Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Analysis Paralysis

As an MA student over 10 years ago, I first encountered and experienced the phenomenon known as analysis paralysis, which can prevent a decisive action to take place.  I was trying to pick a topic for my first graduate thesis paper, and I was given no restrictions on the topic except that it had to be in my field.  I flailed around for about 2 weeks before I picked a topic based on a list of hot research topics provided by one of the professional teaching organizations in my field.

I did not like the feeling of knowing the range but not have a strong passionate feeling for one particular area.  I did not have one burning question that I wanted to answer through research.  My MA experience taught me to keep abreast of the research trends to be more aware of what the field is interested.  Before I took on the persona of a researcher, I thought that that approach was not conducive for innovation.  I believed that the need for research should arrive from practice.  In my field, it was the practice of teaching.  I believe now that many teachers still hold this feeling.  What good is research if it cannot be (inspired from or) applied to the classroom?  That question is the worm can opener of questions in education research. 

Now as a PhD candidate with experience enough to navigate around the trap of analysis paralysis, I have found myself the closest to that phenomenon since I was an MA student.  With the help of my dissertation committee, and especially my co-chairs, I was able to avoid analysis paralysis during my data analysis phase.  I saw the temptation to investigate areas that did not directly answer my research questions, but I resisted.  Now that the first draft of Chapter 4 is complete and I have a new model that arose from the patterns that emerged from the data, I felt like I avoided the trap.  However, revising Chapter 4 brings a deluge of self-doubt.  After reviewing my first draft of Chapter 4, I start asking myself questions:
  • Is there enough evidence to make this claim?
  • Should I add well-known theories to support my grounded theory post-hoc?
  • Why did I ignore some literature in Chapter 2 that would have directed me down another (better?) path of analysis?
  • For qualitative research, how conservative should I be in making claims versus making assumptions?
Another problem, perhaps a good problem, is that my analysis is prompting me to dig deeper in the literature.  This is where analysis paralysis shows up.  When I dig deeper in the literature, am I doing it for a follow-up study or am I doing it to strengthen my current arguments and claims?  Of course, it's a bit of both.  And I know I should be directed by answering the latter of the two questions.  But there is a gray area where I find myself digging deeper in the literature where it guides me to form new theories or questions.  That's when I tell myself to stop.  My purpose is to strengthen my argument for this current study.  The new theories and questions should be reserved for another study.  This is a new experience for me, and I hope that more experienced researchers have advice on discipline.

At this point, I feel like a part of Chapter 5 is writing itself.  The part I'm referring to is the about the ideas for future research.  At this point, I feel like this section would be limitless.  While I was analyzing my data before writing Chapter 4, I reserved a spot for ideas for future research.  I didn't believe these ideas would continue to flow (faster) during and after writing my first draft.  Is this a blessing or a curse to have a flood of future research ideas? Or is it a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is a disorder that seems to thrive in doing research?  Or is it a sign that I need my life back?  Or is it a sign that I need a vacation?  To me, the last two questions seem like a form of quitting or abandoning my research interests.  But they do seem to drive everybody crazy except me.

I have a meeting with my co-chairs next week, so I hope that this meeting will help clear my head and re-focus my direction.  In conclusion, this is what it feels like to be on the verge of analysis paralysis after feeling like I avoided it earlier in the research process.

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