It’s two weeks since the examined coursework assignment (ECA) for the Research Methods module was released. As part of my plan to be very proactive with the dissertation, I’ve not let the momentum slow and I’ve been using the paper, essentially a research proposal, to clarify and refine the actual dissertation.
On this basis, the last two weeks have featured further literature searches, index cards, the pondering of research questions and setting myself a number of gate points.
Tools And Techniques
I’m a big fan of putting a bit of thought into actually how I’m going to do something so I don’t waste a load of time.
I’ve opted to manage the literature review using index cards. I knew I was going to accumulate lots of studies and books and needed a way to record their citations and the facts, interesting quotes and connections I discovered within them. I wasn’t sure how to do it at first, and then I thought of my Agile Business Analysis experience and user stories and decided I was trying do exactly the same thing: record something that would be refined further over time, in this case via internal discussion with myself and further research. It’s working well, the notes on the cards are invaluable, as well as the ability to link them together as they all have unique numbers.
The use of the index cards has also influenced how I file the studies. I’ve constructed file names starting with the year published, then the index card number and finally the title. This allows me to instantly see the studies in chronological order, one of the critical dimensions in terms of marshalling how areas of research developed and the index card gives me instant access to my developing notes on that study.
I’m using Dropbox to make sure I have (a) a basic method of backing things up and (b) my ability to work is location independent. This means my OpenOffice files, Visio and the various research papers (invariably PDF) are synchronising with Dropbox. This means I can work seamlessly between the PC and the Netbook. It also means I can work in the Durham Business School or Queen’s Campus Library with little fuss as they have free wireless (assuming a synchronisation is needed on turning the Netbook on).
I’m notorious for interesting ideas coming up at the oddest moments, often while out on a walk or at 0400 in the morning when my mind has obviously been beavering away on a problem. The use of Evernote has increased as I think more and more about the research project. It has allowed me to capture thoughts, ideas and connections between concepts at the point I have them either on the HTC Wildfire, iPod Touch, PC or Netbook. It’s been very useful. I have thought of moving the index cards to Evernote, with each card being a note, but I haven’t done that yet. It would make them easier to ‘transport’, and make them searchable.
Just Do It!
I’m all for considering why, how and what, but I’m not a naval gazer either, eventually you just have to do it. Ideally do it early so you can learn from doing. That is proving to be true with the research proposal, start writing it by focusing on what you do know rather than obsessing over what you don’t. It’s all a circular process anyway, so nothing needs defining before any other element can be started.
The actual act of writing the research proposal means issues become clearer in the mind which in turns allows the issues to be knocked down. I started with the research design since I broadly knew the type of research project I wanted to conduct (based on my skills and psychological bias). This got me thinking about strategic and research questions. I think I now have my strategic question, at least. The literature review has started to solidify what I’m researching and how I can frame it all. In short, just make a start. It gives you a sense of progress, which increases the positive vibes and increases momentum.
I’ve also set myself some deadlines, by working on meeting my prospective tutor at three points over the 3-month assignment period. I’ve given myself a meeting two weeks in, two weeks before the deadline and then exactly in the middle. While my location makes meeting easy, this provide deadlines I can work to. They also act as checkpoints.
At the moment, I’m actually enjoying it. I think it appeals to numerous strengths I have and things I enjoy doing. First, it’s a writing challenge, which is fine with me. Second, it involves learning new ways of doing things and improving the tools in one’s toolbox. Third, it involves understanding theory and it’s application into practice and the connections between concepts and ideas and how they fit into a narrative. It’s a very engaging experience.
Okay, this is just the research proposal, it’s not the actual dissertation, but I’m hoping a lot of it carries over and I continue to enjoy it.
The process is moving on and working well. At times I have to manage my expectations in terms of what I’ve done, reminding myself many people don’t have a topic at this point. I think I get it in my head I’m trying to finish the dissertation now, which is far from the truth. The process of synthesising the whole purpose of the research is coming along quite well. I have a slight concern I may have cast too wide a net by focusing on IS Capability rather than one narrow area of it, but then I’ll resolve that early at the first meeting with the prospective tutor.
The process encapsulates a lot of what the MBA teaches you, not specific topics, but the way it changes how you think and manage processes that initially have a lot of known unknowns and unknown unknowns. Basically, it teaches you that with a bit of thought, research and utilisation of your network you can do…pretty much anything.