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Memos to myself: A Tool to Improve Reflection During an Action Research Project
© 1997 Shankar Sankaran
Introduction:
According to Kemmis and McTaggart (Kemmis and McTaggart, 1988: 10) " To do action research is to plan, act and observe and reflect more carefully, more systematically and more rigorously than one usually chooses in everyday life".
In doing action research I had to go throughthe steps of planning, acting, observing and reflecting in a way which was somehow different to my usual routine. I found this was not as simple as it seemed, at first. As a busy manager and a researcher I wanted to find a way to improve the quality of my reflection. I had tried several methods to do this including an action learning guide that I developed from my managers, diaries and journals.However I felt that in using these tools I am unable to distinguish between my roles as a manager and researcher. My thoughts as they were recorded were quite muddled.
In a book on qualitative research design, Joseph Maxwell, advocates the use of memos to aid research. He writes that " memos are one of the important techniques to develop your own ideas... You should think... of memos as a way tohelp you understand your topic, setting or study... Memos should include reflections on your reading and ideas...Write memos whenever you have an idea that you want to develop further... Write lots of memos, throughout the course of your research project" (Maxwell, 1996:12). I read this and became excited about using personal memos to improve the practice of reflection in my own action research.Memos:
According to Mills every researcher should write regularly and systematically about his or her research " just for himself and perhaps for discussion with friends" (Mills,1959:198). Maxwell says that any writing that a researcher does in relationship to the research other than field notes, transcription or coding can be called a memo. It can range from:
| A brief marginal comment on atranscript |
| Theoretical idea recorded in a field journal |
| A full fledged analytic essay. |
Strauss defines theoretical memos as "writing in which the researcher puts down theoretical questions, hypothesis, summary of codes etc. - a method of keeping track of coding results and stimulating further coding, and also as a major means of integrating theory" (Strauss, 1987: p 22). Strauss andCorbin define memos as "Written records of analysis related to the formulation of theory" (Strauss and Corbin,1990: 197). A common thread is that they are ways of getting ideas down on paper and using this as a way to facilitate reflection and analytic insight (Maxwell,1996: 11-12).
According to Miles and Hubermann memos are essential techniques for qualitative analysis. They do not just reportdata but tie together different pieces of data into a recognisable form. They consider memos to be a powerful "sense-making" tool in the hands of a researcher. (Miles and Huberman, 1994: 72). Maxwell recommends regular writing of memos during qualitative analysis. He says that memos facilitate analytic thinking to stimulate analytic insights in addition to capturing your thinking. (Maxwell, 1996:78).Strauss and Corbin also say that "memos represent the written form of our abstract thinking about data". They recommend that memo writing should begin from the inception of a research project and continue until the final writing. They also state that memos help you to move away from research data to abstract thinking.
Julie Corbin (in Chenitz and Swanson, 1986: 102-109) says that memos aregenerally written "by the analyst for the analyst" She also says that there is "no other way than memos for the analyst to keep an account of developing theory and to compare and verify findings as he or she proceeds".
From the literature regarding memos it appeared that memos could be powerful tools at any point in a research project. Memos could be written to clarify ideas, do data analysis by...
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