Observation as a Research Tool

One of the most valuable qualities of a researcher stems from their own worldview. How the researcher sees the world leads to the papers they right, the research they conduct, and the theories they hope to test. How they see the world makes their views and observations totally unique. No two people will have the exact same worldview and that leads to a diverse and constantly changing academic world. Observation is a wonderful tool, but difficult to use because of how unique every worldview is.

Observation is almost impossible to separate from your own personal biases. This is actually not a large problem, as there are easy ways to circumvent this. Since everyone has to face the same problems of bias in observation it is expected. Let me provide an example of differences in observation:

A young boy is given three options for a snack. He is given an apple, a marshmallow, and a bag of chips. The boy looks at the bag of chips and holds them in his hand before picking up the marshmallow and looking at it with obvious desire in his eyes. He seems hesitant and looks around before sighing and putting it down. The boy then picks up the apple and, with less desire in his eyes, chooses the apple for his snack. He later asks if he could have the marshmallow as well.

Depending on your own personal experiences, what you observe, and the reasons behind the boys actions, will be different than another researcher. One researcher might decide that the boy chose the apple because his parents always taught him that he must finish healthy food before he could have a treat. Another researcher might observe a boy who feels like he might get in trouble if he chooses the sugary snack, so he chooses the healthy one and hopes he can have the sugary snack later. A third researcher might see a child who knows that an apple is more filling as a snack and, even though the marshmallow is more of a treat, chooses the apple because he is more famished. He still tries to get the marshmallow after he is filled up, though.

Or maybe he was just traumatized.

Again, all these different observations occur because each researcher has had a different life experience and worldview. A researcher that grew up under parents who made them eat healthy food before a dessert would see one thing while a researcher who had very “hands-off” parents might see it differently.

Bias is unavoidable, but as academic researchers, we must do our best to address it and make it known. There are some biases that you will never be able to remove, but if you address it yourself, you are acknowledging it and therefore it can’t be used as an argument to discredit your paper.

The average scholarly debate.

So how do you try to remove bias from your own observations? The easiest way is to have multiple researchers observe the same occurrence and compare their observations. This is a simple way to remove some bias and hone in on the facts. Think of this method like a Venn Diagram. You all observe a participant and use your research to find the common factors that everyone saw. Another way is simply taking a step back and attempting to look at at things from a different perspective. This is handy outside of just research (looking at you ex-girlfriends). Doing this won’t come through specifically in your research, but will allow you to readjust your mind set before you decide your official observation.

Research is difficult and bias makes things even more difficult to present your research in a manner that will stand up to academic scrutiny and analysis.

Surveys: What Can They Bring To Your Research?

Arguably, one of the easiest methods of research (besides observation) is the survey. Design a survey, get it approved, and hand it out to the masses! This is a quick and fast way to gain a lot of research. With the introduction of the internet and technology, sending out surveys became ten times easier and a thousand times more effective. Doesn’t it? With the internet, you only need to share a link, and depending on how you share it, you can receive thousands of responses. This should make the survey a more valuable tool to the researcher, right?

Unfortunately, there are some downsides to the survey. In fact, there are many.

The first problem comes when you build your survey and how you word your questions. You MUST make sure that your questions don’t promote a bias in their wording. What do I mean? Well, let me provide an example:

     Question 1 – How would you improve the flavor of Mighty Moose Chocolate Ice Cream?

Question 2 – What would you like to see added to Mighty Moose Chocolate Ice Cream?

The wording in Question 1 implies that Mighty Moose’s Chocolate Ice Cream’s flavor needs improving, or that it is less than par. Just by this simple wording, you make your audience assume that the flavor is of a lesser quality. This is actually a big problem when it comes to creating a survey. How do other researchers know that you didn’t phrase your question like this purposefully to gain specific answers to support your view? With just a slight change, look at the wording in Question 2. This question doesn’t assume that the flavor of Mighty Moose Chocolate Ice Cream is good or bad, instead the question appeals to the personal taste of the audience taking the survey. If I was conducting a survey in order to determine if people disliked Mighty Moose Chocolate Ice Cream, I could phrase all my questions like Question 1 and probably have a lot of research to support my claim. But that research isn’t fully unbiased.

The second problem comes with authenticity in surveys. When you conduct surveys, you can only assume that the people who take your survey are being honest. Due to the anonymity of a survey, there is no way for you to check the accuracy behind the survey answers. This doubles up if they survey is taken around other people. Even though the survey is anonymous, the surroundings of a person taking the survey can influence their answers. For example:

     A survey is given to a class of 9th grade boys asking about their sexual experiences and alcohol consumption. Not every one of these kids may have participated in either of these options, but one friend sitting too close to another can influence the answer of a survey taker. Even though the answers might be anonymous to the researcher, these boys could still change their answers if not provided a safe place to take the survey.

A good way to prevent this unwanted influence is to provide a more private place for the survey to be taken. It could be a booth provided by the researcher that allows a participant to fill the survey in private or it could be as simple as asking the participants to spread out in a room so they have more privacy. Obviously, the first option would be more effective, but that might not be a possibility depending on your time constraint or budget.

A final problem with surveys are outliers. Outliers are pieces of data that are far away from the norm. For example, if you were to present a survey to the general population about how many times that go skydiving a year and a skydiving instructor happens to take the survey. Well he goes skydiving two hundred times a year, which is much more than the average person. His results alone could skew the average data. So, since the skydiving instructor is such an outlier, you decide to remove his answer. The problem comes with deciding who is an outlier and how many you can cut. It is possible to show bias just off of what data you decide to show and not show.

He skewed your survey with that goofy smile.

