Alignment: Tools to Strengthen Your Project

Alignment: Tools to Strengthen Your Project

This is the third in a three-part series. Use the links below to view the rest of the series:

  1. Part 1: Driving Your Research Study on a Straight Path
  2. Part 2: Supporting Your Research Questions with Methods
  3. Part 3: Tools to Strengthen Your Project

Below are five strategies we have either used or created to outline, track, and/or strengthen alignment in your project.  Please note that different strategies, or different combinations of strategies, might fit different stages of your project.  Read on for more on each.

1. Facilitate a Peer-Review

Having a handful of peers, including both those who know your research area well and those who do not, review your study design (and later your analysis and conclusions). This is a great way to see if your study is aligned. Perhaps you can leverage these relationships to form a reading or support group, or maintain relationships with colleagues you meet while networking.

2. Track Changes Made

Track changes to your research questions, methods, or results in an excel file. Create a row for each component that changes. Then, write the changes that occur across in the columns, highlighting the cell green for adding and red for dropping. When it comes to methods, no detail should be too small. If your sample size changes from 100 to 50, mark this. If you run a regression and decide to drop 10 control variables that were non-significant, mark this.  If you decide to standardize a variable, mark this. Tracking changes in one place in a similar format will save you heartache in revisiting versions of your paper or syntax of analysis.  At the end of the project, review the changes made and ask yourself if any violate the assumptions of the project?  Do this twice: once for assumptions in order for you to ask your research questions and once for assumptions needed to conduct a statistical analysis or qualitative interpretation.  

This method also helps guide your reaction to reviewers’ comments once you have submitted your paper for review and publication.

3. Leverage Logic Models

The assumptions underlying your research questions and claims you will make from your results must be appropriate for your methods. Logic models, common in evaluation research, are a tool you can modify as an exercise to identify assumptions and outcomes.  And, logic models help provide a one page overview of your project to reference during the process. Start by identifying what inputs you have (this is your theory, research questions, sample, data). Then, identify what outputs will result from activities (this is your data analysis). Below, identify your assumptions for both.  Last, state your outputs (claims you will make in the discussion).

4. Go to the Beach

Take a break! Taking time off of the project will allow you to come back with fresh eyes. While we might not all go to the beach, switching to a different project or leaving it at home for a short vacation can be beneficial to seeing “problems” when you return.

5. Widen Your Research Team 

Sometimes bringing on an expert in the field or to a specific design can help a research study. They may help identify what assumptions are being made or clarify how to interpret the results. This is particularly critical if you find yourself weakening alignment in order to accommodate a weakness in your team. Use the research hub or discipline specific conferences to network.

We hope you have enjoyed this three part series in methodological alignment.  If you have questions or resources, we’d love to hear from you.  Good luck in your research efforts from the Office of Scholarship Support!