Main Lab

Theories
   Describing aspects of
    a good theory.

Phases of research
  Steps for conducting a
    research study.

Research methods
  Different types of 
   research methods.

Sources for Info
  Primary & Secondary
    sources of research.

Journal Articles
  Understanding a
    typical journal article.

On-line Searches
  How to use PsycInfo 
    and other search
    engines.  Includes info
    on full text articles.

APA Format
   Learn to write in APA 
      format.

Activities & Quizzes
   A variety of activities
    related to research. 
   To be used in classes.

 

Topic:    Phases of Research:  Steps in Gathering and Evaluating Evidence 

   The following are general steps for conducting a research study. 
           Step 1.  Generate Ideas
           Step 2.  Formulate a Research Question
           Step 3.  Develop a Hypothesis
           Step 4.  Devise a study to test the hypothesis
           Step 5.  Run the Study & Get Results
           Step 6.  Analyze & Interpret the Results
           Step 7.  Communicate the Results


Step 1.  Generate Ideas
    The starting place of all research studies is a single idea.  Ideas come to us through our observations of the world, from conversations with other people, from sources such as books or television, or from reading other journal articles.  Ideas represent the interests of a person.  The idea does not have to be a full fledge research project.  All that is needed at this point is a thought, curiosity about the topic, and interest in pursuing the topic further. 
    Let's take an example that we will use for all of the steps.  You notice that you are able to memorize items such as phone numbers better when you eat candy and wonder if there is a connection between candy and memory. 


Step 2.  Formulate a Research Question
    After you have your idea, it is now appropriate to examine the literature on the topic in order to ascertain what other researchers have done and how they have conceptualized and tested the topic.  Afterwards, convert your idea into a clearly posed research question or set of research questions. 
    Continuing with our example, let's say that you researched the topic of memory enhancement and saw that other researchers have looked at how certain herbs and a healthy diet can improve memory.  However, no one* has examined if sugar can improve memory.  Therefore, your research question is:
         Can sugar improve memory?

(*Keep in mind this is just an example and does not accurately reflect the research literature on memory enhancement.)


Step 3.  Develop a Hypothesis
    A hypothesis is a testable prediction/belief of what will happen in some circumstance.  Recall from the review of theories that a good theory is one that is testable.  In developing a hypothesis, you take your research question and restate it in specific terms that make a prediction.  (You may also choose to keep the hypothesis more general if you are conducting an exploratory study.) 
    For example, if the research question is to see if sugar affects memory, the hypothesis would be more specific and state: 
    "College students who ingest 2 grams of sugar before studying for a memorization task will perform better than college students who do not ingest sugar."

Step 4.  Devise a study to test the hypothesis
    In this step, you (a) define all important terms and variables in your study, (b) decide on the best research method to test your hypothesis, and (c) select what statistical methods you will use for analyzing the data. 
    (a) The reseacher should define, or create an operational definition of, all important terms.  An operational definition is a definition that specifies the operations or procedures used to measure some variable. 
    In our example, "sugar" and "memory" are terms that need to be defined in order for a reader to understand exactly what the researcher means by those terms (and for others to replicate the study).  Sugar could be defined as white granulated sugar while memory could be described as a score from a memorization test of nonsense syllables.
    A variable is a characteristic that can have more than 1 value.  Examples of variables include intelligence, sex, status in a family, type of behavior, etc.  In a typical research study, there are 2 main types of variables: 
  
1) Independent Variable
        The independent variable (IV) is generally defined as the variable that influences the dependent variable.  It is any variable that defines different groups of participants who are measured via the dependent variable.  It can also be a variable that describes the qualities of the participants.  (An independent variable is also defined in some textbooks as the variable researchers manipulate so that its effects may be observed.  But this definition can be limiting, as explained below*.)
        In our above example, 2 grams of sugar would be the independent variable.  Why?  First, it is the sugar that is hypothesized to influence (in this case, improve) memory; not the other way around.  Second, the IV is often the variable that  can be changed or altered by the experimenter such as 1 gram of sugar or 2 or 3. 
        Another example would be if we were comparing spelling ability for children with mental retardation and children without mental retardation.  The IV for this example would be:  mental   retardation condition (students with it and without it).  Why? 
        First, whether or not one has mental retardation is hypothesized to influence spelling ability, not the other way around.  Second, it is the variable that defines the groups of participants who are to have their spelling abilities measured.  Third, it describes the quality of the participants (either having or not having mental retardation). 
        (*The experimenter cannot directly manipulate the degree of mental retardation in the participants; however, the experimenter could indirectly manipulate this through the recruitment procedure (i.e., recruit children with mild and moderate levels of mental retardation and children who are of normal intelligence).  For this reason, defining IV's as the variable researchers manipulate can be confusing and limiting because it does not include pre-existing independent variables such as the sex or age of a person.)
2) Dependent Variable 
        The dependent variable (DV) is the variable that is hypothesized to change in response to the IV.  It is the variable that is hypothesized to be influenced by the IV.  The DV is often a score of some sort but NOT ALWAYS. 
        In our sugar experiment, "scores on the memorization task" would be the dependent variable because that is what is hypothesized to change because of or be influenced by (in this case, improve) the independent variable of sugar.
        In the other example above, "score on a spelling test" would be the DV because it is hypothesized to change in response to whether or not one has mental retardation. 
        A study can have more than one IV and more than one DV. 
          Click here for a quiz on IV's and DV's. 


     (b) After you have these variables defined, you need to choose the best research method.  Click here to review the different methods. 
      For our sugar study, we would pick the experimental method.  We would have 2 groups:  college students who ingest 2 grams of sugar and college students who ingest 2 grams of a harmless placebo-powder (no sugar).  After both groups ingest their respective powder, they would have 3 minutes to memorize a list of nonsense syllables.  After a 5 minute rest, both groups would recall as many of the syllables as possible.  The number of correct syllables recalled would represent their memory score. 
    (c) You also need to select your statistical procedures, but that is beyond the scope of this tutorial.


Step 5.  Run the Study & Get Results
    Now that everything has been planned, it is time to run your study. 

Step 6.  Analyze & Interpret the Results
    Statistical procedures are now employed to analyze the collected data.  After analysis, you need to examine the results to see if they do or do not support your hypothesis. 

Step 7.  Communicate the Results
    The communication of research results is a vital step in the overall process.  Researchers typically communicate their results through publication of journal articles.  They may also choose to present a poster or conduct a discussion at a psychological meeting or research conference.