Choosing a Research Method

It’s important to think of the angle you want to take on your project and which method will allow you to have empirical data which effectively backs up your research question and links with your theoretical framework. The topic you pick need not necessarily dictate your research method. Here we present different ways of approaching the same topic.

For example, a previous student decided to study the topic:

Une évaluation de l’apprentissage d’une langue étrangère dans une école élémentaire dans la région de Bordeaux

(“An evaluation of learning a foreign language in an elementary school in the region of Bordeaux”)

The student could have approached this in a number of ways:

As a Linguistics Project

This could have addressed students’ pronunciation, syntactical errors in their written work or the interference of L1 on their English etc. It could have been conducted for example using a short written task, or perhaps through the recording of oral classes.

As a Text-based Project

The student could have taken and analysed learning resources from the school’s language department, such as textbooks, online resources etc. Do resources heavily use pictures? How do textbooks aimed at older/younger/beginners/advanced students differ? How much do they use slang or informal language, and does this differ depending on the resource?

As an Ethnographic Project

The student could have undertaken classroom observation and studied the interactions between students and teachers, the learning environment (classroom layout, use of technology etc.) or the diversity of students (e.g. are there children for whom French is not their L1? How closely are children grouped by ability?). They could have also interviewed teachers/students on what learning a second language means to them.

With a Mixed Approach

The student could have looked at the topic from two angles, perhaps looking at how students interact with different resources, or the way that resources are used in class. They might have studied students’ opinions on accent, or the relationship between a more authentic pronunciation and student confidence. This could have been done using questionnaires, classroom observation, written tasks or recordings, or focus groups and interviews.

It’s also important, once you have your topic, to choose the approach that will allow you to develop the perspective and answer the questions you are most interested in exploring. For example, another student studied the ‘Jota’, the traditional dance of Aragon.

The student could have approached this from different angles and using different methods:

From an ethnographic perspective…

They could have attended Jota classes to study how the dance is taught, as well as performances of the Jota at festivals or other events. They could have looked at the demographics of Jota dancers and done interviews with dancers, teachers, and audience members. This would allow them to explore the relationship between the history of the Jota and the modern dance, or the place of the Jota in Aragonese identity construction.

They also might have taken a text based approach

They could study the way that Jota is advertised – who are materials aimed at, where are they found? This would allow them to see which aspects of the Jota are used to attract people to it, and to understand the ways that people are trying to keep the Jota alive and popular. How is a rural dance made relevant in the modern world?

They might also look at the relationship between touristic images of Aragon and the Jota, is the Jota used to promote a certain imagined rural Aragon, as a touristic offering? Is the history of the Jota used to promote Aragonese identity, and is it used as a symbol in regional literary/historical texts? How can the current situation of the Jota be understood, taking into account its history?