Tag Archives: research planning

The importance of study design


Parrot Study by benji2505, Attribution-NonCommercial License

This post directs you to a research paper by Simmons et al (2011) that is freely available online, and is well worth reading for three reasons.

One reason is its amusement value. In this paper the authors “prove” that listening to Beatles music makes you approximately a year and a half younger than you were before. They do not discover, unfortunately, whether it is just something about the song “When I’m sixty-four” or whether it is any Beatles song. This is a pity. One can easily get sick of listening to that particular song.

Another reason is that it is very well written and it is interesting to see how the authors structure their writing. Take, for example, the section headed “Nonsolutions” on the 7th page. Note how the authors introduce the point they are making first, before going on to give the detail. It is very easy to follow this sort of writing and is a pleasure to read. Also note the frequent use of the first person “we” and “our”. This shortens and simplifies sentences and makes the writing more direct.

And lastly, the message of the paper is important. The authors show how easy it is to reach different conclusions by changing the research design as you go along. One take home message is to spend sufficient time planning and ensure, in your research deign, that you can justify every step you plan to take. The other take home message is that you must record your steps and accurately report them when you write up your findings. Not keeping a research diary in which you record your steps and your thinking? You should be. See this previous post on research diaries.

Simmons JP, Nelson LD and Simonsohn U. (2011) False-Positive Psychology: Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting Anything as Significant. Psychological Science, 22(11), 1359–1366. doi:10.1177/0956797611417632. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1850704


Operationalising research questions


Clean Up Operation – 365/015 by Tim Kirman Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

When you plan research you need to work out how you will actually find out things. And to do this you need to first understand exactly what it is you are looking for. So if you want to find out if a drug helps arthritis in dogs, you need to work out what you will mean by “help” and how you will measure that. You will also need to work out how you will define “arthritis”. This is the process of operationalising. During this process you may find that your research question is not answerable and needs refining. In this post Martyn Shuttleworth provides some good examples of the process of operationalisation.

Asking a testable research question


Questions by Marina del Castell Attribution License

After deciding on a topic for your research, you need to work out a specific research question or set of questions. If you are anything like me and a lot of other people, your first draft of a research question will need several revisions before it is actually a question that can be operationalised into a piece of research. What makes a research question researchable? The New Jersey Institute of Technology has a good explanation here.


Interpreting research


Lego interpretation by coldpants Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

In this posting Will Grant and Rod Lamberts from the Australian National University discuss 10 mistakes that we often make in interpreting research findings. Good things to bear in mind when you are drawing your own conclusions from the literature.


Dimensions of research


As I mentioned before in a post on Choosing your research topic, finding a project can be the most difficult part. In this slide show http://www.sportsci.org/jour/0201/What_is_research.ppt Will Hopkins provides a framework for thinking about the types of research that you could do. It is a great resource that might help you take a vague topic of interest into a more solid plan for a study.