This course is designed as an introduction to conducting community-based research. This is research that has several distinct features, setting it apart from traditional social science research, particularly in its aims: to create change in a local community. These features underscore the collaborative nature of community-based research where researcher and community partners (a) define the research problem together, (b) develop methods appropriate to the needs of the community, (c) and offers the basis for creating meaningful change. Thus community-based research takes an activist stance toward research that is inherently democratic in the sense that researcher and community partners share their expertise in addressing a social problem where all partners’ voices are valued. Some might even liken community-based research to community organizing.

As you work on your own research – the primary focus of the class – we will examine such research methods as interviews, observation, and focus groups. You will have opportunities to practice using these methods in class in order to understand each method’s potential strengths and weaknesses. In addition to learning how to design, carry out, and write up your own study, I would also like you to develop the ability to read research critically.

Your research will takes us behind the scenes of everyday life portrayed in what we read and introduces another level of complexity. Just as it is useful to use different research methods than the ones you are accustomed to using, it is equally important to examine how people outside your field of vision have addressed the questions we raise. These questions may not always be the same, but they may be similar. For example, you might study inequities in education as an economic problem, looking at such factors as income in a particular neighborhood. Or you might study educational inequities as a curricular problem; thus, you might analyze the content of different curricula within and across schools. Or it’s possible to explore educational inequities as a social problem, which might lead you to visit students’ homes, observe the presence or absence of books, or ask parents how they go about preparing their children for school.

Finally, doing community-based research affords you the opportunity to do work that can be meaningful to community partners who will be anxious to apply what you learn together. More than using others’ texts as sources of evidence for your claims, you can offer your own unique data to address a question or problem that others would not have access to.


By the end of the term, you should be able to accomplish the following:

  • Analyze existing research with a specific focus or rationale, questions asked, methods used, and conclusions drawn
  • Formulate a researchable question
  • Frame your question so that others see it as important and connected to a real problem in education
  • Decide on an appropriate method (or methods) to use in collecting and analyzing data
  • Explain the benefits and limitations of different research methods
  • Write up a research study consistent with the standards of the field of inquiry (e.g., social science)
  • Interpret your results appropriately, spelling out limitations and implications of your research
  • Discuss and apply ethical standards to your research


Emerson, R., Fretz, R., & Shaw, L. (1995). Writing ethnographic field notes. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Greene, S. & Lidinsky, A. (2008). From inquiry to academic writing: A practical guide. Boston: Bedford Press.

Seidman, I. (2006). Interviewing as Qualitative Research. A guide for researchers in education and the social sciences (3rd Ed). NY: Teachers College Press.


Rhetorical Analysis Papers: I would like you to analyze the research articles you use to generate ideas for your semester-long study and that you will eventually use to write your review of the relevant research. The primary purpose of these papers, 2-3 single-spaced pages, is to help you examine important components of empirical studies that you will need to address in your own research.

Summaries of Articles: I would also like you to submit summaries of articles you are reading and that will be part of the literature review that you will write as part of your research project. These summaries will be more focused than rhetorical analysis papers. In your summary, you should describe the relevance of the article to your research, identifying the ways the author(s) has defined the problem, described the methodology used to answer the research questions motivating the study, and what the author(s) found.

Research Log. This is an informal assignment that will serve as a vehicle for you to record, describe, reflect, and critically evaluate your action research experience throughout the semester. More than a chronological log, however, the research journal entry should catalog observations, ideas, challenges, and successes of your project. I’ll ask you to bring the log with you to meetings you have with me after you begin collecting data.

Research Project. Your project is the central part of the course. I expect that you will base your project on some type of original research, using one or more of the methods we will discuss during the term: observation, field notes, interviews, and focus groups. You should develop what you write by reviewing current research related to the questions you raise, explain the theory that frames your study, and address the consequences of what you find for those you study and for yourselves. The finished paper should be 25 pages including references but not appendices such as transcripts or consent forms.

You will work on this project in stages, submitting the following during the course of the semester. (See pp. 22 – 24 for a further explanation of this assignment):

  • An idea sheet in which you explain the purpose, relevance, audience, and value of your study
  • Research log in which you record what you observe and describe your impressions.  You will need to keep these two purposes separate, and we will discuss strategies for doing so.
  • A research proposal with working bibliography in which you provide a rationale for doing your study. The proposal includes:
    • A review of relevant studies
    • The research question(s) motivating your study
    • Methods for collecting and analyzing data
    • Implications
  • A revised proposal with annotated bibliography
  • First draft, second draft, and final draft
  • Oral presentation of results


Participation includes contributing in each class, providing constructive responses in draft groups, and meeting all deadlines.  I will lower this grade for those who don’t meet deadlines (I am doing this for your own good!).  It is especially important to meet these deadlines because you are to complete a research project in a relatively short amount of time; sticking to the schedule is one way to support the quality of your final research effort.  One absence will be excused; please inform me if you will not be in class.

