What type of data should I use?
One of the first decisions you will need to make as part of the planning process is whether you will generate primary data or use existing, secondary data:
You should talk to your supervisor about which option would work best for your project and ultimately enable you to answer your research question or meet your overall aim for the project. You can find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of these reaserch approachs in the SAGE Research Methods online project planner.
Should I change to secondary data due to Covid-19 and remote working?
Social distancing and remote working have made collecting primary data more challenging: it can be more difficult to recruit participants without face-to-face meetings, and you will need to consider whether you have the equipment and software needed to communicate with participants online. However, this does not mean you cannot generate primary data for your dissertation, just that you may need to get creative in how you approach your research question. For more information on collecting primary data while social distancing measures are in place, visit the University's online guide to remote research and ethics.
Switching to secondary data may offer a solution to some of the challenges posed by Covid-19. There are a wide range of existing data sets available online, which you can then analyse or interpret using your own theoretical framework or analytical methods. A list of online data sets can be found on the Hallam Library webpages and in the SAGE Research Methods repository.
Other common dissertation types that use existing data are extended literature reviews, systematic reviews and policy analysis studies. Once you've explored the different dissertation types, consider which approaches are common in your discipline or research area, and always talk to your supervisor about which option works best for your project.
Many of these sections should be familiar as they replicate those found in the methodology section of a normal piece of research; for further guidance on how to approach planning and writing these sections of your methodology, browse the menu on the left-hand side of this guide or visit our writing up guide to get started.
For more information on writing about potential findings and implications, look at Research Proposals: A Practical Guide (Chapter 10) by Martyn Denscombe.
It’s always important to justify your chosen research approach and methods, whether you’re writing-up a piece of research that you’ve conducted or writing an extended methodology/research proposal. This will involve a detailed discussion of alternative approaches/methods, and, crucially, an explanation of why your chosen approach/method is the most suited to answering your research questions rather than the alternatives.
This might be due to your epistemological position, conventions within your academic discipline, or the nature of what your research is trying to achieve; for example, if you were trying to understand the experiences of postgraduate students at Sheffield Hallam, it would not be appropriate to send hundreds of questionnaires out to people all over the country. This type of research aim would be better suited to a case study approach as the intentions and associated methods of this approach, are more appropriate for understanding a specific group, in a specific context.
This is really your opportunity to demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the intersection between the philosophical, theoretical and practical factors that go into research. By establishing a clear justification for your chosen approach, you help to convey your own positionality as a researcher and situate your proposed project against the wider academic context.
Many people have had to change their methodologies due to COVID 19, but it’s important that you still provide a rich and nuanced justification for your new chosen approach. Unfortunately, saying ‘COVID 19 made me change to research method X’ isn’t a good enough justification!
The same principles of participant recruitment that apply to face-to-face research should be considered when recruiting and expanding your participant base remotely. Contacting people by email or phone will always be a longer process than communicating face-to-face, so be patient if communication is slower than you would like. Think about how to be effective in communicating information about the project to potential participants, and at every stage consider how you will protect their data in an online environment.
Here are some key points to consider:
Start with the existing literature
If you are yet to recruit your participants, start by making notes on existing studies that have used remote data collection methods, and talk to your supervisor about where you might recruit your participants (and how many you need for a viable project).
Draw on your networks
Be practical, thinking about potential participants that you can easily access and engage with in your project. These might be coursemates, other university students, or communities you have worked with on placement. If you already know your participants, or belong to the group yourself, be sure to consider your positionality and think about the potential for research bias.
Be realistic about ethical approval
It is important to balance your ambitions for the project with practical considerations, and to be realistic about who you will be able to involve in your research. For example, for PGT projects, it is unlikely that you will have time to gain ethics approval for working with vulnerable communities or involving participants in sensitive topics. Similarly, by working remotely, it may be difficult to access certain groups to share their perceptions, particularly if you are interested in a group of participants based on their profession (for example, teachers).
Read up on selection and sampling techniques
Familiarise yourself with the different ways you can recruit participants remotely to ensure a representative sample. For more information on sampling techniques, and their relative advantages and limitations, visit our SAGE Research Methods resource via the library.
Think about the logistics of recruiting and gathering data from participants
How will you reach out to participants and are you using multiple methods of communication, or relying entirely on a single point of contact, such as an online survey? Some communication methods may be easier for your participants to engage with than others - try to build this into your research design. You will also need to think about how you ensure data is anonymised and how you will keep track of the number of participants involved in your project if they are participating remotely.
Have a contingency plan
Reflect on the possible points of failure in your project and possible solutions for these. If your online survey fails to attract enough participants, can you run a second phase of data collection using focus groups? What is your minimum number of participants needed to meet your research aims.
Set yourself a goal
Set an ideal sample size as well as a lower limit. Aim for the minimum in the time you have available - any extra participants would then be a bonus!
Share your findings
You will need to let your participants know how their data will be stored and how they can access the results of your project once it is completed. You can find guidance on this, and wider GDPR considerations, on the university's ethics pages.
There are various ways in which you can conduct interviews or focus groups remotely. Which one you use depends on a number of factors, in particular the technology which is available to you and your respondents
Phone or video calls
Interview via e-mail or documents
You may be able to conduct an interview via an e-mail exchange. It is best to use an encrypted email service. If instead you would like to use documents for the interactions, it is best to use a secure drop-off service such as https://zendto.shu.ac.uk using an agreed password, or sending an encrypted document. You should also scan documents for viruses.
The following tools can be used for qualitative and quantitative data gathering, such as surveys and questionnaires:
You can also find useful information from the following sites:
For NHS related research please see the HRA Guidance about COVID-19 for sponsors, sites and researchers.
If you have any concerns about how remote working may affect your ethical approval, speak to your supervisor or your research support librarian.