Designing and Beginning

Getting Started: A Worksheet

1. Picking a Topic

The following questions and information are meant to help you choose a topic for your SoTL project or SoTL research agenda.

I. What is your purpose in wanting to do a SoTL project?

II. Brainstorm several SoTL topics that interest you:

For an example:

  • Teaching Strategy
  • Curriculum Transformation
  • Assessment Methods
  • Technology Use

III. Considering the realities of collecting evidence, barriers to investigating these topics and resources that may already be in place to assist in investigating any of these topics, choose the topic you are most interested in working on.

Click here for more information on formulating a research problem.

2. Choose the Depth of your Project

You now have several choices regarding how deeply you want to investigate this topic or how long-term a project you want to do.

  • You can explore the issue further to form theory and hypotheses on the topic. This may be a necessary choice if you are interested in a new or under-investigated topic. Read below for more information on exploratory or inductive research.
  • You can write hypotheses and collect evidence to test them. This is a good choice if you have an idea or relationship you want to test. This is confirmatory or deductive research.
  • You can form a longer-term research agenda. Some topics will require more than one investigation to yield useful answers. It may be the case that an exploratory study is needed to suggest the topics of investigation for a confirmatory study or that you have both short-term and longer-term objectives.

3. Investigating Your Topic

  • Links are given above for more information on doing research involving the collection of qualitative or quantitative evidence. Information on collecting other kinds of evidence is also available from this website in the section on Implementing and Managing a SoTL Project. This also includes information on using a variety of methods, or mixed methods designs for your project.
  • This information is provided to help address the complex realities of doing research and collecting evidence in classroom settings and to make doing SoTL research as accessible as possible.

Kinds of SoTL Projects: This article categorizes, lists and describes the different kinds of SoTL projects.

Confirmatory Research vs. Exploratory Research

1. Explanation of the Two Kinds of Research

Confirmatory = Deductive = Testing theory with data

Exploratory = Inductive = Using data to form theory

There is a critical difference between research that aims to test theory with hypotheses that should be true given this theory, and research that aims to create new theory or understanding.

There is a difference between:

  1. the logic or thinking involved in these two kinds of research (click here for more information about this logical difference)
  2. the support or evidence these kinds of research require
  3. the procedure that is used for a study

The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive:

  1. many arguments can be stated using either kind of logic
  2. many research agendas involve both kinds of studies, i.e., inductive followed by deductive studies
  3. new theory is commonly created even in deductive (confirmatory) studies.
Using the same example to demonstrate Inductive and Deductive Research
Example Inductive Deductive
Computer Instruction in Math Testing whether an instructional software program improved student ability. Observing the positive effects of the use of an instructional software program.

2. Procedural Questions to Guide Exploratory or Inductive Research

1. Specify a focused research question.

What – very specifically – are you trying to describe, explain, and/or predict?

2. Explain why this question/topic is important and worthy of investigation. Convince the reader that your paper is worth reading.

Why should the reader care about this question/this issue?

3. Synthesize a literature review. Tell the reader what we already know – from other scholars – about this topic/question.

  • What have others said about this issue/question?
    • Also be certain to highlight the gaps in our existing knowledge – in particular, discuss the specific gap or gaps your research project addresses.
  • What is your contribution to this research program/community?

4. Describe your research design. Tell the reader about the data and methods you use inductively to construct your hypotheses and then your theory.

In this section, be sure to address the following:

  • Which data will you use as evidence for your theory? Fully describe how you will collect and categorize your data.
  • How are the variables you are investigating conceptualized and operationalized?

Click here for more information on measurement, operationalization, and concerns about validity and reliability.

  • What is the procedure, methodology, or design of your study?
  • Is this the best technique (or set of techniques) for finding and investigating the patterns in your dataset?

Click here for more information on study design and how it can strengthen your conclusions.

5. Discuss – statistically and substantively – the patterns you have found.

Substantively, what do “all these numbers” mean?

6. Based on your findings, state the hypotheses that follow from inductive analyses.

Then, state and explain your general theory that subsumes these hypotheses.

7. Summarize your primary conclusions.

  • Going back to your original research question, what have you discovered?
  • How do your findings “fit” with the existing literature and knowledge about this topic?

8. Again, tell the reader your new contribution to this topic/question.

  1. What has everyone else missed?
  2. What is your idea – your contribution – to trying to answer this research question?
  3. What gaps in our knowledge does your research now fill in?

9. Summarize the future research that might follow from this project.

What would you “do next?” In particular, what other datasets or samples are good candidates for *deductively* testing your newly developed theory and hypotheses?

Research Design Issues: A user-friendly research methods website with information about research design issues and types of designs.


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