Tag Archives: advice

Getting started on a research project

I was just asked about how I approach research or research projects so I thought I would share some of my answer on the blog in case it is helpful for others. Here is an outline of what I do:


The first step is to look at what interests me for a topic.

1.      Do I have a question that needs to be answered for something I am doing at work? For ex. I explored how middle age and older women learn technology because I was constantly training women of that age in libraries how to use computers, etc. and I wanted to know how best to do that, what would be most meaningful from their point of view.

2.      I explore things that interest me. I once did a paper for an ethics class on ” just war theory” because it was at the time when the US had gone to war for the first time in Iraq and I was personally grappling with when is it or is it not ok to go to war. Learning about “just war theory” gave me insights about the topic.

3.       I look at other projects I have done that may have generated additional questions after I did the study. For example: Dr. Valerie Bell and I did a study on how student teachers use computers and technology in the classroom. As a result of our findings we started to ask about how the student teacher supervisor may or may not be an influence in the student teacher’s use of technology and whether, if the supervisor was not a strong technology advocate, they became influenced by a student teacher who used technology so we did a second study on that.

4.      Look at trends in your profession or new initiatives at work for something you want to explore. An example of this is the current project I am working on with Dr. Ron Musoleno on implementing kindles and ipads in the college classroom.

5.      If I have read something in a professional article or heard a presentation and it brings up important questions in my mind I explore that.


Having formulated a question I want to answer or decided on a topic I usually do a concept map of what I know about the topic. You can do this on paper or use Inspiration software (http://www.inspiration.com/) or Webspiration (http://www.mywebspiration.com/)

or other mindmapping software. This can then be turned into an outline of what you want to cover. I will come back to this as I work on the project and add to the concept map as I gain new insights. I like concept maps better than outlines as they allow you to think more broadly not requiring a linear mindset.


Once I have chosen the topic and have some basic concepts in the mindmap I do a first swipe at a literature review, using library databases, books and authoritative web sites ( for example education sites like ISTE or ASCD) to gain background on the topic and begin to come up with a basic structure for the project. I also talk to colleagues or others to get their ideas about the topic.

I tend to do qualitative research so it I devise the study developing questions for interviews or questionnaires, etc. based on my lit review and knowledge of the topic.  I tend to use grounded theory, bringing the theory out of the data. I code the data and then use thematic content analysis to get at themes in the data and then bring theory out of the data (grounded theory).
Two of the qualitative theories I like to work with for the analysis are symbolic interactionism and portraiture. If you are interested in qualitative research I would recommend checking out:


Denzin, Norman K. 2008. Collecting and interpreting qualitative materials. Sage Publications.


Marshall, Catherine. 2011. Designing qualitative research. Sage Publications.


Patton, Michael Quinn. 2002. Qualitative research and evaluation methods. Sage



You may also want to look up the work of Yvonna Lincoln and Egon Guba..


 There are a number of others who are good on this topic but these are some good starters.


I tend not to use software to analyze my data but I am experimenting with Dragonspeak software (http://www.nuance.com/dragon/index.htm) to see how it works with transcribing tapes of interviews. I do try to digitally audio tape all interviews.


When I have the analysis complete I write the article or create a presentation. I always go back and check the lit review as I am working on the paper as there are often new materials published  on the topic or pieces of information or findings I didn’t know about when I did the first lit review. It is sometimes good to present the material before you write an article so you can get feedback from others. If you are doing something you are going to submit to a journal you should always have someone else read it before you send it out.


New feature on Google books allows you to copy and paste

For those of you who want to quote from books and would like to just copy and paste the section, {{ Don’t forget to cite where you got the quote from in your paper!!!!}} Google books now allows you to do this for books that are in the public domain. For more information check the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired campus blog at http://chronicle.com/wiredcampus/index.php?id=2395

Some Publishing FAQs

How can I move from presentation to publication?

By using your presentation as an outline you can fill in the words of the presentation to give you a good start on an article. You will still need to do a literature search and add more substantial information but you have a start.

What is plagiarism and why do I need to cite references?

A simple definition of plagiarism is taking someone else’s ideas and using them as your own or, at the very least, not giving someone else credit for something they created. Most papers and many presentations discuss ideas or directly quote work from another author. These ideas belong to that person. You must give them credit for their work even if you are not quoting them directly. You do this by citing references (in the text or in footnotes) and adding a list of those references to the end of your work. You can use whatever citation style you choose or the publisher requires.

I only like to use journal articles in my paper because I don’t have enough time to read a whole book. Do I have to use books in my research?

Whether or not you should use books in your research depends on your topic but keep in mind that you don’t always have to read the whole book in order to get the information you need. For example, many edited books contain chapters on a variety of topics, some of which have nothing to do with what you are writing about. It is a good idea to read the preface and/or introduction and any chapters that apply to your topic but don’t feel compelled to read sections that don’t apply to you what you are researching.

My article just got rejected by a publisher, what to I do now?

Revise it based on any comments you received from reviewers and resubmit it to that journal or elsewhere. Many of us don’t get our articles accepted in the first place we send it. It is a good idea to think of back-up journals when you are considering where to send it out for the first review. If you did that you already have a list of other places to submit it. If you get a rejection back asking for a “rewrite and resubmit” then look at the comments and do what they ask. If you have questions about what the reviewers are saying contact the editor for more information.

If your article is rejected completely, take a few days to mourn (yes, this is your “child” that you put tons of time, energy and ideas into so you may feel a need to vent). Then sit down with the reviewer comments and consider them seriously. Sometimes you will decide that you did not submit it to the proper journal or that the reviewers totally misunderstood your research but most of the time the advice they give will make your paper stronger. Make any changes you feel are appropriate and send the article out to a new journal as soon as you can. It is very easy, especially for new authors, to not want to deal with the rejection, but revise your work and get it back out there!