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Authenticity of a Research Work and the Challenges a Researcher Encounters

 


Authenticity of a Research Work and the Challenges a Researcher Encounters

Dr. Elham Hossain

Professor

Department of English

Dhaka City College

Dhaka, Bangladesh

 

Abstract:

A research is a learning process which usually begins with a hypothesis and ends with a thesis. Being motivated by research questions a researcher step by step proceeds towards his/her final answer through the collection and intensive analysis of data, information and references. In the end, the findings of the researcher assume the role of a discourse whichcontributes to the existing body of knowledge. But a research is not primarily for ‘knowledge for knowledge’s sake’; it is rather for ‘knowledge for life’s sake’. A research work can attain this stance by following practical and participatory principles that make a researcher comprehend his accountability to the community in which he/ she works. A research can be substantially useful for any community when it goes on collaboratively and dialogically with the resources relevant to it. As such, it should have the potential to be accepted by the research community and this acceptance can only be attained widely by virtue of its validity, credibility and authenticity. Appropriate approach and methodology, honesty, sincerity and meticulous dedication of the researcher can enable a researcher to overcome the challenges that he encounters during the research work. This paper seeks to deliberate how a researcher faces the issues that challenge the authenticity of his research work and how, after going through all the vicissitudes he attains wide acceptance in the research community. For elaboration I have borrowed some theoretical conceptions of Michel Foucault’s conception of discourse and Jacques Derrida’s concept of logocentrism.

Keywords: Authenticity; Discourse; Hypothesis; Logocentrism; Resources; Subjectivity

‘Authenticity’ literally implies the concepts, such as credibility, accuracy, genuineness and validity. This term primarily implies ‘original’, or ‘accurate representation’ that is, the concept must have been in the track which is usually followed by the majority of the people. The term also refers to ‘real’ devoid of artificiality and superfluity. When a concept is claimed to be original or authentic, it must be measured on the scale of ethics and moral values practiced in the relevant fields and supported by the consent of majority of the people belonging to the community. In personal level when a concept is formulated on the basis of the concerned person’s honesty, sincerity, perseverance, integrity, consistence and dedication, it usually attains acceptance among the target readers. Theoretically the term ‘authenticity’ is engaged in the deliberate practice of ‘hegemony’ because when a concept is acknowledged by the majority of people of a community it takes up the role of logos and inevitably claims people’s submission to it. Eventually it turns into ‘logocentrism’ which “implies all form of thought based on a desire for truth” (Cuddon 477). ‘Logocentrism’, in course of time, assumes the role of a meta-narrative which controls the ideological state apparatuses, especially in academia. Borrowing Jacques Derrida’s conception of logos, it can be said that “the sense of security provided by a belief in logos is illusory” (Hawthorn 194). In connection with this conception of the illusive belief in logos, it can be affirmed that a good research work should have the capacity to claim its authenticity in context of the existing body of knowledge and at the same time it should work as a site in which it will create a dialectical and discursive area that will keep on promoting new thoughts, concepts and ideas through negotiations and interactions and thus keep the horizon open for the paradigm shift in epistemology and encourage further research. In addition, to prove that a research does really have an impact on the relevant field of study, it must ensure its authenticity through acceptability and genuineness. As a research work has chances to play the role of a logos, a researcher must maintain credibility in integrating details in defense of his research questions.

A research addresses the issues which are profoundly and intensively related to the speed and impulse of life. Throughout the life cycle of a research, that is, from submitting the research proposal to the writing of the concluding chapter, a researcher is to go through a wide range of experience substantially connected to his/her search. As it is a logical process that takes the researcher to the core of his findings, he/she has to experience a roller-coaster journey. John Biggam summarizes the experience of a researcher in the following words:

…the excitement of starting a large research project; angst at trying to get a handle on your subject area; delight at reading the work of other, more experienced, researchers; confusion over the plethora of material; frustration at following blind leads; satisfaction in structuring one’s own thoughts and arguments; the pain having to remove work that is, on hindsight, not relevant; and relief in completing the concluding chapter. (Biggam 203)

