Monday, 6 December 2010

Research Methods and Pleonasms

Teaching research methodology is a very interesting occupation but it is also a rather scary one. Why scary you might ask? Because there is an almost limitless variety of research approaches and frameworks and every time I look at a new book or go exploring on the web there seems to be new ideas out there offering yet another way to approach your research. In addition, new ways of describing standard techniques are frequently used which can be confusing.

I received an e-mail recently about a couple of different approaches which were called Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis and Exploratory Factor Analysis. Now, I am well aware of phenomenology and factor analysis but I am not sure what is implied by Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis and I am not familiar with the use of the term exploratory with factor analysis. At first glance they look like pleonasms. Pleonasm is a word that is not well known outside the circles of grammarians. Of course, the only time I have seen the word grammarian itself used was in the film My Fair Lady (“though she may have studied with an expert dialectician and grammarian…”) so I am not sure whether that word has much currency in practical life either. Anyway the meaning of pleonasm is that the word suggests that there is redundancy in the expression. One of the best examples of this is he came at 0300 AM, the AM is unnecessary because 0300 means 3 o’clock in the morning. Phenomenological is essentially an interpretivist approach to research and Factor Analysis is fundamentally an exploratory method. So the use of the words Interpretive and Exploratory are really superfluous! Maybe I should coin a Law of Academic Research as ............Avoid Pleonasms!

But there is a more important point to be made here which follows on from the previous pieces which I have written for this blog, and that is there is too much effort expended by individuals in putting a personalised spin on their research and then giving their approach a new descriptor. I work with a number of doctoral degree candidates who can easily be distracted by the language of research. Far too little time is devoted to learning this language and in building up confidence in degree candidates. The previous blogs addressed the issue of Design Research and there is also the term Construction Research which causes problems.

I have come to realise that one of the central issues in the teaching of research methods is the building of confidence. And the problem with confidence building is that it takes time and it cannot be done on one’s own. Confidence building requires discourse in which ideas are chewed over several times. The pressure in universities and business schools today is such that few supervisors are prepared to give this time to doctoral candidates. Supervisors have heavy work loads, especially when one considers the increased pressure to publish and publish in high ranked journals.

Returning to the issues of new names for research techniques and new approaches to research, one of the most important pieces of advice one can give a newcomer to academic research is for him or her to build up their own glossary. Every time he or she hears a new word used it is essential to quickly establish its meaning and record it in one’s own glossary. This helps build the vocabulary alongside the confidence to use these words.

Any comments welcome.


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