Many contentious and assiduous researchers often encounter difficulties when it comes to the research presentation. This is because of the very simple fact that the process of research presentation targets the wider audience, not the researchers or individuals who may be in the know. Many research studies are initiated to come up with practical answers to problems affecting individuals, institutions or the wider society.
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It is therefore imperative for researchers to make the presentations as effective and easy to comprehend as possible if the intended audience is to benefit from the whole research process. The level and scope of the research content must invariably depend on the intended audience (McNamara, 2008, para.4). In business research, the audience may be comprised of financial sponsors, clients, customers, employees, financial institutions, or the larger public. This is a critique of Laura Thomson’s study on community networks and social capital in rural Scotland.
Judging by the title of Laura’s research, it seems the most pertinent purpose of the research is to evaluate if the creation of community networks can really enhance social capital in rural Scotland. This is a good topic to research on bearing in mind that few studies have been conducted on her topic of interest. Effective studies are those that investigate new topics of interest, including evaluating conventional topics in a way that no researcher has done before (Wash & Wigens, 2003, p. 41).
All her research questions are simply formulated, and able to offer the reader a glimpse of what the study is all about – new technologies, community networks, and how the interrelation between the two impacts the creation of social capital in rural communities. The success of any research process depends on the proper formulation of key research questions (Babbie, 2009, p.255). This enables the researcher to comprehensively test her hypothesis using qualitative and quantitative research techniques, as well as a review of related literature. Indeed, her stated hypothesis relates well with key research questions to give the study an appealing connectedness.
The above methodologies enable the researcher to come up with interesting findings of community networks and social capital in rural Scotland. However, the researcher fails to give relevant background information on her key area of study in her introduction. Also, the study lacks a proper definition of the dependent and independent variables, while their operationalization is somehow vague, especially in the qualitative approach.
The purpose of a theoretical framework is to guide the research process (Salwen & Stacks, 1996, p. 371). Lack of precise theoretical grounding is often problematic as crucial variables and processes fail to be integrated into coherent theories. However, Laura brings in some theoretical models of community and social networks to assist her in analysing community relationships. Though vaguely explained, her use of Putman’s Social Capital Theory, Oldenburg’s Third Place Theory and Etzioni’s communitarianism help her to develop tangible variables to assist her in measuring the effects of community networks on social capital.
The review of related literature has effectively defined key study concepts and elaborated on some study variables meant to assist in answering the research questions. This is a fundamental step in any research process. Through the researcher’s theoretical base and review of related literature, the audience can effectively decipher the main issues the research will dwell on. From the analysis of the theoretical frameworks and review of literature, it is clear to the audience that the measurement of social capital will revolve around issues of community collaboration, reciprocity, communication channels, trust, social cohesion, moral commitment, and shared values. Important terminologies are also explained in the context that the researcher wants them known to the respondents and the larger audience.
Such terms include community, identity, community networks and rural communities. Although she does well in detailing the various theories contained in the review of related literature, a conceptualized picture of Caithness County, her main area of study, is unavailable for the audience’s review.
As already mentioned, Laura uses both quantitative and qualitative research approaches in her study. It is imperative to note that Laura engages a case study approach to comprehensively collect the required data within Caithness online community. According to Creswell (1998), a case study is “an exploration of a ‘bounded system’ or a case [or multiple cases] over time through detailed, in-depth data collection involving multiple sources of information-rich in context” (p. 61).
It is also imperative to note that Laura’s case study approach departs from tradition as case studies are mostly performed in a surrounded system, usually under natural settings so that the phenomena under study can be understood from its own natural habitat (Yin, 2002, p.104). Laura uses an online community to conduct her case study. Her research involves both interpretive strategies and sequential analysis. Interpretive approaches are of paramount importance in this type of research as they enable the researcher to utilize the theoretical frameworks and review of related literature to construct or develop possible scenarios that may result from the collected data.
The interpretive approach also assists Laura to understand key issues through accessing the meanings that respondents attach to them from the theoretical frameworks and other literature bearing in mind that she is dealing with online respondents (Walsham, n.d., para. 2). Summarily mentioned, all the above research techniques serve to improve the validity and reliability of collected data.
Laura involves a multiplicity of data gathering techniques to collect data for the study. These techniques include participant observations, structured questionnaires, interview schedules, and chat room conversations. According to Trochim (2006), a case study can be conducted using many techniques, including unstructured interviewing, focus groups, participant observation, and direct observation (para. 5). Most qualitative data gathering techniques helps the researcher to generate categories by conducting a comprehensive analysis of recurrent themes. These categories are then applied to the theoretical models with the aim of answering key research questions.