So, apprehension, anxiety, pride, tedium and exhilaration are inseparable parts of a research work from the selection of a topic to the analysis of resources and referencing. Despite all these exertion if a research cannot prove itself to be empirical and if it is not widely acceptable to the research community, it loses its credibility and authenticity. A research community accepts a research work only when the researcher succeeds in convincing it through consistent “persuasion based on logic and on attention to important details” (Beins 6). But persuasion is a roller-coaster process. To convince the target readers a researcher often quotes experts since they know more than the ordinary people. But unfortunately sometimes experts may be untrue, too. Even the data that the majority of the people know to be true, may prove false eventually. In this connection, a researcher should proceed towards his goal or objective with details of the topic on which he works and integrate all the reasonings in a coherent fashion to justify the research proposal. It is, of course, the process of turning a hypothesis into a thesis. In this process taking resort to emotions is misleading because eventually it “proves to be troublesome” (Beins 5). But on the way to generalizing the findings a researcher encounters some limitations. For example, the data that he/she collects from a particular section of peoplewill not obviously match the people of other section. Hence, a researcher must clarify his range of study to the target readers and thus specify his research area. Or, suppose data are collected from the participants who are female. Then the final findings will not certainly match the phenomena with the male. As such, the declaration of the area of study at the very outset of a research project saves a research work from being questioned.

Selection of a credible and doable topic is the first and foremost task that a researcher must choose with a wise consideration of the availability of resources. Books, academic library, research grant, money, participants in the research must be sufficiently available. Besides, a theoretical framework is to be decided at the very inception of a research project. Otherwise, a researcher may digress and be trapped in a wrong area of study that may make his research irrelevant, a replication of the precedent researches in the relevant field of study. But this methodology or the theoretical framework must not come from the researcher’s whimsical preference. It will be decided and directed by the research question. The topic must suit the interest of the researcher and it should be compelling enough to sustain his dedication till the end of the research project. His topic may coincide the topics of the previous researchers but the innovative approach and methodology will help the researcher generate new ideas and add then to the existing body of knowledge. He must be cautious of keeping the overlapping in a minimum level. The topic should be flexible so that there remains a space of fine tuning in accordance with variations of samples, data and information provided by the participants in the research project. Actually, a good topic must encourage “questioning process itself and the evaluation of the best questions to ask” (Taylor 26). Besides, an appropriate topic includes stimulus materials or other relevant resources to make a research work unique and genuine.

True, the first and foremost sign that marks the authenticity of a research work is its wide acceptance. Knowledge which is innovative and relevant always wins the favour and support of the target readers. Now the question arises, how a researcher can attain this ability, that is, ability of attaining favour and support of the target audience. Prior to preparing a research proposal, a researcher is to have an extensive background reading. It will pave the way for him to know what works have already been done in the field in which he intends to do a research work. He must not forget that his duty is not to summarize the findings of his predecessors or preceding researchers. Again, presenting a huge number of information whose relevance readers do not comprehend is not the task of a good researcher. Rather his duty is to commence his research from the point where his preceding researchers in the relevant fieldhave stopped and in this field he/she must offer sufficient details to allow his/her target readers “to assemble a complete picture” of what he means to bring to their knowledge (Beins 62).He is to innovate the way he will approach his research question and collect data in an appropriate way with a consideration of multiple dimensions of ideas. Intertextuality among different branches of epistemology is to be split up and analyzed closely with unique ability that will enable him to perceive the line between distinct phenomena. Qualitative and quantitative approaches are to be brought together in such a way that the objective of the research will not miss the target point of the findings. The mixed method is widely acceptable because quantitative methodology encourages the researchers to include relevant statistical data that they collect from the field work. If these statistical data support the information collected from primary and secondary sources, the research work may claim authenticity and it becomes credible and convincing to a great extent. While presenting statistics a researcher must not forget the intellectual status of his target readers. If they are less sophisticated about research and statistical technique, then the statistics and irrelevant information will sound confusing to the target audience. It may also “distract them from the message” a researcher intends to give (Beins 60).

 

For avoiding being confusing and stereotyped, a different but valid way of interpretation, is to be innovated by the researcher. Besides, he cannot forget that he is special because he possesses a special way of looking into the things all around him. This specialty will help him collect data in a convincing way and organize and integrate those data systematically and generate new ideas. It also enables him to collect samples and data using valid tools and provides him with a guideline to analyze the data concretely and convincingly leaving his prejudice or biasness apart. In this connection, he must not forget that a research work is not a creative writing and hence he must not take resort to metaphor, allegory or any other form of rhetorical devices to convey his findings to his target audience in a roundabout way. To be straightforward is one of the conditions that may help the research work be authentic.

