How to do Linguistic Research
Quantitative or Qualitative Research?
Linguistic research can be quantitative or qualitative, depending on the nature of data you are gathering. In quantitative research, a hypothesis is formed. The researcher will then gather precise numerical data with the goal of supporting the hypothesis. The data are analyzed statistically and presented in graphs and charts.
On the other hand, qualitative researchers have an idea of what they are looking for but this may change as the research develops. Subjects are observed, interviewed, or asked to write descriptions of their experiences. The researcher will then interpret and present findings. Quantitative research tends to be more along the lines of the scientific method whereas qualitative research is more open to interpretation. Which method is preferable depends on the nature of the specfic research project. Moreover, it is possible to blend methods by, for example, quantifing qualitative data by assigning numeric values to different levels of input.
The Elements of a Research Project
Regardless of which method you decide on, there are certain elements which must be present in your research project. First, the researcher must carefully craft a clear and focused hypothesis or research question. Then, the researcher must then find the subjects from which data will be extracted. A reliable method for gathering data must be formulated, such as a survey or a questionnaire. After the data are gathered, they must be analyzed. Observations about the data are made and presented in discourse or statistics. Finally, the research should arrive at a strong conclusion.
Choosing a Topic
Choosing a focused yet interesting subject is perhaps the most difficult task in the research process. Remember, it is better to feel that your topic is too narrow rather than too broad and vague. For instance, instead of stating that women are more polite than men, decide which forms of politeness or impoliteness to focus on (such as women use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ more than men do). Be concrete and specific. Also, choose a topic that you are comfortable with and interested in. Don’t let your topic take you somewhere that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Be sure to find enough subjects who will give you the data you specifically need (30 is ideal, but given that this type of project is generally small-scale, you should aim for about 5-10 participants. Less than 5 may provide inconclusive evidence either to support or contradict your hypothesis). Stay focused and do not stray from your original hypothesis or research question. Also, be sure to have the proper equipment. If you are observing a classroom of children, you may want to use a video camera with good sound so that you don’t miss any data. If you are interviewing your subjects, or asking them to perform speech, use a tape recorder. Don’t count on your memory to recount accurate information.
Organizing and describing your results is one of the key aspects of your project. Make sure that your audience is familiar with the terminology you use; you may need to provide descriptions and definitions for highly specialized terms. Mark your graphs clearly and explain how you arrived at your findings. Give general findings first and then illustrate with a particular example from your data.
The basic outline of your presentation should be as follows:
- Describe the linguistic element you have researched
- State the hypothesis
- Explain why this topic is so interesting
- A. The subjects
- Other social, educational, economic , and regional details
- B. The data
- How the data were gathered
- Verify the reliability of the data
- How the data were organized
- 3. Analysis
- Organize the data by using graphs and tables
- State the facts of what you found
- 4. Discussion
- What your findings signify
- What your findings mean in the speech community in which they were gathered
- Other implications
- 5. Conclusion
- Restate hypothesis
- Show support (not proof!) of hypothesis or lack thereof
- How you could improve on the research process
- What could be done as a next step in researching your topic