Tag Archives: research method

10 Benefits of Peer Review in Research Writing

What is peer review? Why is it important that you involve colleagues in writing your research manuscript? Here are 10 benefits you can get from peer review.

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Although you may believe that you already have what it takes to write your research paper in an excellent manner, it is highly recommended that you involve people within your discipline to finalize what you have written thus far. This is a good process to undergo before submitting your research paper for publication or in compliance with the requirements of a research project. Chances are, there are always things that you have overlooked while writing your research paper.

Just the other day, I had the opportunity to present my research findings and gain the benefits of a peer review. I presented the result of an impact assessment project we did in selected “target island communities” of the Calamianes Islands in northern Palawan in the Philippines. Target island communities are communities (locally called “barangays”) where various programs and projects have been implemented by a local foundation. The main intention is to provide various assistance packages to the marginal fisherfolks who are highly dependent on their coastal resources. Their routine livelihood activities are affected by the on-going operation of a natural gas project where a pipeline carrying natural gas runs through their fishing zones.

Thus said, the benefits I gained from peer review arose from this presentation. We used an LCD projector to correct the manuscript as we go on with the editing so that everybody sees the progress of the review.

So what are the benefits of subjecting your manuscript to peer review? Although the virtues of peer review may have been discussed elsewhere, below is a list of benefits that I have personally gained from the experience.

Now, here’s the list of 10 benefits to be gained from peer review:

1. Corrects vague terms

Although I am using an online thesaurus each time I write to find the appropriate word to express an idea, there are words that appear to be inappropriate or unclear in some instances. Getting feedback from colleagues help me decide if indeed I have to stick to my terms or adopt what they suggest. If the suggestion sounds good, I don’t hesitate changing terms in question.

2. Provides feedback as to the effectiveness of your communication

Well, that’s it. You can easily see from your peer group’s reactions if they understood the points you advanced in your manuscript. If it takes them a while than usual once a page has been displayed for them to provide their feedback, that could probably mean that there’s something wrong in the flow of thought or discussion. Clarifying questions will most likely come next. And yes, they do.

3. Allows you to see other people’s perspectives on issues raised

Seeing other people’s perspectives is a very valuable contribution to your research manuscript. It is here that you will realize that you do not monopolize good ideas. There may be better, sound ideas out there that can make your writing great. You will then be able to get yourself out of your personal biases and think beyond the box.

After reading Louis Agassiz tussle with Charles Darwin in David Dobbs’ book titled “Reef Madness,” I realized that even recognized experts in science can lose their credibility once the facts show deviations from convention. It pays to listen to the merits of another person’s viewpoints and not be blinded by your own prejudices or stubborn resistance to convincing evidence.

4. Prevents you from committing serious blunders in your arguments

You may have raised points that may be founded on wrong assumptions. Once the assumptions are wrong, then all you have written is essentially wrong. This just follows the rules of logic. If your premises are wrong, then everything that goes after it is unreliable.

5. Gives confidence

More heads is better than one so they say. Once you have gone through a battery of questions and critical comments, and you are able to fend them off or address them adequately, you will then feel more confident. It builds self-esteem and allay fears of rejection.

6. Facilitates concise writing

You may have written more than what is necessary. Removing unnecessary paragraphs or sentences here and there gives rise to a concise, professionally written manuscript.

7. Improves grammar

Although emphasis is given to the content of your research paper, your grammar matters a lot. Good grammar facilitates reading as the reading flow is made more efficient.

8. Allows you to expound on your points

You may have thought you have written enough to explain the matter at hand. Then you realize your peers were taken halfway the intended ideas you want to project. This requires expounding on the issues you have raised for greater understanding and/or clarity of ideas.

9. Confirms your observations

If you have gone together in the field, your colleague can confirm or refute your observation. This validates your findings.