 

Further, self-awareness of the researcher is a must for the credibility and authenticity of the research work. For this purpose a researcher at first should define and determine his positionality in the society in which and for which he /she doing the research work. Awareness of his epistemological, cultural and geographical location will help the researcher to be free from his biases and prejudices, a fatal obstacle that acts as a block to the way of attaining wide acceptibility. Everybody is subjective by instinct. But coloring the findings of the researcher with his/ her subjective emotions and impulses may have the risk of telling upon the authenticity of a research work. A researcher can never miss the point that he is not a fiction writer. His feet must always be fixed upon the firm ground of the realities. And he/she must keep the research community in mind.

 

A researcher must avoid being hypothetical in his final assessment. He should have a hypothesis or a research proposal at the outset with a view to identifying a research proposal and it is to be established finally with relevant data, references, findings and statistical observations. Creswell has termed it as the ‘purpose for research’ (p. 9). It must not be the end point of the researcher. It must be the inception that will identify the major intent or objective for further study in a particular methodology. It will help him/ her focus on “the study, the participants in the study, and the location or site of inquiry” (9). It serves as a research question which a researcher plans to answer in his research work and defend his/her answer with sufficient data and references. In this connection, Peter Lyons and Howard J. Doueck assert, “It may be argued that in making any decision the first task is to identify the problem and then to figure out the appropriate objectives to be used in addressing the problem” (10). But this process requires an appropriate approach and method which contributes to the credibility, validity and authenticity of a research work.

 

There is no denying that authenticity ensures the survival of a research work. Haphazard ideas cannot achieve the grit which is a crying need for the survival of a research work. True, a research work is a discourse produced by the researcher.It has the power to add something new to the existing epistemology or knowledge system. Application of proper, innovative and validmethods is the prerequisite of generating credible, widely acceptable and corresponding ideas. Both qualitative and quantitative methods can be applied side by side in a research work if necessary because not only information from the secondary sources and primary sources is enough but also statistical data, numbers and mathematical calculations are often urgent as per the requirement of the research proposal to defend the discourse the researcher finally produces. True, discourse and hegemony go hand in hand and they play the roles of essential instruments for measuring the forms of coercion or negotiations in cultural exchange. A research usually works in the space of deficiency of discourse and thus, it corresponds with the realities of the historiography and in this way exercises its hegemony upon the knowledge system. Discourse commands social control through societal institutions and it is a way of organizing knowledge. It also structures the constitution of social and global relations through the collective understanding of discursive logic. A huge number of post-modernist and post-structuralist thinkers use Foucault’s theoretical framework to analyze the coercive forces of the society and investigate how these forces work for controlling the knowledge system in the network of the society. Discourse, as defined by Foucault, refers to ways of constituting knowledge, together with the social practices, forms of subjectivity and power relations. Again, discourses are more than ways of thinking and producing meaning. It can be positive and negative, repressive and liberating. Everybody in the society living in the superstructure of epistemology is a constituent part of a discourse.Nobody can go beyond the hegemony of discourse. As discourse may be both positive and negative and impacts the society very powerfully, a researcher must produce his valid and comprehensive discursive research work authentically by following an appropriate research methodology and the other relevant steps. In this connection, six steps of the research methodology mentioned by John W. Cresswellmay be mentioned here relevantly:

 

1. Identifying a research problem,

2. Reviewing the literature,

3. Specifying a purpose for research,

4. Collecting data,

5. Analyzing and interpreting data,

6. Reporting and evaluating. (7)

 

It is undeniable that a research paper is a well-constructed discourse. A problem which is relevant to the realities related to the discursive system of knowledge and its utility is to be identified and resolved through justification in association with the importance of the study. As research is a specialized work its subject-matter and the researcher’s focus of attention must be specified. The topic may be new or may not be new. Even a researcher may work on the topic that has been done already. But to avoid being overlapped or the charge of plagiarism he/ she must decide a distinct context andapproach and accordingly a larger volume of samples and data should be collected. Actually, authenticity and originality of a research work depend on the researcher’s distinct and valid approach and method. Furthermore, anything under the sun can be an area of study for a researcher. But his dexterity lies in his handling of the research work as a site of novelty, credibility, validity and reproducibility. How he relates his findings to the select audiences significantly contributes to the genuineness of the research work. True, a researcher’s liability is to make the scholars interested in the ‘body of knowledge’ and the ‘archaeology of truth’ (Didur 186). If he/she can do it he/she can claim genuineness and authenticity.

