Content analysis, part 2

By Gordon Rugg

Other types of content analysis

In a previous post, I gave a brief overview of a widely used, vanilla flavour type of content analysis. It’s far from the only type.

There are methodological debates about most things relating to content analysis, which have been running for the best part of a century, and which don’t look likely to end any time soon. There are, in consequence, numerous different types of content analysis, and many approaches to content analysis. The following sections give a very brief description of some of those other types. I’m planning to write in more detail about them at some point, when there’s nothing more exciting to do…

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Guest article: How to conduct a successful focus group

This is a guest article by Dan O’Neill; I hope you’ll find it interesting and useful.

How to conduct a successful focus group

By Dan O’Neill

While focus group methodology is often discussed in the context of market research, it is also used in a variety of research fields. Focus groups have been used to gather data on a wide range of research topics including: attitudes towards tobacco, meat quality, farming, electronic resources, patient quality, solar technology, health and safety, property management, and many more.

If you’re thinking about conducting a focus group for your own research, below are some fundamental things you’ll need to do to prepare for this type of study.

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Mental models and metalanguage: Putting it all together

By Gordon Rugg

The previous articles in this series looked at mental models and ways of making sense of problems. A recurrent theme in those articles was that using the wrong model can lead to disastrous outcomes.

This raises the question of how to choose the right model to make sense of a problem. In this article, I’ll look at the issues involved in answering this question, and then look at some practical solutions.

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By Gordon Rugg

So what is referencing anyway, and why should anyone care about it? What’s the difference between the Harvard system and the Vancouver system and the assorted other systems? How do you choose references that send out the right signal about you?

The answers to these and numerous other questions are in the article below. Short spoiler: If you do your referencing right, it gets you better marks, and you come across as an honest, capable individual who is highly employable and promotable. Why does it do this? Find out below…

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Why Hollywood gets it wrong, part 2

By Gordon Rugg

The first article in this short series looked at one reason for movies presenting a distorted version of reality, namely conflict between conventions.

Today’s article looks at a reason for movies presenting a simplified version of reality. It involves reducing cognitive load for the audience, and it was studied in detail by Grice, in his work on the principles of communication. It can be summed up in one short principle: Say all of, but only, what is relevant and necessary.

At first sight, this appears self-evident. There will be obvious problems if you don’t give the other person all of the information they need, or if you throw in irrelevant and unnecessary information.

In reality, though, it’s not always easy to assess whether you’ve followed this principle correctly. A particularly common pitfall is assuming that the other person already knows something, and in consequence not bothering to mention it. Other pitfalls are subtler, and have far-reaching implications for fields as varied as politics, research methods, and setting exams. I’ll start by examining a classic concept from the detective genre, namely the red herring.

five red herrings bannerHerring image by Lupo – Self-made, based on Image:Herring2.jpg by User:Uwe kils, which is licensed {{GFDL}}, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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Research ethics

By Gordon Rugg

I have done questionable things….

Note: I’ve written this article, like all the other Hyde & Rugg blog articles, in my capacity as a private individual, not as a member of Keele University.

This article intended as an explanation of why researchers need to pay serious attention to research ethics. It’s not intended as a complete overview of all the issues that ethics committees have to consider, which would require a much longer article. For example, I don’t discuss the issue of informed consent, although this is a very important topic. Similarly, I don’t discuss whether ethical review could lead to a chilling effect on research. Instead, I’ve focused on the underlying issue of why a researcher’s own opinion about ethics isn’t enough.

Research ethics committees are interesting places. The ethics committees I attend are the only committee meetings that I actively look forward to. This is partly because everybody is focused on doing a good, professional job as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then getting back to our other work. It’s also partly because the cases that we deal with are often fascinating.

Most research students view ethics committees as an obstacle to be passed, taking precious time and effort. The reality is very different. If you’re a researcher, whether a novice or an expert, the ethics committee is a valuable friend, and can help you avoid all sorts of risks that might otherwise cause you serious grief.

