Conducting Educational Research: A Comparative View

By R. Murray Thomas | Go to book overview

Stage IV:
Interpreting the Results

The task of interpreting research outcomes involves answering the question: What does it all mean? The three chapters comprising Stage IV focus on ways of assigning meanings to content analyses (Chapter 11), to observations (Chapter 12), and to tests, questionnaires, and interviews (Chapter 13). The conception of meaning adopted in those chapters holds that different kinds of interpretation can be imposed on research outcomes, and each kind is reflected in the answer to a particular question. The following paragraphs identify a series such questions and the ways data can be interpreted to provide answers from descriptive, explanatory, evaluative, and predictive vantage points.


DESCRIPTIVE MEANINGS

As noted earlier, comparative descriptions involve telling how two or more entities are similar to and different from each other, without attempting to explain what has caused the similarities and differences or to evaluate whether one entity is better than another.

The emphasis in descriptive comparisons can be on analysis, synthesis, or both. Analysis means dissecting an educational event, organization, or practice into its constituent parts. The question that guides analysis is: What are the components of the entity being studied, and what significant relationships exist among those components?

Synthesis refers to the act of drawing together disparate entities to form a combined entity. Synthesizing typically produces an overarching set of principles or generalizations that can link together the constituent entities. The guide question becomes: What do the different educational phenomena have in common? How are they alike?

Interpreting a comparison in terms of both analysis and synthesis involves answering the three-part question: What are the constituent parts of each of the

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