Reflecting on Research

After weeks of sweat, tears and high levels of caffeine, I have finally reached the end of my research project: male behaviour on Instagram. To get to this point, was honestly quite a struggle. In the two years of being at university, I was most worried and unsure with this assignment. First, because I haven’t done a research project before. Second, because I kept feeling like I was not doing as well as I should be. I constantly felt like I did not know the answers, or I was not going to get any results. Thankfully, in the end I did – here is my reflection on how I got there.

At the very start of this journey, I already had to learn to adapt. My initial idea was too broad, so I scoped it down to a smaller scale: men and their relationship with Instagram. After publishing my survey online, I was hopeful. I had interesting questions and I was ready to analyse the answers. Days went by, but my response level stayed at a grand total of eleven respondents. At this point, I was biting my lip and vigorously picking at my nails every time I opened Google forms.

In hindsight, there were many ways I could’ve approached this situation calmly instead of letting my brain turn into a mess. One of the key aspects in any research project is flexibility. It is so important to be able to tolerate unclear or ambiguous situations. Duncan (2013) states, dealing with ambiguity “requires relinquishing control – even though a solution isn’t always guaranteed – to make room for new and emerging connections to crystalize into a clear direction.” I was so caught up, thinking I had somehow failed (before I could even get started) I forgot to consider alternate options. And that maybe I didn’t fail – I just needed a new direction.

Miriam Giguere says it is important to be able to value uncertainty and not knowing as it leads us to more creative solutions (Tedx Talks, 2014). It took me awhile to apply this to my own research, but when I did, I got outcomes. I spoke to my tutor, Kate Bowles, who suggested looking at interviews as a research method. Initially, I was worried because I didn’t know if I could get enough information for a report. After carrying out the interviews, I found it was far more insightful hearing the candidates talk about their experience using Instagram, as opposed to just looking at responses from a survey.

This also meant that I had to approach my research differently. I am no longer simply collecting data to present. I am presenting the narratives of two different individuals.

The key thing I have to consider: how to be ethical and not misrepresent any of the interview candidates. As a researcher you have a duty to respect those who have agreed to be part of your work.

As my main source of data came directly from interviews, I needed to make sure I convey the responses of those candidates in an ethical manner. In a report on doing research into female incarceration, the author states she wants her “research sensitive to individual participants and research context,” (Tilley, 1998, p.317). While hers was a much broader issue with more complexity involved, it was important to consider this in my research as well.

I was a female doing research into male behaviour on Instagram. I own an Instagram account and have my own views and relationship with the platform. Both interview candidates were aware of this. It is important to consider that this might factor into the way they answered some of the interview questions. Would they be comfortable saying anything that deviates from the norm of how males behave on Instagram? If they did think anything different, would they express it to someone from a different social demographic to them? Even with these questions in mind, I decided to take their answers for what it is. This is the information they have consented to sharing with me, a researcher – this is the information that I’ll use.

At the end of the day, the presentation of that data depends on me. The key thing here is “when I analysed transcripts, themes I was able to imagine emerged, whereas others remained unearthed,” (Tilly, 1998, p.325). The information presented was what I saw in the transcripts, I decided what stayed, what didn’t. I decided on which quotes to use. The way to handle this power imbalance, as suggested in Tilly’s report, was to go back to your candidates and show them your findings. This is exactly what I did. I sent screenshots of my findings from their interview, making sure they agreed to being represented that way. As a researcher, I learnt it is vital to maintain a good relationship with your candidates and to respect the information they give you.

I learnt so much from this project: about conducting research and about myself – as a person, student and researcher.

Keep an eye out on this blog for the finalised results of this research.

 

References

Dugan, M. ‘Tolerating Ambiguity’ Know Innovation, weblog post, viewed 5 June 2017 <http://knowinnovation.com/2013/04/tolerating-ambiguity/>

Tedx Talks, 2014. Tolerating ambiguity — being OK with not knowing! | Miriam Giguere | TEDxSoleburySchool, online video, 16 June, viewed 5 June 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZ0tS2vBEIA&feature=youtu.be>

Tilley, S.A. 1998 ‘Conducting Respectful Research: A Critique of Practice’ Canadian Journal of Education, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 316-328