 

As a research work is a specialization of a particular field of study of the researcher in a specific field of studies, the thing that a researcher must do with priority is to mark an area of study which must not copy the preceding researchers but there may be intersectionality or intertextuality. After defining his/her field of research a researcher must investigate perseveringly and intensively where his preceding researcher stopped. It is essential because he must begin from the point where his predecessors stopped as the main objective of a research work is to add something new in the existing body of knowledge of the relevant field. Reiteration of old ideas and use of already applied data and echoing the voice of the predecessors must tell upon the authenticity of the research work and the researcher may be charged with plagiarism. Choice of appropriate and tested methodology and research design guide a researcher towards his/her inferences. If a researcher can recognize when to use qualitative method and when to use quantitative method or when to use mixed methods, he/she can avoid aptly being charged with intellectual theft or plagiarism because proper method and proper approach decide a researcher’s intellectual liability and honesty. A researcher must not forget thata research is not done for degree only. It is not a summary of the data culled from historiography. It is an original work which adds something new and suggests a new way of looking at things and thus assumes a distinct place in the existing body of knowledge.

 

Furthermore, extensive and intensive literature review prepares a researcher well for his/her subsequent course of action. Literature review refers to a written report “locating summaries, books, journals, and indexed publication on a topic…” (Creswell 9). For preparing a good literature review a researcher needs to practice his skill by visiting academic libraries, accessing computerized databases and locate what research work has been done in the relevant field of study he/ she has chosen for running a research work. The supervisor or the Guide must be duly informed about it with a report. Then there emerge chances for new ideas to be generated. A literature review is not simply a listing of sources and describing them one after another. It rather brings critical thinking and structure to the research work. Sources may be chronologically or thematically examined as per the demand of the research question or questions. While doing it adaptation of theoretical orientation may help the researcher to determine a specific framework or structure for addressing the relevant issue. A specific methodology serves as an organizing structure which has “an impact on both the ways material is discussed and on the material selected for review” (Lyons and Howard J. Doueck 68).

 

Authenticity requires specification of the field of study. A researcher may think of a vast field where he/ she intends to work. But only accumulation of a huge number of scattered information can never make a research work useful. A researcher must narrow his findings into specific research questions or hypotheses. He must decide the purpose statement which “introduces the entire study, signals the procedures you will use to collect data, and indicates the types of results you hope to find” (Creswell 9). This purpose statement usually and ultimately is narrowed down to research questions that lead a researcher to his/ her research goal.

 

A theoretical framework is very essential to conceptualize a research question. Research questions or hypotheses are to be answered with evidences. Data collection in this phase is needed. As per the need of the research process data may be collected in both qualitative and quantitative methods. Questionnaires may be prepared and the research participants may be interviewed as per requirements. A researcher is to identify the steps in the process of analyzing and interpreting data. The process of preparing data for analysis is to be clarified. On the whole, the sources of data, the contribution of the research participants must be acknowledged. Academic integrity helps the researcher to remain true and ethical to the research process. Actually, “[A]cademic integrity is a concept that guides ethical writing and more broadaddresses checking plagiarism, and even denying others’ access to scholarly resources” (Beins 10).

 

In fact, a research work which of course plays the role of a discourse is not an isolated knowledge system. It runs towards its objective through a dialectical process. It is discursive and dialogism must influence it. It should have the capacity to be intertextualized with the existing discourses in the relevant field of knowledge. It will offer a site from whose ground the successive researchers will just like archaeologists dig out clues of new thoughts and ideas and bring about innovation and generate new ideas. While doing this work a researcher must acknowledge his debt to those by whose texts or secondary sources his findings are influenced. Otherwise, he may be charged with intellectual theft or plagiarism.

