Academic journals are a pathway that allows for the results of research to be released quickly into the public space. The acim content of academic journals also contains opinion papers, book reviews and editorial pieces; however, in some journals, the distinction between position/opinion papers and reports of research are left to the reader to discover, which can be a problem for students and inexperienced researchers. Nevertheless, articles in journals are a readily accessible starting place for students of research methods.
Several studies have attempted to map the type of research methodology used in various educational research; for example: Murray, Nuttall & Mitchell (2008), Nuttall, Murray, Seddon & Mitchell (2006), and Tuinamuana (2012). However, Burns (2000) contends that in general, most educational research tends to be classified as “case study research”, which has become an “over-arching” term to describe educational research that does not fit with experimental, historical or descriptive research methods.
Barriers exist regarding classification of different types of research methodology; in particular, where there is not a shared understanding of categories, such as method, data source, data gathering, and data analysis. The wide-spread use of general terms, such as “qualitative research” and “quantitative research”, and the term “mixed method research”, that largely refers to the use of both verbal data and numerical data in a research study, can cause confusion. The education research field is broad and interrelated so that students, novice researchers, and teachers new to reading research are often overwhelmed and unsure where to start.
Where should the novice begin?
The question of where to start the journey into the ‘research methodology forest’ would be answered in numerous ways depending upon the preferences or individual expertise of a lecturer. Pre-service teachers, and those commencing research for the first time, often seek advice regarding the ‘best’ method, or the ‘most useful’ approach, but it is not that simple. Students themselves bring to the situation their own experience and knowledge of research, both formal and informal.
As teachers of research methods to pre-service teachers and early career researchers, over many years, questions to the authors, such as “where do I start?”, “it is difficult to know who to believe when one lecturer talks about the same term in a completely different way” and “what research method is most useful for teachers?”, were often followed by complaints about the daunting size of the task and difficulty in reading research reports in education journals.