Chapter 2: Selecting and Defining a Research Topic • Objectives • Select and refine an educational topic to study. • Distinguish good research topics from less appropriate ones. • Distinguish between topic statements for quantitative studies and those for qualitative studies.
Chapter 2: Selecting and Defining a Research Topic • Objectives • Identify or create good research hypotheses for quantitative and qualitative studies. • Explain the differences between null, directional, and non-directional hypotheses and discuss the use of a directional hypothesis in a study.
The Research Topic • Selecting and defining a research topic is the first step in applying the scientific method. • The research process is not linear and is often a process of trial and error. • The research topic provides focus and structure. • The research topic should be relevant and of interest to you.
Sources of Research Topics • Theories • Personal experiences • Studies that can be replicated • Replication studies use a new sample to retest a hypothesis. • Electronic mailing lists • e.g.,http://www.lsoft.com/lists/listref.html • Library searches
Narrowing a Topic • Most topics need to be narrowed. • Topics that are too broad: • require larger literature reviews. • complicate organization of literature review. • lead to unfocused studies that are difficult to carry out and interpret. • Narrow quantitative topics at the start of the research process. • Qualitative researchers often narrow their topic after they are in the field.
Characteristics of a Good Topic • The topic is interesting. • The topic is researchable. • The topic has theoretical or practical importance. • The topic is ethical. • The topic is manageable for you given your current skills, resources, and time available.
Stating the Research Topic • Quantitative research topics • A topic statement describes the variables of interest, relations among those variables, and aspects of the sample. • e.g., The purpose of the study is to investigate the psychometric properties of a new measure of spatial ability for middle school children. • e.g., The topic to be investigated in this study is parents’ beliefs about homework for primary grade children.
Stating the Research Topic • Qualitative research topics are often stated in more general language at the outset of a study because the focus of the study will likely emerge after time in the field. • e.g., The purpose of this study is to describe the experiences of elementary students who have previously been retained. • e.g., This qualitative study explores the feelings of new teachers in large urban districts.
Placement of the Topic Statement • The topic statement is used in research plans and in research reports. • Research statements are accompanied by background of the study and justification for the study. • The potential relevance of the topic should be stated. Thinking about significance of the topic often assists researchers in formulating hypotheses.
Formulating & Stating Hypotheses • A hypothesis is a prediction of the researchers’ expected findings. • Many studies contain more than one hypothesis. • Researchers collect data to either support or not support a hypothesis. • Written hypotheses are included in research plans and reports.
Formulating & Stating Hypotheses • Hypotheses are central to most quantitative studies. • Hypotheses in quantitative studies are formulated before conducting the study. • All aspects of a quantitative study are affected by the hypotheses. • Hypotheses are derived from theory or knowledge gained through literature review.
Guidelines for Hypotheses 1. A good hypothesis is based upon sound reasoning and is consistent with existing theory or is derived from previous research. 2. A good hypothesis provides an explanation for the predicted outcome. 3. A good hypothesis clearly operationally defines variables and states expected relations among variables. 4. A good hypothesis is testable within a reasonable time frame.
Types of Hypotheses • Inductive Hypothesis: A generalization based upon observations • e.g., A researcher observes that students are motivated by praise; this observation becomes the basis for a hypothesis.
Types of Hypotheses • Deductive Hypothesis: Derived from theory and provides evidence that supports, expands, or even contradicts theory • e.g., Based upon processing theories, a researcher forms the hypothesis that students will attend to moving objects in an educational computer game.
Types of Hypotheses • Nondirectional Hypothesis: States that a relationship or difference exists among variables • e.g., There are differences between male and female students in spatial ability. • Directional Hypothesis: States the expected direction of the relationship or difference among variables • e.g., Male students will outperform female students on a test of spatial ability.
Types of Hypotheses • Null Hypothesis: States that there is no significant relationship or difference among variables. • Null hypotheses are stated when there is little existing research or theoretical support for a hypothesis.
Types of Hypotheses • Null hypotheses are also more conservative than directional hypotheses in statistical tests. • Most studies are not based in the null hypothesis. • e.g., There are no significant differences in spatial ability between male and female students.
Stating the Hypothesis • A good hypothesis: • is clearly and concisely stated. • states the relation or difference among variables. • defines variables in measurable terms.
Stating the Hypothesis • Model for hypotheses: • P=The participants • X=The treatment, the causal or independent variable (IV) • Y=The study outcome, the effect or dependent variable (DV)
Identifying Title, Topic Statement and Hypothesis • Title: the Effect of X (IV) on Y (DV) among P (subjects). • Topic statement: the purpose of this research study is to. . . • Hypothesis: subjects who receive X (IV) will have greater on Y (DV) than P (subjects) who do not receive X (IV).
Practice Example: Title • The Effect of a Saturday Tutoring Program on Academic Achievement of Ninth Grade Students.
Practice Examples: problem statement. • Identify the P, X, & Y: The purpose of this study is to examine benefits in ninth grade students’ achievement based upon attendance at a Saturday tutoring program. • P=Ninth grade students • X=Saturday program attendance or nonattendance • Y=Achievement
Hypothesis Statement • Ninth Grade Students who attend a Saturday Tutoring Program will have Greater Academic Achievement than Ninth Grade Students who do no attend a Saturday Tutoring Program.
Practice Problem: Title • The Effect of extra-curricular participation on Social Skills of Middle School Students.
Practice Examples: problem statement • Identify the P, X, & Y: The purpose of this study is to examine differences in social skills between those middle school children who are involved in extra- curricular activities and those who are not involved in extra-curricular activities. • P=Middle school children • X=Extra-curricular activities • Y=Social skills
Hypothesis • Middle school students who are involved in extra-curricular activities will have higher levels of social skills than middle school students who are not involved in extra-curricular activities.
Problem statement • Statement of problem includes operational definitions and significance of topic.
Hypothesis • After a literature review the researcher is prepared to make a hypothesis: a prediction of the outcome given the presence of the IV on DV.
Testing the Hypothesis • The hypothesis is used to guide the research study. • The researcher conducts the study and then analyzes the data to determine if the hypothesis is supported. • Hypotheses are not proven—they are supported or not supported. • Valuable contributions to the literature can still be made if a hypothesis is not supported. • Hypothesis testing contributes by expanding, refining, and revising the literature base.
Formulating & Stating Hypotheses • Qualitative studies • The qualitative researcher does not state formal hypotheses before conducting studies. • Qualitative researchers may develop guiding hypotheses for the proposed research.
Formulating & Stating Hypotheses • Qualitative studies • Qualitative researchers often generate new hypotheses during the course of their study. • Qualitative researchers may generate research questions from their guiding hypotheses.