Surveys are a great resource for researchers and should be taken advantage of. In order to have strong research from a survey, you must create the survey very carefully and attempt to keep it unbiased.

Research Methods: Ways to Build a Paper

Before you can write any credible research paper, you need to plan it out and do your research. Without the proper research to back it up, your paper will not be able to stand up to scrutiny. There are a few different methods to researching information for your paper and this blog post will cover just a few ways. Before you can decide how to research, you must decide what to research.

The first category of research is called Quantitative Research. This research method is a more scientific approach to your research. Quantitative research leaves little room for bias as it deals more with number statistics than anything else. Things like surveys (without open-ended questions) and instrument based questions (which you can directly measure) are the basis for most Quantitative research. According to South Alabama, Quantitative research sticks to a strict structure and is centered around the variables that you are observing. Your findings should be presented in a statistical report, again, in a specifically structured format.

Quantitative is the more scientific approach to your research and should be used when researching something that is…well, quantifiable. Something measurable. If you were researching the relation between jump scares in horror movies and the increasing of viewer’s heart-rates, you would use this research method because that is measurable.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ab/David_Ho_in_lab.JPG
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ab/David_Ho_in_lab.JPG

The second category of research is called Qualitative Research. This is used when there is interpretation involved in your findings, whether it’s your interpretation or interpretation through participants. Anytime that you are working with people and having them respond to variables, this is Qualitative because it is not measurable. This research method is more for a narrative paper.

Qualitative Research is often used in instances when you are making a report on something. Such as entering yourself into a new situation and making a study based off of your experience. This is another example of the narrative report. This type of research is called an Ethnography. There are some famous examples of this type of research used in different environments. The book “Gang Leader for a Day” follows a sociologist who immerses himself in the gang culture. Another famous example is the reality show “Undercover Boss”  in which the CEO of a company disguises themselves and enters one of their locations at an entry level position. In both of these cases, one person is immersing themselves in a culture to understand better how it works. These are just some instances that you might have heard of. In a research paper, the conditions of an ethnography are much more strict.

It is possible to combine these research techniques, it is called Mixed Methods. This is sort of like having the best of both worlds! Combining the two methods creates the strongest research. A purely statistical paper, using Quantitative Research, might seem to lack an element of interpretation by the researcher or by participants who might be involved. A purely narrative paper, using  Qualitative Research, might seem to lack the hard evidence that is found in a statistical paper. Combining the two provides a nice balance.

It seems that most people choose Mixed Methods because of the balance. Also, you don’t have to worry about sticking strictly to one side of the spectrum. Mixed Methods provide a little wiggle room and many more options.

Hopefully, explaining these methods of research have helped you understand what research is which!

Home Life VS Media: When World[view]s Collide

When it comes to your worldview, a lot of factors come into play. Perhaps the most important, is your home life. No one will have nearly as much influence on you as a parent. As you grow, more factors come into play such as your education, your religion, and even the media that you surround yourself in. All the factors combine and mix to for a perfectly unique world view for every person. In this post, I’m going to use myself as an example and how a strange mix of worldviews turned my positive home life worldview into a negative one.

As I was growing up, my parents always treated me as an adult. Whenever I was playing with my friends, I would get chastised with a quick, “Stop playing around.” I felt like I could never be a kid around them. I was always expected to act like an adult, even at a young age. My parents were good parents, I’m not debating that. They didn’t coddle me or lie to me, but instead would tell me their opinion on a subject and expect me to do my own research. Needless to say, this lead to a lot of arguments whenever we would disagree with something. I don’t think they ever actually expected me to disagree with their views.

https://pixabay.com/p-217252/?no_redirect
https://pixabay.com/p-217252/?no_redirect

Around the age of sixteen, media became a big factor in my life as I began to surround myself in music. What you might be thinking is, shouldn’t media like television influence my worldview more than music? In my case, no. The music I began to listen to, and the music that began to make me think, was punk music. Bands like Rise Against and Bad Religion, who choose to use their music to address real issues in the world and promote change. Rise Against strongly advocates for animals rights, peoples rights, and the importance of voting and having a say in the fate of your nation. As a youth who was just choosing to research into politics, this is where I got my ideals. These bands were advocating for a better world, clearer government, and pointing out the things that were wrong with our nation.

With these thoughts in mind, I began to do my own research and develop my own ideas. Needless to say, these new ideas and views were much different than my parents. Vastly different. My parents, who grew up with a traditional christian world view still saw everything like the world was the same as it was in the 80s. Obviously, I felt like my views were more modern. I’m sure my parents would disagree, though.

So the case I’m saying is that, in my scenario, my parents promoted me to do my own research. That is a good quality to learn from home life. Media enforced the “question everything” mentality that accompanied punk music. Both of these qualities are good to have, in my opinion. NEVER should anyone just get their information from one source and accept it as fact. We live in a world that is too driven on bias and target audience. I think these two factors gave me the incentive I needed to generate my own unique opinion of our nation.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/62/202872717_a8a4799419_b.jpg
https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/62/202872717_a8a4799419_b.jpg

These worldviews also affect what I write and the bias behind my research. I cannot take information from just one source. I need to verify it with a opposing view to see which facts stand out. In my research, I do not just present my side of the story. At least, I try to be impartial. I’m a big fan of playing “Devil’s Advocate” with myself to ensure that whatever argument I am presenting is not completely one sided or unquestioned. I believe that this makes my research more valuable and credible.

I think my introduction to punk gave me the incentive to question things and I bring that over to my writing. It does make things more difficult, as choosing a topic to write about is more of a process, but it makes writing more interesting to me, the author.