In this article, I’ll discuss some ways that ethics committees help you, and some things that could go wrong in ways that you might not expect. Some of those risks are seriously scary. I’ve avoided going into detail about triggering topics wherever possible, but some of the things that go wrong with ethics might trigger some readers. By way of a gentle start, here’s a restful image of a tropical beach.


Image source:

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Intrinsic, extrinsic, and the magic of association

By Gordon Rugg

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have an awed respect for the ability of Ancient Greek philosophers to spot a really important point, and to then produce an extremely plausible but only partially correct explanation, sending everyone else off in the wrong direction for the next couple of thousand years.

Today’s article is about one of those points, where the Ancient Greeks didn’t actually get anything wrong, but where they laid out a concept that’s only part of the story. It involves a concept that can be very useful for making sense of consumer preferences and life choices, namely the difference between intrinsic properties in the broad sense, and extrinsic properties in the broad sense.

Here’s an example. The image below shows a pair of Zippo lighters. One of them is worth a few dollars; the other is worth tens of thousands of dollars, even though it’s physically indistinguishable from the first one. Why the difference? The answer is below…

zippo banner

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Academic Publishing: understanding the options

Guest Post by Daniel O’Neill

Publishing research can be puzzling for beginners. This article looks at academic publishing from the point of view of a PhD researcher.

Publishing for the Researcher

I undertake research in construction and surveying. I wouldn’t describe myself as a veteran publisher of research. I knew nothing about publishing five years ago, and what I now know is limited in comparison to more seasoned researchers. I am currently writing my fourth paper from my PhD. I have written many magazine articles outside of my academic writing. The magazine articles were easy to write. I find it easy to write in an active and informal style. Articles are relatively easy to publish as websites and magazines seek and need free, mediocre to good material for publications. The researcher wants to attract attention to what they know, or what they are researching, and the website or magazine wants free content, or in some cases a fee is paid. The serious, formal, academic papers are more difficult to publish.

Options: Journals and Conferences

There are two options in publishing research papers, firstly publishing in a journal, secondly publishing at a conference. The journal route offers you a chance to present your research in an international journal. If you are interested in the process of publishing in academic journals, Abby Day’s book “How to Get Research Published in Journals” is a great read for beginners and experienced researchers alike. Generally, top publishers do not let the public free access to the online journals, but they will allow restricted access and some free samples. The publishers sell papers online: per issue or per paper. The price varies depending on publication, and popularity. To purchase one paper online can cost around €25 to €32 (approximation).

There is normally a long lead-in time for publishing in a journal. This is due to the number of papers being submitted. Journals publish a number of issues a year: annuals (common in esoteric areas), four, five, six or even ten issues. Depending on the reviewers’ requests for changes and corrections it is common to wait over a year to get published; however, there are calls for papers, when an issue with a specific theme is being published. The journals retain the rights to your material allowing the publisher to publish in an issue; unless you purchase the rights in which case it is openly available online. Publishers may also allow you to publish your own pre-publication version online. See the publishers’ copyright rules online for more detailed information. You will possibly read about ‘Green Access’ and ‘Gold Access’.

The process is not as basic as I have previously described and Day’s book goes into the process in detail. The publisher wants the journal to make money. The author wants their research exposed to the audience. The readers want to obtain information, more precisely cutting-edge research in their field, or they are looking at moving into another field of research and they are looking for samples. There are a number of players on the publisher’s side: the editor of the journal, assistant editors, the reviewers, and publishing support staff. The journal has to earn a profit, and be deemed a high quality publication in order for the reader to desire its information and purchase it, and for writers to want to publish in it. The idea of this is reasonable. Everybody gets something from the first viewing, the writer, the reader, the publisher. The top journals in my disciplines (construction and surveying) have a lot of papers sent to them, there is strong supply, and those not deemed suitable are rejected, and the authors go to another journal, possibly a lesser known publication. However some authors aim for a specific journal due to its readership – maybe experts and professionals in a specific field.

