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Warp and weft of good research

B.S. WARRIER

Researchers must appreciate and adopt the right methodology for achieving success



Ground rules: A researcher has to be careful in his assessments

We have to pay attention to several aspects of work for success in research. We have to adopt good styles and reject unhealthy methods and be wary of pitfalls. What are they?

Pitfalls

Selecting too ambitious a research project may only mean hard work that may not pay adequate dividends. We have to think and consult again and again before we launch our project. An overview of the topic as well as a study of its basic literature and past history would give us an overall idea of the enormity of the work that awaits us. The research project undertaken by an individual and that undertaken by an institution are very different. We have to be pragmatic in our approach to our personal project. We should be able to do full justice to it.

A competent supervisor should be available. While identifying the research problem, it is advisable not to go for an overworked area. Choosing too difficult a topic may lead to hardship in data collection. We may not choose an area simply because it seems to offer novelty, glamour, or superficial appeal. The gloss may soon wear off, consigning us to difficult tasks. The problem should have fine clarity; it should be specific. That we may sometimes branch off providentially to a fertile area during the course of our progress is a different matter. Also, we may thereby land in an unexpected place of success. But the problem we launch initially should be precise and well-defined.

Cost factor

The possible cost involved should also be kept in mind, since there would be financial constraints in most organisations. Complying with the directions of the supervisor and the policies of the organisation are also important. Pure academic preferences cannot outweigh practical considerations in any set-up. If you have decided the research problem wisely, half the battle is won.

Treating our research finding to be trivial or insignificant is a gross error. Something that appears to be too simple because of our deep sustained involvement with the related work may be significant to others. We should discuss it with our supervisor or other experts to appreciate the true import of our findings. Significant findings need not necessarily be complex or abstruse.

If our work has the objective of finding a new product, our first attempt may not take us to a perfect product. After all, nothing in this world is perfect. We may have a product with shortcomings.

We will go step by step and improve the product and reach levels of acceptability. We should not get disheartened with initial failures. We should be driven by a positive mental attitude and an optimistic frame of mind.

Neglecting the work of others in our area of research and focusing our attention exclusively on our own work may land us in trouble. If someone else arrives at our expected results earlier and announce them before we reach them, our efforts may come to nought.

We have to go through the abstracts and reviews of research papers in our area of work, so as to prevent a possible overlap. We must be willing to give appropriate credit to the deserving investigators.

Significant steps

Appreciation and adoption of the right research methodology is crucial in achieving success. It determines the activities of research, the step-by-step progress, the styles of procedure, the types of evaluating the progress, making course correction, and assessing the success of the venture at each stage. The entire process has to be systematic and scientific. Of course, any researcher has to be familiar with the optimum methods and techniques for each given situation.

The logic and philosophy behind each method has to be properly appreciated, if the researcher should arrive at the best option for the specific problem before him. This points to the fact that research methods or techniques are only sub-sets of research methodology. The methods we adopt should necessarily be based on well-accepted concepts, sound logic, and proven evidence.

We cannot build research on the quicksand of conjecture or wishful thinking. We may proceed in new directions to unravel complex theories, evolve novel concepts, or establish new relationships. Knowing the best methodology is extremely important. If we proceed without sound awareness in this regard, we may grope in the dark and end up in a fiasco after wasting time that can never be retrieved.

Clarity vital

Expressing the research objective with clarity will help to identify the requirements relating to data collection, measurements involved, techniques to be adopted, and methods for solving the main problem at hand. All these total up as the research plan. There are indeed several ‘tricks of the trade' in each operation beginning with identifying / formulating the research problem and data collection. We have to master the right styles that are relevant to our problem.

Once we master the relevant tricks, the way we look at problems or phenomena will acquire a new dimension with precision and objectivity. We would start assessing and evaluating scientifically each development in our march. The steps in our journey may be listed as shown below. There could be individual variations depending on the discipline, problem, and pattern of research; but in general the stages may be thus:

Identification of a research problem

Literature study

Definition of the research topic

Planning the most appropriate methodology

Analysing the data

Selection of a sample

Writing a research proposal

Developing a working hypothesis

Designing research structure

Core research work

Periodical evaluation and course correction

Discussions with experts for feedback

Findings

Testing / field trials of the findings

Generalisation

Preparation of thesis

Presentation of thesis

Acceptance of thesis

Applying for patent, if relevant

Publication

The list may be shortened into four parts – problem, data collection, analysis, and core research work.

Facing setbacks

In research, we dream possibilities and experiment with each one of them. A failure or a series of failures cannot dissuade us. History is full of people who failed. But their failures often led them to great successes. A researcher's success depends to a large extent on his confidence. We should believe in the significance of our efforts and the success that awaits us.

This will offer us self-assurance and energy for enthusiastic endeavour. A regular but flexible schedule of work with no attempt at procrastination is essential for achieving our objective.

We should systematically keep clear records of everything we do. We should document our actions, the results of each item of our research work, significant observations, notes taken while reading print or electronic journals or books, and suggestions of the supervisor. A daily diary is desirable. “A short pencil is better than a long memory”. We may publish journal articles perhaps along with the supervisor, provided we have material that is worthy and at the same time safe to be disclosed.

A rejection from a journal should not dishearten us. Remember, it is part of the game of getting published. Even the greatest writers have received rejection slips from editors. Sometimes we may be asked to re-submit a paper after making suggested changes. However, success in publishing a paper in a journal of repute will boost our self-confidence in the research endeavour.

Also, we may present papers in conferences where experts in our discipline are participants. This kind of healthy exposure will give us an opportunity to receive scholarly comments on the matter we present before them. Healthy criticism should not be taken as negative response, but a means for modifying our content or style. Keep in mind that there is room for improvement in any human endeavour. Research is no exception.

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