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 Capacity building resources

Resources from Research Capacity Building Network and Journal

Chris Taylor

Chris is a senior lecturer at the School of Social Sciences at the University of Cardff and co-director of the NCRM node Qualiti in Cardiff


Paradigms, ethics and politics of research
How to reference this page

Paradigms, ethics and politics of research

Here are a number of recommended references from colleagues within the education research community on the following topics:

Quality and Relevance of Education Research

There have been several high profile critiques of education research over the past decade. Indeed, a major response to these has been the establishment of and investment in the ESRC Teaching and Learning Research Programme. Not only has there been a significant response to the organisation of education research in the UK , there have also been a series of important methodological debates about the nature and approach of education research.

At its inception the TLRP Research Capacity Building Network undertook an extensive consultation exercise with members of the education research community, including academic researchers, funders, and users of education research. As a result of that consultation a detailed report was written outlining the main concerns amongst members of the community about the quality and relevance of education research.

Taylor, C. (2002) The RCBN Consultation Exercise: Stakeholder Report , Cardiff University School of Social Sciences Occasional Paper 50
Executive Summary:

One key debate has been about the need for education research studies and their chosen methodological approaches and methods to be ‘fit for purpose' . In the following two articles, Professor Stephen Gorard ( University of Birmingham ), discusses the need for the choice of research methods to be ‘fit for purpose' in response to these growing concerns about the quality and relevance of education research.

Gorard, S. (2001) The way forward for educational research?, Cardiff University School of Social Sciences Occasional Paper 42 , Cardiff : Cardiff University School of Social Sciences

Gorard, S. (2002) How do we overcome the methodological schism (or can there be a 'compleat' researcher)?, Cardiff University School of Social Sciences Occasional Paper 47 , Cardiff : Cardiff University School of Social Sciences

See also:
Gorard, S. (2002) Political control: A way forward for educational research?, British Journal of Educational Studies , 50, 3, 378-389

In response to the call for research methods to be ‘fit for purpose' Professor Martyn Hammersley (Open University) reminds us in his short article of the difficulties that this poses, particularly as it implicitly requires knowledge of a wide range of research methods and techniques. By drawing upon the hermeneutic tradition Professor Hammersley goes on to suggest that this project underestimates the transformation in approach that is required, before concluding that such a shift is not possible in the short-term.

Hamersley, M. (2003) Making educational research fit for purpose? A hermeneutic response, Building Research Capacity , 5, 2-5

Similar critiques and subsequent calls for change have emerged in the US . In a short article, Professor William Firestone ( Rutgers University ), discusses the growing politicisation of research methods in education that is embedded within the No Child Left Behind legislation. Professor Firestone begins to identify the consequences of this ‘new' science of education in the US .

Firestone, W. A. (2003) The culture wars affect research methods: A report from the USA , Building Research Capacity , 5, 5-6

The recent call for more ‘scientific' approaches to education research, particularly by politicians and policy-makers, heralds some kind of return to positivism. In his article, Professor Tom Steele ( University of Glasgow ), reminds us of the progressive past of Positivist approaches to education research.

Steele, T. (2003) Positivism's progressive past, Building Research Capacity , 5, 6-9

In 2005-06 the TLRP funded a seminar series to consider the quality of ( UK ) educational research in detail. As a result of that seminar series, the main organisers, Dr Natasha Macnab and Professor Gary Thomas (both University of Birmingham ) consider the debate on quality, and, in particular, critique the general criteria or warrants most often employed by funders of research. As a result of this critique the authors argue that a significant way research quality can be assessed is through social or community assessment – communities of practice in research and inquiry.

Macnab, N. and Thomas, G. (2007) Quality in educational research: community assessment, Building Research Capacity , 12, 1-2
[hyperlink required]

Research Techniques

In this section a number of important research techniques are considered. Many of them are essential to the successful completion of a research study. This section also contains access to an extensive methodological database of references.

Research Questions

The formulation and development of research questions is an essential stage of the research process. This 10-page guide by Professor Anne Edwards, produced for the TLRP RCBN, first discusses how our assumptions about education and social science research shape the research questions before guiding the reader through the process of determining the aims and objectives of a research study. Professor Edwards then attempts to link different kinds of research questions to the different kinds of research designs that one may wish to pursue:

Moving On: Linking Research Questions to Research Design (Anne Edwards 2003)

The TLRP RCBN also collated a number of references that discuss the formulation, development and refinement of research questions:

Research Ethics

There have been numerous discussions and debates about the changing landscape on research ethics in recent years. Increasingly researchers are formulating contracts with their research participants in order to meet institutional ethical frameworks. However, the use of contracts is not entirely new, and in this short article by Dr Matt Bradshaw ( University of Tasmania , Australia ) he discusses the past use of research contracts in education. Furthermore, Dr Bradshaw usefully outlines to the reader the circumstances when formulating research contracts may be appropriate or inappropriate.

