Besides selecting a quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods approach, the proposal designer also needs to review the literature about a topic. This literature review helps to determine
whether the topic is worth studying, and it provides insight into ways in which the researcher can limit the scope to a needed area of inquiry. This chapter continues the discussion about preliminary considerations before launching into a proposal. It begins with a discussion about selecting a topic and writing this topic down so that the researcher can continually reflect on it. At this point, researchers also need to consider whether the topic can and should be researched. Then the discussion moves into the actual process of reviewing the literature, addressing the general purpose for using literature in a study and then turning to principles helpful in designing literature into qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods studies.
THE RESEARCH TOPIC
Before considering what literature to use in a project, first identify a topic to study and reflect on whether it is practical and useful to undertake the study. The topic is the subject or subject matter of a proposed study, such as “faculty teaching,” “organizational creativity,” or “psychological stress.” Describe the topic in a few words or in a short phrase. The topic becomes the central idea to learn about or to explore.
There are several ways that researchers gain some insight into their topics when they are initially planning their research (my assumption is that the topic is chosen by the researcher and not by an adviser or committee member): One way is to draft a brief title to the study. I am surprised at how often researchers fail to draft a title early in the development of their proj - ects. In my opinion, the working or draft title becomes a major road sign in research—a tangible idea that the researcher can keep refocusing on and changing as the project goes on (see Glesne & Peshkin, 1992). I find that in my research, this topic grounds me and provides a sign of what I am 23
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studying, as well as a sign often used in conveying to others the central notion of my study. When students first provide their prospectuses of a research study to me, I ask them to supply a working title if they do not already have one on the paper.
How would this working title be written? Try completing this sentence, “My study is about. . . .” A response might be, “My study is about at-risk children in the junior high,” or “My study is about helping college faculty become better researchers.” At this stage in the design, frame the answer to the question so that another scholar might easily grasp the meaning of the project. A common shortcoming of beginning researchers is that they frame their study in complex and erudite language. This perspective may result from reading published articles that have undergone numerous revisions before being set in print. Good, sound research projects begin with straightforward, uncomplicated thoughts, easy to read and to understand. Think about a journal article that you have read recently. If it was easy and quick to read, it was likely written in general language that many readers could easily identify with, in a way that was straightforward and simple in overall design and conceptualization.
Wilkinson (1991) provides useful advice for creating a title: Be brief and avoid wasting words. Eliminate unnecessary words, such as “An Approach to . . . , A Study of . . . ,” and so forth. Use a single title or a double title. An example of a double title would be, “An Ethnography: Understanding a Child’s Perception of War.” In addition to Wilkinson’s thoughts, consider a title no longer than 12 words, eliminate most articles and prepositions, and make sure that it includes the focus or topic of the study. Another strategy for topic development is to pose...