Frank Rennie, Keith Smyth, Gareth davies, Matt Sillars and Amy Woolvin

Chapter 3 – Laying the foundations for your project

All the content relating to the chapter above is below


The objective of this short chapter is to help you gain an understanding of how to begin scoping your research, including key considerations in forming your research and identifying sources of data.

Key Points

It should go without saying that it is impossible to investigate a specific research problem unless that problem is at first articulated and clarified, but you might be amazed at how many novice researchers try to do just that! Commonly, a research project will begin with an interest in a general subject area, or an identified topic. This will lead to the formulation of a working title covering the subject area, such as ‘the geology of the Isle of Lewis’ or ‘the mediaeval history of Tain’. This is enough information to allow the researcher to begin to become familiar with the broad area of the discipline, and perhaps give an insight into some details of a sub-topic, but this is not a research question in itself. To structure a research project – that is, to conduct a systematic investigation of a topic in order to gain new insights – the researcher needs to either identify a particular research question, or propose a hypothesis to be tested. The results from these processes are the focus of the individual research project. We will deal with both of these activities further on, but there are several steps which the researcher can usefully take before she or he reaches this stage.

A detailed paper giving a good summary of the varieties and potential applications of discourse analysis as a research method in social science. The paper gives a clear explanation of the context of this method and has an extensive bibliography suggesting further reading.

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An introduction to the role of ethnography in qualitative research, with good links and a short guide to the application of ethnography to research work in the field.

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Text analysis: and introductory manifesto. Online reproduction of a book chapter by publication by Martin Bauer, Aude Bicquelet and Ahmet Suerdem, and which was originally published in Bauer, Martin W., Bicquelet, Aude, and Suerdem, Ahmet K., (eds.) (2014) Textual Analysis. SAGE Benchmarks in Social Research Methods, 1. Sage, London, UK. This chapter begins with an academic definition of ‘text’ for social science analysis, and explores the key dimension of text analysis as well as differences between content analysis and textual analysis. Online [last accessed 28.04.16]

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An introduction to phenomenology by Dr Linda Finlay. This excellent resource provides an overview of phenomenology, with links to further guidance on variants of the method, analysing data, and writing up phenomenological research. Dr Finlay also provides a useful video introduction to phenomenology, and links to relevant journals and periodicals which cover phenomenological research.

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The following paper by Sheila Trahar provides an excellent insight into narrative analysis. It explores different approaches to narrative analysis, including how different kinds of narrative can be are analysed. Issues addressed includes structural narrative analysis, dialogic and performance analysis, and fictionalised representation. Trahar, S. (2009) Beyond the Story Itself: Narrative Inquiry and Autoethnography in Intercultural Research in Higher Education. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, Vol 10, No 1, Article 30. Online [last accessed 28.04.16]

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