Rhetorical analyses (10%)

Idea Sheet (10%)

Research Log (10%)

Proposal (20%)

Research Paper (40%)

Presentation of Results (10%)


I will arrange regular meetings with you to discuss your work in progress.  You should also feel free to make an appointment to see me at any time.  The best way to reach me is via e-mail.


In 1989, Notre Dame undergraduates and faculty published an Academic Code of Honor Handbook to express their shared commitment to respect and honor the intellectual and creative contributions of each individual.   Honor Code Pledge: “As a member of the Notre Dame community, I will not participate in or tolerate academic dishonesty.” For more details, visit:


Please speak with me as soon as possible if you have a documented disability and have registered with Disability Services. Students who are not registered can do so by contacting the Office of Disability Services: http://disability


Identifying Issues and Forming Questions

Wed. Aug. 25

Discuss Strand, Marullo, Cutforth, Stoecker, & Donohue, “Community-Based Research and Higher Education” and Stoecker & Beckman’s “Making Higher Education Civic Engagement Matter in the Community.”

Discuss issues identified by the Community-School Collaborative.

What is research?  What is research for?  What distinguishes community-based research from other types of studies?

What are some possible benefits and limitations or challenges in pursuing this type of inquiry?


Mon. Aug. 30

Attend Meeting at Robinson Center from 6 – 8pm to meet with representatives from the South Bend Community School Corporation.

Bring in a research article you locate on the Hesburgh Library database that focuses on an issue that you may be interested in pursuing.

Discuss the role that a review of relevant research plays and the notion of academic writing as “conversation” as discussed in Chapter One, “Starting with Inquiry: Habits of Mind of Academic Writers,” in Greene & Lidinsky, From Inquiry to Academic Writing.

Share in groups: How does the author(s) whose article you read define, develop, and address a given problem?  How would you characterize the “conversation?” What contribution does the article make to the discussion of the problem that others have addressed?  How would you address the problem?


Wed. Sept. 1

Discuss Chapter 4, “Identifying Issues and Forming Questions” in Greene & Lidinsky and Stoecker’s “The Goose Approach to Research” from Research Methods for Community Change.

What are some strategies for identifying problems, issues, and gaps?  What constitutes a “good” research question? What’s theory got do with it?


Mon. Sept. 6

One-to-one meetings.

Idea Sheets Due.

Share in groups: what is the writer’s topic?  issue?  question? What’s at stake in addressing this question?


Wed. Sept. 8

Submit Rhetorical Analysis of an article focusing on the issue you identify in your idea sheet.

Discuss the structure of article introductions in Chapter 5, “From Formulating to Developing a Thesis,” in Greene & Lidinsky.

Share in groups: Is the writer filling a gap? building on and extending prior work? correcting a misconception?  Is the purpose to build upon, extend, or challenge theory, methodology, or conclusions that researchers have drawn?


Mon. Sept. 13

One-to-one meetings. Discuss Madison’s “Do I really Need a Method?” in Critical ethnography: method, ethics, and performance. Submit Revised Idea Sheet with a summary of a research article you read that is related to your research. How do we decide what methods to use in answering our research questions? What methods can best answer the questions we ask as researchers?


Wed. Sept. 15

Start making contacts with teachers and principles, making appointments, and visiting the site.

Discuss both “Interviewing” and “Technique Is Not Everything, but It Is A Lot” in Seidman’s book, Interviewing as Qualitative Research and “Interviewing” in Weiss’s  Learning from Strangers.

Discuss transcript of interviews that I will distribute.

What is the value of stories in doing research?  What are some strategies for conducting an effective interview?  What do we need to account for in developing a script?


Mon. Sept. 20

Bring in a script of your own and conduct an interview with one person in class, focusing on an educational issue that you find important.

What are the strengths and limitations of conducting an interview? What principles can and should inform an interview script?


Wed. Sept. 22

Discuss “Focus Groups” in Chapter 11 in Greene & Lidinsky.

Discuss transcript of a focus group that I will distribute.

Submit summaries of at least two articles that are helping you to refine your research question and method for collecting your data.

Why use focus groups?  What does videotape reveal that a written transcript does not?  How would you describe the strengths and possible limitations of focus groups?


Mon. Sept. 27

Conduct a focus group outside of  class and report what you found in class.

What are some ways to initiate and sustain focus group discussion?


Wed. Sept. 29

Discuss Chapter 11, “Writing a Proposal,” in Greene & Lidinsky.

What are some guiding principles for writing a literature review and a method section?  How does one envision the discussion and implications before actually doing the study?


Mon. Oct. 4

One-to-one meetings.

Discuss Chapter 4, “Creating Scenes on the Page,” in Emerson, Fretz, & Shaw’s Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes

Submit summaries of at least two articles that are helping you to develop your research question and method for collecting your data.

What are some techniques for describing the settings you visit, presenting dialogue that you listen to, for characterizing individuals you write about?


Wed. Oct. 6

Start Collecting Data (Who do you still need to contact and get commitments from?)

