Critiquing and Analysing Research Chris McMillan Academic Skills Adviser
ASK WEEK Pathways to Success 18-22 November 2013
Consider how to approach a research issue
Examine the principles of active reading
Understand the key elements of critiquing research
Investigate the process of producing a critical intervention into the research
What does it mean to critical? ď‚¨
Moving from remembering, recording and describing information to analysing, evaluating and synthesising knowledge
Analysing, Evaluating and Synthesising
Being critical is a questioning attitude, rather than a set of skills
What are we thinking critically about?
Problems and issues
Critical Thinking Meansâ€Ś â€Śgetting involved in the academic debate
From thinking to reading ď‚¨
Taking a critical and active attitude to reading is the most important first step in this debate Once you have identified the parameters of your project, it is vital to read widely You are not reading simply to catalogue information, but to find your intervention into the research
Key Tip #1 Being critical is the key to research
What does it mean to Critique Research?
Critical Thinking: A questioning attitude towards knowledge Analysis: The process of breaking a topic into smaller parts Critique/Critical Analysis: Disciplined, critical and systematic analysis
Start with a broad topic and move towards a research question
Discover existing answers to this question
Establish what is missing from these responses
Work out how to find out this information
Brunel Library holds approximately 500,000 books Searching ‘research’ in the library database produces 18,466,866 hits
Projects have limited word counts
What to do?
The first task for any research project is to be aware of main debates within your field of interest
Go on a library ‘hunt’ to find the most prominent books Use Google Scholar to find the most cited articles Use the ‘Summon’ Database to find the newest articles and work backwards Use sources listed in Wikipedia, particularly ‘official’ organisations Follow the sources used in existing research
You may need to go beyond Brunel Library by joining the British Library or obtaining a ‘SCONUL’ card
From thinking to reading ď‚¨
Taking a critical and active attitude to reading is the most important first step in this debate Once you have identified the parameters of your project, it is vital to read widely But you are not reading simply to catalogue information, but to find your intervention into the research
How do you normally approach academic reading?
Interrogating a text: The SQ3R Process Why are you reading?
Survey Question Read Repeat Review
Set goals for your reading Read quickly: skim or scan In-depth Critical Analysis Are your questions answered?
Identifying your needs
When you have identified the necessary reading, consider how it will be used in your research. Ask:
Why are you spending time on this text?
Is it key to your research?
Does it play a supporting role?
These considerations may change as you read
Once your purpose is established, develop particular questions to focus on
Understanding Structure and Context
Who are/is the researcher(s)?
Why was the research conducted? Where in the research can you find the information you require?
Identify the Main Argument or Conclusion
Find the issue/question/objectives to which the research is responding Consider the core response to these issues
Both these elements should be located in the introduction and conclusion of academic work
The abstract also contains a map to the research
Critiquing research requires the application of disciplinary specific critical analysis Each subject has its own forms of theoretical enquiry and research Critique tends to be an instinctive process as you find ideas and evidence that you agree with Nonetheless, there are a number of questions that should be asked
Academic research is unlikely to be fundamentally flawed, but it is always limited The research should not cover your exact research question The researchers’ approach to the investigation will have strong consequences
Each researchers comes from a certain perspective that does not cover some elements of the research issue This perspective might have assumptions about the way people, or the physical world, behave and are structured (ontology)
Or about the best methods to capture information about the world (epistemology) Knowing the researchers’ background can help you to identify these perspectives
The methods used to approach a research problem can be flawed – inappropriate or badly applied – but they are more likely to be limited Qualitative research might capture the experiences of small groups, but might not be generalisable Quantitative methods may capture a large amount of data, but fail to provide explanations for this data (correlations, not causation)
Is the research relevant to the issue being investigated? What elements of the issue/problem are omitted? Does the research cover everything you require?
Are the methods appropriate for the research question(s)? What are the limitations of this approach? Are appropriate links made between the literature and the results? Are any factors being excluded? Are there any limitations to the reasoning being used to support the analysis? On what basis are the conclusions made? Is any evidence excluded that might be relevant?
Read through the research on the handout and consider how it might be critiqued
Key Tip #2 Donâ€™t read, interrogate
There are two key purposes to your reading:
Remembering key information to be used again (gaining knowledge)
Developing your own intervention into the debate (learning)
It is important to identify these differing purposes when you are reading
Many readers focus on recording vital information This is valuable when you are establishing the basic parameters of the research and integrating new information
Often this technique focuses on recording key moments and producing quotations for later use Alternatively, major sections can be paraphrased
This approach, however, is not the most effective for developing a critique that will lead to your own argument Instead, be sure to make reflections on the content as you move through Not ‘what does it say?’ but ‘What do I think?’, ‘Why do I think this?’, ‘So what?’ and ‘How can I use this information?’
You will never know more about a text than when you are involved in it If you have ideas or reflections, write about them – it only takes one moment of clarity to build an idea By developing extended notes you are able to expand your thinking and link to previous ideas – the building of an argument
These extended notes can often be the basis for your writing
Key Tip #3 Donâ€™t stop yourself from thinking
Summarise your Position
Summarise the main conclusions of the research Critically note the strengths and flaws of the research
What have you learnt?
What do you disagree with?
How will you use this source in your own research?
Key Tip #4
Always consider how you will use the research in your writing
Organising Research: Databases
It is vital that you keep a record of your notes and sources Referencing databases can be an excellent method of organising your research
Microsoft Word Endnote Mendeley Ref Works
Always remember to back up your research and keep hard copies where necessary
Organising research: Mind-mapping
Much of the analysis of research occurs after it has been read when you begin to synthesise the research you have read Once you have researched an issue, it is vital that you organise this research in order to identify your intervention Mind-maps can be used to create ideas and establish the key elements of your projects Mind-maps also allow you to identify the connections between ideas and to synthesise key elements of the research
Mind-Maps: A How-To Guide
Place the question/issue in the middle of the page
Start with the most important issues
Add branches identified with single words or short phrases to represent key ideas Allow ideas to connect from these branches and between branches
*Let ideas come ‘organically’, rather than pre-planning your map
Mind-mapping practice Thinking about your project, are you able to construct a brief mind-map of the different elements involved?
Creating your Intervention
Once your ideas are organised, search for conflict and contradictions between them Where do you find yourself naturally directed? Are you able to create a synthesis from these ideas in order to respond to the assigned issue?
Thinking critically is the key to succeeding at university
It is vital to define the parameters of your research
Always ensure that you are reading critically and actively Identify and critique the main argument, points of explanation and evidence Find your critical intervention into the research
ASK WEEK Pathways to Success Find these slides (and much more) on Blackboard
Organisations -> Academic Skills -> Workshop Presentations -> ASK Week Spring 2013