10. Encourages you to perform better next time

If the exercise has shown you some good feedback, you will be on guard on the likely comments, suggestions or criticism on your manuscript the next time around. You are then able to write better than before as you integrate all the comments and suggestions thus avoid committing the same mistakes.

Peer review is a very important process that authors have to go through before they are able to publish their research manuscript. The main purpose is to ensure that whatever comes out published is in its excellent form, i. e., virtually free of errors. Once quality is guaranteed, the published work becomes a solid foundation for others to make a good literature review that will help advance knowledge in a particular field. It is, however, not a foolproof process to produce quality work as everyone is subject to error and their own biases. Read this interesting discussion on peer review.

That’s how science works.

© 2013 June 24 P. A. Regoniel

Thinking “Beyond” vs “Outside” the Box

One of the important abilities a researcher should possess is a good degree of creativity. How could this be achieved or developed? There are various ways on how to be a creative person. One of those ways is to be able to think “beyond” or “outside” the box. Read on to find out the difference between these two metaphors and appreciate how this strategy works by reading the illustrative example given below. 

One trait that separates a researcher from others is the ability to think in an unconventional manner. This is referred to as “thinking outside the box.” Recently, I learned a better phrase to describe the ability to think quite differently from others, i.e., “thinking beyond the box”.

What is the difference between these two phrases?

The difference between thinking ‘beyond’ and ‘outside’ the box

The latter metaphor appears to be the better phrase that describes how a researcher should think. Thinking beyond the box means thinking beyond what you already know, in the process discovering an unknown phenomenon – a fact or situation that simply exists or happens. Nobody may not have known it yet.

Thinking beyond the box recognizes stored knowledge in your brain that can be used to discover new things. That stored knowledge may include the knowledge and skills you have gained in a formal setting plus the experiences you have had in life. Experiences include all those you have learned be it through reading books and magazines, viewing the television, talking with friends, exploring new places during a field trip, SCUBA diving, forest treks, jogging around or similar situations that will allow you to use your senses and gain from what you perceive.

Many people think, however, that both thinking “beyond” and “outside” the box are one and the same thing. The point is, it’s thinking using a different or unusual perspective to derive solutions to problems, discover something new, or create something new.

Using the senses to discover something new

I earlier discussed how keen observation can provide you with more information than just having a casual attitude towards what you see, hear, smell, taste, or touch around you. Activate all your senses while you explore around and you will realize that there are many things that you have not known before.

You would never have thought that a massive coral is hard just by looking at it. You need to touch it. I thought it was soft the first time I did SCUBA diving in a coral reef, but touching it made me discover that it is not only hard but something slippery is on it.

All these activities will enable you to think beyond the box as you allow your senses to detect something unusual from things that appear to be so ordinary to the layman. Researchers are creative persons and think in novel ways that lead towards discovery.

A short story to illustrate thinking beyond the box

What kind of attitude should you have or possess for you to be able to think beyond the box? I will illustrate this using a short story.

A graduate student drives his motorcycle for 60 kilometers every time he goes to school. Along the way, he saw various kinds of animals that get run over by vehicles passing through a highway that cuts through a thick forest. There were dead snakes, various kinds of birds, monkeys, anteaters, and even bearcats (a mammal that looks like a small bear, see below).

He felt bad about the apparent disregard of drivers on the importance of animals crossing the highway. But remembering his professor saying that he once had a Japanese researcher counterpart that would stop along the highway and inspect a dead animal, measure it and even dissect it, the student decided to conduct a study on the kinds of animals that get run over the highway. The data gathered will provide useful information to wildlife managers for conservation purposes.

He did a year-long study collecting all the data he could gather while traversing the highway. After a while, he organized his data and wrote a paper about his findings. As a result, he won an award for a job well done as a researcher.

bearcat
A bearcat named Kuma on top of a tree (Photo Credit: P. Regoniel)

Don’t you think this is an interesting way to look at things? Since the graduate student had an experience gained in school (learning about the importance of caring for what you see), he was able to do something worthwhile.

