Telework is a popular research topic in many academic disciplines as well as commercially. Anyone connected with telework receives a continuing flow of questionnaires and other requests for help. Here are some simple “do”‘s and “don’t”‘s for the intending researcher.
These may seem so obvious to you that they are not worth stating, but they are a response to real received requests.
How and Where to Start
- DO allow time and effort for getting “into” the subject before deciding your specific research topic – the worst thing to do in research is to research again and again an aspect that has been done to death already – and the “experts” will be much less inclined to fill in and return your questionnaires.
- DO talk to telework specialists before you start – you can meet them online in the discussion lists described at this site and they can help you pick a sensible subject to tackle.
- DO look at some of the wealth of existing research – if you can’t find the reports online your librarian should be able to help. We hope to develop a comprehensive list and publish it at this site sometime during 1996, but please don’t chase us meanwhile!
- DO choose a reasonable narrow topic – unless of course you have a multi-million dollar (sorry, ECU) budget and several years! The “broad brush” stuff has been done to death but with help from specialists you can select a narrow aspect in which your efforts can make a real contribution – and for which you might become famous!
Avoiding Howlers and Pitfalls
- DON’T set off to redesign the whole planet or all of the industrial economy in one small project – pick a small, accessible aspect of the subject where you can reach sufficient depth to do some new work.
- DON’T ask for “help with my study of telework” – a “study of telework” might mean almost anything, so this question is impossible to answer. If you haven’t decided what aspect of telework study, say so and ask for help in deciding. If you have decided, ask specific questions.
- DON’T wander into online discussion environments you’ve never entered before and dive straight in with a direct question – if the discussion environment is a busy one, lurk around for a few weeks to get a feel for the environment there. If its a quiet one, ask a generic question – for example, “Are questions about help with research studies acceptable here? Grateful for any replies!”
- DON’T send questionnaires without invitation – place a short message explaining the focus of your work and ask if anyone’s prepared to complete a questionnaire. Then reply to any respondents by personal email.
- DON’T overlook the opportunity to stimulate discussion instead of asking for answers – if you understand the environment of an on line discussion forum and can get a healthy discussion going around your topic, you will get useful insights and quotable quotes, much better than interviews, and more time-and-cost-effective!
Some important factors to consider before you make “questionnaires” an important part of your research effort:
- Designing, getting responses to and analysing questionnaires are all specialist activities. If the course you are doing requires you to do research involving questionnaires, it should include some tuition on how to create and use them. If it doesn’t provide some such tuition, challenge the course tutors to do so!
- The world has two types of people – those who respond to questionnaires and those who don’t. If you use questionnaires, then remember that you are only getting responses from the first group. Your results won’t prove or illustrate anything about “people in general”, only about “people who respond to questionnaires”, unless you control for this in some way.
- Its tempting to use the Internet, CompuServe etc to trawl for people to help with your study. From this point of view the world has four types of people – those who aren’t connected to networks at all (ie most people), those who are connected but not active, those who are connected and active but don’t respond to requests for help with questionnaires, and those who are connective and active and do respond to such requests. If you rely on this method, you are studying a very small sample of a very small sample, and one that is only representative of itself. So if you want your research to be valid you have to label it :”Attitudes to xxxx of people who are active online and respond to questionnaires”
This may or may not advance the cause of human knowledge dependent on what you claim to be studying!
- In designing a questionnaire, have the respondent and his or her interests in mind, not yourself and your research. You will get a much higher response if you make sure your questions are interesting than if you assume your research topic is interesting.
- Keep your initial questionnaire very short and easy to respond to – “tick the boxes” is ideal. If 50% of the people you reach return this first short questionnaire you’ve a good chance of getting a further , more detailed response from them later. But if only 1% respond to your original long and detailed effort you only have yourself to blame.
- Keep asking yourself “what’s in it for the respondent” or “what’s in it for the people who are helping me”. We all know what’s in it for you, but how are you going to motivate us to help unless you think about us and our needs?