JCM's Teacher Research Site
School of Education, Seattle University

All contents © 1998, John Chattin-McNichols

The Research Design Pages
    These pages will ask you to respond to a
series of questions.  At the end, you should
have a better, clearer idea of your proposed
research.  You will also understand some of
the limitations in your choice of research
design, and some of the tradeoffs that
research designers must make...

Page 1: Research Questions--The Good,
The Bad, and the Ugly...

    The purpose of this page is to help you
decide (or narrow down) your research topic
to one that makes sense to you and is possible
to complete before the heat death of the Universe.

For each of the following questions, the right answer
is Yes.  Doesn't that make your job easy? No,
not particularly.  Your job is to narrow and change
what your topic is until the answer is Yes for your
proposed study.  The "Why" is discussed in
brief after each question.

Question 1: Have you narrowed your question down
from an "area of interest" to an actual question?

           No                                                      Yes
Possible negative effects of Ritalin        What do teachers
Are too many kids on Ritalin?                    think/feel
Are parents/professionals too                   about effects
        quick to ask for Ritalin?                       of Ritalin?

The Montessori method                        Do 5's with 2 or more
Effects of Montessori                                    years of experience
What are strengths of M?                             in AMS-affliated
                                                                          M preschools
                                                                          have higher Math
                                                                          achievement than
                                                                          comparable children
                                                                          in non-M preschools?
    It's impossible to work on the design of a study until
you have narrowed it down to a particular question.
It also helps if you have done some thinking about the
particular group of people you are interested in
studying (the population).

Question 2: Have you chosen a question which can be
answered by research?

Is Islam the one true faith?
Is "A Starry Night" the greatest painting ever done?
What was W. H. Kilpatrick's mental and emotional
        state during his trip to Rome and his subsequent
        writing of The Montessori System Examined?
Do teachers make the right decisions in choosing
        reading methods for first graders?
Is phonics the best method for teaching reading?
    In general, topics involving religion, art, music, etc.,
can't be answered with research.  (You can research how
much paintings sell for, or how many critics feel that a
particular painting is the best, but these are not the same as
deciding that a painting is "the best"). Questions of values
can be examined if you are asking what values people hold;
but not if your question itself is a value judgment.  Avoid
words like "right" or "best" and get more specific.

3. Do you have a topic that is worth your effort?
(Test this by asking peers about your idea.)

           No                                                      Yes
Is my bulletin board boring?        What makes a bulletin
                                                                board noticed?

Should I use slides from                What percent of
    my trip to France in my                    state foreign
    French class?                                      language teachers
                                                                use their own slides?

Do children who are                        Do children who
    in foster care because                        have low self-esteem
    of being abused by                            have poorer
    parents have lower                            attendance?

Do high school students                  What are ways in which
    who are given their own                        high schools have tried
    horse (with all costs covered)                to improve self-esteem
    to care for have higher                           of students?
    Studies that are too personal, or cover too small a topic
are sometimes not worth the effort of designing and carrying
out the research.  Studies that seem to ask a question to which
the answer is obvious are also of questionable worth.  Studies
which examine the effects of things which can change (like
teaching methods or class size) are generally more appropriate
than studies of things which can't be changed (Socioeconomic
status, experience of teachers, etc.)  Studies of rare occurrences
or unrealistic special programs are also of limited worth.

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