And where did that idea of studying run-over animals? Of course, that came from someone who thought beyond the box – the Japanese researcher who saw the event (animals run-over by vehicles) as an opportunity to study the kinds of animals that inhabit the forested area, have a look at their reproductive organs if in rut or not, measure their size as part of a morphometrics study, find out their color, get samples for DNA study, determine places where they have been probably hunting for food and see what they eat, and many other things you can imagine. The event did not pass unnoticed but required thinking and at the same time acting on the given situation.

That’s how researchers should think.

© 2013 May 21 P. A. Regoniel

Simplified Explanation of Probability in Statistics

Do you have trouble understanding the concept of probability? Do you ask yourself why you have to read that section on probability in your statistics book that seems to have no bearing on your research? Don’t despair. Read the following article and have a clear understanding of this concept that you will find very useful in your research venture.

One of the topics in the Statistics course that students had difficulty understanding is the concept of probability. But is “probability” really a difficult thing to understand? In reality, it is not that difficult as long as you gain understanding on how it works when trying to compare differences or correlations between variables.

It simply works this way:

The classic example to illustrate probability is demonstrated using a coin. Everybody knows that a coin has two sides: the head, which normally has face of someone on it with the corresponding amount it represents or the tail, which typically shows the government bank which issued the currency.

Now, if you flick the coin, it will land and settle with one side up; unless you get a weird result that the coin unexpectedly landed on its edge or in-between the head and tail sides! (see Fig. 1). This, however, could be a possibility as there is a middle ground that will make this possible though very, very remote (what if the government decides to have a coin thick enough to make this possible if ever you flick a coin?). I just included this because it so happened I flicked a coin before and it landed next to an object that made it stand on its edge instead of falling on either the head or the tail side. That just means that unexpected things could happen given the right circumstances that will make it possible.

coins
Fig. 1. Head, in-between, tail (L-R)

I just have to illustrate this with a picture because some students do not understand what is a head and what is a tail in a coin. So, no excuses for not understanding what we are talking about here.

For our purpose, we’ll just leave the in-between possibility and just concentrate on either the possibility of getting a head or a tail when a coin is flipped and allowed to settle on level ground or on top of your palm. Since there are only two possibilities here, we can then say that there is a 50-50, 0.5 or 1/2 possibility that the coin will land as head or tail. If we would like to represent this as a symbol in statistics to show this possibility, it is written thus:

p = 0.5

where p is the probability symbol and the value 0.5 is the estimated outcome that the coin will land on either the head or the tail. Alternatively, this can be stated that there is an equal chance that you will get a head or a tail in a series of tossing a coin and letting it land on level ground.

Therefore, if you toss a coin 10 times, the probability of getting either a head or a tail is 50%, 0.05 or 1/2. That means in 10 tosses, there will likely be 5 heads and 5 tails. If you toss it 100 times, you will likely get 50 heads and 50 tails.

If you have a six-sided dice, then the probability of each side in each throw is 1/6. If you have a cube, then the probability of each side is 1/4.

Application

This background knowledge can help you understand the importance of the p-value in statistical tests.

For example, if you are interested in knowing if a significant difference between two sets of variables exists (say a comparison of the test scores of a group of students who were given remedial classes as opposed to another group that did not undergo remedial classes), and a statistical software was used to analyze the data (presumably a t-test was applied), you just have to look at the p-value to find out if indeed there is a significant difference in achievement between the two groups. If the p-value is 0.05 or lower than that, then you can safely say that there is sufficient evidence that students who underwent remedial classes performed better (in terms of their test scores) than those who did not undergo remedial classes.

For clarity, here are the null and alternative hypotheses that you can formulate for this study:

Null Hypothesis: There is no significant difference between the test scores of students who took remedial classes and students who did not take remedial classes.

