Quicklist of resources: Your First Website, Developing a Research Question (rough cut video, 5 mins) Duke’s What makes a Good Research Question?, SelfieCity, sample student projects, and various items on reviewing the literature: PDF, video diagram of sample lit review (from the PDF), and various Harvard videos and pages.
At this point, as a result of your sandbox efforts in the lab sessions, you should be familiar with the basics of website creation. You should already be able to:
- Create a landing page and links
- Modify a WordPress theme
- Manage fonts, images, navigation, credits and pull quotes
- Make sharing decisions, such as by using a CC license
- Create subdomains (issue.myname.net)
- Install WP/Boldgrid and new themes on subdomains
- Select appropriate templates (Gridblocks)
- Build a coherent issue-oriented site of 6-8 pages
With this skill set, you’ll be able to build a research website to publish original analysis of data you have collected yourself. You may end up using additional tools, such as Piktochart, Excel or Powerpoint to organize or visualize your findings and the raw data. You may use interactive tools (eg, quizmakers and game engines) to create interactivity. Nonetheless in most cases you’ll embed the output of any such additional tools on a web page on your site. In other words, you’re ready to take the next step. Even if you need a tutorial in an individual tool, you already have the ability to frame your work for publication.
Developing a Research Question
Skills, check. What’s next? By far, the most important next step is figuring out your research question. The secret here is acknowledging that nobody does research writing except to answer real questions. Research writing is not a vehicle for argument. Sure, you will have opinions, and those opinions will inform the questions you ask and conclusions you draw. You may win an argument with research writing, but your opinion and the argument, and winning, are less important than the presumably high stakes of the research question itself. In the end, most real researchers publish to share data and their tentative, qualified inferences.
Unlike a newspaper editorial, which purports to solve a major question in a few paragraphs, research writing may consume many years and pages to make modest advances. (“Give my team $50 million and I promise you we won’t cure cancer. But we may able to identify changes in two proteins that could help detect the onset of metastasis.”)
Research questions come in two basic flavors:
- Unasked questions: There are more of these than you might think. Most people, including researchers, have a tendency to enter existing discussions rather than start a new topic.
- Unanswered questions: Important questions tend to have many, conflicting partial answers from different disciplines and different approaches within disciplines.
There’s a catch to all this: How do you know if a research question is unasked or unanswered?
Reviewing the Literature
The answer is that you don’t know–until you read the most current knowledge on the question in scholarly books or journals. These are chapters and articles just like the ones you have been assigned for this class. This is an unpleasant, inescapable truth. If you don’t review the existing literature, it is a near certainty that all of the effort you put into this project will be spinning your wheels.
The easiest way to review the scholarly literature is to focus in advance. Knowing your interest as narrowly, clearly–and honestly–as possible is the difference between miserable confusion and feeling like you’re a genius.
And what concentrates the mind more than passion? In the sandbox project, you engaged in a Networked Self exercise to find topics that mattered to you. You can return to that project to discover an unresolved question that really, truly, deeply matters to a group to which you’re affiliated. It is incredibly important that you actually care about this issue.
In this class, your focus will be on gathering data relevant to a research question about digital media practices by persons involved in the issue.
I will work with you to refine your research question, and Emily will discuss the role of annotated bibliographies and a formal literature review in lab. Here’s my favorite guide to doing a literature review, complete with good and bad examples, and another guide from Harvard, featuring video lectures. I have made a short explainer video (5 mins) diagramming this sample lit review.
One thing to keep in mind: A truly comprehensive literature review can take months. You are not being asked to create a comprehensive lit review. Instead you’ll do a representative lit review. A representative lit review is like a thumbnail of a mega-pixel photo: It is recognizably the same photo, with much less detail. Your lit reviews might mean scanning fifty articles or chapters. You may actually read parts of fifteen or so, and your representative lit review should have 6-8 scholarly items. Non scholarly items may be included, but they do not count against the total.
There are many ways to do an academic website, ranging from guided tours of archives to crowdsourcing data with gameplay. The example I discuss on this page is the fantastic SelfieCity by Lev Manovich et al. It has many of the elements required for your midterm project. You will:
- develop a research question and a plan for data gathering (9/28)
- do a literature review (10/7)
- create a site of at least 8-10 web pages featuring original analysis of your data (1200 words excluding the lit review and other elements, 10/21)
- share your raw data in some kind of gallery, table, spreadsheet, album, or series of charts (10/21)
- create at least one infographic displaying your findings (10/28)
- adapt from your web pages and visuals a slide deck or prezi suitable for teaching your research question, the existing literature on the subject and your findings (10/28)
- compose a downloadable white paper (which will make use of the other writing you did for the site, including the presentation, 11/3)
If appropriate, you might include a call to action, create memes, quizzes, or other interactive elements.
The site includes powerpoints, video, a blog, and press coverage, among other resources.
There are many, many examples of student research projects in my archived courses and some recent selections are on the assignments page.