Personal Meaning

Designing Research to Find Contradictions & Personal Meaning

Designing Research to Find Contradictions

Two articles published in Research Design Review in 2015 concerned an important goal of most researchers: to unravel the mysteries of attitudes and behavior.  Both of these articles emphasize the idea that an essential ingredient to achieving this goal is allowing sufficient time in the research process to discover and explore contradictions in participants’ responses and find the personal meanings associated with the issues or constructs of interest.

The suggestion of adding time to research designs – e.g., longer survey questionnaires, lengthier in-depth interviews – flies in the face of the ever-increasing focus on “faster and cheaper” research through technology. A research design, however, that acknowledges the inconsistent and contradictory nature of human beings, and is intent on discovering personal meaning, will give the researcher the appropriate freedom to reach this all-important objective.

These articles are available for download in the document “Designing Research to Find Contradictions & Personal Meaning.”

Beyond the Behavior-plus-“why” Approach: Personal Meaning as Insight

Reskid-waterslideearchers are desperate to understand behavior. Health researchers want to know what leads to a lifetime of smoking and how the daily smoking routine affects the quality of life. Education researchers examine the behavior of model teaching environments and contemplate best practices. Psychologists look for signs of social exclusion among victims of brain injuries. Marketing researchers chase an elusive explanation for consumer behavior, wanting to know product and service preferences in every conceivable category. And, if that were not enough, researchers of all ilk, to a lesser or greater extent, grapple with an often ill-fated attempt to predict (and shape) behaviors to come.

But researchers have come to appreciate that behavior is not enough. It is not enough to simply ask about past behavior, observe current behavior, or capture in-the-moment experiences via mobile. Behavior only tells part of a person’s story and, so, researchers passionately beef-up their research designs to include “why” – focusing on not just what people do but why they do it. “Why,” of course, is often phrased as “what,” “how,” or “when” questions – “What was going on at the time you picked up your first cigarette?” – but, whatever the format, the goal is the same, i.e., to get Read Full Text