Posted by: maf | January 31, 2008

Oh no! My data’s no good!

Now here’s a common misgiving. You collect your data and when you’re finished, it seems like there’s nothing there. You despair that you won’t be able to answer your research question.

Take heart – this is common, perhaps even normal. Every doctoral student lives through this, probably, especially if you’re working with qualitative data.

Usually, once you’ve organized and transcribed and then start looking at your data in minute detail, you will be surprised at what you find. In this sense, I want to encourage you.

On the other hand, be careful not to slip into complacency (“MAF said this happens to everybody, and so I can relax…”). While I don’t want you to be unduly stressed, I have an eyeball on the calendar.

February is a crunch-time month. There’s not much time in between the Analysis Plan (Feb 2) and the Results (Feb 23). It’s workable, certainly – but I doubt anyone can afford to let their data lie fallow for several days, hoping that it will grow while no one’s looking.

Here is my specific advice between data collection and results:

  1. Push hard during this time.
  2. Don’t panic prematurely if it seems you’re not getting anywhere. Give it due effort; get to know the data thoroughly; go through your analysis steps.
  3. If/when you feel completely stuck: call. Don’t stay in the “stuck” position more than a day or two without seeking advice.

(In my dissertation, I got stuck at this point. I asked for help from Dr. Branch. Within a couple of hours I knew exactly what to do next.)

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