Jun 21, 2012

It's been done this way since ages doesn’t make it the right way today!!

Rethinking academic research methodology.

So, you are up to research, thesis, dissertation or something, great!! Let’s consider few  things before we move ahead, considering few establish academic research norms, said or unsaid, which you might like to question, which you might like to challenge, but you won't, may be you can’t, because someone else is running the show.

Let’s understand the anatomy and objective of research and what should be the scope of any academic research for purposes, like thesis, PhD and so on and let’s see if there is any loophole in the well established century old research methodology and why it’s high time that research methodology has to reinvent itself.

What usually happens is that you choose a topic of your expertise and interest, narrow or wide and a mentor or guide as well either to guide you throughout or just because its mandatory to have one as per university norms, whether its architecture, planning or sociology or something else, it’s all the same. Then you start collecting supporting evidence and snippets of information first to validate the selection of research subject and then to back your conclusion. 

If you delve deeper you will realise that any chosen research subject or topic no matter how wide or narrow it is, has a very wide possible scope for exploration which we unjustifiably narrow down due to many reasons. You can have all the freedom to narrow down the subject or research topic itself which you choose but how can you narrow down and limit the research domain yourself and how can you decide in the beginning of research that which external influences to choose which might affects the subject, just because scope of research seems unfathomable to you for that particular subject or topic, just because someone told you to do so, just because your curriculum allows you the freedom to do so. If you are limiting your research to the review of few books on the subject,  selected by your guide who can have his or her own biased inclination towards those particular books or those authors,  if you limit your research only to some good books which are remaining  in your library after best books of the lot which has already been lifted by the academicians and professors long ago,  if you limit yourself to handful of primary sample survey which has its own grave issues and which is bound to give inaccurate picture, and if you limit yourself for any other similar innumerable reasons, you  are doing a big injustice to the research subject.

The issue with age old academic research methodology in context of today is that there always has been a strong stress on authenticity and completeness of content, fixed research structure, rigidity of data structuring, stress on literature and book reviews and first hand data gathering, there always has been submission to the authority of few established individuals in the field and imposition of idiosyncrasy and idealism of mentor or guide, ignoring the massive and continuous stream of relevant information which is available today and which is already growing and going to grow exponentially in the future. In the inertia of age old established research methodologies we are knowingly or unknowingly ignoring the possibilities that today’s technology provides us in conducting our research. Ignoring the technology of data mining and data exploration which they are already using ruthlessly in business and corporate domain is almost absolutely missing in academic research.

Two fundamental truth which majority of academicians today would be highly hesitant to be confronted with, is first that "Billions of half-baked data is much more reliable and contextual than handful of authentic publications when it comes to research and establishing a fact, excluding field of science and mathematics" and second that "Skewed focus towards book reviews and published literature for research purposes tend to glamorizes second hand work and dampen free and creative thinking spirit". There is nothing new and creative in quoting some author on some instance or subject, nothing new in putting someone else's inferences and analogies in your own words in your academic research report. When there is too much focus on structure and format (Thesis, synthesis, analogy, reference, bibliography and all) content starts losing its significance. This prominent conventional research methodology only leads to half baked conclusion at the end of your research span, because of just few numbers of cases studied and fewer perspectives of authors analysed.

Main constraint here is time and it’s up to you how you manage to get optimum exposure in that short span of time to arrive at valid inferences. More intense the exposure more authentic would be the conclusion or outcome. You are given a limited time to conduct and conclude your academic research whether thesis, dissertation or PhD.  You cannot stretch it infinitely. now you zoom in and pick up few published literature on the subject for your research reading pages, first to last, how many of these  books with "authentic" information you would be able to read in that assigned research span of few months or years, five, ten, twenty or fifty? That’s it? Come end of the research span and you are aware of point of view of five or fifty different authors, thinking you have known enough, thinking it’s time to conclude. No matter how very authentic information you have at the end to conclude your research, these are just point of views of handful of published authors out of millions equally talented or more or less out there in the world working, thinking, deliberating on the same subject, who never got the time, inclination, money or right publisher to get their work and thoughts published but who are constantly writing on forums, blogs, constantly tweeting and sharing and so on, may be you also missed out the brilliant thoughts on the subject because it didn’t reach your library shelf, because your guide didn’t recommended it to you, may be you didn’t have enough money to buy that book or eBook or may be because it couldn’t get the attention of the masses due to competition with shear number of literature on the same subject.

It’s high time that students and researchers need to be encouraged to look for unconventional, previously unexplored and untapped streams of data for mainstream academic research by their colleges, universities and most importantly from their mentors and guides in their dissertation and PhD,  sources like massive free and dynamic data from online environment of blogs, discussion forums,  audio-visual data from established or amateur masses, tiny bits of information which individually doesn’t make any sense but which collectively presents fairly recognisable, logical and surprising patterns, and it’s high time that such research methodologies should get mainstream recognition. It’s time that they should shift their fixated attention from literature reviews to data source explorations and analysis, broadening the domain of literature itself.

You see, it would be much more exciting, authentic and wholesome an experience to explore from the dynamic, widespread and crude "sea of knowledge" rather than exploring from few well-maintained but stagnate "resource lakes".

BY- Anoop Jha 
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