Keeping Track Of The World

Research Methods for Regular People

Field Work and Critical Thinking

Most of my research is field work. It is very easy to fall into the temptation that all that is necessary after data collection is to report on what you have found in the field. The advent of data analysis software with fancy charts and tables makes this temptation all the more stronger because it is easy to make an attractive report. Reporting is a necessary first step both to summarize what you actually have and to communicate the research to any affected or interested constituencies.

However, to make the data useful for decision making we have to interpret these data. What do they mean? What do they tell us about particular courses of action? Who can they be applied to? In what ways? Getting to this point requires, among other things, critical thinking skills. To apply critical thinking to data is to both analyze what is going on and to make some kind of judgment about what it means. How did you come to this interpretation? How did you determine which information was relevant? What is the evidence for this conclusion? What assumptions contributed to this analysis? What are the limitations to this conclusion?

While it is written for educators Unlocking the Mystery of Critical Thinking provides a helpful summary of how to encourage critical thinking. The included bibliography provides some sources that could be productively explored to learn more.


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