Draft of proposal including working bibliography, consent forms, and drafts of questions or interviews, focus groups, and/or surveys due.

See Ch. 7 in Greene and Lidinsky for APA formatting.

Share proposals in small groups: What is the issue/question?  What methods would best answer the question?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of these methods?


Mon. Oct. 11

One-to-one meetings.

Discuss Fine, Weis, Weseen, & Wong, “For Whom? Qualitative Research, Representations and Social Responsibilities” and Seidman’s “The Path to Institutional Review Boards and Informed Consent.”

What are the ethical concerns of doing research?  For example, what does “informed consent” mean?


Wed. Oct. 13

Discuss Caspe, Lopez, & Wolos’s “Family involvement in elementary school children’s education” and Seidman’s “Analyzing, Interpreting, and Sharing Interview Material.”

What principles can and should guide the analyses of data?


Mid-Semester Break, October 16-24


Mon. Oct. 25

Discuss Stoecker, Beckman, and Min’s “Evaluating the Community Impact of Higher Education Civic Engagement.”

How do we measure the impact of what we find in our research? How does CBR depart from traditional conceptions of findings?


Wed. Oct. 27

One-to-one meetings – Bring Research Log.

Revised Proposal with Annotated Bibliography due.

Present your research proposal to your group. Be prepared to talk about the research you are building on and the theory framing your study, your research question, its importance, why you are using the methods you chose, and the possible implications of doing your study.


Mon. Nov. 1

Workday for research and writing


Wed. Nov. 3

One-to-one meetings – Bring Research Log

Bring some data that you have collected.

Discuss Chapter 6, “Process Fieldnotes: Coding and Memoing,” in Emerson, Fretz, & Shaw’s Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes.

What strategies can we use to analyze what we observe, especially as we try to identify themes and “code” data?


Mon. Nov. 8

Discuss Sample Research Project and Chapter 8, “From Ethos to Logos: Appealing to Your Readers” in Greene and Lidinsky.

What is the writer’s argument?  Has the writer fully contextualized this argument within a discussion of others’ research?  In what ways has the writer specifically appealed to readers’ expectations in developing the argument?


Wed. Nov. 10

Workday for research and writing


Mon. Nov.  15

First Draft Due

Your draft should include: an introduction; a literature review; your research question; a clear theoretical frame; and a method section (how you collected and analyzed your data)


Wed. Nov. 17

One-to-one meetings – Bring Research Log


Mon. Nov. 22

Workday for research and writing


Nov. 24-28

Thanksgiving break


Mon. Nov. 29

Workday for research and writing


Wed. Dec. 1

One-to-one meetings – Bring Research Log

Second Draft Due

Your draft should include:  an introduction; a literature review; a theoretical perspective; your research question; a method section; a results section; implications/Conclusion


Mon. Dec. 6


Presentations will be 5 minutes and should include brief discussion of your research question, method, and results.  The primary emphasis should be on the two or three key points that you think are significant.


Mon. Dec. 13

Final Drafts Due

Include a 200-word abstract


Appleman, D. (2003). ’Are you makin’ me famous or makin’ me a fool’? Responsibility and respect in representation. In S. Greene & D. Abt-Perkins (Eds.), Making race visible: Literacy research for racial understanding (pp.71-85). NY: Teachers College Press.

Becker, H. (1998). Tricks of the trade: How to think about your research while doing it. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Bogdan, R., & Biklen, S. (1992). Qualitative research for education: An introduction.  Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Carspecken, P. (1996).  Critical ethnography in educational research: A theoretical perspective and guide.  London: Routledge.

Denzin, R, & Lincoln, Y. (2005) (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Denzin, N., & Lincoln, Y. (2001). (Eds.). Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed.). Sage Publications.

Dyson, A., & Genishi, C. (2005). On the case: Approaches to language and literacy research. NY: Teachers College Press.

Emerson, R., Fretz, R., & Shaw, L. (1995). Writing ethnographic fieldnotes. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Fine, M., Weis, L., Weseen, S., & Wong, L. (2001).  For whom? Qualitative research, representations and social responsibilities. In N. Denzin &  Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research. Sage Publications.

Geertz, C. (1983) Local knowledge: Further essays in interpretive anthropology. New York: Basic Books.

Goodson, I., Sikes, P., & Sikes, P. (2001) Life history research in educational settings: Learning from lives. NY: Open University Press.

Lee, C., Spencer, M., & Harpalani, V. (2003). “Every shut eye ain’t sleep”: Studying how people live culturally. Educational Researcher, 32 (5), 6-13.

Lindlof, T., & Taylor, B. (2002). Qualitative communication research methods (2nd Ed). London: Sage.

Luttrell, W.  (2000).  “Good enough” methods for ethnographic research.  Harvard Educational Review, 70, 499-523.

Madison, D.S. (2005). Critical ethnography: method, ethics, and performance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Minkler, M., & Wallerstein, N. (Eds.). (2003). Community-based participatory research for health.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.

