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Department of Agricultural Education, Communications and Leadership

A Guide to Graduate Research

This guide is designed to help you as you prepare your research study. Your advisor and committee will give you specific advice about your study, but most studies will fit into the general guidelines suggested in this guide. A few generalizations might help get started.

Quantity doesn’t necessarily result in quality. A shorter, more concisely written study may require you to think through each statement more carefully, resulting in a higher quality study.

Consistency is most important from title to recommendations. You must make sure there is agreement in statement and intent from each part of the study to the next. The title, problem, purpose, and objectives (questions or hypotheses) must all be in agreement. The Findings must achieve the objectives (answer the questions or test the hypotheses). The conclusions and recommendations must be based on the findings and related to the literature review.

The search of the literature forms the foundation of the entire study. Through the literature search, you find out what other people have written and done about the problem. It forms the basis for your specific objectives, questions, or hypotheses. It prevents you from doing a study which has already been done, unless you wish to replicate one. It suggests alternate ways of doing the study and provides sources of data gathering instruments to aid in instrument building or may even provide a standardized instrument which may be used.

The Proposal

The proposal you produce really is a format for presenting your ideas to your advisor and committee. It becomes the framework for discussion and refinement. After you and your advisor and committee discuss and revise it, the proposal then becomes a contract for your study. Changes inevitably must be made after the proposal stage, but these are made with the advisor’s and committee’s approval.

The proposal should include:

a. Introduction
b. Problem statement
c. Purpose
d. Specific objectives, questions, or hypotheses
e. Tentative procedures for carrying out the study
f. Expected results
g. An outline of the areas in the literature search, perhaps including a mention of two or three prominent pieces of literature or studies
h. A draft of the instrument

Each of these sections should probably be no longer than one or two paragraphs. Keep it as concise as possible while still spelling out the proposal as clearly as possible.

Introduction

The introduction to the problem may include items related to the importance, need, value, usefulness, or rationale of the problem and may include citations from the literature to support them. This is sometimes called the theoretical construct. Introductions to the problem vary in length according to different problems and writing styles; however, these probably should not exceed two or three paragraphs.

Problem Statement

The statement of the problem should be such that it explains why the research is being conducted. Regardless of how it is designed or written, it should explain why there is a need for the study. The statement of the problem should be a concise statement in a single sentence or paragraph.

Purpose

What the study plans to do about the problem should be stated in a sentence or short paragraph. This should be a general statement of the overall goal of the study in a clear and concise manner.

Objectives

Objectives are statements of specific actions needed to accomplish the purpose. Enough objectives should be included to achieve the purpose, but objectives not required to achieve the purpose should be omitted. Objectives may be stated as research questions or hypotheses if desired. Hypotheses are normally used for experimental studies.

 

Procedures

How you plan to carry out the study should be thoroughly described. Who will be involved, especially the sample and/or population and sampling techniques. When and where you plan to carry out the study should be explained. Resources and equipment needed should be thoroughly thought through. How you plan to gather the data should be explained, including the type of instrument and statistical methods planned. Include a draft of the instrument if developed.

Expected Results

A short description should be included to indicate what you expect to accomplish with the study, what its contribution to the body of knowledge will be, how the results will be useful, and how it will answer the committee’s question "now that you have completed this research, so what?" What will you know after you complete the study which is not already known, and what will be the significance of that knowledge?

Literature Search Outline

The literature searched for in the study should include what has been written related to the reasoning or rationale of the study and any research which has been done in a similar nature. Both directly and indirectly related literature should be included. The outline for the proposal should merely be a listing of the natural topic areas or themes (most often 3 or 4) of the literature which will be reviewed and an analysis of some of the major ideas from the literature which will be reported later. Previous research that yielded similar or related results should be interrelated or combined when reported.

Draft of Instrument

Since most behavioral science research involves a questionnaire or interview schedule, a draft of the instrument will greatly aid in determining if the instrument will do what it is intended to do. Your advisor and committee can make suggestions for refinement and improvement.

The Research Study

Generally, the introductory chapter of the study will be quite similar to the one included in the proposal. The review of literature and methodology will probably have major changes from the proposal stage and may have some revisions from the "first three chapters" stage developed in the research class.

