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    Hello All!!  I am new to Methodspace, however, I have been following some of the discussions and am really impressed and have learned a lot!  SOOO, I am doing my first research “proposal” for my Research Methods class and hoping some of you can give me some ideas.  This is my first Research Methods class and I had been dreading it bc it is supposed to be one of the hardest classes for my major, which is Applied Sociology. 

    This is my research question:  How do those who own companion animals perceive the relationship between themselves and their companion animals, in contrast to those who believe that companion animals have no place in our social world?

    I am getting a little bit lost when it comes to some of the parts of my research and was hoping some of you might be able to shed some light on the subject.  I have a great Professor, but there is SO much info.  The following are the parts he wants us to address and what I have so far.

    My level of analysis is Micro.  My unit of analysis I am saying are the stories that people will tell.(?)    I am having some problem deciding if this is going to be a narrative research or ethnography  IZ am going to focus on the stories that these individuals tell, and compare those who feel that animals have a self and are significant in our lives, compared to those who do not feel animals are beneficial in our social world.,  I guess one of my biggest issues is that most of what I have found about narrative research says that it is studying one or more individuals.  which I am but I am focusing on the stories.  So would my unit of analysis be the individuals or the stories? I think the stories?  And I am a little unsure how to describe those who feel that animals are not beneficial.  I am using SI as a framework.  I am trying to concisely identify my unit of analysis, level of analysis. AND FINALLY should I try to name any variables, since it will be a qualatative study?  This is a huge learning curve for me and am probably trying to read too much! It all becomes somewhat jumbled.  ANY INSIGHT WOULD BE GREATLY APPRECIATED!!




    Hi, Teresa!

    Everyone got jitters in terms of research during our collegiate days…Nothing much to dread about unless you hate reading, learning, and writing.

    Looking at your research question (RQ), it seems you’re trying to address three things: (1) perceived relationship between self and companion animals; (2) belief of those who see companion animals as having no place in the social world; and (3) comparison of the beliefs/perceptions of these two groups of individuals regarding relationships with companion animals. These are just my own understanding as a researcher, but you can make use of them as point of reference. 

    Prior to analysis, you have to address first the method that you have to take in order to answer your RQ. Since my work is psychological in nature, I’m not very sure about my understanding of SI as a framework. But I think you’re right on track to see that you have to use qualitative methods for this study. I suggest you read Creswell’s book on qualitative research so you can pick the best method to use. Personally, I think qualitative inquiry as a method would be fine. Or you can use comparative studies using case study or narrative approach since you really intended to compare different perspectives in the first place. Don’t get confused with your unit of analysis; you’re “using” individuals to get information about their “stories,” which is actually what you wanted to know, right?

    Well, hope my thoughts could help you. Good luck! And as what my good friend always remind me, don’t overload yourself with information, just stick to what you need to know and focus on it.




    Yes!!  Thank you so much!  Those are my plans so far.  And Yes, I have the jitters!  I actually have a great professor, but he is challenging.  Yes, I was confused about the unit of analysis as to whether it would be either individuals or the stories, but I will definitely check out that book and thank you so much for the reply.  I really appreciate the input.





    Stephen Gorard

    Research is not hard unless people try to make it so. It is fun, and serious if you see what I mean.

    You need to focus on design – forget the ‘framework’ and the qually-wally words for the moment (hopefully forever).  

    The question is a reasonably clear (if odd) one. You will require a substantial number of people who own and do not own companion animals. Need to define what such ownership means (includes had one, or plan to get one…, includes family member in household with one or only the purchaser/licence-holder?… etc.)

    Now you have the basis for a cross-sectional comparative design.

    But how will you find such cases? Presumably a larger trawl and post hoc definition of groups.

    The RQ is clearly about people not stories. These are the cases. There needs to be lots of each to make good cell sizes. And they need to be selected randomly or in some other way that means you can ‘ignore’ bias between the groups that might otherwise invalidate the findings.

    But there is still a problem with the groups. The two are not mutually exclusive (necessarily). The first is those who own companions, the second is those who believe companions have no place. They could be the same (i.e. the purchase was now seen as a mistake). And there will be many non-owners who do not feel that companions have no place. So the basis for the second group of non-owners will need to be even larger since it will not be possible to tell what they believe until contacting them.

    I could go on but I hope you get the message. It is about clarity. It is a shame that the RQ is only about perceptions.; so much research is. But once you have the groups defined you need to get the stories. But you must not lead…. Basically, imagine there was no difference in beliefs between the groups and see if anything disturbs that view and then envisage how convinced I (for example) would be of your account of that disturbance!


    I would be interested to see where you are in this process now.  Being a new researcher (very) in the dissertation phase, I gave into my need to know by comparing and deciding to keep it simple and focused for my first try.  I know that I am a qualitative researcher and was interested on taking on this process after my mentor supported me in focusing my energy into understanding one and not multiple parts of my research.  In other words, perhaps you should go back to your question and trim it done to the bare bone of what you want to know and maybe later it can grow into a research project that you will get paid for.  I chose phenomenology to be able to identify, describe, and explain the experiences of my co-researchers (participants).  My research is close to my heart, and because of that I chose the Clark Moustakas Transcendental Phenomenological method because of its precision in acquiring the lived experiences of the participants (meaning units) and then synthesizing those meaning units of experience from the group perspective.  My question is: How do adult children of crack cocaine addicted parents describe their childhood experiences with their parents? Lets hear what your question has become from your initial research start.

    Stephen Gorard

    The problem is that all the bumph mentioned here makes research needlessly complicated, and then people end up asking patsy research questions like – what will some others say if I ask them about x (e.g. their childhood). Instead, Teresa, simplify and ask questions that go beyond simply ‘what do others say?’. 


    I couldn’t agree with you more, Stephen.  unfortunately, in order to get a research question approved I must work with my mentor and a committee for approval.  that approval required many iterations until I discovered that what I was trying to do was too broad for a dissertation process.  I have been told that a dissertation is a seminal exploration for a phd learner and need not be confusing or difficult.  Have you already received your phd or are you in process.  I still would like to here from Teresa since her conversation was earlier this year of where she is in the process.  I am sorry to say that this was a complicated process for me until I sat back and decided to enjoy the ride and pick my battles.  I really should learn this process on this journey so that IF I decide to do research in the future it will benefit my endeavors.  The bumph mentioned here is at the IRB level and the light at the end of the tunnel is not a TRAIN.  Thank you for your thoughts, Stephen. 


    Hi Teresa,

    I guess you have fairly good understanding about philosophical approaches. I am not sure if you have read the book “Design and conducting mixed methods research” by Creswell and Plano Clark. Particularly the worldview section that describes philosophical position of a research, you may find useful.

    Secondly, as you are doing qualitative research, so using the term ‘variable’ does not fit into the research design. The term variable itself communicates quantitative meaning. So I think you may replace ‘factor (s)’ with variable.

    Good luck! 

    Stephen Gorard

    Really, forget the cod philosophy. The Cresswell and Clark book is not about design. Try instead:

    And don’t worry about using terms like ‘variables’, as long as readers understand them. There is no law about this. Even the q words are just a pointless way of complicating the relatively simple process of trying to find stuff out. 

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