October 23, 2020

Research shows…

Any decent university professor, especially for graduate-level studies and above, will tell you that most research can be contested. They will keep reminding you to remain critical of all sources you read. Even if the sources are from well-respected, peer-reviewed journals.

So when someone tells you that “reams of research shows…” in whatever areas it may be, be wary.

The problem is research will rarely show anything to be 100% conclusive. Especially for things that are not universal truths. You will always find perspectives from all sides of the debate for any topic.

For any research that supports one side of the argument, you will definitely find other research supporting the other side of the argument.

Hence, the conclusion that any good researcher puts out will most likely be in a tentative language. That means they will never tell you that their research confirms a certain position with 100% certainty.

Does that mean that data and research are not useful?

Well, they’re not useful only if you choose to do your research with tinted glasses. If you go into your research trying to find data to support your view, guess what, you will find the data you need. The problem is you’re already biased, to begin with.

But if you go into research knowing that you will find arguments and supporting evidence for all sides of the debate, then you will collect well-rounded evidence to help clarify your thoughts. You will then have to weigh all the evidence you found to help you form your view.

Data and research can be useful. But only if you recognise the need to consider your topic from all angles and perspectives.

What’s more, there is also the importance of context.

What works in one context might not work in another context.

Just yesterday, I found out in a tutorial that the popular sandwich method of providing feedback doesn’t work with everybody. For example, learners with English as their second language may not understand the nuances as you switch from positive comment to criticism and back to positive comment again.

So while we can learn from best practices from all over the world, we need to always consider whether they are still relevant in our contexts. There are so many other variables to consider – ranging from time, place, culture and language.

While research is good, it can never show or support an argument with 100% confidence. So the next time someone tells you that “reams of research shows…”, tell them to look for evidence supporting the opposing argument too. Then, you will be able to have a healthy debate.

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