Feedback and critical commentary

In the last twenty-four hours I’ve received some very valuable feedback on my methods chapter from each of my supervisors. This is where the going gets tough but also exciting, as finally I’m getting a response from my supervisors about my work. Now, this is the methods chapter I flung together from last year’s confirmation, so it was extremely rough and definitely unfinished. I wanted to provide a start not only for me, but for my supervisors. I feel like finally we’re “off and running”! Like a racehorse starting out of the gate.

The comments I’ve received are lucid, critical, thoughtful and detailed. It will take many weeks to shape the chapter based on the commentary, but I am really grateful that the information is so detailed. Now I have a really comprehensive catalogue of things to do to the chapter, and I can get on with the really intense part of my work.

Of course, I have to navigate through the despair I feel at getting such a critique: it’s not harsh at all because I know the standard of work I submitted was pretty blah, but it’s making me have to think, and, more importantly, concentrate. And that’s where it gets annoying, because I have so much writing to do and so little time to do it. My fault.

I like writing the Methods Chapter – others hate it, but I enjoy the simplicity and elegance of showing what and how and why I did what I did. I guess what I will be railing against is the very deep meta-analysis I will have to do after skating for so long amongst the non-thinking part of my brain.

This is the commentary from my second supervisor:

1.       Need to clearly articulate which research questions were intended to be addressed via a survey – and then a clearer link to each of the research questions.  Completing survey demands time of participants so it is necessary to show how each of the questions in the survey link back to your research questions. I would suggest adapting Table 1, by adding columns illustrating how each question relates to the research questions.

2.       Rationale for survey vs other types of approaches to capture the data needed to answer your questions

3.       More description of literature around survey methodology including a critique (what are the limitations/problems etc)

4.       Description of the piloting of the survey.

5.       Length of time to complete it

6.       Re the 94.8% of fully completed surveys – for the incomplete surveys, were there specific questions that were commonly not completed (could be an interesting discussion point if certain questions were frequently left blank)

7.       Break the section up into headings to guide the reader.

Straightforward, huh? Not personal, and certainly careful and clear. Great. I can do what she asks no problems!

This is what my first supervisor wrote:

I have now read the methods chapter and made numerous comments on the document itself – I hope that my handwriting is legible. Some general issues for you to think about:

  1. I still query whether this is a mixed methods case study. Specifically because the link between the survey (student perceptions) and the case study component (teachers with students as informants) is not direct. These address different cohorts and different perspectives of the phenomenon and as such do not work as a mixed method in the sense that Cresswell et al. describe this.
  2. Any discussion of mixed methods would need to acknowledge that this has been a description of case study research (i.e. Early case study research was described as mixed method) and of qualitative research and of research that mixed paradigms.
  3. Rather, you have a survey which acted as a form of pilot that enabled you to see what perspectives were out there. These then in part inform the next component of the study – although I have yet to see this link made explicitly. The bulk of your study and of your data is actually your 3 cases. These are qualitative case studies. You might call them a collective case study (3 cases of a similar nature). Your methods are qualitative, and, given your emphasis on relationality informed by the theory and practice of narrative inquiry, you need to acknowledge that NI has been used in more than the analysis component.
  4. I did not see the research questions anywhere…?
  5. You need a far more developed discussion of epistemological and ontological issues and how your position here places the work within a particular paradigm.
  6. Your methodology is both case and NI. These are the big methodology sections. You then need to provide a description and justification of the methods employed and their application within this study.
  7. I missed reading what the phenomenon under investigation (the case) was, what the boundaries of the cases were etc. Go read Stake a bit more perhaps?
  8. You will see questions from me throughout re “purpose” – the methodology chapter should explain the purpose of the methodology and the methods.
  9. Delete the sections of group interview post survey. This is not part of the research design implemented.
  10. You need larger sections on the qualitative counterparts to reliability and validity – trustworthiness is only one tool in this.
  11. Avoid using your notes from a seminar – you need to demonstrate that you have read broadly in the field (NI in this instance), have understood and critiqued the literature in order to apply this within the context of your investigation
  12. Some use of tables will provide the reader with a better perspective of the research tools, participants, etc.

There are lots more comments on the manuscript itself and happy to follow up with this as you have time to absorb all of the feedback. Remember, methods chapters get written several times – you’ve made a start. I look forward to seeing the next version!

Really in-depth, fantastic commentary. I include them on my blog for the simple reason that we do not often get to see an unexpurgated critique of draft work made public. I have nothing to hide about my current approach or where I’m at in the draft process, so showing what my supervisors say may help other PhD students to feel better about their own corrected work. In part it hurts because who wants to be wrong?, but at the same time I am aware that this is good, fertile stuff. Writing about it, revealing it, makes me happier and more removed from the hurting, feeling emotions that comes with the critiques of one’s work. And, of course, I immediately wrote back and thanked them for their in-depth comments. Because it takes time to read this stuff. And to think about it, and to correct it. It’s hard work, being a teacher. Although, I think, not as hard as being a student.


One thought on “Feedback and critical commentary

  1. Hi Jess,
    I am happy that I heard about your blog on Twitter this morning. After reading a few of your posts, I can see that our blogs are similar in many ways. My blog is called “Thesisthoughts” –
    I have never dared to blog responses from my supervisors, even though I’m sure writing them would help me work through them. Maybe if I talked to them about it and received their consent I would feel more comfortable about it.
    You received brilliant, workable comments from both your supervisors, I know that we shouldn’t take that kind of help for granted.
    I am certainly going to keep reading.
    Best of luck with your ambitious New Years resolutions (I haven’t even had the time to write mine yet!).
    Nikki Aharonian

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