Doing Research about Education

By Geoffrey Walford | Go to book overview

1

Introduction: Research Accounts Count

Geoffrey Walford

There are very many books about how to do educational research. But many undergraduate and postgraduate research methodology courses are based on just one or two of the well-known textbooks that have been often reprinted and have served successive cohorts of students (examples are Moser and Kalton, 1992; Cohen and Manion, 1994). While these 'cook-book' textbooks have much to offer, they present research largely as an unproblematic process. When considering more quantitative and statistical research, their concern is with sampling, questionnaire design, interview procedures, response rates, observation schedules, and so on. Even when focusing on qualitative research, there is often an emphasis on such tactical aspects as gaining entry to sites, generating rapport with interviewees, and strategies for the analysis of data. In short, many well-known textbooks present an idealized conception of how educational research is designed and executed, where research is carefully planned in advance, predetermined methods and procedures followed, and the 'results' are the unavoidable conclusion. The effect of the researcher is excluded from the process.

The limitations of traditional research methods textbooks have been gradually recognized over the last decade or more, and there is now a growing range of 'alternative' books for students and practitioners that present more personal accounts of the particular research practices that led to specific research reports. In these books the authors of well-known research reports have written semi-autobiographical reflexive accounts of the process of doing research, in the hope that others will benefit from this sharing of practical experience. Such accounts have become common within the wider discipline of anthropology (e.g. Lareau and Shultz, 1996) and it is the more qualitative researchers who have been in the forefront of such 'alternative' writing within educational research. Within Britain one of the first collections or articles that present the practical, political and personal side of educational research was edited by Martin Shipman (1976) who persuaded six authors of highly respected research reports to write about the origins, organization and implementation of their projects.

During the mid-1980s Robert Burgess gathered together about 40 accounts of the research process that were published in four separate volumes (Burgess, 1984, 1985 a-c). The first of these was used widely on educational

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