Peshkin, A. (2000).  The nature of interpretation in qualitative research.  Educational Researcher, 29, 5-10.

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998) (Eds.) Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Sage Publications.

Stoecker, R. (2005).  Research methods for community change:  A Project-based approach.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications, Inc.

Stoecker, R., & Beckman, M. (2010). Making higher education civic engagement matter in the community. Retrieved from /news/making-higher-education-civic-engagement-matter-in-the-community/9748/

Stoecker, R., Beckman, M., & Min, B. H. (in press). Evaluating the community impact of higher education community engagement. In H.E. Fitzgerald, C. Burack & S. Seifer (Eds.), Handbook of engaged scholarship: The contemporary landscape (Vol. 2 Community-campus partnerships). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University.

Strand, Kerry, Sam Marullo, Nick Cutforth, Randy Stoecker, and Patrick Donohue.  Community-Based Research and Higher Education.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass, 2003.

Weis, L., Fine, M. Weseen, S., & Wong, M. (2000). Qualitative research, representations, and social responsibilities. In L. Weis & M. Fine (Eds.), Speed bumps: A student-friendly guide to qualitative research (pp. 32-66). New York: Teachers College Press.

Weiss, R. (1994). Learning from strangers: The art and method of qualitative interview studies. New York: Free Press.


The idea here is to pay attention to how writers develop their ideas.  In turn, you can apply what you learn from others to your own writing.

  • What is the author’s purpose? (to correct a misinterpretation? to fill a gap?  to modify an existing position?)
  • What is the research question(s)?
  • What methods (e.g., ethnographic, case study, focus group, text analysis) did the author use?
  • Why did the author choose a particular method?  Would other methods have been more appropriate?  Why? Why not?
  • Who are the participants? Why these participants?
  • What is the context?
  • Why has the author chosen this context?
  • What were the results of the study?  Did the author answer the research questions?
  • What claims does the author make?  To what extent are these claims supported?
  • What limitations are there?  Did the author identify and successfully address them?
  • What implications does the author draw?  To what extent are these implications based on the data?
  • What ethical issues were involved?  Did the author acknowledge and successfully respond to them?

I’d like you to be as specific as possible in the references you make to the text you cite in answering these questions.

Possible Topics for Research Based on Discussions of the Community Education Impact Committee (Administrators from the South Bend Community School Corporation; Faculty from Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, Indiana University South Bend, Holy Cross, and Bethel College; and community partners.)

What can we do in our schools to support children and families who move from one neighborhood to another and, therefore, change schools?  What can we do for teachers and the students whose classes these students enter part way through the academic year?

How would we characterize the transition children make from programs like Head Start to kindergarten? Do students attending pre-school programs do better in school than those who do not?

To what extent does the Corporation’s “Explorer’s” program make a difference in children’s long-term achievement? (Students start this program in primary school and the first cohort is now in high school).

What issues do African American males face in school to explain low graduation rates?  What can we do to turn this around?

How can we characterize parent engagement in low-achieving schools?  How can the Corporation encourage increased parent involvement at schools?  What will motivate parents to be at school?  What do teachers need to do to welcome parents?

To what extent do current programs work? (e.g., English as a New Language; Magnet Schools at Kennedy Primary and LaSalle Intermediate; International Baccalaureate Program at Adams; Fine Arts curricula at Perley Primary, Dickinson Intermediate, and Clay High School; the Pre-College Program at Riley High School; and Parent University and Helping Hands in Title I Primary Schools).

What are some strategies that are in place (or could be in place) for rewarding teachers who achieve achievement goals set by the Corporation? What are strategies for helping teachers who do not achieve these goals?

To what extent has the Corporation implemented an effective research-based evaluation model that addresses specific instructional practice, cultural proficiency, and student growth?


The purpose of the idea sheet is to get you going.  Jot down some ideas about your area(s) of interest, explaining what in particular interests you, why you find this area of interest, and why it might be compelling to others.  For example, is there some situation or condition in teaching, teacher preparation, school finance, and the like that concerns you?  So what if we don’t understand the inequities of school financing?  So what if the drop-out rate for low-income minority students continues to grow?  So what that we don’t know the factors that motivate students to learn?  What if the situation remains the same?  What would happen if the situation changed?

Follow these steps in composing an idea sheet:

Step One: Explain your topic

Step Two: Detail the reasons why you are interested in the topic

Step Three: Describe what is at issue – what is open to dispute for you and others interested in education

Step Four: Describe for whom this issue might be significant or important (e.g., parents, teachers, administrators, policy makers)

Step Five: Formulate an issue-based question

Formulating an issue-based question can help you think through what you might be interested in writing about.  A good question develops out of an issue, some fundamental tension that you identify within a conversation. (See pp. 77-81 in Chapter 4 in Greene and Lidinsky).

