Methods of Social Investigation

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  • Topic: Research, Research and development, Social research
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  • Published : October 8, 1999
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Methods of Social Investigation

Emma Woodmansee

'Describe how you would plan and undertake an investigation into why some of this College's students do not complete their degree courses.' (You have been given only 100 to finance the study; and one term's sabbatical.)

Define the variables in the given title

After a Research Statement has been formulated it is very important that the researcher defines any variables within it. A variable is any word whose meaning may be ambiguous or which could have several different meanings. This is a crucial stage in the planning process as a vague title renders any results at the end of the research without true meaning.

In this case, the Research Statement is the given title ‘Describe how you would plan and undertake an investigation into why some of this College's students do not complete their degree courses.' Within this Research Statement there are several variables : ‘college's', ‘students', ‘complete' and ‘degree courses'. These variables will be defined as follows:

`College's' We will take this to mean students at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, University of London.

`Students' Undergraduates on a first degree (excluding post graduates and so on).

`Complete' Graduate

`Degree courses' The course for which the student originally registered.

By defining the variables above there can be no confusion as to the meaning of the Research Statement. This process also helps the researcher to focus on the group of people that he wishes to study.

Decide on the purpose of the research

Having defined the variables in the Research Statement, the researcher now needs to focus his attention on the purpose of the research, and consequently lay down the Research Objectives. This part of the planning process allows the researcher time to consider what he hopes to achieve from the research and ensures that the research represents his objectives.

The purpose of our research is to identify the reasons for students failing to complete the degree course for which they were originally admitted (variables already identified). The results of the research would allow the college to take action to encourage students to continue their studies and could even be used to aid the selection process and perhaps prevent problems from the outset. This is the final purpose of the research.

Who is to be studied

The researcher needs to identify the group of people upon which to base the study. The process is made easier by the fact that we have already defined the variables in the Research Statement. The research group has been thus so far defined as those students of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, University of London who did not graduate from the first degree course for which they originally registered. To concentrate the study group further, the research will be based on those students who left during the academic year 1995/6 only. The study will include students who were registered in all faculties within the University.

Initial sources of information

Once the research group has been identified the researcher needs to consider how to identify those individuals which fall within the specified group. In this case, the information we require will be held in the College Registry and also in the Faculty Offices. This information is confidential and is not available to the public, and this difficulty will be dealt with in the next section.

How to begin the investigation

This particular research project requires the cooperation of a group of ex students of the college on what may be a sensitive subject. Therefore, the first action that we would take is to send a contact letter out to all those within our potential research group. The letter would describe the research that we are carrying out, it's purpose and the method by which we intend to...
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