A common outline for most studies would probably look like this:

Preliminary Material

Abstract
Acknowledgments
Table of Contents
List of Tables

Chapter I Introduction

Background of Problem (Theoretical Construct)
Problem
Purpose
Objectives
Assumptions
Scope and Limitations
Definitions

Chapter II Review of Literature

Sections based on natural topics or themes
Similar research studies
Literature giving the rationale
Short summary

Chapter III Procedures

Design of the study
Population and/or samples
Sampling procedures
Instrument description and/or development
Data gathering procedures
Data analysis techniques, statistics

Chapter IV Findings

Demographic data and return percentages
Tables summarizing data
Figures, graphs, and charts pictorially depicting data
Narrative describing most important findings

Chapter V Summary, Conclusions, and Recommendations

Introduction (Problem, Purpose, and Objectives)
Summary of findings
Conclusions
Recommendations
Implications (if needed)

Bibliography

Supplementary Material

Appendices

IRB Form
Cover Letter
Instrument
Detailed Data

Vita

Findings

The findings chapter is an objective report and analysis of the data gathered during the study. It is reported without adding conclusions or implications. The data are put into tables to aid the reader to better see the results. Table are designed to present the data in a concise quantitative manner which effectively presents an overview of the information The tables should be constructed so they would show the results of the data even if the narrative was not included. Likewise, figures, graphs, and charts graphically depict the information. The narrative describing the findings in the table should pick out the important points which should be stressed about the data and should be clear even without the table. This does not mean the narrative should repeat everything in the table. Only the most important points should be brought out in the narrative. The narrative and tables and/or pictorial depictions complement rather than duplicate each other. Both the tables and narrative stand alone. Developing procedures for tabulating data and developing tables for reporting the data before sending out the instrument greatly aids the refinement of the instrument.

Frequency count and percentages plus ranks, means, and standard deviations may be the most valuable descriptive statistics in many cases. Comparison and relationship statistics may highlight findings or bring out more important results where suitable. The demographic data describing of the population and/or samples and percentage of return from the instrument should probably be included at the beginning of this chapter.

The data should be presented in the same order as the objectives, questions, or hypotheses to check for accomplishment of the objectives, answers to the questions, or tests of the hypotheses.

Summary, Conclusions, and Recommendations

At the beginning of this chapter, briefly summarize the purpose and objectives, questions, or hypotheses followed by a summary of only the important findings. If the reader wants more detail, he will turn back to the findings chapter. Do not simply repeat findings from the previous chapter. A summary table can be very helpful.

The conclusions based on the findings follow the summary. These conclusions are your interpretations of the meanings of the findings based on the data and their relationship to the literature, the problem, and the solution to the problem. This separation of the findings and the conclusions makes it easier to first determine the factual results of the study without the enlightenment or confusion of the interpretations of the researcher.

Most conclusions will generate a recommendation for action. For each major finding, you will have a matching conclusion and recommendation. In addition, the recommendations will include statements about the need for further studies since most studies raise as many questions as answers. However, judgment should be exercised to include only the most important recommendations not every one which could be made.

If the researcher feels there are implications to situations or problem which cannot adequately be covered in the conclusions or recommendations, an implications section may be included. Implications can be those statements you really want to include for which the data support or direct relation to the problem are difficult to document fully.

Appendices

Items may be included here which will not normally appear in the body of the study such as cover letters, questionnaires, and detailed data.

Procedures

You are responsible for having the final draft to the graduate college prior to the deadline and copies to your committee members in sufficient time for them to read it before the oral examination. Generally, at the oral examination you are asked to briefly explain your background and the background of the study. This will be followed by questioning to determine if your study accomplished its objectives and if you understand its strengths, limitations, and possible implications. This discussion often results in requested additions and corrections to the draft before the final copy. These changes are requested to improve and refine the study at this point. You are responsible for working with your advisor to incorporate committee recommendations into the final copy of the study and for submitting the final copy to the Graduate College by the applicable deadline. You are also responsible for making any final changes to the final copy required by the Graduate College after it is submitted the last time.