Research, Step 5: The Conclusion
This five-part series details individual steps in effective research—useful in answering complicated questions, pinpointing the best solution to a problem, or creating a detailed analysis of an issue. When assigning a research project, explain all the steps to your students.
Research is conducted for many reasons:
- to solve a specific problem
- to develop new and improved versions of popular technology
- to pinpoint demographic trends and their implications for society
- to plan ways a business can attract more customers
- to find out what social issues are of concern to experts or the public
- to present a reasoned argument for an action you are suggesting
- because the teacher says you have to (just checking to see if you read the whole list!)
In every case, there is a goal for the research, and it’s important to finish knowing whether that goal has been achieved—and, if not, what else has been learned through the research.
Coming to Conclusions
More than one teacher who assigned a research project has found that half the assignments turned in were all data and no conclusions. Stress this point: To really learn anything from your research, you have to think about the results, not just parrot what others think. Many people, especially children looking at adults, are afraid to disagree with “authority.” Make it clear throughout each research assignment that it’s more important to be observant, open-minded, and thorough than to reinforce the status quo. (And be sure your comments on completed projects send the same message!)
Here are other points to emphasize about reaching and presenting final conclusions:
- State conclusions in one or two short paragraphs.
- Take all your data into account. Before formulating the conclusion, review data thoroughly once more to be sure you haven’t overlooked or misunderstood anything.
- Make sure conclusions relate to the “problem” and “prediction” you described before starting the procedure. Was your prediction accurate or not? (Don’t worry if the answer is “not”; it happens to professional scientists all the time. Just state clearly what the results indicated instead.)
In every “grown-up” research project, the conclusion leads to a “next step” plan scheduling something to do with the results—even if that plan is only to try again should the research fail to achieve its purpose. Although school projects are rarely thought of in terms of “what will you do with the results of your research?”, it’s important that students learn to see education as going beyond “busy work.” When your kids are assembling their final assignments, ask them to include sections about the implications of their conclusions and how these implications might be put to practical use for the larger community.
Who knows: some students may pinpoint immediate ways they can be of public service!