Friday, 29 April 2022

Research report chapters

I have been considering starting a series of help posts on the research write-up, exploring what goes where in the document. We will begin by briefly summarising the contents of each of the research report chapters, then see how far this idea leads us before it comes to a natural conclusion!

There are six fairly standard chapters in a research write up, consisting of an introduction, a literature review, a methods chapter, a findings chapter, a discussion chapter, and an conclusions chapter. While we talk about chapters, but there is more to a report than just the six chapters. In front of the introduction we will get 'front matter', consisting of an abstract, acknowledgements, and tables of contents, tables of figures, and table of tables. We also may get a preface, but this is rare. After the conclusions chapter will come the reference list, then any appendices.  This order generally does not vary, remaining: front matter; the six chapters; references; then appendices.

Following is a summary of each of the six chapters:

  1. Introduction. This first chapter introduces our project - how we arrived at the idea and what we hope to deliver and learn from the project. It needs to include our research question or statement and detail what we aim to achieve, outline the rationale and the context that the research is sited in. Along with our research question, this chapter will also detail our aims and operationalisation (objectives). At the very end of the chapter we preview the specifics of the chapters to come in the document. 
  2. Literature review. This is the chapter where we explore writing from key authors and experts on our topic area. We relate each piece reviewed logically to our research questions, aims, goals, propositions or hypotheses, and synthesise these discrete elements into themes which prepare our reader to read about our own data to come later in the findings. The literature review is a framing exercise, explore expert views and theories for us to draw on to contextualise our own research. We may also scope the background of our research project; the industry sector, or related industries; the backgrounds of any relevant major players in the sector; the location, national or international environment; or research undertaken to date. Please note that the literature review should all be secondary research.
  3. Methods. What we write up for our methodology is HOW we went about deciding how we would find our project data, and how we would know when we had 'done enough'. This chapter provides a logical description and justification of our research methodology including philosophy, inquiry strategies, research design and research methods.  We will detail the make-up of our participants, and outline all data analysis tools we decided to employ, along with the rationale for those choices. We are also likely to explain any coding we decided to use, and to provide a code key. We detail our project limitations and assumptions. We will note any ethical considerations and how potential issues were avoided. The aim is to explain how we undertook this research in a way that is clear enough for another researcher to replicate it.
  4. Findings. The findings are the showcase of what we set out to discover, so that we can answer our research question. Our findings cluster, organise and present the information which has arisen from us spending time analysing the data we have collected. It outlines major issues but does not evaluate (ie, states the facts, but doesn’t interpret what those facts mean). We use information which arises from our primary data and clear evidence to begin to build our case. We illustrate relevant information in graphs, figures & tables, we include negative results, and we present that information in a logical, systematic manner. We divide the chapter with appropriate headings to ensure the reader’s understanding. 
  5. Discussion. How we get into meaning. This chapter ties together the literature review (expert opinion) and our findings (our primary research). No new information is introduced in this chapter, this draws on any theoretical arguments already made which support our position - or our outcomes - evaluating and analysing our findings, and linking them to any underpinning theories which we have drawn on. It shows effects of our research context and any potential benefits from our research outcomes. We answer our question in detail - as much as we can. The discussion justifies any recommendations we will make at the end of this chapter, and so frames our conclusions chapter to come. We need to clearly flag in this section what is our own work (findings), and what is the work of others (literature) so appropriate weight can be given. We talk about what is not yet done, and what the next steps need to be... whether we have met those targets that we set out to achieve.
  6. Conclusions. The conclusions are just wrapping our discussion up, summarising, not leaving any loose ends. The research question is clearly answered, along with how much the question is answered. Like the discussion chapter, no new information is introduced here. We clarify any substantive project limitations which have prevented us from fully answering our research question (NB: our methods chapter will contain the fiddly little details) and future research is simply summary info from our discussion for those future researchers who pick this project up and run with it after we do our final handover and report.

I hope that helps!


Sam

References

  • Jones, I. (2015). Research Methods for Sports Studies (3rd ed.). Routledge.;
  • Krauth, N. (2011). Evolution of the exegesis: the radical trajectory of the creative writing doctorate in Australia. Text: Journal of writing and writing courses, 15(1). http://www.textjournal.com.au/april11/krauth.htm
  • Veal, A. J. (2005). Business Research Methods – A Managerial Approach (2nd ed.). Pearson Education Australia.

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