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Doing a research project is an integral and extremely important component of a psychology course, program or degree. It should be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding pieces of work that a psychology student undertakes. More often than not, however; planning, executing and writing up a research project becomes a source of great stress and worry for many students. With this very much in mind, I have put together the following psychology project guidance notes to help you get up and running. Hope you find them useful.
All the best
David Webb BSc (Hons), MSc
In many cases the first thing you will have to do is to submit, or at the very least think about putting together a research project proposal. At this stage, any general ideas you have will probably be too broad or too vague. Don't worry, you belong to the 99.9% of psychology students who find themselves in the same position.
The good thing about putting together a project proposal so soon into the process is that it will force you to refine your ideas sooner rather than later. What follows, is designed to get you thinking about the early key stages in the research process.
This preliminary stage of the project process assumes that you have a general research idea in mind. Whether you consider this idea to be somewhat vague or well developed (the former being the most likely) you must establish and maintain a clearly defined focus throughout your investigation.
Unless you intend to conduct exploratory or emergent research, where theoretically/philosophically you do not envisage issues and questions arising until the investigation is underway, it is extremely important that you establish your focus at the beginning of the research process.
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I can't emphasize this point enough because not only will it make the whole research process much more manageable but it will also make it more likely that you receive a very good grade when your research project is assessed.
The main reason for this is that it will provide the foundation for what is known as the golden thread i.e., the major concept within your research that influences every stage of the research process; and as such, can be seen developing within each section of your project write-up.
To give you some idea of the thought processes involved in establishing a focus, the following example relates to a Masters project I supervised. The student I was supervising wanted to look at whether any of the techniques used in criminal profiling could be adopted or adapted to investigate financial fraud. In order to develop a focus within this general area of interest, between us we explored the following questions and issues:
NB: In developing your focus of inquiry remember that practicality and ethics must be taken into account.
Another benefit of narrowing your focus is that you will have a structured search strategy in place when conducting your literature review. It may sound obvious but having a clear idea of what to look for will save you valuable time and energy.
Unless you are researching something unique, most topic areas will have an established body of research from which to draw upon. In such cases you should endeavor to familiarize yourself with both the traditional/classic studies in the field, as well as the most up-to-date research.
The main way to demonstrate and maintain your focus is to develop appropriate research questions or hypotheses. There are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes an ideal research question/hypothesis. Nevertheless, a sensible rule of thumb is that you are able to provide a clear rationale for the question/prediction being posed.
Essentially you have to take each research question/hypothesis in turn and justify its inclusion. More often than not, this justification will have emerged from your literature review e.g. this research question approaches a particular topic from a new angle, it taps into current debate etc (NB: You should be able to provide a similar rationale for your research as a whole). Also, again don’t forget ‘practicality.’ Is the question over ambitious given your 'time-scale', 'word limit', 'resources' etc? Developing simple and straightforward research questions does not mean you cannot undertake sophisticated research.
You will know if you are on the right track if you ask yourself and can confidently answer the following questions.
The best advice I can give you in the early stages of your project is to keep it simple and be pragmatic. Remember research is a process, and you will be assessed on how well you undertake that process.
Successful Research Projects: A Step-by-Step Guide is a concise and accessible text that guides students through each component of the research process. Using a step-by-step active learning approach, acclaimed psychology professor and researcher Dr. Bernard C. Beins discusses each of the key actions required for students to confidently develop, perform, analyze, and report the results of their research in a thorough, accurate, and methodologically sound manner. Throughout the text, they will discover not only how to complete each step, but how the steps at any point relate to other aspects of their research and writing.
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