For example, E.D. Hirsch believes that the best approach to educational reform (the topic or subject about which he writes) is to change the curriculum in schools.  In fact, he has argued that a curriculum based on “cultural literacy” is the one sure way to reverse the cycle of illiteracy that he has identified in urban cities.  This is Hirsch’s position.  So what is the issue?  The issue emerges in the presence of an alternative position.  As a social activist who has written extensively about educational reform, Jonathan Kozol presents an alternative: policy makers need to address reform by providing the necessary resources that all students need to learn.  He points out that students in many urban schools are reading textbooks that were published twenty years ago and the conditions in these schools make it impossible for students to learn.  In tension are two different views of what kinds of reform can reverse illiteracy.  One part of the issue is the view that educational reform should occur through changes in the curriculum; the second part is the view that reform should occur at the level of socio-economic change, change that would insure students have new textbooks and adequate conditions, such as windows that close in winter.

It is important to discuss an issue in the context of a current situation, so that readers will understand why you are raising a particular issue.  As a writer, you will need to familiarize yourself with what people are talking and writing about.  What is on people’s minds?  What is at issue for people?  What about for you?  What do your readers need to know about?  In turn, you will need to help readers understand why they are reading your essay and fulfill their expectations that what you are writing about is both relevant and timely.

Your issue-based question should be specific enough to guide inquiry into what others have written and help you accomplish the following:

  • Clarify what you know about the issue and what you still need to know
  • Guide your inquiry with a clear focus
  • Organize your inquiry around a specific issue
  • Develop an argument, rather than simply collecting information by asking “how,” “why,” “should” or the “extent to which something is true or not”
  • Consider who your audience is
  • Determine what resources you have, so that you can ask a question that you will be able answer with the resources available to you

You will have the opportunity to share your idea sheet with others in class and with me before you set out to write a more formal research proposal.


Your proposal is an argument that justifies the reasons why you think your study is necessary and why others should be invested in the work you are doing.  You should include an introduction to the issue you are focusing on, a review of relevant research, the questions motivating your study, and some analysis of what you think the implications of your study will be.  What will your study help us to learn? Why will it matter?


In the first several paragraphs of your introduction, you should (a) identify the issue that makes your study both relevant and timely; (b) provide a brief overview of the debate surrounding this issue, citing some prominent authors who have helped to frame the debate; (c) establish the presence of a gap in the knowledge we have about the issue you are focusing on; and (d) state the questions motivating your study.  (For an illustration of this kind of introduction, see pp. 89-97 in Chapter 5 in Greene and Lidinsky’s From Inquiry to Academic Writing).  Remember the criteria we have discussed for asking a “good question”:  (a) it should be specific enough to guide inquiry, (and know when we have answered the question); (b) it can be answered with the tools you have decided to use;  (c) it does not limit your answer to yes or no; and (d) it is organized around an issue.  (See pp. 77-81 in Chapter 4 in Greene and Lidinsky).

In your introduction, then, you should summarize the issue, explaining how this issue has led to the question motivating your research.  You should also explain why you are interested in this issue, why it is important, and what is at stake.  Why might others be interested in your attempts to answer the question?  Thus the introduction should help readers have a general understanding of the “conversation” you are entering and the ways that your research might contribute to that conversation.

Review of Research

Following the introduction, you should provide a review of the relevant research.  For a proposal, you should demonstrate that you have a firm grasp of the issue you are conducting research on as part of the argument you are making to justify your study.  The more effectively you convince readers that you know the issue, the more persuasive your argument.  Therefore, you will want to show that you have read widely, that you are aware of the most important studies conducted in your area of research – what I would call intellectual touchstones – that you are also aware of current research within the past 5 years, and that you understand the strengths and limitations of different approaches in justifying your own approach.

More specifically, you can use your review to accomplish some of the following:

  • Define a key term (e.g., parent involvement) that is central to your study that others may not necessary agree upon
  • Discuss the history relevant to your research (e.g., the impetus for testing in schools or the origin of a program such as Head Start)
  • Explain the strengths and limitations of different methodological approaches to answering similar research questions
  • Analyze the different theoretical approaches that authors have used to frame the issue (e.g., psychological, sociological, socio-economic, racial)
  • Identify trends in what researchers are finding or, perhaps, the lack of agreement
  • Point to more comprehensive reviews of research that others have written

To organize your review, you can use “headings” that focus on themes or concepts (e.g., “Defining Parent Engagement,” “Understanding the Changing Nature of Families,” “Ways to Foster Parent Involvement,” “Challenges to Fostering Parent Involvement,” and “Methodological Issues in Research Focusing on Parent Involvement.”


Your discussion of methods should be in the future. I will use (as opposed to “I hope to”).  First identify the participants in your study (e.g., principals, parents, teachers, children) by giving a brief biographical sketch, the context where your study will take place (e.g., a school), and the relevant demographic information (socio-economic background of participants, race, gender). The context is especially important since the site where your study takes place – the city, the school, and the neighborhood – shape the work and lives of the people you study.  Provide a visual description of the school and the neighborhood and offer a profile based on Census data.

