Although this book is clearly aimed at university students considering a topic for their dissertation, I believe it could also be used by high school students who have been asked to undertake research as part of a project.
The author says, rightly, that to start your research you need a question — and the right kind of question. It has to be something that can be answered empirically and on which, preferably, there is a body of knowledge and research on which to draw.
I wish this book had been around when I was embarking on my MA dissertation. The question I settled on in the end was:
“What economics education is available to adults in London?”
A simple enough question, you might think. However, on starting my research I discovered that I needed to answer several sub-questions:
What is meant by ‘economics’ in this context? For example, would a business studies course count as ‘economics’ in the same way as, say, a formal qualification in the subject?
What is menat by ‘education’? I opted to redefine a few terms that others had used, but which did not fit my topic as they stood: formal education, to refer to enrolment at an educational institution; non-formal education, to refer to courses offered by non-education bodies such as trade unions; and informal education to refer to television programmes and the like. In practice, there was a fair bit of overlap and interaction between these categories.
What is meant by ‘adult’? The definition differs between various legal definitions and also the type of institution a person goes to. For example, a 16 year old at school is a child, whereas the same 16 year old attending college one evening a week is regarded as an adult.
What is meant by ‘London’? It turns out that the geographical area of London and the administrative area of London are not the same.
I also discovered that hardly any previous research was available. As I wrote in the dissertation, which was completed in 1986:
“Using three near-synonyms for economics education…, only 148 articles concerning adult economics/business education were listed as having been published in the USA (or UK) between 1966 and 1985. Several of these could not be traced, and of the remainder only twelve or so had any relevance to the matter in hand.”
I didn’t regret having had to undertake new research — in the end, I had to develop my own theoretical framework — and my tutors were very good and extremely knowledgeable and supportive. However, for someone perhaps studying more or less on their own, or when time and resources are at a premium as in a school project, a book such as this would save many sleepless nights and tears.
With straightforward advice, step by step instructions, frameworks you can fill in to direct your thinking, and short quizzes, this book is a must for any research-based student acivity. Indeed, I suggest that, given how inexpensive it is, it might not be a bad idea to have several copies available for students to peruse.
Little Quick Fix: Research Question, by Zina O’Leary, published by Sage Publications. (Amazon affiliate link.)