Friday, 25 August 2017

Can we 'believe' in research?

Recently a very good student asked me to do a quick review their methodology. They had done great work, and had obviously read a wide range of useful materials which were clearly reflected in their chapter.

I found myself drawn to make a comment on the student's use of “I believe” and “I feel”. Funnily enough, my Master's supervisor told me not to use these phrases: however, he did not tell me why I should not use them (it is fascinating how much about research is implied, not explicit. I am trying to make this knowledge less esoteric - hence my blog!). Foolishly, I didn't ask why not. I just grumbled and changed what I thought of as 'phrasing', not 'meaning'.

Now, some while later, I know the 'why', and that it is all about meaning, not phrasing. It is because, as a systematic and careful researcher (Bennet, 1991), we need to provide evidence, not faith. "Believe" is based on belief, not on facts. "Know" is based on knowledge, not opinion. We have to dig to find knowledge: to gather our findings; to analyse them in as an unbiased a way as we can; and to attempt logic and clarity in our resulting argument. Then we can say "In my research, I found...". Sounds so simple. So hard to do!

My understanding of the 'why' has formed slowly, developing like a print through the developer and fixer baths: first there's nothing, then a hazy outline, then the full image emerges and takes us by surprise. It is something to do with thinking about things over a long period of time, I suspect.

The takeaway learning: if we want to be taken seriously, we need to reduce incidences of 'belief' comments. We should provide evidence instead. 

  • Reference: Bennett, R. (1991). Chapter 5: What is Management Research? in N. Smith & P. Dainty (Eds) The Management Research Handbook (pp. 67-78). UK: Routledge.

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