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Providing A Rationale
A rationale typically consists of a line of reasoning that performs two principal functions. It describes a context within which to locate the intended project and suggests why doing such a study is worthwhile. A further function can be that of justifying the methods you plan to use for solving your research problem.
Roles for the Rationale
The rationale plays a role at two stages of your project: (a) when you first submit your research proposal to your advisors for their advice and approval and (b) when you write your final version of the thesis or dissertation so readers will understand the contribution to knowledge or the contribution to practice that your work represents.
Placing your work in context
Locating your study in a context consists of identifying a domain of life into which the research fits. One popular way to accomplish this is to introduce a label that you assume is familiar to your readers. Labels can be on different levels of specificity. To illustrate, for our hypothetical study of Mexican-American families, consider three alternatives that descend from the general to the specific. The first label–social change–places your work within a very broad field. The second–family structure–identifies a more limited realm. The third-trends in family structure and function among Mexican-Americans–represents a very narrow field, indeed. Your rationale might start with the label that signifies the field in which you think your work belongs.
Among theories of social change, the most prominent types . . . .
The literature on family structure can be divided into . . . .
Investigations of trends in family structure and function among MexicanAmericans treat such issues as . . . .
Your next task is that of showing how your project fits into the selected realm. Here is one way that could be done for the second option–family structure.
The literature on family structure can be divided into six categories focusing on (1) family members’ roles, (2) types of human needs met within different family structures, (3) nuclear and extended forms of family, (4) lineage and governance (i.e. patrilineal, matrilineal), (5) explanations of family structural change over time, and (6) cross-cultural comparisons. The present study links the second and fifth of these categories by addressing the question: What changes have occurred in the structure and functions of Mexican-American families during the twentieth century, and what trends do such changes reflect”In addition, by centering attention on a particular ethnic group–Mexican-Americans–the study provides material useful to people interested in the last of the categories, that of cross-cultural comparisons.
Identifying your intended contribution
Perhaps the most important function of an author’s rationale is the explanation of how the project can contribute to knowledge (basic research that corrects or expands people’s understanding of the world) and/or to practice (applied research that improves the conduct of some aspect of life). This function is typically performed by the author’s identifying shortcomings in the existing body of knowledge or practice that could be remedied by the proposed research. As noted in Chapter 1, contributions can be of various kinds, including
Evidence about kinds of events, individuals, groups, or institutions not studied before
Outcomes derived from applying existing theories or methods of investigation to events, individuals, groups, or institutions not yet studied in such a fashion
The use of new data-gathering methods or instruments for studying phenomena
A novel theoretical view of familiar events
New interpretations of existing data
Conclusions drawn from combining the results of similar studies (meta-analysis)
The following examples illustrate two ways of wording research proposals so that they (a) specify the question to be answered, (b) locate the study in a domain of knowledge or practice, and (c) identify the study’s intended contribution.