Conferences are great platforms to get “live” feedback from your research findings. When you present at a conference, you generally showcase what you have done in front of other researchers. The crowd can be as small as twenty and as big as a few thousand. Conferences are held all over the world. Journals are generally cheaper than conferences when it comes to publishing your research. Regarding conferences, this cost does not take into account travel to the location, accommodation and food. Lots of conferences have a conference dinner. This is usually lavish, with a three or four course meal, and after dinner entertainment; not forgetting other minor meals and drinks. This extravagance adds significantly to the cost. Conferences give people a chance to interact with each other, network with possible future employers and discuss the research being presented.

I have been thinking of the process of publishing material recently, as I have papers I would like to publish. The cheapest and most effortless answer is to publish it on an online platform for no direct cost (unreasonable/bad idea); however this would not get my research to the general public (researchers and professionals in construction and surveying) that have interest in it, as very few people would specifically search online for my research, but would go to a specified location such as a conference or journal website for such research. This is the card conference organisers and journals have that make them required – they offer you a platform, an outlet, at a significant financial cost in the case of conferences to you the author! The main reason an author would want to go to a conference is to get their research published; some want the extravagant dinner, and the entertainment also, and that’s fine too!

The ‘Reality’

There are people however, who just want to get their research published on a familiar and popular platform. As I have stated journals and conferences can be expensive, specifically for a postgraduate student with a lot of material to publish. The cost of £650 plus, if you have to travel and stay, for a conference might not be much to an established university professor, with a good income, and one paper to publish. However, it may be a considerable sum for a researcher on a scholarship or those self-funded, with four to six papers to publish. I think there should be a recognised alternative. I have been reading a lot about open access and other alternatives, and the models behind them, but I have not found a replacement for the traditional options. It is a time of great discussion in the academic world with regards the best model for publishing. It is difficult to say what would be best for the authors, academic readers, the general public, publishers. There are many sub-areas in this article which could be developed into more detailed articles. I have briefly discussed the traditional options here. The books below cover academic publishing in greater detail. Links are given below to articles on publishing. Do some further reading before deciding where to publish your research.

Daniel O’Neill is a PhD graduate, with academic research interests in construction. His PhD was on the retrofit of local authority housing.

Links and references

Read more about publishing in academic journals in Abby Day’s:

How to Get Research Published in Journals:

There’s more about the realities of a PhD in this by book by Gordon Rugg & Marian Petre:

The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research:

Recommended articles:

Getting an overview of the literature via review articles

By Gordon Rugg

Review articles are an extremely useful resource when you’re starting a literature review, and when you’re about to start some new research. However, most students have never heard of them.

In today’s article, I’ll describe what they are, how to find them, and why they’re so useful.

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Critically reviewing the literature, the quick and dirty way

By Gordon Rugg

I’ve blogged previously about literature reviews, and about the significant difference between a literature review and a literature report. There are links to relevant previous posts at the end of this article.

Literature reviews are an important part of research. They’re how you find out what’s been tried before, and what happened when those previous approaches were tried. They’re a good way of identifying potential problems that you might encounter in your own research, and a good way of identifying gaps in previous research, which might be your chance to achieve fame and fortune by filling one of those gaps with a brilliant new solution.

This article is about one key aspect of literature reviews, which is that literature reviews involve critical analysis of the key issues. That raises the question of just how you set about starting a critical analysis.

In case you’re wondering whether this really is a big deal, then there’s one very practical consideration that can make a difference to the outcome of your time at university. One of the criteria for getting distinction-level marks on most taught university courses is showing that you’ve done critical independent reading. This is also a major criterion for getting through a PhD viva, so all in all, it’s a big deal.

But just what is a critical review of the literature anyway, as opposed to a non-critical one, and how can you possibly do a critical review of a literature that may include tens of thousands of journal articles and thousands of books? It’s not physically possible to read all of that literature in the three years of a typical undergraduate degree or PhD, let alone a one-year MSc or MA.

This blog article is about one quick and dirty way of making a good start on a critical literature review.

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