This is the final of three articles which, when taken together, add up to a series of steps through which you will engage in deep analysis in order to improve your final report on any action research project you have taken. At the end of your action research project, or even as a formative assessment halfway through, it is helpful if you stop and reflect on how far you have come and whether or not it is in line with the original purpose for starting the project. This article is the third of three and helps you chart your measurable actions so that others may follow your process and be informed by your discoveries and results. Whether and to what extent that new embodiment of the work is convincing or important to others has a great deal to do with how deeply you answer the question, “How do I know what I did?”
Chart Your Measurable Actions
Now that the work is over you can plot it on a time line or chart. The lower left-hand corner is where you started or your baseline, which you measured at the time in some detail. In regular increments your project moved across time, in many cases, it also evolved upwards from the baseline. By reading your weekly reflective protocols, and the measurable actions section of those, you can complete a chart or graph that visually shows the evolution of your work. If you put your purpose, or the outcome you hoped to achieve, in the upper right-hand corner you will have a graphic display of how you see the outcomes of your work in comparison to what you had hoped for at the beginning.
Taken together, these three processes should help you do two things. First, you should be able to separate your personal from your professional outcomes and move to a greater level of neutrality in your reporting of them. Second, you should understand from a neutral stance whether you will be reporting: small success, great success, or failure. You now know what your report will say, what is left is to weave the evidence you have into a convincing story that correctly displays your outcomes to your stakeholders.
How Do I Analyze My Work As Data?
Like alchemy, analysis is a cumulative process — one that cannot be completed without the “right” ingredients. At the end of the project,practitioners must show that the opinions they have formed about the legitimacy of their results are logical and accurate, following naturally from data collected during the process. Hopefully you have already considered the types of information you would need for your particular set of stakeholders, and made sure that you gathered that information throughout your project. The use of your reflective notes, in conjunction with the evidence you collected (and analyzed in the first two processes discussed in earlier articles) during your measurable action steps makes the end stage of this process less daunting. Your findings develop from cumulative records of all data collected over the course of your project.
Deeper analysis as a researcher is now required. Once again lay out all of your reflective data week by week, side-by-side, but this time also cluster around it other data or evidence that will substantiate or add to your final report. These might include surveys, interview data, etc. What you have in front of you is a graphic representation of all the bits and pieces which you can use to build your final report.
Some researchers will find that when they lay out all the evidence they have, then they can see areas around which they do not yet have enough evidence. Therefore, a quick flurry of activity out may be necessary to shore up the parts that are obviously weak. Before final report writing you need to have substantiated evidence for every lesson that has come from your work. These lessons are known in the research world as findings. And findings need to be backed up with data.
Conclusions develop from your findings. At the end of any research, the researcher sits back and asks, “What does it all mean? What is the significance of it? What would my message be to others?” Analysis, if well done, draws you naturally through your data to your findings, and then, with a little reflection, on to your conclusions.
The following exercise was published in our first book, and students reported it to be instrumental in their success at reporting data as findings and moving on to conclusions:
1. Sort your data into categories of “lessons learned” or outcomes you can claim. These will be your findings.
2. List under each category the data that confirm that lesson. Also list any data that refute this claim.
3. Rank order the categories. The top should be the one lesson that has the most confirmation and the least refuting data.
4. If you worked in a group, discuss with them whether your rank order and findings match what they would consider to be important.
5. Decide whether you (and your team members if in a group) met or exceeded the purpose. How do the specific categories add up (or not) to your achievement of the purpose of your research?
6. Reflect and ask yourself: What does it all mean? What is the significance of it? What would my message be to others?
7. Draft a few statements of conclusion from the answers to those questions.
8. Outline the most logical way to discuss the progression from your categorical findings to your conclusions.
This will likely end in some kind of outline or graphic organizer where you have charted your thoughts. Now you are ready to write or present what you have learned. Before you begin to write you need to analyze whether and to what extent you can justify your project as being a success. That will be covered in our fourth article in this series. Then as you write it is helpful to know and understand what standards you need to reach in order to be convincing to others. That is the subject of the fifth article. Research practice is typically measured against the standards of validity, credibility, and reliability. These together can make the argument that your findings and your conclusions are correct and your report becomes convincing to your audience.