From the conversations I have with various people who do research stems some confusion about the term research methods. There are theories on which you can conduct a research study, and you have multiple ways of collecting data.

In my blogs, I regularly talk about research methods, referring to the various ways of collecting data.

Once you have clarity about your research questions, you examine what information you can collect and how. There are many different methods to do this. You have qualitative research methods and quantitative research methods. Qualitative research methods are not about facts and figures but rather about how and why. Quantitative research methods are more about facts and figures that can be compared. Also, check out my blog about the difference between qualitative and quantitative research methods.

There are all sorts of research methods. My overview blog of different research methods lists different ways. Also, be creative with the ways you collect data. Look beyond the standard practices of research and make interesting combinations.

Once you have chosen a research method, thorough preparation is essential. Look at what you need per method and take the time to set up your measuring instrument properly. Discuss it with colleagues and test the measuring instrument before using it.

It is not always necessary to collect all the data yourself. You may also use existing sources. Think of databases like SCP or CBS, from which you can buy data, but also from your own administration or cash register system. Use existing databases if you want to know more about a particular subject on which national data is collected or if you require quantitative data about your own organization. A lot of data is readily available. Just make clever use of this.

TIPS

  1. Formulate a clear purpose and research question and sub-questions that you seek answers to with existing research sources.
  2. Provide keywords and search terms derived from your purpose and research question. This will give you a clear direction to look for relevant sources.
  3. Collect current information.
  4. Make sure the sources are relevant to your problem statement.
  5. Keep track of which information you get from where, so you and your client can see which sources were used.
  6. The information provided by existing data sources does not always fully match the problem statement or might be incomplete. In such cases, it is wise to combine existing source research with other research methods.

The range of research methods on offer is enormous, so you can sometimes not see the wood for the trees. That's why I give you a handy overview of different research methods in this blog. With some of the research methods, you will find a link to a blog with more information.

In this overview, I characterize quantitative and qualitative research methods. Would you like to know more about these? In my previous blog, 'When to choose: qualitative research or quantitative research,' you will find information about the difference between these two types of research.

Qualitative Research

Quantitative research

Observation is a method of finding out and recording actual behavior. You choose the observation method to determine how activities, programs, or projects are received and when you want to register spontaneous reactions. While observing, you make an objective report of what you see; there is no direct contact with the respondents. I give you some tips on how to observe effectively:

  1. When observing, use an observation list. With a structured observation list, you consistently record objective information, and you can quickly analyze the collected data.
  2. While observing, show an open and inquisitive attitude. Avoid jumping to conclusions about behaviors. Make an objective report of what you see.
  3. Name or record verbatim what you actually see happening, not what you think is happening.
  4. Don't just look at random gestures. A loose gesticulation doesn't say much. Its meaning becomes understandable only when combined with other gestures and signals.
  5. Depending on the situation, make it known that you will observe people, for example, if you will follow them during the activity.
  6. Combine observations with a (short) interview to indicate what you have seen.
  7. By making many observations, you can make representative statements about your research topic or group with supporting figures.
  8. The observers should be given clear instructions so that everyone records the observed in the same way and that interpretation of observation is avoided. To make different observers equal, you can do the first observations together.
  9. When observing, you can use all kinds of technical aids. There are various tracking devices on the market, but you can also consider a stopwatch to help you measure how long someone is using something.
  10. Always observe and consider the circumstances. If someone is standing in a cold room with their arms tightly crossed, chances are they are not defensive and closed, but simply cold.
  11. Make a schedule of when to observe in advance and do so at different times under different conditions so that the picture you get is as varied and complete as possible.
  12. Disrupt the situation you are observing as little as possible. Thus, do not talk to those being observed and be as inconspicuous as possible.

In my previous blogs, I explained how to determine the right research question and how to choose the proper research method. The next step in the research process is data collection. While gathering data, there are several things you need to keep in mind. I'll give you some tips:

It is not always necessary to speak to everyone to get a representative picture. Especially with large numbers, such as the voting behavior of all Dutch citizens, a representative sample is drawn. A representative sample contains a sufficient number of respondents. Be aware of drop-outs; not everyone in the selection will cooperate with your survey, and all subgroups should be represented, men-women, young-old, ...

Two methods

You can draw your sample from a database of addresses (and background characteristics), such as ticket ordering service (theater) or a purchased address file. You can also ask people directly for your visit, for instance, at the entrance/exit of a museum/theatre. In this case, you determine in an objective way who is asked, for example, by asking every 5th person.

