Perhaps the biggest mistake a researcher can make it to assume that if research has been done, that means the research is good research. In actuality, there is a significant amount of bad research available and those who rely upon it can easily draw bad conclusions. While there are an infinite number of ways that research can be bad, probably the most significant risk in bad research is research that detects a relationship (correlation) between two or more different variables and, from that relationship, seeks to suggest that there is causation between two or more of those variables. This can be due to an improper conclusion, but it can also be due to faulty research design that has failed to account for all of the other variables that could impact the results.
Defining Good Research
It can be difficult to define good research because research is very situationally-dependent. A research project that is perfect for one scenario may be wholly inappropriate in another scenario. Therefore, the first element of a good research project is that the research has been chosen appropriately and tailored to the task at hand. This is because, "in practice, the social researcher is faced with a variety of options and alternatives and has to make strategic decisions about which to choose. Each choice brings with it a set of assumptions about the social world it investigates. Each choice brings with it a set of advantages and disadvantages. Gains in one direction will bring with them losses in another, and the social researcher has to live with this" (Denscombe, 2007).
While there may not be a single definition of a good research project, there are certain characteristics that help describe good research. First, the purpose of the research should be clearly defined. Next, the procedure used in the research should be described in such a way that a researcher could replicate the research. The research should be as objective as possible, although that qualification is more important in qualitative research than quantitative research. The research should be honest; if results fail to support the hypothesis, those reports should still be reported. The data should be sufficiently analyzed to support the results. The research should be both valid and reliable. The conclusions of the research should come directly from the research, and should be limited to what the research has established or failed to establish.
Analysis of the Research
One of the ways that this project was an example of good research is that it was specifically tailored to the type of information that the researchers were seeking to discover. They were already aware that athletes used goal setting in training and competition, but prior research had failed to uncover how different goals could function in different ways. Prior research emphasized the role of process and performance goals because they believed that these goals were the ones that impacted performance. However, the researchers were concerned about limitations in prior goal setting research, particularly the fact that the researchers had defined the goals. Prior researchers have noted the need for a qualitative research study, and this study was designed to help fill in gaps from prior research. As a result, and keeping in mind that it was meant to build upon prior research, it was absolutely the appropriate type of research to investigate the issue.
Another aspect of good research is that it is well-described. The researchers discussed their research process in way that permitted an observer to replicate the research. There are lingering questions about coding methods and the questions used, but it seems clear that one could obtain that information from the researchers. It might be difficult to replicate the research outside of that geographical area because of the sports organizations established in that area, but that is not a flaw in the way the procedure is described.
One aspect of good research is that it should be as objective as possible. This research asked participants for their subjective responses and there was no attempt at anonymity. However, the researchers do seem to have taken steps to try to ensure some type of objectivity. They had two different researchers code the responses, and when there was disagreement they compared and then agreed on the coding. The introduction of two researchers helped enhance the objectivity.
The next qualification for good research is that it be honest. This mainly applies when research fails to support the hypothesis and looks at whether the researchers report those results. Interestingly enough, this research did not seem to have a real hypothesis. Instead, the researchers were trying to seek more information about the subject. In many ways, there was no way for the research to either prove or disprove the results. The results appear to have been honestly reported. However, to truly consider whether or not the research was sufficiently honest, one would need to look at the survey responses and determine whether their content was adequately and accurately reflected in the researcher's information. Likewise, it is impossible to determine whether the data was sufficiently analyzed to support the results without looking at the responses on the underlying questionnaires.
One element of good research is reliability. External reliability means that the research results can be replicated if someone performs the same experiment (Shuttleworth, 2008). One of the problems with trying to assess the reliability of this study is that the study differs from prior research in a meaningful way. Prior researchers limited responses, which enhanced reliability. The use of the open-ended questionnaire presumably made it less reliable. Internal reliability is also important: in other words did different researchers reach the same conclusions with the same information. In this study, the researchers used a constant comparative method to divide transcripts into text units and compare and regroup them. For the most part, their results were the same; they had 97% agreement on their coding, which suggests a high degree of internal reliability. While the presence of internal reliability does not guarantee external reliability, it does suggest that researchers who duplicated the exact same study protocol could achieve very similar results, thus indicating a very high degree of reliability for a qualitative study.
Finally, one has to consider whether the research design was valid. In a qualitative study, validity can be a tricky issue. Generally, for research to be considered valid, one must consider the entire research project. Valid research designs contain several components including randomization, controls, internal validity, external validity (Shuttleworth, 2008). This study was dependent upon subjective responses by people, which introduced a validity issues into the problem. Human subjectivity introduces an element of unreliability into a sample (Shuttleworth, 2008).
Validity depends upon other factors as well. For example, the research sample was composed of volunteers, suggesting that the study results might be limited to a certain subgroup of athletes (those who would volunteer for a research study). However, the study results would not be limited to a single sport; on the contrary, the participants were spread across a very wide variety of sports, though the number of volunteers in some of the sports was very low (for example, only one athlete played baseball). Despite that, there is certainly reason to believe that these results would not be generalizable to all athletes; not all sports were equally represented and there is no reason to believe that all athletes share the same motivation and performance goals regardless of sport.
However well-designed and well-executed a research project may be, that may not be sufficient to qualify it as a good research project. Research that simply replicates what prior researchers have discovered and adds nothing to field, which technically good research may be a waste of resources. Therefore, one must look at whether the research advanced knowledge…