Checklist Questions for Your Research Report
Why is it Important?
RESEARCHERS may be able to conduct research by applying the principles of “responsible conduct of research” and appropriate research methods. Research process and findings need to be transformed into a research report, that is readable and also technically acceptable. Otherwise, the importance and usefulness of its striking findings may not be discerned by policy-makers and programme managers. If one cannot produce a good research report, the whole purpose of the research study will be lost. Therefore, research report writing is one of the important components in the research cycle, i.e. research planning, conduct of research, research management, report writing, research utilization, and finally, research evaluation.
Research report writing skill is really an art. All researchers may not possess it fully. It has to be acquired through practice and experience. It requires a special talent. It is different from skills necessary for acquiring technical knowledge for conducting research. Report writing is the most challenging task for researchers. It will determine whether the research conducted is a good piece of work or not. Actually, a good research report is one that takes the reader on a journey of discovery.
Style of Writing
The primary aim is to achieve a clear, logical, coherent and concise write-up. The principles of “keep it simple, concise, objective and straightforward” and “clear organization and presentation” must be adhered to whenever possible. Simplicity by way of presenting only the essential issues, precision in quantification, specificity with little exaggeration, proper attention to formatting and layout, and paying attention to the target audience are some of the issues to be taken into account in finalizing a research report. Vague expressions, such as “it seems”, and “it may be” are better avoided. The aim is to have a report which can stimulate the interest of the reader without bias. It is to be noted that a research study report differs somewhat from a thesis or a dissertation, where there is an official manual developed by respective graduate schools or departments to which the candidate must conform strictly. The research report should describe and explain rather than try to convince or move to action. In doing so, one should take into account certain conventions related to the layout, structure and style of writing. The format, of course, must be in conformity with the requirements of the journal or bulletin one intends to submit the manuscript for.
There are a few general issues which need to be sorted out before the first draft is made. The following questions can be used for this purpose:
Are you satisfied with the overall output or findings or results of your study?
Have you noted down the additional literature which you may have come across during the process of analysis? Is your research study redundant?
Have you made enough cross-references to the tables generated? Are there contradictory results across the tables? If so, have you sorted out the reasons?
Have you collated all the salient discussion points and decisions made by the team members, especially during the data analysis stage?
Have you grouped both the supportive and the nullifying points in the context of objectives of the study?
Have you cross-validated the data?
Have you consulted a statistician regarding the statistical procedures used in the study? Have you also discussed your research project with the “subject authority”?
NB: If you can generally respond to these questions in the affirmative, you are on the right track to go ahead and write the research report.
Follow the Checklist
The following checklist includes important questions which would ensure that the research study report is composed of essential facts:
Is it concise, self-explanatory and clearly indicative of the purpose of the study?
Are key words mentioned in the title? (A total of 15-20 words is optimum for the title)
Have you included all the important findings?
Are there any contradictory results among your findings?
Are data in the text agreeable with the data in tables? Are tables and figures referred to correctly?
Do the conclusions follow logically from the findings and in order of importance?
Are weaknesses of the study revealed and explained?
Is it still possible to condense the report without losing its quality and important findings?
If credit is due, credit should be given to those who had helped in the acknowledgement section.
General Note for Fine-Tuning
What you have actually done or completed, i.e. research procedures, should be written in the past tense.
Discussions, conclusions, recommendations and table descriptions should be explained in the present tense.
Conventionally, personal pronouns (I, me, we) should be used the least possible or not at all (there are different schools of thought).
If you have used a lot of abbreviations in the text, the full or the expanded version of these should be given alphabetically.
Avoid using long phrases and complicated sentences. Try not to posture but to communicate.
Non-sexist writing is appreciated.
Give sufficient “elapse time” between drafts so as to have “fresh idea and fresh eye”. Do not write the whole report at a stretch.
Ask your colleagues to make a critique but “bear with him/her” (don’t want to lose a good friend – professionalism) on any negative comments put forward. If they find something unclear, do not argue with them. This is important because, the sentences or connotations that are clear to the author may prove quite confusing to other people. You must be willing to restructure your research study report.
Even skilful and experienced writers revise the text many times before submitting a manuscript for publication.
The final caveat is that there is no single set of rules and guidelines for preparing a research report which encompass all situations and provides a universally accepted convention.
When writing a research report, you may wish to have the following items:
a spelling guide
a handbook of style
Based on the number of affirmative responses with respect to the questions posed above, you may wish to decide whether to polish your research study report again or not.
Baumgartner, T. A; Strong, C.H. (1994) Conducting and reading research in health and human performance, 1stedn. Dubuque, Indiana, Wm. C. Brown Communications, Inc. p.264-299.
Best, J.W; Kahn J.V, (1996) Research in education, 7thedn.New Delhi, Prentice Hall of IndiaPrivate Ltd. p.62-71.
Dawson-Saunders, B; Trapp, Robert G. (1994) Basic and clinical biostatistics, 2ndedn.Norwalk, Connecticut, Appleton and Lange.p.268-280.
