Introduction to Interpretive Research Design

Lecturer: Prof. Peregrine Schwartz-Shea

Organised by Wageningen School of Social Sciences (WASS), Strategic Communication

Mon 25 July 2016 until Fri 29 July 2016

Research proposals are increasingly a part of scholarly life. The topics for theses and dissertations require prior approval; funding support usually depends on a committee’s assessment of competing research proposals. Funding committees tasked with assessing proposals ask: Is the proposed topic significant? Will the proposed research address a recognized problem, solve a theoretical puzzle, or shed light on a heretofore unexamined area? Will this researcher bring the needed background, skills, and substantive knowledge to complete the proposed research? And most pertinent to this course: Does the design of the research—its methodology, methods, data and analytic techniques—address the research question in a convincing, coherent manner?

The expectations associated with the term “research design” vary. In some disciplines and/or research communities, the common approach to research design assumes variables-based research (and may even presume that randomized, control experiments are the “best” designs). Other disciplines and research communities are much more eclectic in their approaches to research and embrace methodological pluralism. Still, even in more pluralistic settings, research proposals may be scrutinized by those who have very particular conceptualizations of design and of research. Those conducting interpretive research need to be able to communicate their research purposes, design logics, and evaluative standards to such reviewers.

Research design, then, is a social endeavor. Articulating one’s research question, project and approach to a variety of audiences in a variety of settings is essential to learning what one wants to do. Moreover, if others cannot understand what your project is about that may indicate a lack of clarity in what you are attempting or, at least, that you are not clearly communicating your research goals. From brief oral descriptions of your project over coffee to a more formal written proposal, convincing one’s audience(s) is key. Wherever you are in the research process, this course will enable you to deepen your understanding of your topic, familiarize yourself with the key elements of interpretive research design, and practice articulating (and perhaps even defending) the approach you have chosen to your research question.