Common Problems with Research for Students

I have worked with supporting undergrad and graduate students with research projects for several years. This post is what I consider to be the top reasons why students and even the occasional faculty member struggles to conduct research. The reasons are as follows

  1. They don’t read
  2. No clue what  a problem
  3. No questions
  4. No clue how to measure
  5. No clue how to analyze
  6. No clue how to report

Lack of Reading

The first obstacle to conducting research is that students frequently do not read enough to conceptualize how research is done. Reading not just anything bust specifically research allows a student to synthesize the vocabulary and format of research writing. You cannot do research unless you first read research. This axiom applies to all genres of writing.

A common complaint is the difficulty with understanding research articles. For whatever reason, the academic community has chosen to write research articles in an exceedingly dense and unclear manner. This is not going to change because one graduate student cannot understand what the experts are saying. Therefore, the only solution to understand research English is exposure to this form of communication.

Determining the Problem

If a student actually reads they often go to the extreme of trying to conduct Nobel Prize type research. In other words, their expectations are overinflated given what they know. What this means is that the problem they want to study is infeasible given the skillset they currently possess.

The opposite extreme is to find such a minute problem that nobody cares about it. Again, reading will help in avoiding this two pitfalls.

Another problem is not knowing exactly how to articulate a problem. A student will come to me with excellent examples of a problem but they never abstract or take a step away from the examples of the problem to develop a researchable problem. There can be no progress without a clearly defined research problem.

Lack the Ability to Ask Questions about the Problem

If a student actually has a problem they never think of questions that they want to answer about the problem. Another extreme is they ask questions they cannot answer. Without question, you can never better understand your problem. Bad questions or no questions means no answers.

Generally, there are three types of quantitative research questions while qualitative is more flexible. If a student does not know this they have no clue how to even begin to explore their problem.

Issues with Measurement

Let’s say a student does know what their questions are, the next mystery for many is measuring the variables if the study is quantitative. This is were applying statistical knowledge rather than simply taking quizzes and test comes to play. The typical student does not understand often how to operationalize their variables and determine what type of variables they will include in their study. If you don’t know how you will measure your variables you cannot answer any questions about your problem.

Lost at the Analysis Stage

The measurement affects the analysis. I cannot tell you how many times a student or even a colleague wanted me to analyze their data without telling me what the research questions were. How can you find answers without questions? The type of measurement affects the potential ways of analyzing data. How you summary categorical data is different from continuous data. Lacking this knowledge leads to inaction.

No Plan for the Write-Up

If a student makes it to this stage, firstly congratulations are in order, however, many students have no idea what to report or how. This is because students lose track of the purpose of their study which was to answer their research questions about the problem. Therefore, in the write-up, you present the answers systematically. First, you answer question 1, then 2, etc.

f necessary you include visuals of the answers. Again Visuals are determined by the type of variable as well as the type of question. A top reason for article rejection is an unclear write-up. Therefore, great care is needed in order for this process to be successful.

Conclusion

Whenever I deal with research students I often walk through these six concepts. Most students never make it past the second or third concept. Perhaps the results will differ for others.

Successful research writing requires the ability to see the big picture and connection the various section of a paper so that the present a cohesive whole. Too many students focus on the little details and forget the purpose of their study. Losing the main idea makes the details worthless.

If I left out any common problems with research please add them in the comments section.

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