Monday, 25 October 2021

A fragmented project outline

When we are putting together a project plan, we need to be really careful about what words we chose. We need to ensure that the language we use in our project title reflects the wording used in our research question. And in our sub-questions. And in our aims. And in our objectives. And we need to ensure that all the themes we work through in our literature review also matches the wording we have used. 

If we do that, we create a cohesive picture of what our research project is setting out to do. We create a 'seamless whole' for our project. We not only reassure our supervisor, but we also scope our project down to manageable proportions... and there are no surprises. There SHOULD be no surprises.

It is easy to see when work is not cohesive. In the following example, we can see that there are WAY too many components, which fragments the work. The title for this project is (and note this contains seven elements which need to be explained in the literature review:

How [the] pastoral care needs of internationally qualified nursing students were managed by their tertiary education provider during the initial Covid-19 lockdown.

Further, when dig into the questions and aims, we can see that the student - through not being specific, and not using enough scoping language to confine the project - unwittingly adds a further five elements: 

Research Question


How were [the] pastoral care needs of internationally qualified nursing students managed by their tertiary education provider during the initial Covid-19 lockdown?

[To] explore the management of the pastoral care offered by a tertiary provider during the first Covid-19 lockdown period and the personal impact on students with a specific focus on gaining employment during this time



What disruption did Covid-19 have on the work plans of the internationally qualified nurses?

To describe how the disruption of work plans was managed.

How did pastoral care from the tertiary education provider during the Covid-19 lockdown assist the wellbeing of internationally qualified nurses?

To understand the role of pastoral care in operational management of tertiary education.

To understand how one tertiary education provider managed pastoral care needs of enrolled internationally qualified nurses.

This leaves us with only seven in the original research question, but with an additional five topics from the sub-questions:

  1. Pastoral care
  2. Internationally qualified nurses
  3. [nursing] students
  4. Disruption
  5. Work plans
  6. Employment
  7. Covid-19 lockdown
  8. Tertiary education 
  9. [institution] provider
  10. Management
  11. Personal impact
  12. Wellbeing

To further mess things up, this project contained additional elements which were not yet in the questions or aims, but probably should have been included in order to make sense of the findings (once they were collected). Those are: 
  1. Exploring the international education market
  2. Detailing New Zealand education policy
  3. Detailing the New Zealand international education market
  4. Detailing the culture and policies of the institution where the research took place.
That equals 16 themes for the literature review (far, far too many, but necessary for the way the questions have been so messily asked). However, the actual literature review in this particular research project explored the following literature review themes:

  1. Tertiary education operational management (education management; student management)
  2. Pastoral care (defined in tertiary education; Pastoral care Code of Practice to cover all students; International approaches to pastoral care)
  3. Export education policy
  4. New Zealand regulations for pastoral care in education
  5. International student customer experience 
  6. customer service
  7. Wellbeing
Three items in the literature review were brand new: not in the questions, nor in the aims. A bonus (not)! They are those of: exploring the ideas of customer service and customer experience; and what the New Zealand legal position was. To further confuse the reader, twelve elements - including many from the research question itself - were left unexplored:
  1. Internationally qualified nurses
  2. [nursing] students
  3. Disruption
  4. Work plans
  5. Employment
  6. Covid-19 lockdown
  7. Tertiary education 
  8. [institution] provider
  9. Personal impact
  10. Exploring the international education market
  11. Detailing the New Zealand international education market
  12. Detailing the culture and policies of the institution where the research took place.

Even worse, the management element apparently promised in the research question was poorly explored. So even though a key element from the research question made it into the literature review, it was not meaningful. 

It is CRITICALLY important to ensure that all key components from the project title feed into the research question; are broken up into the sub-questions so we can be sure we are asking the 'right' questions to answer our question; that our aims and outcomes will clearly get us to what we want to know; and that our literature review scopes the environment clearly so we can then construct a clear and unambiguous method to collect our data.

Overall, having about six areas - one less than the student had originally in the research title - is probably about right. And each of those should have been thoroughly explored in the literature review. 


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