Tuesday, 2 April 2013


Reading Knight's chapter “Sensemaking,” although some of the statistics-related discussion is beyond me, reinforced to me just how subjective research is, whether it's qualitative or quantitative. At the same time, I've also been working through the methodology of my final proposal, and doing that is also reminding me that although data may be objective, the research conclusions that come from it certainly aren't. In my case even the number of relevant texts, and therefore the actual data, is subjective: do I include all texts that explicitly mention my topic (a nineteenth-century gentlemen's club) in any context, even one unrelated to my interest? Do I include texts on similar topics (like other clubs) or not? What if there are texts in obscure locations that I never find and that therefore don't make it in to my research? All of these decisions will affect the outcome of the research project. In a sense, this realization is freeing – I need to make decisions one way or another, and these decisions will affect the research no matter what I choose. For projects that don't draw on textual analysis, similar questions come up when, to use examples from Knight, the researcher must decide at what level of depth to analyze or how to code themes from interviews.

One of the biggest conclusions I draw from all this is just how important it is to be clear about your methodology and decisions in your final article/product. If the people reading your research doesn't know what decisions you made and why you made them, they can't judge for themselves whether they feel the research is conducted well, whether certain things should also be analyzed in different ways, and whether the conclusions might have turned out differently. 

Knight, P.T. (2002). Small-scale research: Pragmatic inquiry in social science and the caring professions. London: SAGE.


  1. Hi Melissa,

    I absolutely agree. The importance of being very clear about methodology and decisions made in one's final research product is something that became very apparent to me when I was reading the papers that were assigned for the peer review exercise a few weeks ago.

    Perhaps part of the difficulty in achieving great clarity with respect to methodology is that we don't often explicitly schedule/budget for reflexivity in the research process (something that was brought up in the comments of this Mutant Island blog: http://mutantislandresearch.tumblr.com/post/45648934390/writing-case-study-research-reports)

    The other thing I would say is that the role that the literature review has on decision making in the research process may be underestimated. It seems to me that a very broad, interdisciplinary literature review will help ensure that the decisions that one makes isn't based on one narrow philosophy or paradigm.

    - Rex

  2. Melissa, I had the same response to your post as Rex did. When you made your point about being clear in explaining your methodology, I thought 'Yes'! I also thought back to the peer review assignment. The article I reviewed (about the Occupy movement) drove me nuts, in part, because the authors didn't say anything substantive about their methodology. It made me discount a lot of the claims they were making. I must admit, sometimes my eyes glaze over when I'm reading the methodology section of an article, but at least it's there! This allows me to skim over it if I like, or examine it more thoroughly. Clear explanations of methodology are essential if the reader is to make any sense of the author(s)' claims.

    1. I really disliked the Occupy article for that reason! An article is much less helpful for other researchers if the methodology is unclear - how much can you really take away from it? I like Rex's point about making space/time for reflexivity - it's so important, and I think especially if you're used to certain methods it can be easy to forget about.