What is Research?

Research is a process. Is it is a process by which we find the answers to questions. Importantly, research is systematic and guided by the theory and research of others. Research always starts with a question – The Research Question.

The importance of this question for your research cannot be over-stated. It will guide everything that you do, and it is important to get it right. More later.

From The Research Question we move on to The Literature Review. Has someone already answered your question? Has anyone attempted to answer it? Is there research in the libraries of the world that points you in the right direction, or suggests what the answer might be? The Literature Review will lead you towards The Hypothesis.

The Hypothesis is a formulation of what you expect to find. It is a prediction. The next step is to work out how you will test The Hypothesis. How do you find out if it right or wrong? To do this you need The Methodology.

The Methodology is the research tool you will use to test the truth of The Hypothesis. There are lots of methodologies to choose from: experiments, interviews, focus groups, observations, the list is almost endless. The important thing about The Methodology is whether or not it allows you to test The Hypothesis.

Applying The Methodology to The Hypothesis will result in generation of The Data. The Data is the information that you have collected. The Data could be scores on a test, answers to your questionnaire, a transcript of conversations, or a collection of observations. The list is as long as the list of possible methodologies. What do you do with The Data? You analyse it.


The Analysis involves looking at your data and using it to test The Hypothesis. The method of analysis you select will depend upon what The Data looks like. You could use anything from a statistical analysis to a more subjective interpretation of the themes that have arisen through interviews or focus groups. This is a crucial moment in the research process. Sometimes you find that The Analysis of The Data does not allow you to test The Hypothesis, and you have no clear answer to The Research Question. Ooops!  This is a tough lesson, and it teaches an important point. Think about The Analysis before you go ahead with the research. All the time you are planning your research, ask yourself whether the components listed above will actually allow you to answer your question.

Finally, comes The Interpretation. What does your research mean? What are its implications? Does it support or challenge pre-existing theories and research? The Interpretation must be based upon The Analysis of The Data. It is not sufficient to impose your own views and opinions on the interpretation process. Any interpretation you make must be based upon research evidence – evidence from your research as reported in the dissertation.

The Research Question

Formulating a research question is tough. This is where you will start, and you will find yourself coming back to it all of the time. You will probably start with a research topic, such as Deaf People’s Experience of Education, Attitudes Towards Disability or Deaf People’s Problems Accessing Health Services.  Pick something that interests you is the best advice to give at this early stage. It may seem obvious, but you can find yourself getting bored with something after several months of thinking about it. Start on a high, and hopefully you will not hit a low!

Once you have a topic, narrow it down to something you can have a go at answering – an actual question. The more specific this is, the easier it will be to answer in a dissertation. Big questions often involved detailed answers – this is a 40 credit point B.Sc. dissertation, not a 5-year research project with a team of research scientists and a huge budget! Let’s use an example. You may start with the topic Deaf People’s Problems Accessing Health Services. If we formulate this into a question, hopefully you will see the point – Do Deaf people have problems accessing health services? Mmmmm. Of course they do! So do hearing people. So do old people. Why would Deaf people in particular face problems? And what kind of health services are you talking about? OK. Lesson learned. We need to be more specific with our research question. Here is an example of a better question: How do Deaf people make an appointment with their GP? Now we have a specific problem – one of communication with the GP surgery. This is a pertinent question, the answer to which may be useful, and which we can attempt to actually try and answer. Next we need to formulate a hypothesis.

The Literature Review

How do we come up with a hypothesis – a prediction we can actually test the truth of?  Well we perform a literature review. The first step is to search for existing research and writing about the area we are interested in. The structure of the literature review was covered in section Error! Reference source not found. (Writing the Introduction). But you need some content too. Below are some suggested places for finding research relevant to your dissertation (the list is not exhaustive, nor is it in order of importance):

  1. Ask your supervisor. If they have dome research or teaching in this area, they may be able to point you in the direction of some useful references.


  1. Check CDS reading lists. Your research question may relate to topics covered in one or more CDS courses. You may not have taken that course, but you can still obtain a copy of the reading list and/or course notes.


  1. Search the WWW. Careful with this one. There is no way to really know whether information on the WWW is reliable. The most reliable information will come from peer-reviewed journals and books published by esteemed publishing houses and written/edited by well-renowned scholars.