Second, describe how you plan to collect your data. You will need to tell readers whether or not you will audiotape interviews and/or focus groups, and, if so, that you will transcribe the data.  If you are taking notes, you will want to explain whether or not you plan to take notes during or after the session.  Be sure to explain where you are conducting the interview or focus group and whether or not you are compensating participants.  If you are observing classes, you will need to explain how often you will observe, for how long, and whether you will be taking notes or transcribing data. And if you distribute a survey, be sure to explain how you will go about distributing the survey.

In this section on data collection procedure, you should also identify the types of secondary sources you plan to use (e.g., books and articles). What types of resources (e.g., library catalog, the Web) should you use to locate information? What search strategies (e.g., key word) will you use in getting the information you need?

Third, justify why you are using some methods of collecting data and not others.  Discuss the appropriateness of these methods given your research question.  Given the objectives you have set for yourself and the constraints of doing the research, are some methods better than others?  How will the methods you have chosen to use enable you to answer your question(s)?  These methods should reflect the theoretical perspective you are taking.

Finally, you should have some sense of how you will analyze the data you collect.  That is, readers will expect that you have done more than simply read your transcripts from interviews and focus groups to form impressions.  Therefore, you will want to explain the principles you will use to analyze the data in light of the research question(s) you are asking.

For example, your research might focus on the ways that families are involved in their children’s education.  Your interviews may include compelling narratives about the ways families get involved, but the challenge for you as a researcher is to create a conceptual framework for identifying the ways that families are involved.  This will require you to create categories based on the data you have collected and the research that others have done.  These categories may be cognitive (e.g., awareness of how their children are doing in school), affective (e.g., the relationships parents and other family members have with their children), social (e.g., the relationships families have with others in their community), and the like.


It may seem a little premature to talk about what you hope to find in your study, but it would be useful to say something about what you believe your study can help you (and readers) understand about the issue or question that has motivated your research.  More specifically, you can address how you believe your work can build upon, extend, or challenge what we know; how your work can affect teaching practice, theory, or policy; and how you study can raise questions that we have ignored.  It’s possible to say, even at an early stage, that policy, teaching, and the like can proceed if, and only if, we have studies of the sort you are conducting.


Identify when you expect to complete specific tasks.  For example, when will you do the following:

  • Contact participants and get their commitments
  • Conduct interviews, focus groups, and the like
  • Compile an annotated bibliography
  • Transcribe the data
  • Do the analyses
  • Draft an introduction, methods, and findings

Consent Forms

This is what you must do if you will be working with children in your research.  I have included examples of the kind of form that you can use.  Richard Hilliard, the person at Notre Dame responsible for Human Subjects research, suggests that “at a minimum . . . parents [should] receive a letter explaining what . . . you will be doing and types of interaction.  It should have all elements of a Parental Permission form and give parents the option of not having their child participate.  I don’t think it would have to be signed and returned for the project to go forward.  Naturally, you would need permission from the schools.”

Basic Format of a Proposal

Begin with a title, followed by an introduction (no heading) in which you set up the problem you will pursue, and then a method section set up in the following way with these headings:


Discuss Relevance of the Issue

Explain What We Know from Research and What We Need to Know

Define the Problem or Gap

Discuss How Your Research Will Address This Problem or Gap (Will you build upon and extend others’ research?  Fill the gap? Challenge prior assumptions?

Review of Relevant Research

Define Key Concepts

Give Historical Background

Discuss Methodological Issues

Reaffirm the Need for Your Study


Summary of Methods



Data Collection Procedure

Data Analysis Procedure


What the Study Should Help Us To Understand

Why What You Find Matters

Working Bibliography

**You should include the timeline and consent forms on separate pages.

Consent Form

You are invited to participate in a study of academic writing at the University of Notre Dame during the next four years.  You were selected from a random sample of all first-year students.  If you decide to participate, you will:

  1. provide the researcher with copies of the writing you complete for every class and the assignment, when available;
  2. provide up to four interviews during a given academic year;
  3. allow the researcher to use excerpts from the writing you complete and interviews in publications about research with the understanding that your identity will not be revealed at any time.

In all, participation out of class will take no more than 4 hours during an academic year.

Participation is completely voluntary; you may stop participating at any time prior to completion of the project.  Should you have any questions at any time, you are welcome to contact the researcher at the above address or via e-mail.  Your decision to participate or not will have no effect on your grade in any course or prejudice your future relations with the University.  One benefit of participating in the study is that you will have the opportunity to learn important information about writing.

If you are willing to participate in this research, please read and sign the consent form below.  You will be given a copy of this form to keep.

I agree to participate in all of the procedures above.  I understand that my identity will be protected during the study and that instructors will not have access to the interviews I provide.  I also understand that my name will not be revealed when data from the research are presented in publications.  (Tapes from this study will be kept for 5 years and then destroyed.)  I have read the above and give the researcher, Stuart Greene, and his co-authors permission to use excerpts from what I write or transcripts of tapes without identifying me as the writer or speaker.


