Research Methods

to support students enrolled in RES701

Week 8 Finding and recognising academic literature

Today we will begin looking at one of the most ‘credible’ sources of information – relevant academic articles (also called papers).   I will look at what is an academic article later but first of all why do we do this? There a number of reasons:

  • It is important to find out what other, more knowledgeable people have said about the area
  • It is important to find the most ‘credible’ information which will often (but not always!) be in academic literature
  • It is important for you to ground your work in work that others have done ( no one expects you to come up with a completely original idea)
  • It is important to look at the kind of research approach that others have taken to see if this would be useful for you
  • It is important to understand how others have applied the research approach to learn how to do it well – this may mean following their guidelines or ensuring that you don’t make the same mistakes
  • It is useful to see what questions others have left unanswered.  There may be room for you to pick up one of those questions yourself.

So what do we mean by an ‘academic article’?  Before the internet, it was reasonably straightforward to identify such articles (or ‘papers’) as they would generally be published either in specialised research journals or books, or in the proceedings of academic conferences.  Of course, this still happens and often their abstracts are freely available online.  However, a number of the publishers charge you a fee to read the complete paper. You will find that using the NMIT online library databases will give you a much better chance of finding complete papers as  NMIT pays to have access to those which are listed on these databases.

Of course, on the internet you will also find a large number of papers or articles that are not considered to be academic, these could be newspaper articles, articles from practitioner journals, blog postings, vanity publishing, white papers from companies such as Microsoft or IBM among others.  These can often have useful information but are not always ‘valid’ as research and are often biased.

There are also things which fall in between the two – papers such as university working papers, individually published work by academics (on a blog perhaps).  Again these can be useful but you will need to be clear about whether they are really useful as a basis for your research by looking at some of the criteria below.

So how can you tell what is academic or not and why does it matter?  Generally, if you have searched on NMIT’s online library databases or used an academic search engine like Google Scholar or Advanced Google Scholar, the results you find will be academic.  This is because they have already screened out the non-academic work – they have done some of the hard work for you already!  However, if you are still not sure you can usually tell by looking at the criteria below.

Usually, an academic paper will be reporting on research of some kind and will have been peer-reviewed (that means it has been assessed as useful by other academics).   Most academic papers are also written to a very similar structure which not only makes it easier to read but also easier to work out what kind of article it is.

The main components of an academic paper are:

  • the title
  • the authors (usually with an email address and affiliation)
  • the abstract
  • the introduction
  • a review of other papers relevant to the topic ( a literature review)
  • a description of what the research was and what the researchers did
  • the results of what they did
  • a discussion about what the results mean
  • a conclusion
  • a list of references

If the paper you find does not have an abstract and/or has no references, it is very unlikely to be an academic article.

The notes will be available here.

April 11, 2017 Posted by | Class Work, General | Leave a comment

Week 7 Follow up

Thanks for the session today – just a couple of things to remind you of…

Assignment 2 Change of Date from May 5th – New date May 12th.

Don’t forget to email me the blog that you think should get the award for last week!

Thank you and see you next week 🙂


April 5, 2017 Posted by | General, News | Leave a comment

Blog Award – Week 7

For some reason many of you decided it was holiday week as far as your blog was concerned! Remember you are expected to do at least one blog a week through the semester! Three people are well behind in their blogs and are putting their marks for Assignment 1 in jeopardy – I will try to contact those of you are in this situation later in the week.

It was good to see some interesting posts from some of you though – shout out to Jarad, Sarah, Katie and Prerna in particular.  Just remember that while it is good to record things that are of interest to you I would expect most of them to have some relationship to IT as that it the area you will be looking to create a project in.  In the early days it is good to follow up different areas but now is probably the time to start focusing in on the IT aspects of these areas.

I do want to draw attention to three great posts this week.  Alex wrote an excellent post on why projects fail and whether Agile methods might help avoid these failures, Amber has made an interesting start on an idea that could become a project for her and Becca (who has been doing some amazing research in her chosen area over the last few weeks) has provided a post full of tips on how to organise yourself when doing research (or any kind of major project). Well done all of you but a special congratulations to Becca for being Blogger of Week 7 and Amber on being a very close runner-up!


April 5, 2017 Posted by | General | Leave a comment

Week 7 – Credible Evidence

This week we will continue to look at assessing credibility. We will start by finishing off the work we were doing last week on different research methods and then move on to look at finding information and assessing its credibility by considering its source.  There are a wide range of sources of information and we have already talked about some of them, but recognising what is likely to be credible and what may be biased or incorrect is difficult.  We have talked about looking to see if the methods used were appropriate and done well but there are other things we can look out for too, such as

  • how we found it
  • when it was written
  • who it was written by (expert, undergrad student,….)
  • where it was published or what type of ‘thing’ it is (book, article, blog)
  • what others have said about it (reviews)
  • whether others have used the information in their own work (citations)
  • how it is written (style)
We are going to start by looking at different sources of evidence or information and thinking about how credible*  they are!  Here’s the spreadsheet we will be using for this (available in class).
This often leads us to think about the difference between ‘academic’ or ‘research’ literature and general information which may be just opinion or anecdotal evidence.  Sometimes where we search can also have a bearing on the ‘credibility’ of what we find so we will begin to explore different ways of ‘searching’.
Notes will be here and the exercise for the blog post will be here.

April 4, 2017 Posted by | Class Work, General, News | Leave a comment