Alternative Hypothesis: There is a significant difference between the test scores of students who took remedial classes and students who did not take remedial classes.

The p-value simply means that there is a 5% probability, possibility or chance that students who were given remedial classes perform similarly with those who were not given remedial classes. This probability is quite low, such that you may reject your null hypothesis that there is no difference in test scores of students with or without remedial classes. If you reject the null hypothesis, then you should accept your alternative hypothesis which is: There is a significant difference between the test scores of students who took remedial classes and students who did not take remedial classes.

Of what use is this finding then? The results show that indeed, giving remedial classes can provide benefit to students. As the results of the study indicated, it can significantly increase the student’s test scores.

You may then present the results of your study and confidently recommend that remedial classes be given to students to help improve their test scores in whatever subject that may be.

That’s how statistics work in research.

©2013 May 15 Patrick Regoniel

4 Tips on How to Take Pictures Useful in Your Research

How do you ensure that you take pictures useful in your research? Are there ways by which you can maximize the use of your digital camera? Indeed there are important points to consider when taking pictures specifically for research purposes. Read the four tips below and avoid the regrets of post-field work.

Taking pictures once proved to be too costly both to hobbyists as well as beginning photographers who have difficulty ensuring that the pictures they take are worth the money they spend for film processing and photograph development in a commercial photo shop. That is during the age of the film-based cameras decades back. But with the popularity and greater resolution accorded by digital camera nowadays, this is not much of a concern as you can preview your shots either in your digital camera or your computer.

If you are a researcher or a college student working on a thesis, a certain degree of knowledge and skill in taking pictures must be had to get the most out of pictures taken in the field. At the very least, you should be able to apply the following tips in your pictures to make your output more technically oriented and effective in your presentation of results:

1. Think first of your intention in taking the photograph.

Before taking pictures, you should bear in mind the objective of your research. This will determine the focus as well as the background you need to include as you compose your picture. What do you want to portray? Do you need to make a close up shot or a shot that includes the landscape? At what angle should you take the picture?

This can be made clearer by citing an example. Say, you want to discriminate a male from a female crab, or specifically the abdominal structure difference between the two. This, of course, will mean that you will have to turn the crab upside down (or dorsal side down) to reveal the abdominal structures and lay down two samples together to show differences before taking the shot.

2. Understand what f-stop means.

One of the important information you should have in taking pictures is understanding what an f-stop means. F-stop refers to the size of the aperture of lens that the camera will set automatically if you are using an automatic camera or can be adjusted manually if you use a camera with manual aperture adjustments. The greater the size of the lens aperture, the greater will be the amount of light that will enter the camera. This will mean fast shutter speed to make the proper exposure so that your picture will look fine.

Almost always, researchers want as much clarity and detail in their pictures. So the rule is, set the lens aperture to its smallest possible size as the camera will allow; of course, with proper exposure in mind. I find that I can achieve good results using a minimum f-stop of 8.0. Using an f-stop lower than this value will cause other parts of the photograph some blur. This is alright if your intention is to highlight a certain feature like the way I highlight the eyes of a goldfish below using Panasonic Lumix LX5, a camera with manual aperture setting.

fisheye
Close-up picture of a goldfish (Photo Credit: P. A. Regoniel@Picable)

You may be intrigued how I took this shot of a swimming fish. That’s easily done in an aquarium. When taking close up shots like this, try to experiment using the highest possible f-value (smaller aperture; e.g. f8 to f22) for greater detail, that is, if your camera will enable you to do so. Great macro shots are taken in well-lighted environments.

For more useful tips on aperture setting, you may read my article in Knoji entitled “How to Take Close Up Pictures of Wild Life.”

3. Always take a picture relative to another object which you can use for size estimation.

This is an important aspect of taking photos for research purposes. This technique is especially useful if you are interested in morphometrics or quantitative analysis of form used in comparing or discriminating different species of animals.

