Research Design in Technical and Professional Communication



Qualitative study design

You will be collecting data for this study. The study must be an observational study. You must observe how people do something, not just asking their opinions. Interviews (and this includes focus groups) cannot be the main data collection method.


Pick a topic relevant to technical communication (no general online education, looking at how people use cell phones, deal with social situations, etc.). Consider the articles you have already read in this course and pick a similiar topic.

The study must involve people. It cannot be a discourse analysis.

Turn in

Study topic

I must approve the topic and method before you write the draft.

Submit a few paragraphs

At this point, the research problem & questions are preliminary and can change to some extent for your final report. As you develop the literature review, you'll get a better picture of what you should be researching. Also, you'll have read more about qualitative methods and have a better idea how to perform the study. However, you can't change to a totally different problem without resubmitting a new study topic proposal.

You don't need all of your sources, but you do need enough to show you have thought the topic through and found previous work on the subject.


You will turn in a draft a week before the final report. I'll make comments on it so you can revise the final report.

The draft should be a close to finished report. It should not just a couple of pages of your notes, nor a plea saying you don't know what to do and would I help. If you need help, ask, but don't want until the draft due date.

The draft needs to include

I realize that you will not have enough subjects to draw any reasonable conclusions, but you should write up the study as if you had a larger data set.

Final report

A qualitative study that is a full report of your qualitative study..


The expectation is for an over-written methods section which shows you have a clear grasp on how how you would actually do the study. The method section must explain in detail how you intend to analyze the data. It must be clear enough so that someone else can do the study without any input from the writer.

This study design may actually be harder to write than the quantitative study since for a qualitative study, the literature and your observations tend to be very intertwined in the final report. But here, you don't have the data.

A typical problem is trying to do too much. If you would collect a full set of data and write it up, you should have one journal article worth of material, not an entire book.

Obviously, interviews may be part of a case study or ethnography, but they cann't be the primary data collection method.

Avoid using family and close friends for participants. You are too close to them and the interaction will not reflect data collected from someone you don't really know.




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