 

Furthermore, in the age of cyber technology a researcher must be careful about the validity of the data he collects from different websites. In today’s world of digitalization with a single click of the mouse of a computer he can have an access into the realm of a lot of information. EBooks and pdf of numerous documents are now available in many sites of many universities and organizations of the world. Now a researcher may not feel the need to go to the library spending a lot of time on the way to it and sit in the reading room of the library all day long for jotting information tirelessly from different primary and secondary sources. EBooks have brought about a revolutionary change in the learning process. Technology enables us to cut, set and paste any reference or passage or excerpt from the soft copy of any book in electronic form. But the trouble is that most of the resources available in different sites are not authentic and do not refer to the sources. These are uploaded mostly for the entertainment of the average readers. A researcher cannot use these materials as reliable resources. Another point that has already been hinted is that access to Google or other search engines has brought about significant innovations in the learning process. Reading an eBook on the screen of a laptop or tab does not leave any space for the readers to think critically and meticulously on what he learns. A smart phone is like Aladdin’s lamp today in the hands of today’s digitalized generation. Google is just like Aladdin’s Jinni. As soon as the screen is touched the jinni appears and gets ready with the answersto the questions the user asks. It is thus a very good and essential source of information. But at the same time it discourages the readers to read paper books. It is undeniable when a reader continues reading a page of a paper book a new horizon is opened before him. It is also true that electronic books or eBooks do not offer this scope to the readers. Besides, only information without wisdom, which emanates from in-depth study, cannot add anything new to the existing body of knowledge. When a printed book is read a world is created in the mind of the reader and it is of course missing while reading an eBook. For constructing concrete conceptual framework reading of printed books is a crying need.

Now from the above discussion some conspicuous points appear to be essential for ensuring validity and authenticity of a research work. These are:

i. research to be based on “tried and tested research strategies and data collection techniques” (Biggam 243);

ii. use of data analysis techniques, appropriate to research;

iii. use of mixed method, that is, qualitative and quantitative research methodology, inductive and deductive reasoning that will encourage the use of a survey report as research strategy;

iv. use of relevant data collection techniques,

v. appropriate way of data collection and strategy,

vi. implementation of empirical knowledge,

vii. use of appropriate approach and method suited to the research work,

viii. records of data collected from the questionnaires or interviews to be preserved to prove the reliability of a research,

ix. avoidance of subjectivity or biasness,

x. while doing a research the researcher should deem as if someone were looking over his shoulder,

xi. using computer software for analyzing and storing data in a systematic and widely acceptable way and

xii. straightforward presentation of the findings, that is, the language of a dissertation must be free from ambiguity and slipperiness because language is not, from theoretical perspective, “the reliable tool of communication we believe it to be, but rather a fluid, ambiguous domain of complex experience in which ideologies program us without our being aware of them” (Tyson 249). And here lies the danger of falling into the trap of biasness, parochialism and bigotry. To ensure authenticity as it relies on wide acceptance, a researcher must remain conscious to overcome these pitfalls that may challenge the validity of his research.

In fine, it can be inferred that every research work should have a potential role of a participatory action research. If a research addresses the applied problems of the society and opens up the paths of a dialectical negotiation with the community, then it can obviously claim wide acceptability. A research usually does not work to promote the maxim ‘knowledge for knowledge’s sake’. It rather contributes to the adage ‘knowledge for life’s sake’.  Besides, ethical stance significantly contributes to the authenticity of a research as it guards a researcher against intellectual theft or plagiarism. On the whole, every research work must be open to the successive researchers and for this purpose the findings of the researchers should be published in printed form or at least it should be available to every researcher in the relevant field of study in soft copy-form so that the findings in the research work can be negotiated with the community whose issues have been addressed here. It will help the successive researchers to start their research from the point where their predecessors have stopped and take the issue ahead with new and innovative interpretations and discoveries. In this way, dynamism which is inherent in knowledge production system will ensure the generation of new ideas and new knowledge. When this job will be done honestly, empirical and useful research will be produced.  After all, none can deny that without being honest, persevering, systematic and meticulous, a researcher cannot ensure validity authenticity and credibility.

 

Works Cited

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Biggam, John. Succeeding with your Master’s Dissertation: A Step by Step Handbook. Open University Press, 2011.

Creswell, John W. Educational Research: Planning, Conducting and Evaluating Quantitative and Qualitative Research. Pearson, 2012.

Cuddon, J.A.(4thed). Dictionary of Literary terms and Literary Theory. Maya Blackwell Doaba House, 1991.

Didur, Jill. Michel Foucault. Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies, edited by John C. Hawley. Greenwood Press 2004.

Hawthorn, Jeremy. A Glossary of Contemporary Literary Theory. Arnold, 2003.

Lyons, Peter and Howard J. Doueck. The Dissertation: From Beginning to End. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Taylor, Gordon. A Student’s Writing Guide: How to Plan and Write Successful Essays. Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Tyson, Lois.Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide. Routledge, 2006.