A student mailed me a document that contains a record of literature the student found and considered to be relevant to a study being undertaken—sadly the student regard it as the first draft of the literature chapter of a thesis.
Art Carden (Assistant Professor of Economics and Business at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee) published a very short guide and template for writing excellent research papers, which I adapted slightly for qualitative research purposes. He emphasises that “No matter where you are in your intellectual journey, the ability to assemble and analyze large amounts of complex information is a skill that can pay large dividends both in monetary terms and in terms of your overall satisfaction with life.”
Rural chickens roaming into country roads — a short guide to writing qualitative-research articles
The Abstract is usually 100-150 words long and written last. The abstract tells the reader what you have done and why it is important. Your abstract tells the reader what you did, how you did it, and what it implies. Here, you’re share what you found engaging with chickens and their environment—substantiated anecdotally and that it implies we have to re-evaluate our understanding of chicken roaming into country roads.
The introduction sets the stage of your study for your readers. You tell the audience what you did and why it is important. An introduction might say that previous generations of scholars believed that chickens roaming into country roads because they were not fenced in. Your paper shows that the chickens are roaming country roads to feed. In the introduction, you give a brief outline of the argument and the evidence used to support it. As much fun as it is to write long, twisting narratives filled with subtlety and nuance, it is important to remember that a research paper on any topic is not a romance or mystery novel. Your readers are not reading for leisure. They are reading because they think your ideas are worth considering and factoring into their own research and decisions.
II. Literature Review
The literature review places your research in context. You aren’t the first person to ask why the chickens roam country roads. What questions did previous researchers ask and what conclusions did they reach? What questions remain unanswered? How does your idea fit? In this case, previous scholars have also argued, for example, that cattle roam country roads. Is this relevant for your research? Why or why not? As tempting as it is, don’t include too much in the literature review. The literature review is a place to highlight relevant contributions that address the question you are asking and to show how your contribution either fills gaps in our knowledge by answering questions we haven’t answered yet or creates gaps in our knowledge by showing that something we thought we knew is false. What does the reader take from the literature review? Is it a sense of the important questions that others have asked and how your research helps answer them? Or does the reader just come away with the knowledge that you’ve read a lot of stuff? Revise the latter until it becomes the former. Do not merely reflect what others published, do a thorough synthesis of relevant literature.
III. Research—objective and methods
Qualitative research is often undertaken as precursor to quantitative. This section lays out the logical reasons for why the research was undertaken. It might elaborate the hunch/es likely to apply. Road-roaming is dangerous, and people have never explained what is so attractive for the chickens about roaming country roads. The truthfulness and credibility of qualitative research is very important—the methods employed must be clear and the biases (ontology & epistemology) of the researcher declared. It is further important to explain how the data had been acquired (e.g. through chickens interviewed, observation of chickens while they roamed the roads or focus groups conducted with chickens), stored and analysed.
Here you report and explain the evidence you will use to substantiate why you came to the conclusion that chickens roam country roads to feed. Evidence can be anecdotal, narrative, descriptive or even statistical. Keep in mind that statistical evidence can enrich qualitative data. You would probably present the themes that arose from the qualitative data analysed, or maybe you may have found personal papers of chickens, perhaps a diary or a series of letters, in which they elaborate what kinds of seeds they found and when.
The conclusion summarizes your results and lays out very carefully exactly what needs to be done next. It is likely that your conclusion will be tentative. However, a well-written conclusion will elucidate the next steps (for example, doing a survey among chickens roaming country roads) that need to be taken before we can be absolutely certain as to whether the chickens roaming the road is to feed or if there are other reasons.