Three steps

  1. To ensure that your sample is large enough, you first need to know the minimum number of people who should participate in your study. This depends on the size of your research population, the reliability you are aiming for, and the margin of error you are willing to accept. Calculating your required sample size is done with a sample calculator.
  2. Next, you need to assess the likelihood of people cooperating with your research. People on the street are less likely to cooperate with your research than if they have an affinity with the subject (e.g., the theater they frequent) or if the questionnaire is done in a classroom setting. Based on this, you will determine how many people you should ask.
  3. Then you're going to see if you have any subgroups in your research population. You can take this into account when drawing the sample or check and correct it afterward. If you take this into account beforehand, you will draw a selective sample. Consider which subgroups you want to take into account and how large these groups are. This is especially easy if you have a database with addresses and characteristics. But also, if you approach respondents directly (e.g., at the entrance of the museum), you can take this into account (only ask men or mjk holders).

Afterward, when you check for proper representation of the subgroups, you draw an a-selective sample. With the completed questionnaires, you're going to check that all subgroups are equally represented.

For many people, when they think of a research report, unfortunately, they still think of a bulky tome that reads like an exciting book (it works slowly towards the conclusion). However, there are other ways of reporting that are becoming more popular. Depending on how much you want to broadcast the research results, below are some options:

1. A report written like a website

Another method of written reporting is to answer a research question for each chapter. Within these answers, you begin with the conclusion and then explain how the answer is composed.

2. Presentation

In addition to a written report, a presentation is also possible. Many people find it easier to listen or watch than to read. With a presentation, listeners get the opportunity to respond immediately and ask questions when something is not clear. To preserve the production, you can film it.

3. PowerPoint report

In this kind of report, the emphasis is on graphs and tables. Conclusions are stated succinctly. This is inconvenient for the author because they can add fewer words to make nuances. For the reader, it is more transparent and requires less reading. The nuances are in the graphs and tables and may therefore require some interpretation by the reader.

4. Infographic

On the Internet, infographics are increasingly common. They are informative illustrations that use text, graphs, and drawings. It is a quick way to share information.

5. Animation

To distribute research results to a broader audience, an animation film is an excellent option to tell and show information in a pleasant way and easy to distribute. By using YouTube and social media, the information can be spread widely. People will be more inclined to watch it because it is accessible and attractively presented (e.g., compared to a written report).

6. Leaflet or flyer

Another way to distribute information in an accessible and attractive form is a leaflet or flyer. The main points are summarized and attractively designed with graphics and illustrations. The advantage of a leaflet is that it can be printed and distributed physically (e.g., at a meeting) and digitally.

8. Magazine

Another approachable way to broadcast information is in the form of a magazine. The design makes the information more appealing. The method of writing in single articles and columns will make the information more accessible.

9. Article in a magazine

Writing an article and then publishing it in a magazine ensures a wide distribution of your results among your target group. Choose the magazine you want to publish in and tailor your article accordingly. An article for a trade magazine looks different than an article for a popular magazine.

Individual and group interviews allow you to find out a lot. For example, about the impact of an activity, the course of a program, or the influences of different actors.

But how do you get the most out of your interviews?

  1. Make sure you are talking to the right people. Thoroughly explore your options in this respect. Who can answer the questions you have? What perspectives are out there?
  2. See if interlocutors can complement each other (group interviews) or tell more when they are alone (individual interview). When conducting a group interview, make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak.
  3. Make sure your interlocutor(s) feel at ease. Provide a pleasant space and beverages. Provide anonymity if necessary. Be polite and respectful to your interlocutor.
  4. Make sure your questions are consistent with your research topic and your interview questions are all-inclusive.
  5. Prepare your interview by formulating questions that are attuned to what your interlocutors know.
  6. In an introductory narrative, tell who you are, why you are conducting this research, your research question, who your client is, whether it is anonymous or not, and what the interview is essentially about.
  7. Formulate your questions in a way that your interlocutor understands them.
  8. Stay objective. Keep your opinions to yourself.
  9. Let your interlocutors finish speaking. Three seconds of silence does not mean that they finished speaking. They may want to think about the rest of the answer.
  10. Pay attention to your interlocutor's body language.
  11. Try to make the interview as natural as possible. Don't read the questions from your question list. Make a connection with what has already been said. Don't interrupt your interlocutor only to return to that topic later. At the end of the interview, check whether you have asked all the questions.
  12. Summarize your interlocutors’ answers so that they know you have understood them correctly and so that they hear the mainline repeated.
  13. Appeal to your interlocutor's responses.
  14. Monitor the time and adhere to the agreed-upon time. It is frustrating if you have not been able to ask some of your questions because your interlocutors have to go to their next appointment.
  15. Explain what happens to the conclusions of the interview. Also, explain what you will do with the report made of the interview (e.g., the audio recording). Will you use it only to refer to it yourself, or will you also publish it or hand it over to your client? In the latter two cases, make sure you give everyone feedback on the report.
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Claudia's heart is in research. With her passion, she enjoys enthusing others about research. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience. Claudia works and lives in the Netherlands, where she has been helping students and beginning researchers with research for years. Through blogs, but also with e-books, e-courses, and coaching. The first blogs are now translated into English to help more students and beginning researchers.
© 2022 Claudia de Graauw. All rights reserved.
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