  1. Use bibliographic databases. There is a wealth of electronic databases you can search for relevant publications. The largest in Social Sciences is BIDS (http://www.bids.ac.uk), and there is even a specialised database for sign language research (http://www.sign-lang.uni-hamburg.de/Bibweb/). More information on how to use these databases can be found from the Arts & Social Sciences Library. In order to search effectively, you will need some idea of the keywords to enter into the search. Again, consult with your supervisor in the first instance.


The literature review will lead you towards an idea about what you expect to find – The Hypothesis.

The Hypothesis

The Hypothesis is a statement about what you expect to find. The most important thing about it is that it is testable. It is no good making a prediction, if you will not be able to establish its validity. Why make a bet with someone, if you will never know who is right? The hypothesis should be as specific as possible. In Deaf Studies, with so much unknown, ‘as possible’ is an important qualifier.

For the research question we had about Deaf people making GP appointments, we might want to predict that: Deaf people are more likely than hearing people to make appointments ‘in person’.  This is testable. We need to find out how Deaf people make appointments, and how hearing people do so. We can then compare the two groups, and see if our prediction is true or not. It is still not perfect. What if nobody made appointments in person? Oh dear. It would seem that our hypothesis is then not a good one at all. Take care on formulating your hypothesis. Make it as concise as possible, make sure it is testable within the resources available to you, and try to avoid situations where the data you collect means that the hypothesis cannot be tested.

The Methodology

Once you have a hypothesis, you need a way in which you can test it. This is your methodology. There will be more than one methodology that will allow you to test your hypothesis. For example, turning to our hypothesis about GP appointments, you could interview people about how they make their appointments, provide a structured questionnaire to receptionists at GP surgeries, or even deliberately injure people and follow them to see what they do. The last one raises ethical implications of course (more of which later in the course)!

There are four important things when choosing your methodology. It must be:


  1. Practicable. You must be able to actually use the methodology you select. It is no use running a study that requires complex computer software when the software is not available, or would take too much time (and maybe money) to produce. Your dissertation study will run within a small time period, and the methodology you select should reflect that.


  1. Ethical. More on ethics of research later. For now, it is enough to say that your research methodology should not cause harm to others, not deceive people, and be based upon the informed consent of participants involved.


  1. Appropriate. This is fundamental. The methodology will determine the kind of data you collect. This data must allow you to test your hypothesis and propose an answer to your research question. If you want to understand something about processing of information in the brain, then a questionnaire-based methodology will not give you the data you need. It may be more appropriate to use brain imaging or a psychological test.


  1. Defensible. Whatever methodology you select – and your supervisor will give you advice on this – you must be able to defend it. Imagine being asked, “Why did you use this methodology, and not another one?” Often more than one methodology will be available. Think about why you selected the methodology you did. What advantages does it have over other methodologies you could have used?

The Data

OK. You’ve selected a methodology, and run your study. Now you have collected some information – this is your data. The data may be numerical, or take the form of transcriptions of what someone has signed. It could be a measurement of reaction times, how many times somebody got something right, or answers to a questionnaire. But simply collecting data is not enough. You have to make sense of it, and use it to test your hypothesis. In order to do this, you need to analyse that data and interpret that analysis.

The Analysis

How you analyse your data will depend upon what kind of data it is. For numerical data (such as scores on a test or answers to a questionnaire) you will probably use statistics. These could include reporting average scores, summarising data in tables and figures, or applying statistical tests to the data. For non-numerical, or more qualitative, data, the analysis will be quite different. It may involve thinking about the information collected and organising into a framework that makes sense. In this taught part of the dissertation unit it is not possible to cover all of the possible analysis techniques that the group may use. This will be left to the supervisor to advise you on. Whatever analysis you choose, you will then need to interpret what you come up with.

The Interpretation

When you come to interpret your data, always keep your hypothesis in the front of your mind. This is what has guided your methodology, data collection and data analysis. The first thing you need to do is assess the validity of your hypothesis – does your analysis of the data support the hypothesis? You may wish to explore the data in other ways – often you find things that were not expected. This is fine. However, you must make sure that your analysis and interpretation address the hypothesis (and in doing so, address the research question).

Internet Resources

Generating Research Ideas http://spsp.clarion.edu/mm/RDE3/C2/C2Menu.html

BIDS http://www.bids.ac.uk/

Sign Language Bibliography http://www.sign-lang.uni-hamburg.de/Bibweb/