This stage requires you to carefully define the context in which your research will take place. One element of this is to outline the research setting and provide some useful background information related to it. For example, what type of school is this research taking place in? What kind of learners are you looking at? Is there a particular Key Stage that you are focusing on? Is there a particular class or group of students?
Linked to the above, you will also need to define your role as an action researcher. Remember that this research will require you to look at and make improvements to your own practice, so you are not only a researcher, but also, a participant within your own research. Think about these dual roles and consider any limitations, possible bias and/or challenges that you might face as a result. How might you overcome these?
Furthermore, you will need to consider local and perhaps even national policies/initiatives that relate directly to your research. What is the backdrop to your study and how might this affect your approach, findings and outcomes?
Another key aspect to consider at this stage of your research is how you are going to engage with an appropriate knowledge base. The term ‘appropriate knowledge base’ can include a wide range of sources of information, for example:
- Peer-reviewed journal articles
- Credible online sources
- Policy documents
- Newspaper/magazine articles (where appropriate)
- Conference papers
- Professional networking meetings
- Professional dialogues with colleagues
It is important to be aware of what other people have to say about the area of research you are investigating, so that you can approach your study objectively and produce a fair and balanced account of your findings.
Engaging with an appropriate knowledge base will enable you to:
- Identify what has been done before and any gaps;
- Provide a background to your enquiry and help you to articulate a rationale for the study;
- Support you in reviewing and refining your research topic, question or hypothesis;
- Locate your project within current debates and viewpoints;
- Provide a backcloth for your study;
- Analyse your findings and discuss them with rigour and scholarship
It is also imperative that where you take someone else’s ideas and use them within your own work, that you acknowledge these and clearly reference any words/images/data that are not your own. At the University of St Mark & St John, we use a specific form of Harvard referencing. By adhering to the Harvard referencing guidelines and applying the rules of referencing accurately, you are effectively ruling out any danger of plagiarism within your own work.
Consider the following:
- How would you describe the setting in which your research will take place?
- What is your role within this setting?
- What limitations/ potential bias and/or challenges might you face in your roles as participant and action researcher? How might you overcome these?
- What appropriate knowledge base(s) will you engage with? How will you go about accessing this?
Complete the following:
- Decide on what knowledge base(s) you are going to engage with and plan how you will access this.
- Make notes on what you have learned from engaging with your knowledge base(s)
- Ensure that where you are citing the ideas, words, images etc of someone else that you are accurately acknowledging these sources. For further information on this, please refer to the University’s Harvard referencing guidelines and use MARGen
- Define the educational context of your research study (including the setting, your role, the local and national backdrop and key points from your knowledge base).
Suggested further reading:
Bassey, M. (1995) ‘Action research for improving educational practice’. In Halsall, R. (1998) Teacher Research and School Improvement. Buckingham: Open University Press: 94 & 95.
Koshy, V. (2005) Action Research for Improving Practice: A Practical Guide. London: Paul Chapman Publishing
Koshy, V. (2009) Action Research for Improving Practice: A Practical Guide. (2nd ed) London: Paul Chapman Publishing
O’Leary, Z. (2013) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research. (2nd ed) London: Sage
McAteer, M. (2013) Action Research in Education. London: Sage
McNiff, J. and Whitehead, J. (2005) Action Research for Teachers. Oxford: David Fulton.
McNiff, J. (2013) Action Research: Principles and Practice. (3rd ed). Oxon: Routledge
McNiff, J. (2014) Writing and Doing Action Research. London: Sage
McNiff, J. & Whitehead, J. 2011) All You Need to Know About Action Research. (2nd ed). London: Sage
Reason, P. and Bradbury, H. (2001) Handbook of Action Research: Participative Enquiry and Practice. London: Sage
Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (2013) The SAGE Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice. (2nd ed). London: Sage