Assignment Four The “Two-Pager” Research Design Memo

The goal of this brief memo is to distill into a succinct document what is usually an emerging set of ideas about your topic, research questions, guiding theories, methods, and timeline for a proposed study. This memo should be used at the moment when you are seriously considering a new topic for an empirical study, often for a master’s thesis or dissertation. Writing a two-page memo that distills your topic broadly, your possible research questions, the bodies of literature that will frame the exploration of the topic, and your possible research design helps you push through ideas quickly rather than getting bogged down in a long, weighty narrative. When we advise our students to engage in this process, part of the value is to achieve a kind of emergent clarity about the research, and this happens not only through writing this memo (in part given that it is brief relative to a full proposal), but even more so through using the “two-pager” to vet the proposed study by a number of peers, mentors, and advisers who can help refine each part and the whole. Students share that this process is invaluable to the development of their thinking.

Here are the sections of this memo:

  • Topic and Setting
  • Possible Research Questions
  • Goals of the Study
  • Bodies of Literature to Frame and Guide the Study
  • Methods/Research Design Overview
  • Timeline
  • Questions for Reader(s) (these questions can also be noted throughout by using the comment function of track changes)

This part of the memo should be kept as close to two pages as possible. There are multiple reasons for this, including that it helps you succinctly overview your proposed study. In addition, when you are vetting this memo with multiple people, having a short and clearly developed memo helps facilitate higher levels of response and engagement.

Validity Research Design Memo

The goal of this part of the memo is also to encourage you to systematically consider issues of validity at various points throughout your study. We recommend composing multiple iterations of this memo to continue to monitor validity as you progress through your study.

Potential aspects to consider include the following:

  • Describe the research questions and goals.
  • Discuss how and whether you are addressing the following validity strategies:
  • Triangulation
  • Participant validation
  • Strategic sequencing of methods
  • Thick description
  • Dialogic engagement strategies
  • Multiple coding
  • Structured reflexivity practices
  • Mixed-methods research
  • Articulate how each of the above validity strategies maps onto and informs your research questions and goals.
  • Describe and explain any lingering questions you have regarding threats to the validity and rigor of your study.
  • If any major changes have been made to your study, discuss these in relation to threats to validity and/or validity strategies.

As an example of this kind of exploration of validity in a study, we include Example 6.1, an excerpt from a dissertation written by Susan Bickerstaff (found in Appendix FF).

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