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You should choose educational research that suits you

Education is a fascinating topic and, therefore, if you are lucky enough to write your dissertation on the subject you will have plenty of interesting areas to choose from. When you choose a subject, it is important to ensure that you are deeply inspired by it and also that you will enjoy doing the educational research alongside it. For instance, if the hypothesis to your dissertation is interested in violence in state secondary schools, you may enjoy reading details on this second hand but if you feel sick at the sight of an unruly gang of teenagers, you probably would not conduct worthwhile focus groups with them. If at this point, you are confused by different types of research and you don’t know what you are going to do, don’t worry. Once you have read this article, you may begin to get ideas about the type of educational research that you would like to do.


In this article, you will learn:

If you are new to research, it may appear to be confusing but it doesn’t have to be and once you grasp how to conduct your own research it is a skill which will benefit you for the rest of your career. Let’s imagine that you are writing a dissertation on child led learning. Your research question might be ‘does child led learning prevent children from fitting into society?’ At this point, you have probably done lots of educational research on the subject by reading text books, essays and journals but you may not have done any research of your own by collecting data. Essentially, you cannot decide how you will take part in your own research until you understand the differences between the methods.

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Essentially, when you write your dissertation, you can use quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods. However, whichever you use has to be suitable to your subject and you will need to explain why you have chosen the method that you have.

Basically, quantitative research is often used in empirical subjects such as science. It tends to be fact based and reaches conclusions through data like national statistics. In other words, it is articulated in numbers. This can be useful in educational research but only if your subject is covered by a large group. For instance, if you were writing about violence in secondary schools, you could possibly refer to the national crime figures to find out how many actual violent acts took part in secondary schools. However, if you were writing a dissertation on the aforementioned child led topic, you may find that quantitative data was not as easily accessible simply for the fact that it may not exist. The reason being that there are only a handful of private schools that follow this model; most children that are educated by child led methods are home educated and the figures on these students tend to be scarce or unreliable. Furthermore, it is unlikely that you could conduct the research yourself as time and financial constraints would make it unworkable.

Qualitative research, on the other hand, is based on ideas, beliefs, customs and feelings. For instance, if you were interested in violence in state secondary schools, qualitative research would not tell you how many violent acts take place in these institutions but it could shed a spotlight on why these violent acts happen. Furthermore, it would be very useful in the child led dissertation that was mentioned earlier in the article because you could actually get in touch with home educating families and groups and propose interviews, visits, focus groups and observations. Therefore, qualitative research would truly be useful with the educational research for your dissertation.

As mentioned earlier some dissertations apply mixed methods. In other words, they use both quantitative and qualitative research to collect data. As we have discussed, in the educational research on violence in state secondary schools, both methods could work whereas with the child led dissertation, it was obvious that only the qualitative methods would work. Hopefully, this demonstration has clarified the differences between the methods and also how to apply them to your research. Don’t forget when you choose the methods, you will have to justify why you are using them. This will demonstrate that you understand the research process.

When collecting data for your educational research it is important to understand the difference between primary and secondary sources. A good rule to apply here, if you get confused by these terms, is to ask yourself is the source as close to the research as it can be or has it been evaluated by another person. For instance, if you are looking at newspaper reports for Jack the Ripper, a newspaper report that was written in Whitechapel at the time of the murders is regarded as a primary source. However, if you were looking through a newspaper article about Jack the Ripper that was written last month, that would be labelled as a secondary source. The reason for this Is that the contemporary journalist has evaluated other people’s information and then written her or his own interpretation of it.

Primary sources for quantitative research

  • Crime figures
  • National statistics
  • Scientific data
  • Business data and economic data

Primary sources for qualitative research

  • Interviews
  • Questionnaires
  • Focus groups
  • Observation and case studies

It can be useful when conducting educational research to have a mixture of both primary and secondary sources. However, it is important to check that this mixture is what works best for your individual research. Also, it is important to remember that when you are using secondary sources, you are being offered someone’s else interpretation on the research of other people. This means that to get the best out of secondary research, you need to be able to criticise and analyse the results yourself. If you demonstrate the ability to do this, you will get a better grade for your research work.

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