If you have forgotten your ruler or measuring scale, a ballpen which you can measure later is useful in the field. Place it next to the object (preferably below it) on level ground so that it lies parallel to your specimen. That eliminates guesswork of size. I show an example below.Penaeus sp.

Having the lower number in the scale at left facilitates reading the length from left to right which is a normal reading mode in most countries. The total length of this shrimp is 5.7 cm from tail tip to tip of the snout (excluding the whiskers of course).

However, I do not recommend the blue ruler that my student brought in the field during our exploratory trip of a mangrove area (you may read about it here). It is better to use a transparent one so that the ruler gridlines will contrast better.

4. Take as many pictures as your SD card will allow.

Take as much picture as possible in the field on just a single point of interest so you will have choices of the best shot. To avoid missing out the important pictures and to allow you to take video shots at the same time, a 16GB memory card will be sufficient. Just make sure you have extra, charged and protected battery for your camera.

A camera with a global positioning system (GPS) will be helpful as it will allow you to recall where you took your shots as well as enable you to plot your specimen’s source on a digital map. Google Earth is useful for this purpose. Click on the pin function and type the latitude and longitude coordinates to pinpoint the source of your pictures.

Bear this photography tips in mind to make the most of field trips required to fulfill the objectives of your research.

© 2013 May 14 P. A. Regoniel

The Importance of Scoping in Research

Scoping is an important process used in any research endeavor which can save time, money and effort. What is scoping and how is it being done? This article makes clear this subject and provides an example.

Scoping Defined

Scoping is defined as the act of assessing, finding out or weighing up situations guided by a previously identified research focus. In trying to examine the practicality of pursuing a subject matter of research, it pays to understand the specific context by a phenomenon occurs.

To understand this concept better, an example is provided below.

Example of a Scoping Activity

Suppose you would like to conduct a research on the impact of development programs or projects in communities located across a given region. You will initially have a set of secondary data with you where you may be able to prepare a set of questions to help you assess the impact of development projects to the different communities. As you go along, you will have questions in mind that could not be easily answered just by relying on reports that are available for you to examine. Almost always, these reports are not that comprehensive and attuned to the specific questions that you may raise.

Examples of these questions are the following:

1. To what extent were the development programs or projects implemented?

2. How did the specific sectors of the community avail of the programs or projects?

3. What are the surrounding circumstances upon program or project implementation?

4. How do the members of the community respond to the program or project implemented by an agency?

5. What are the ambient environmental conditions particularly the social, political, economic, and cultural milieu by which the projects were implemented?

6. Are the beneficiaries well aware of the programs or projects?

scoping exercise
A group of researchers exploring a remote coastal community.

… plus many more questions that seek to illuminate the key issues and concerns surrounding the program or project. Since this is the initial stage of the assessment, there is a certain degree of vagueness on many respects pertaining to programs or projects.

To gain a better grasp of the situation, the common approach to answer questions on key issues and concerns which the secondary information cannot provide is for the researcher to personally undertake a field trip to the study area. The process itself of getting to the target locality can be noted down for future reference and may form part of the scoping process.

Purpose of Scoping

Of what use then is scoping? Scoping can assist the researcher in planning what steps need to be done, refine the objectives of the research, determine the personnel as well as budgetary requirements, note down important areas to be covered, among others. Simply stated, scoping determines the scope, breadth, and depth of the assessment or research. This can mean efficient use of time and money with optimal effort.

Materials for Scoping

Materials needed for the scoping activity include (but not exclusive of) the following:

  • note pad
  • pen/pencil
  • camera
  • communication equipment (e.g. cellphone)
  • geographic positioning system (GPS)
  • recorder

If you are involved in a scoping activity, it is necessary that you arm yourself with an inquisitive mind and a healthy body. This is because the task of doing things in the field requires you to be critical of things that you see and explore areas or places where you have not been before which are challenging tasks.

© 2013 March 18 P. A. Regoniel