Signature of Investigator


Should colleges and universities take race and ethnicity into consideration when selecting new freshman from the applicant pool? What is the purpose of having preference to the minority status in admissions? What does a diverse campus offer to its students? These are some of the issues I want to discuss in today’s focus group. But before we start, let me tell you about the assignment and your involvement.

The focus group may be defined as an interview style designed for small groups of 5-7 participants. Focus groups interviews are guided discussions addressing a particular topic of interest or relevance to the group and the researcher. The informal group discussion atmosphere of the focus group interview structure is intended to encourage subjects to speak freely and completely about behaviors, attitudes, and opinions they possess. For the purposes of my research, focus groups are a way to include multiple perspectives in my paper.

This session will be recorded so that I can prove my research.  No names will be used in the final paper or in any drafts. Letters (A, B, C, etc.) will identify different speakers within the actual paper. Two focus groups–one for minority students at Notre Dame, and another for non-minority students–are being held so that I can attain opinions and viewpoints from both sides of the issue, and discuss the similarities and differences.

Some things to keep in mind during the session:

  • Because I need to transcribe the dialog, try not to talk over another person
  • Feel free to agree or disagree with a question, statement, or another person’s answer
  • Don’t focus on the question, but on the discussion
  • Avoid going off on tangents
  • Be open and honest with all responses

Thank you for taking the time to be involved in my research. By signing below you give me permission to use the comments you provide for my paper. You understand that in no way will your identity be revealed, except by your minority or non-minority status. If you would like a copy of the results of the focus groups, please include your e-mail address and the documents will be sent to you.

Name                                                                               Male  Female (circle one)

Ethnicity                                                                        Class of_________

e-mail address


Research Log (From Jim Frabutt, Ph.D., Aliance for Catholic Education)

Conceive of the research log entries as a vehicle to record, describe, reflect, and critically evaluate your action research experience throughout the school year.  Each reflection serves as a project log, documenting your research activities.  More than a chronological log, however, the research journal entry should catalog observations, ideas, challenges, and successes of your project.

Below is a list of possible questions to keep in mind as you make entries:

a) What have you recently learned?

b) Are you satisfied with your progress?

c) What challenges are you facing, and how have you overcome them?

d) What do you want to do next?

e) What inhibits the outcome that you are trying to achieve?

f) Who might help overcome challenges?

g) What surprises you?

h) What, if anything, has challenged your assumptions about what is true?



Hendricks, C. (2006). Improving schools through action research: A comprehensive guide for educators. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

James, E., Milenkiewicz, M., & Bucknam, A. (2008). Participatory action research for educational leadership: Using data-driven decision making to improve schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Killion, J. P., & Todnem, G. R. (1991). A process for building personal theory. Educational Leadership, 48, 14-16.

Schön, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.











More than simply reporting what you find in your research, you should use your data to develop an argument that encourages readers to think one way or another about the issue out of which your study has developed.  The structure of your argument may vary, but there are several basic strategies that you need to consider.

  • Formulate an issue and explain its importance. Remember, at the center of an issue (as opposed to a topic) is a fundamental tension that is open to dispute; this tension can lead to a clear research question.
  • Identify a gap reviewing the relevant research. Your review should inform readers about the issue: define key concepts, provide historical background, discuss methodological issue.  Equally important, you should use your review to help readers see a gap in current research and to explain why your study is necessary.
  • Justify your methodological approach. You should provide an argument to explain why the methodological approach you take is the best way to answer your research question.
  • Analyze the evidence. Your reader will not automatically understand how your evidence fits into the larger picture of your paper.  By explaining how the evidence backs up your points, you reveal the logic of the argument and convince even the most skeptical reader.
  • Make a claim. The claim is your thesis, and it is central to the argument.  What is your position, or what do you want to convince your reader of?
  • Support your claim(s) with reasons or evidence. Reasons are the main points of your argument (the “because” part of your argument).  What is the basis of the claim you are making?
  • Contextualize your claims. Explain how what you find fills a gap or builds upon and extends what others have found.  Refer to others’ studies in your discussion and consider how others might respond to what you argue.
  • Help readers understand the implications of your study. In the end, you will want readers to understand what your findings mean for teaching, policy, learning, research, and/or theory.  You can also point to what you see are some next steps in the kind of research you are interested in, particularly if you think additional studies are necessary.

Getting Started

We will discuss the value of doing community-based research, so an important starting point is to identify an issue that you are not only passionate about, but which also grows out of a perceived need in the local community. You will have the opportunity to meet with local teachers and administrators in the South Bend Community School Corporation to discuss some of the pressing issues that they are facing.  I have listed a few of these issues on p. 11, which the Superintendant has expressed an interest in pursuing.

To get started, you can also consider the issues that you have read about and discussed in the introduction to Education, Schooling, and Society, as well as other classes: motivation as a factor in learning, school choice, the stratification of schools and the potential value of de-tracked classrooms, the promise of teaching and learning in democratic classrooms, the pressures of high-stakes testing on both teachers and students, the value of connecting service to disciplinary learning, and so on.

