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Purposes of research - when should you do it?
describing without explaining
figuring out problems/questions
making sense of observed phenomenon
what are libraries like?
which populations are served
why aren’t people placing
holds on our library apps?
Topics are good, but questions are better because you can answer them
Specific research questions can help you figure out:
Questions vs. topics vs. problems
• What data to collect
• How to analyze it
• When you’re finished
“healthcare”……………………………………………………………topic, not question
“people are not using condoms”……………….………problem, not a question
“condom use and socioeconomic status”……..…a set of variables, not a question
“should healthcare be socialized?”……………………a question, but not testable. matter of opinion
“how can we improve healthcare?”……………………a question, but too vague
“why don’t more people use condoms?”………….a reasonably specific question
Do you know the answer to this question?
Has someone else already answered this question?
Can you answer it with available time and resources?
Will you be able to collect the data?
Qualifying your research question
Framing the question as just the absence of the solution you want to suggest
—circular reason, implying the answer
—e.g. “how can we use mobile technology to increase condom use?”
—that condom use is desirable
—that use of mobile technology can have the effect of increasing condom use
Do I already know the answer?
Don’t reinvent the wheel; you don’t always have to do primary research
A little review can make what we do more valuable
—Help you narrow your question
—Maximize research participants’ time and clients’ resources
Has someone already answered this?
Consider the time, work and cost involved in:
Sharing the above with other people
Do I have the time and resources to answer it?
Even if you have the time and resources, can you actually get the data you want?
Can I actually collect the necessary data?
You’re trying to understand a behaviour that is controversial or sensitive, e.g. condom use
Participants don’t trust you or lack sufficient incentive to participate
Participants are part of a community to which you are an outsider and cannot access
based on your age, gender, cultural background, whatever
There are ethical problems with collecting the data (for more on this, see previous
The data is proprietary or classified
The answer to the previous question may be no if…
Now you need to figure out the right methods
to answer your question.
Which comes first?
Choosing questions and then figuring out methods?
Choosing questions that can be answered by the methods that are available to you?
Different methods yield different data
What kind of data do you need to answer your question?
You want to get this?* Try this
People’s answers to questions when you
already know your questions
People’s own accounts of their experience
when you’re not sure what’s important
Real time accounts; details they might
forget; a record for them to reflect on later
Actual behaviour in “natural” settings
Understanding if people can accomplish
specific tasks with a particular
technology, including it it’s clear to them,
what is clear and what is confusing
*This is not an exhaustive list, but a guide
Who will be conducting the research? Who will be analyzing it? Are these the same
people? If not, how will others on the team get access to “raw” data? Will interviews/other
interactions be recorded and transcribed?
Who will be present during interviews, testing, etc…?
Participant selection: how many people do you need to talk to? Is the client doing this part,
or are you?
Who will have access to the data and in what form; how will it be shared?
In summary, we should be systematic about research because
1. Better research = richer understanding of social life and what it means to be human
and alive in this world = more informed design = personal and professional fulfilment
2. It’s actually less risky and saves $$$
That being said, it’s iterative
Plan to return to and re-evaluate questions
Narrow questions as you learn more. This might mean reviewing secondary research or
from your own data
If you have any questions or feedback I’d love to hear from you.
Find me on Twitter at @msrmp or firstname.lastname@example.org