map of the work that has been done, as well as the critiques of it, and the gaps that other scholars have identified. It would probably also be helpful to look at citation impact metrics for the works you plan to look at, on sites like Google Scholar. That will at least give you an idea of which books/articles have been most influential, and therefore which ones you should probably focus on.

  4. courtenaytelford

    I started writing my last week and did most of the research ahead of time but I encountered lots of problems finding resources on my proposed area of study. I tried to get peer review articles but there was nothing in relation to my topic as they were largely historical meaning history of something but nothing to do with libraries despite it containing the community I am looking at. I decided to look at similar communities to the one I intend to sample and found some relevant studies done. The literature I’m using for the literature review section is communities that are related to the one I want to study like multiculturalism within public libraries. For example Russian immigrants and their interactions with public libraries. I’ve looked at studies that discuss why they go to the library and what for, such as, pleasure reading. I limited my scope to mainly looking at studies that have been conducting involving non-English speaking immigrants and the resources available to them via the public library. I’m writing my proposal on the interactions between immigrants and public libraries. I’m looking at the Ukrainian community (newcomers and past generations) in Canada and what resources are available to them through the public libraries. The public libraries I am interested in are ones that have established multicultural resources and have Ukrainians as part of the community that they serve like the Toronto Public Library. I’m still debating whether to limit my study to public libraries in Ontario that offer multicultural services that include Ukrainian or whether to do a more comparative study by looking at libraries in Toronto and comparing it with libraries in say Saskatoon. The Ukrainian communities in Canada are located in Toronto and in the prairie provinces. What I’m interested in is seeing what resources are available and evaluating if they meet the needs of the community. For example is there enough books in Ukrainian, if not what needs to be improved. I started my proposal by writing the introduction with a very brief historical perspective to put my focus into context before establishing my research questions, the purpose and objectives of the study. I then wrote my background and have been working on the literature review. For the method section I have been researching studies conducted using surveys, interviews, and focus groups.

    1. Jordan

      I know what you guys mean. I changed topics completely from my SSHRC(?) proposal. I got food poisoning yesterday, so I’m planning on laying in bed all day today in my winter coat, without having to distract myself with “eating” or “hygiene”. I came up with my new topic a few hours ago while I was on Pitchfork this morning. They had the review for a Bikini Kill reissue that hyperlinked to Tavi Gevinson’s feminist teen webzine: Rookie. I looked through a couple articles, and watched a TEDtalk with Tavi, one of the TEDxTeen ones, about representations of women in different shows, movies and books. I want to try to do a bit of a discourse analysis on Rookie, not just the articles, but the website as a whole.

      Where I’m getting lost is providing background for the piece: I have spent pages and pages talking about Judith Butler, with little slices of text dedicated to Donna Harroway, about destabilizing gender. It’s impossible to talk about feminism without talking about Butler, at least I think so, and everything I’ve written so far feels vital in explaining the approach I would have wanted to take, were this a real research project. I guess the nice thing is that they expect this proposal to be crazy long, so there’s room for some extended periods of background and babbling.

      1. Brett Phillipson Post author

        You’re braver than I am. I read Gender Trouble for a class in undergrad, way back when, and Butler terrifies me. It’s not that she doesn’t have good ideas – I can’t definitely see why she’s been so influential – but I just remember staring at certain (okay, most) pages of Gender Trouble thinking, “is this completely incomprehensible, or have I forgotten how to read?”

        Tavi, on the other hand, is awesome and refreshingly unpretentious. I had no idea she did a TED talk; I’ll have to check that out.

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