Using Contextual Constructs Model to Frame Doctoral Research Methodology

By Knight, Shirlee-ann; Cross, Donna | International Journal of Doctoral Studies, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview

Using Contextual Constructs Model to Frame Doctoral Research Methodology


Knight, Shirlee-ann, Cross, Donna, International Journal of Doctoral Studies


Introduction

"All research is based on assumptions about how the world is perceived and how we can best come to understand if" (Trochim, 2002).

Developing a research methodology for a research project is a complex process (Goulding, 2002; Holden & Lynch, 2004) replete with a mine-field of choices for the researcher. The complex, often emotive, and at times seemingly contradictory vocabulary, even of established theory, methods, and applications of methods can often serve to further complicate this process, particularly for the early career researcher.

This paper presents a contextually driven model of research, designed to guide a researcher through the process of developing a research methodology, and the model attempts to frame something of the process of research, in an effort to generate thought and discussion which moves beyond the over-simplistic and formulaic principles of 'this' formal versus 'that' formal methodology. The paper then provides a framework by which the researcher is able to embrace the cognitive journey involved with identifying a research problem, formulating a means by which to investigate that problem, and finally developing the research vocabulary by which to describe the research as a whole.

Underlying Theory: Contextual Constructions of Research

The theory that underpins the CCM is described as 'Contextual Constructs Theory' (CCT) and is offered herein as a novel approach to the overall conceptualization of a complex research project. Central to CCT is that all research involves the fusion of two key component parts, namely, (1) context and (2) cognitively-driven constructs. Important too is the inherent, informing, and affectual relationship between the two.

Research Context, Research Constructs, and their Relationship

"From a very early age, we are taught to break apart problems, to fragment the world. This apparently makes complex tasks and subjects more manageable, but we pay a hidden, enormous price ... we lose our intrinsic sense of connection to a larger whole." (Senge, 2006)

A research context is the associated entities surrounding the research and researcher such as the following: the discipline of the research project (Trauth, 2001); the phenomenon (also called the research object) being investigated (Remenyi, Williams, Money & Swartz, 1998); previous theory related to the research object (Webster & Watson, 2002); the researcher (Fielden, 2003)-including their evolving "research lens" (Trauth, 2001, p. 6); and the conceptualization of how the research object will be investigated, or research problem (Ellis & Levy, 2008; Kerlinger & Lee, 2000).

The second central concept of CCT is that research as a mode of inquiry is constructed. That is, the researcher must find ways to build abstracted constructs that are used to represent or describe the phenomena being investigated. Most often, these constructs are described in language, words that come to represent phenomena that may have existed long before a scientist found a word to describe it. For example, apples have always fallen from trees, yet the scientific community came to know this phenomenon as the force of "gravity" only since Newton (1687) coined a word to represent it. Closer to home, the IS model of the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) (Davis, 1989), which investigates users' acceptance and adoption of information technologies in various contexts, depicts "user acceptance" in terms of Perceived Usefulness (PU) and Perceived Ease of Use (PEoU). Interestingly, PU and PEoU are themselves constructs, which-like all constructs--have their own associated attributes, characteristics, and meanings. So this then is the constructed vocabulary of research; words and concepts that have come to represent meaning within specific scientific contexts and the research constructs are seen as the constructions developed by the researcher to describe and investigate phenomena in the process of conceptualizing the research. …

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