Methods of Social Investigation

Emma Woodmansee

\'Describe how you would plan and undertake an investigation into why some of
this College\'s students do not complete their degree courses.\' (You have been
given only 100 to finance the study; and one term\'s sabbatical.)

Define the variables in the given title

After a Research Statement has been formulated it is very important that the
researcher defines any variables within it. A variable is any word whose meaning
may be ambiguous or which could have several different meanings. This is a
crucial stage in the planning process as a vague title renders any results at
the end of the research without true meaning.

In this case, the Research Statement is the given title ‘Describe how you would
plan and undertake an investigation into why some of this College\'s students do
not complete their degree courses.\' Within this Research Statement there are
several variables : ‘college\'s\', ‘students\', ‘complete\' and ‘degree courses\'.
These variables will be defined as follows:

\'College\'s\' We will take this to mean students at Royal Holloway
and Bedford New College, University of London.

\'Students\' Undergraduates on a first degree (excluding post
graduates and so on).

\'Complete\' Graduate

\'Degree courses\' The course for which the student originally registered.

By defining the variables above there can be no confusion as to the meaning of
the Research Statement. This process also helps the researcher to focus on the
group of people that he wishes to study.

Decide on the purpose of the research

Having defined the variables in the Research Statement, the researcher now needs
to focus his attention on the purpose of the research, and consequently lay down
the Research Objectives. This part of the planning process allows the researcher
time to consider what he hopes to achieve from the research and ensures that the
research represents his objectives.

The purpose of our research is to identify the reasons for students failing to
complete the degree course for which they were originally admitted (variables
already identified). The results of the research would allow the college to take
action to encourage students to continue their studies and could even be used to
aid the selection process and perhaps prevent problems from the outset. This is
the final purpose of the research.

Who is to be studied

The researcher needs to identify the group of people upon which to base the
study. The process is made easier by the fact that we have already defined the
variables in the Research Statement. The research group has been thus so far
defined as those students of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, University
of London who did not graduate from the first degree course for which they
originally registered. To concentrate the study group further, the research will
be based on those students who left during the academic year 1995/6 only. The
study will include students who were registered in all faculties within the

Initial sources of information

Once the research group has been identified the researcher needs to consider how
to identify those individuals which fall within the specified group. In this
case, the information we require will be held in the College Registry and also
in the Faculty Offices. This information is confidential and is not available to
the public, and this difficulty will be dealt with in the next section.

How to begin the investigation

This particular research project requires the cooperation of a group of ex
students of the college on what may be a sensitive subject. Therefore, the first
action that we would take is to send a contact letter out to all those within
our potential research group. The letter would describe the research that we are
carrying out, it\'s purpose and the method by which we intend to conduct it
(thereby informing the recipient of what they will be asked to do). It would
then ask the ex student whether they would mind taking part in the research. It
would then ask those who are willing to be involved to send some basic details
about age, sex, faculty and so on.

The letter would not be personalised as we do not yet know the names and
addresses of the ex students. We would then take the letter (and copies) to the
registry and ask if they would mind sending them to the ex students that they
have on their files. This is to protect the confidentiality of the information
held at the Registry. We would also include a stamped addressed envelope in the
letter to encourage the ex students to respond. At this time we still do not
know the names of the ex students and will only