Alternatively, go to one of the electronic databases on the library homepage and type in some key words related to a topic that interests you (e.g., school finance, high-stakes testing, curricular reforms) or question (e.g., to what extent can school finance insure greater equity in schools?  How do low-income minority parents’ attitudes support or challenge the rhetoric used to make claims about the black-white achievement gap?)  After you locate relevant research, use the titles as additional key words for searches and look for bibliographies on each entry.

As you read and begin to take notes, you will find that the real work of writing occurs when you try to figure out the answers to the following questions.  Answering these questions is what makes inquiry central to the process of composing:

  • What have people been talking about?
  • What are some relevant concerns for those whose work I have been reading?
  • What are the situations motivating people to write?
  • What theories do writers use to construct their arguments?
  • To what extent are the approaches others have taken adequate to assessing the problem?
  • Have others provided sufficient evidence to support their claims?
  • What gaps in knowledge exist in what researchers are finding? What do we still need to know about?
  • Who will be interested in reading what I have to say?
  • How can I connect with readers who may be both sympathetic and antagonistic toward my argument?
  • What is at stake and for whom in my own argument? (what if things change? what if things stay the same?)
  • What kinds of evidence might persuade readers?

Criteria for Assessing the Quality of Your Project

In coming to terms with what you find, you should address what your study teaches us and what you have learned.  You will find models of this type of writing in the studies that we will examine this semester.  A successful research project will:

  • Include a relevant, timely, and important research question(s)
  • Provide a substantial review of the research relevant to your study
  • Justify the use of a particular methodological approach to answering the research question
  • Provide a compelling analysis of the data
  • Use evidence persuasively
  • Place what you find in conversation with what others have found, showing how your study builds upon or extends what others have written
  • Demonstrates a clear purpose and achieves it
  • Effectively speaks to the target audience (appropriate “voice”, word choice, etc.)
  • “Flows” well (i.e., has smooth transitions, logical organization, and effective intro/conclusion);



The Writer’s Responsibilities. Come to class with several specific things you want your group to listen for in your draft. Explain to your group members any concerns you have about the draft before you read.  Are you concerned, for example, about whether your ideas are developed enough to make sense? About whether your organization is easy to follow? About whether the tone you take toward your audience is appropriate? Always write down your concerns and questions before you come to class. When you’ve finished reading, ask the group to respond specifically to your concerns, in addition to raising new concerns of their own.

Here are some questions that you might ask yourself before asking your group for advice:

  1. What is your goal with this essay? To fill a gap? To correct or modify an existing interpretation?
  2. What is the issue you are responding to?
  3. What motivates your research?
  4. Have you adequately reviewed the relevant literature?
  5. Have you spelled out the theoretical perspective you are taking?
  6. What’s your thesis?
  7. What evidence do you use to support your thesis?
  8. Are your implications linked clearly to your data?
  9. Have you acknowledged the limitations of your study?
  10. What do you consider the strongest aspect of the essay – that is, what do you feel is working best? What aspect of the essay are you least satisfied with at this time? What kind of feedback do you especially want today?

Be open to suggestions.  You need not incorporate every suggestion your group makes in your revision of the draft, but you should make sure you at least understand their comments and concerns.  If you don’t understand what your group members are saying about your draft, ask them to clarify or give you an example. If you do not decide to take someone’s suggestion, you should have a good reason for doing so–– such as that following their suggestion would require you to change your purpose or intended audience in ways that are unnecessary (given the assignment) and unappealing to you personally.

The Readers’ Responsibilities. Follow along as the draft is being read, paying special attention to the concerns the writer has explained.  Take notes directly on the draft copy, circling or underlining sections you find confusing or have questions about, so that you can specifically refer to them in your discussion.

Offer both positive and negative criticism.  Starting the session by giving positive reinforcement on what is working well in the paper is extremely important, both so the writer knows when he is on the right track, and so that you provide an atmosphere in which it is easier for him to hear constructive criticism as well.  But don’t shy away from telling the reader what should be working better. It’s your job as a reader to offer honest and specific responses to the draft, so that it can realize its potential as a piece of writing; otherwise we’re all just wasting our time.

Try to have a conversation about your reactions to the draft (where confused you, persuaded you, and so forth), rather than just jumping in and telling the writer what he or she “should be doing” in the paper.  Your role as a reader is to give the writer a live audience, whose responses can help the writer decide what parts of the paper are successful and what parts need to be concentrated on in a revision.

A good strategy is to offer to paraphrase particular parts of the draft so that the writer can hear how you, the reader, have understood what he or she was trying to say.  This is especially helpful for early drafts and papers that are still in a confused state of organization.

Finally, make sure that the writer understands not only how the piece of writing affected you, but what, in concrete terms, she might do to make the writing even more effective. If the writer has no concrete plan for revising, help her brainstorm one.