Bradshaw, M. (2002) Contracts with research participants: degrees of appropriateness, Building Research Capacity , 4, 4-6

Archiving Data

The ESRC-funded Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS) UK Data Archive put together four MS Powerpoint presentations for the TLRP RCBN that provide background information on the Economic and Social Data Service and how to deposit and archive both 'quantitative' and 'qualitative' data. These are very useful for all ESRC-funded research projects. You can download or access these powerpoint slides below. There are four presentations altogether, all listed below with more detail about their content:

* These powerpoint presentations were first presented at the RCBN workshop 'Using Archive Data Sources for Teaching and Learning Research' at Essex University on 4 June 2003 .


This brief paper by Professor Stephen Gorard (University of Birmingham ) and Dr Chris Taylor ( Cardiff University ) considers the metaphor/analogy of triangulation in education research. It offers a very simple way of considering the potential benefits of triangulation in social science research and suggests that a complementary notion of triangulation is very useful when trying to combine qualitative and quantitative data.

Gorard, S. and Taylor, C. (2004) What is ‘triangulation'? Building Research Capacity, 7, 7-9

Writing ‘Natural Histories' of Research

Often it is useful to formalise one's experiences of the research process in order to develop your own research expertise and that of others. Professor Martyn Hammersley (The Open University) suggests that one way of doing this is to write ‘natural histories' of research. This may be useful to experienced researchers who wish to write about their approach(es) to research. And in doing this experienced researchers will be able to contribute to the development of new career researchers. Professor Hammersley produced a guide to writing ‘natural histories' for the TLRP RCBN. This includes a 5-page introduction and outline to writing natural histories followed by a fairly exhaustive reference list and collection of research biographies, including many from the field of education research.

Guide to Natural Histories of Research (Martyn Hammersley 2003)

Methodological References Database

The TLRP RCBN compiled a database of over 200 methodological texts in EndNote. These references include journal articles and book chapters. The database was intended to be as comprehensive as possible and, as such, made no attempt to review the texts listed. Therefore inclusion of an item in the database is in no way indicative of recommendation by the RCBN.

Each entry has a full reference and is coded to 35 key terms under the Label heading. This means that the database can be searched by one or a combination of key terms (such as Ethics, Generalisation or Systematic Review). And since the database is an EndNote database this can be appended to other reference lists you may use. EndNote can also be linked with any Word document in order to Cite While You Write (CWYW), and produces a fast and simple way of producing a bibliography in any Word document. You can download a trial version of EndNote from the official website:

RCBN Methodological References Database (last updated in 2005)
[an updated version of this database needs to be placed on the TLRP website]

Applied Research

In a short article Professor John Elliott ( University of East Anglia ) discusses what applied research is in the field of education. In it he discusses the importance of generating actionable knowledge. Professor Elliott goes on to briefly outline the development of such an approach in education before addressing a number of challenges, such as the place of practitioner research.

Elliott, J. (2002) What is applied research in education? Building Research Capacity , 3, 7-10

Researching Contexts

In 2005-06 the TLRP funded a seminar series to explore the conceptualisation of context in relation to learning. As a result of this seminar series the main organiser, Professor Richard Edwards ( University of Stirling ) reviews some of the positions and issues that arose, and, in particular, asks what is a learning context and how best the relationship between learning and context be best conceptualised.

Edwards, R. (2006) Conceptualising, categorising, contextualising – it's the name of the game, Building Research Capacity , 11, 4-6
[hyperlink required]

Theory in Educational Research

A provocative article by Peter Tymms and Carol Taylor Fitz-Gibbon argues that theory, and the over-reliance on theory , is holding back educational research. Not everyone will necessarily agree with this but the short article by Tymms and Taylor Fitz-Gibbon will certainly stimulate and provoke debate.

Tymms, P. and Taylor Fitz-Gibbons, C. (2002) Theories, hypotheses, hunches and ignorance, Building Research Capacity , 2, 10-11

How to reference this page: Taylor, C. (2007) Resources from the Research Capacity Building Network and Journal. London: TLRP. Online at (accessed )

Creative Commons License TLRP Resources for Research in Education by Teaching and Learning Research Programme is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License




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