This allows Laura’s study findings to have the validity and reliability required in any research process. The questionnaire is used to collect quantitative data. However, her data gathering techniques seems to be faced with many challenges and limitations bearing in mind the nature of her respondents. For instance, the researcher does not have any chance to record or note non-verbal communication mostly used to judge the attitudes of respondents towards certain issues of interest since the techniques are mostly applied via email (Babbie, 2009, p. 98). Other areas of concern include lack of trust, overdependence of opportunistic moments, lack of control over the quantity and quality of responses, and issues of symbolic interaction.
Laura has separated qualitative analysis from the quantitative analysis to make the results more understandable to the audience. For the quantitative results, the researcher has utilized graphical presentations to make them more understandable and appealing to the general audience. Each presentation – qualitative and quantitative – is followed by a comprehensive discussion to underline fundamental research findings. Occasionally, she relates back to the study objectives and hypothesis to make the results relevant to the research questions. According to Babbie (2009), study results must always ensure that key research questions are answered as this will ultimately prove or disapprove the study’s hypothesis (p. 102). Overall, the quality of her data analysis and presentation of results is appealing to general readers.
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The quantitative findings for this study have been derived from the analysis of structured interviews. A critical analysis of the results reveals that the quantitative component of this study achieved much more in proving the study’s hypothesis than the qualitative approach. The method used in presenting quantitative findings is also much clearer and appealing. A quick perusal of quantitative findings will often inform the reader about how community networks are able to enhance social capital.
This is mainly achieved through a proper layout of the research questions in the structured questionnaire (Wash & Wigens, 2003, p.51). Overall, the quantitative findings are effective in proving the hypothesis. The most interesting part is the quantitative finding that reveals the power of online community networks to enhance social capital on a global scale. Her measures of central tendency enable one to realize that most users of community networks are between 30 and 45 years old. Her measures of dispersion enable one to realize that certain individuals within the population are not interested in community networks.
Finally, one is able to comprehend the fact that a graphical presentation is able to provide the same information that general numbers may present while making the information appear more appealing. It is easy to see how certain measures are concentrated around specific values using graphical presentations (“Graphical Methods,” n.d., p.23-24)
Laura’s qualitative findings are somehow vague and lack proper thematic categorizations. According to the researcher, qualitative data is to be achieved through participant observations, interview schedules and conversations. First, her qualitative data collection parameters are limited to only one facilitator of Caithness community website and a few webmasters from the same site. This presents a problem when it comes to validating the data since the responses may have been skewed to present a certain position (Babbie, 2009, p.109).
Although Laura’s use of many qualitative data gathering techniques may be aimed at ensuring the validity and reliability of the study findings, her choice of respondents for the qualitative interview is somehow wanting. To develop more valid and reliable categories used to answer the key research questions, the researcher should have considered evaluating the value systems and attitudes of another community network group. In this respect, serious concerns arise in relation to the validity and reliability of the qualitative findings. I feel that such findings are too shallow to be generalized to other community networks. The qualitative results may, therefore, fail to be effective. Secondly, conducting participant observations and interviews online may not be the best way of getting effective qualitative data.
According to Veal (2005), any qualitative research technique must aim at gathering an in-depth perception of human behaviour and the justification behind such behaviour (p. 19). This vital characteristic may be limited if the researcher is dealing with online subjects. What’s more, it becomes hard to discern some attitudes and thoughts exhibited in nonverbal communication if the interviews are conducted online. Thirdly, the researcher inadequately describes the data analysis techniques used to come up with the qualitative findings. Such techniques need to be aptly described to the larger audience to curtail any chances of confusion.
In this perspective, the quality and effectiveness of the qualitative research findings can best be termed as inadequate. I admire the revelation that community networks enhance feelings of belonging in addition to maintaining friendship ties. Such a finding serves to prove the study hypothesis. However, the part dwells too much on business orientation over social capital.
Laura effectively uses her study findings to formulate the conclusions. According to Babbie (2009), conclusions serve to give a clear summary of key research findings (p. 137). The researcher does well to explain the study location in the conclusions segment as anyone interested in a quick perusal of key study findings will get a glimpse of the study’s background without necessarily having to go through the introduction part.
She summarises the key research findings, relating them to the review of related literature and theoretical models to give them more validity and reliability. To the amazement of many, her study findings fit well in the theoretical models discussed previously in the study. In the end, the study’s key hypothesis is sufficiently proved. As it is the case with many research processes, Laura ends her research by listing some future research areas. However, conclusions on demographic characteristics and usage of community networks were not included. These conclusions are necessary as they will enable the audience to comprehend usage trends.
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