Introduction to Research Methodology
This article is part of the Deconstructing MUN: Research series. Check out the rest of the series below!
Part 1: Introduction to Research Methodology (currently reading) Part 2: Identifying Keywords
Part 4: Source Curation (coming soon)
Part 5: Annotation and Analysis (coming soon)
Part 6: Cross-Referencing (coming soon)
“Basic research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing” - Wernher von Braun
There is perhaps no better statement than that of von Braun’s to describe the unending pile of tabs we keep open on our internet browser at the start of every project. With 24/7 access to the World Wide Web at our fingertips and from the comforts of our bedroom, is it any wonder that we sometimes feel daunted and overwhelmed from being exposed to a glut of information which our brains did not naturally evolve to handle?
Similarly, before any earnest delegate begins any serious attempt at researching their assigned country and topic for an upcoming MUN conference, there is always the inevitable temptation to perform a quick Google search of the topic’s key terms as well as the name of their assigned country. You know, just to get the ball rolling and find a good place to start research proper.
Such a delegate would be immediately confronted with something like this.
In a split second, Google has kindly informed the delegate that there are half a billion web pages related to the search term entered, waiting patiently for their perusal.
Not all the web pages would be relevant.
Not all the web pages would be understandable to the layman.
Not all the web pages would be free to access.
So, how does one crystallise something meaningful out of the online research experience? How does one successfully locate the needle within a barn of haystacks without resorting to picking out every straw one at a time?
Significance of Research
So, why even research in the first place? Specifically for MUN, it is an academic simulation that allows one to explore and understand a pertinent international issue from the viewpoint of a country. Naturally, most of us have neither the intimate awareness or knowledge of said international issue nor the profile of the country, let alone how the country might perceive said issue and what it wants to get out of the issue. As such, we research to gain awareness on these points:
1. What is the profile of my country/portfolio?
History of country/portfolio
History of country/portfolio
SPECTRA policies (i.e. social, political, economic, cultural, technological, racial/religious, aesthetic)
Relevant history and interaction with other countries/portfolios
2. What is the issue about?
History of the issue
Recurring definitions and references
3. How does the issue fit into the prevailing global context?
What else is happening in the world at that instance?
What were precursors to the issue?
What was the aftermath of the issue?
What impact does the issue have nationally, regionally, and/or internationally?
Wait, isn’t there something called a Study Guide? Does it not already answer most, if not all, of the questions above and even offer other tidbits of information?
Well, Study Guides are written by your committee chairs to facilitate novice delegates in being aware of the intricacies of the issue being discussed and the relevance of countries/portfolios within the boundaries of the issue. They are meant to serve as guideposts to lead us in the right direction when we conduct our own research on the issue and our country/portfolio. However, Study Guides on their own do not contain all the relevant information you may need, especially those pertaining to your assigned country’s stance on the issue.
Here is an extremely efficient way to do research.
Often, the contents found in Study Guides are simply paraphrased from online materials, which can be found through Google searches, and subsequently organised such that information on the topic flows more smoothly. Thus, an industrious delegate spending hours on Google would eventually have more or less ‘read’ the entire Study Guide just by encountering snippets of data and information during their research. Of course, the (cheeky) assumption here is that the body text is not even worth reading, and that the only relevant signposts in the Study Guide are in the headers and subheaders, as well as the Questions A Resolution Must Answer section.
If you still wish to savour the Study Guide but only as a light appetiser, read the first and last sentence of every section. You will obtain the gist of the arguments that your chairs are proposing, without being too bogged down by the nitty gritty details and elaborations of these arguments.
And finally for the full course meal, you may also choose to read the entire Study Guide from start to end (which is probably what your chairs intended anyway). While certainly not as efficient as the above two methods, reading the entire Study Guide is a way for you to express your appreciation for your chairs’ efforts! More importantly, the Study Guide contains your chairs’ own analyses on certain nuances in the topic, as well as expert opinions retrieved from academic journals and books which may not be found as easily online.
Although the Study Guide may seem lengthy at times, it is still an excellent resource for you to start your research for the conference.
Many people are already familiar with the basics of online research. Chances are, you have even done a fair bit of online research for school projects and assignments. However, how conscious are you of habits and steps you take while trawling through the tabs upon tabs of articles and papers? Is ‘research’ just a single step to you, or a process that can be deconstructed into many phases, each with its own distinct procedures and objectives?
Learning intrinsically is a process that can be deconstructed, but many are oblivious to this. Instead, they absorb information from their environment without really thinking about how it works. Learning takes place at different rates for different people, which results in a popular, yet fallacious, view that there exists “slow” and “fast” learners in our society (Gentile et al., 1995).
Why does this statement not hold? Because “slow” learners can in fact bloom to become as proficient in picking up new skills and knowledge as their “fast” counterparts. They do this by being conscious of their own studying and learning habits, tweaking them to their advantage. On a deeper level, some even employ “mental models”, which are intangible architectures or organisations of ideas and knowledge that we form in our minds to model certain processes or systems. This is known as “meta-learning” in the academic world (Biggs, 1985).
Likewise, we can apply the idea of “meta-learning” to our online research in order to understand what our thought processes are and produce a “methodology” of sorts. The benefit of having a methodology as opposed to doing research without a clear plan in mind is as such:
Full awareness and recognition of every step within the research process.
Immediate recall of how to research optimally regardless of context by re-applying the methodology.
Effective tweaking of methodology at every step to best suit a particular context.
Now that we are aware that we need to be aware of how we can make ourselves aware during research, is there a universal methodology template which we all can use?
Everyone has their own tried-and-tested way of learning due to our differences in cognition and mental models; how we perceive knowledge and glean insights from it differ from person to person. However, I will share my own here for the purposes of this series of articles, and hopefully you can draw inspiration from it to create your own. My 5-step pipeline consists of:
Scoping and Magnifying
Annotation and Analysis
If you have already developed your own tried-and-tested methodology, then I wholeheartedly encourage you to keep using your own as you may be more comfortable with your own habits and processes. Nonetheless, feel free to read on if you are interested in finding out more about how other people conduct research, and hopefully you can take a leaf or two out from the next few articles.
Tan Yong Yi
Gentile, J. R., Voelkl, K. E., Pleasant, J. M., & Monaco, N. M. (1995). Recall After Relearning by Fast and Slow Learners. The Journal of Experimental Education, 63(3),185-197. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220973.1995.9943808
Biggs, J. B. (1985). The Role of Metalearning in Study Processes. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 55(3),185-212. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8279.1985.tb02625.x