Denscombe, M. (1998) The good research guide: for small-scale social research projects, 1stedn. Buckingham, Open University Press.p.224-237.
Herbert, M. (1990) Planning a research project,London, Cassell Educational Ltd. p.93-123.
Judd, Charles M; Smith, Eliot R; Kidder, Louise H. (1991) Research methods in social relations, 6th edn. Forth Worth, Texas, HarcourtBraceJovanovichCollege Publishers. p.453-476.
Kerlinger, Fred N. (1973) Foundations of behavioral research, 2ndedn.New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. p.694-700.
Kothari, C R. (1990) Research methodology: methods & techniques, 2ndedn. New Delhi, WishwaPrakashan. p.403-422.
Polgar, Stephen; Thomas, Shane, A. (1995) Introduction to research in the health sciences, 3rd edn.Melbourne, Churchill Livingstone.p.332-339.
Porter, Robert W; Prysor-Jones, Suzanne (1997) Making a difference to policies and programs: A guide for researchers. Washington, DC, Academy for Educational Development. 50p.
I. What is Research DESIGN?
RESEARCH DESIGN is the road map for the research. It begins with a formulation of a problem or question that the research will answer. The problem drives the research, and is the reason for doing the research. Hence it must be worthy, worth doing, and answer-able. Based on a review of the relevant literature to refine the Research Focus, a Research Question (RQ) emerges that guides your observation and understanding of the observations. You will formulate your RQ: the RQ guide the research methods: RQs thus should be relevant, interesting and important enough to make research worth doing, worth the time, cost, effort, and use of resources that will be required. The RQ should also be do-able: that is, able to be answered given the practicalities of such boundaries as time, resources, data accessibility, and ethical issues. It must also be do-able in terms of the skills and capabilities of the researcher(s).
Research Design involves mapping out how that RQ will be answered. The RQ will drive and define your research design, so it needs a lot of thought and work to refine it and get it right. Social research seeks to understand what is happening in one segment or other of society in some part of the world. There are many things to study in society, beginning from one individual to a couple, a family, a community, a group, a school, an organization or some other subset of humanity.
The Research Design outlines the structure of your research plan: what will you do to answer the RQ and how will you do it? What information is required and how will it be collected and analyzed? Research Design refers to the overall picture or plan, it essentially is the map that shows where you want to go and how you expect to reach that destination: it is the framework that ties all the important parts of the research together.
The RESEARCH DESIGN is important because it provides a game plan or strategy of what steps are required to frame, posit and then answer the RQ. Formulating the Research Design is essential but setting out the simple set of A,B,C steps involves a great deal of behind the scenes planning and investigation. There is an ongoing back and forth between formulating your RQ and designing the research strategy that you believe can best answer it.
Framing the Research Question(s):
Framing or formulating the research QUESTION is the most critical part of the research design and methodology. A good research question sets the context of the research and helps to determine the subject matter, the focus, what research evidence is required in order to generate an answer, and the conclusion. A poor or weak research question will hamper research activities because it will lead to superficial results or worse, mislead the whole research enterprise.
A research question identifies the phenomenon to be investigated. The question should be do-able (within the given boundaries of time, money, capabilities, resources) and also be worth doing. It should also be interesting to do, since you will be investing significant time in doing it.
A research question is not merely a question: it is a question for which the answer is not immediately clear. Answering the RQ has potential for expanding our knowledge base on a phenomenon. It is based on a problem that requires a solution or that answers a question that is NOT SELF-EVIDENT. There is a tension related to the RQ, built by differing assumptions or expectations but lacking evidence. This tension gives the research its heft and value, characteristic of an engaging and fruitful question.
Formulating a good research question requires significant effort—the researcher must study the literature to get a feeling for what is already, how the RQ may have been dealt with in the past and what questions or problems remain; discuss the questions with the instructor or other subject area experts, read newspapers or online journals to identify the key issues that need to be covered. Start with topics that are of interest to you, then begin to select specific issues that you wish to investigate in more depth.
Research is an iterative process, requiring that you go through many of the same steps again and again. You will have to read documents, pursue interesting ideas, read some more, create more questions, find documents, talk with your instructor, experts in the field, and even your colleagues and peers and so on. Continue doing this until you reach a question that is small enough that you think you could answer it in the time available to you.
A RQ is not a broad question nor should it try to address huge issues. It is not a topic but is a specific question within a topic: it should be specific, clear, sharp, and concise. Avoid complexity or ambiguity in your RQ. A good RQ will enable you to drill down into a phenomena to better understand it, rather than remaining superficial. Focus is very important in formulating RQs. Asking ‘big questions’ is not conducive to good research. RQs should be tightly focused by the time that you are ready to proceed to designing the research methods.
Framing the RQs takes a lot of work and typically involves several reformulations and refinements as you synch the question with the data available to you in a workable and reasonable way in order to study in order to generate significant results and conclusions.
The more time that you invest in refining your RQs, the greater the likelihood of success in your research. Investing 30% of the time in the research design and RQ is not too much, as a good plan will guide subsequent data collection and analysis tasks and make these easier and more effective.