Just Tell Me What I Need To Know: Participants, Research Sites, And Methods

Writing is more about collecting and organizing information when describing your participants, research sites, and data collection methods. Most people will skip the details of this section. This may be because of space limitation. I find that novice researchers don’t think to include these details.

Whatever the reasons, I have included some prompts below for you to consider when writing your methodology section.

Some things to remember:

  • I’m providing a starting point. This is not meant to be taken as the right way to write. It is intended to give you some guidance during a confusing process.
  • It is easier to edit an existing thing than to start from scratch. So…the goal is to write the worst draft ever! This is not about spending hours and hours making the perfect first sentence. Writing is a process. You will spend more hours editing than you think. So the goal is to have something to edit.
  • Show up with something! Always, always, always refer to the Graduate’s school guidelines, your program’s manual, and your advisor/chair. This guide is meant to give you something to show up with.

Participants

Think about who the ideal person would be to help you achieve your research purpose.  Additionally, decide how many people you will need in order to “substantiate your claims” (thank you Dr. Corey Johnson). There is no right  number for participants and it does depend on your methods.

The more in-depth your methods, the fewer the participants you may need. Especially, when you are designing your first research project (i.e., dissertation). If you are only interviewing your participants for one interview, then you may want to aim for about 6 – 12 participants. Either way, here are some things to think about when deciding on participants:

  • How many?
  • Identity considerations (e.g., race, gender, sexual orientation)
  • Age?
  • Membership (e.g., organizations, degree programs)
  • Socialization (e.g., born and raised in the U.S.A.)
  • Any other?

Ex. Participants included 7 self-identified women of color activists attending a state university in the western United States. Participants defined their identities in their own words (see Table 1) and were active in campus and community activities, including a campus social justice retreat, multicultural sororities, living–learning communities, a student organization for multiracial students, and women’s studies and ethnic studies.

Ex. The present study represents a secondary analysis of data collected from an 18-month critical collaborative ethnographic study alongside nine trans* collegians at the City University (CU, a pseudonym). Specifically, the data used for the present analysis were drawn from participant observation (Wolcott, 2008) alongside, and a series of ethnographic interviews (Heyl, 2001) with, two black, non-binary participants, one of whom also identified as having multiple disabilities.


Research Sites

Where will your participants come from and where will the data collection process take place? These are the main two questions to consider when writing about your research site(s). Here are some things to consider:

  • Name (usually you will use a pseudonym)
  • Location (maybe not the exact the location, enough information to help the reader understand the context)
  • Overview of the site (how would you describe it and why did you choose it for your study)

Ex. CU is a large, urban, public four-year institution in the Midwest in the city of Stockdale (a pseudonym). Stockdale has a history of both racial and LGBTQ tension and ongoing systemic marginalization due to recent episodes of violence as well as an historic legacy of redlining, gentrification, and anti-queer legislation. Also of note for the present study, the percentage of black students at CU, at just under 10%, is vastly lower than that of the black population of Stockdale, which the 2010 Census data suggested to be 45%.


Recruitment

How did you reach out to participants and inform people about your study? The more detail you can include in this section, the clearer it will be for the reader.

  • Did you talk to anyone (gatekeepers, organizations)?
  • Did you send out an email, post on social media, have a website?
  • What happens once someone was interested in participating?
  • Did they complete consent forms before meeting you?

Ex. Recruitment for this study specifically sought self-identified women of color activists. Chris was serving as a facilitator at a campus based social justice retreat and sent an e-mail to all retreat participants and to the seven campus student diversity offices to recruit participants. We chose not to define activist, allowing those who identified as activists to self-select into the study. We selected all participants who responded.


Methods

Describing your data collection method section is about the how you will obtain the data you need to answer your research questions. Please note: Qualitative research is more than INTERVIEWS! Now that that’s out of the way, here is what to consider:

  • What is the method?
  • Describe method?
  • Why is it relevant to your study?
  • Be sure to use citations in this section. Who and what is guiding your understanding of this method?
  • Include example prompts or questions
  • Note: This may be brief depending on what type of paper you are writing.

Ex. To better understand the experiences of self-identified women of color activists, one researcher conducted 1-hour individual interviews with each participant. Participants provided a pseudonym to assist in protecting their confidentiality. A sample of the semistructured interview questions included: Please describe your campus activism. How would you say your activism has impacted your identity and how you see yourself?

Ex. The present study represents a secondary analysis of data collected from an 18-month critical collaborative ethnographic study alongside nine trans* collegians at the City University (CU, a pseudonym). Specifically, the data used for the present analysis were drawn from participant observation (Wolcott, 2008) alongside, and a series of ethnographic interviews (Heyl, 2001) with, two black, non-binary participants, one of whom also identified as having multiple disabilities.


Overview of Methods

One of the most common confusion of dissertation committee members is understanding a clear picture of the student’s research process. Try thinking about this part as the participant’s journey through your research project. Representing this journey visually can severely improve your chances of avoiding this common pitfall.

  • What is the process of your research design?
  • How would you describe the participant’s journey?
  • Display this using pictures, graphs, etc. that you can use during your defense.

Participant: Who is the participant?

Step One: How will the potential participant find out about your study?

Step Two: Now the potential participant is interested in the study, how do the signup or contact you?

Step Three: They have contacted you, what do they need to do next? (Consent forms, schedule a time, etc.)

Step Four: What will happen when you two meet at your designated time? (Consent forms, Overview of study, interview, schedule follow up)

Step Five: After initial data collection, are there other things the participant will need to do? (second interview, focus group, member checking)

Step Six: Any additional follow up, gift, raffle

Try to write out this step-by-step. No step is too small. The more details you can add, the clearer it will be for all.

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