Research 102

Photo of an illuminated light bulb held in cupped hands.Updated August 2012
A legacy resource from NICHCY

Wondering what all those research terms mean, and how much weight can you put on the conclusions the research authors draw? This Research 102 page takes a look at some basic research processes for adding up the evidence from individual studies and drawing bigger conclusions—about patterns and trends in what works and what doesn’t.

Table of Contents

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Research Reviews

The literature review.
“Lit reviews” abound in educational research. Most journal articles reporting research begin here, summing up our knowledge to date on the topic. So how do lit reviews differ from other types of summaries of research?

A literature review tutorial.

A Web tutorial on preparing scholarly reviews of the literature.

Basing decisions on the research: Does the new “way” work? Is it worth it?
Before changing teaching strategies, you want to have enough evidence that the new method will be an improvement. (p.s. Don’t be thrown by the screen you see when you click the link below. Simply register for free access.)

Research reviews and the problem of interpretive bias.
Even the results of one or two well-done studies aren’t enough to make you confident that it’s time for a change. Instead, you need to have a body of evidence to support that change. Usually, review articles are a good source of information. These are narrative articles describing an area of research on a particular question. However, authors may have an interpretation bias: Watch out for it.

Systematic reviews: Trying to avoid the bias by looking at the whole picture.
Systematic reviews attempt to avoid bias by covering all studies relevant to a given question, putting those results together, reporting strengths and weaknesses of those studies, and putting together a comprehensive summary.

Wikipedia’s explanation of systematic reviews.

What’s a systematic review, and how is it different from a literature review?

From the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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Meta-Analyses: The Next Step Up

A meta-analysis goes further than a systematic review. It’s a quantitative method that not only culls the results of many studies but also presents an estimate of the effect size. If you want to know more, these resources will help answer the question,”What is a meta-analysis?”

Meta-analysis, explained.

Wikipedia’s explanation of meta-analysis.

Wikipedia’s 1000 links to definitions of meta-analysis you’ll find on the web.
Need we say more, except maybe there aren’t a 1000 links…seems darn close, tho!

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What is Effect Size?

Wikipedia’s explanation.

Power analysis, statistical significance, and effect size.

And here’s a great primer on the subject.

Want to calculate an effect size yourself?  Try out this effect size calculator.

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Applications to Education

Okay, so how do you take research findings and apply them to educational questions or concerns?

Meta-analysis in educational research.

The push for usability.

Will it work for these students?

The case for validity generalization.

The generalizability of research results.

Did the study measure the right thing?

Operational definitions of concepts.

More on defining concepts.

Doing What Works.
The Doing What Works site is an offshoot of the What Works Clearinghouse, designed to take the findings of the WWC about specific educational research, translate them into usable materials and tools, and help educators get available research into practice.

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You can use this page in combination with the other offerings in our collection of pages designed to make sense of research. At the moment, we offer these basic introductions:

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