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Critically exploring psychology
Critically exploring psychology

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5 Criticality at different stages of research

Criticality is not only important at the start of research. It is important to recognise that criticality and critical thinking is relevant at all different stages of research and in different ways. At each stage you should use the same steps that you covered in Section 2 of this course (understand, analyse, evaluate, judge). Early on, when planning the research aims, question and methodology, a critical perspective is nurtured when you recognise that there are many methodological paths that could be taken.

During the research, you will read papers and articles written by other authors. It’s important that you know of your own purposes and opinions as you read these items. Additionally, you need to be able to recognise the writer's purposes and opinions. You can find more about being a critical reader by visiting the OpenLearn course How to be a critical reader [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

At the data collection and interpretation stage, it’s important to use critical thinking to ask questions like, ‘Is there a better way of collecting a different type of data?’, ‘Have I analysed this correctly?’, ‘Is it biased or influenced by a broader social, political and scientific message it is designed to support?’, ‘Were there shortcomings in the method used to collect the data?’, ‘Have I interpreted it correctly?’, ‘Or has some form of misinterpretation taken place?’.

Towards the end of the research, when writing up a project, it can be important to adopt a critical stance to the methodology used, the results collected and the interpretation of these findings. For example, could this have been done in a different way, and would it benefit from that now?

Activity 4

What other questions could you ask about your research when adopting a critical stance?

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It’s important to be critical of the claims made by research. The time and context of the research can have a bearing on the interpretation of the findings and the same outcome might have a different relevance at a different point in time. For example, views about wellbeing and homeworking may be different since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some types of analysis are influenced by reflexivity, or the researcher’s role in what is studied and what conclusions are drawn. With any claims it is important to consider whether the researcher might be biased or influenced by a broader social, political and scientific (or even financial) message they are designed to support.

You might also consider whether there were shortcomings in the method that was used to collect the data; whether it has been interpreted correctly, or has some form of misinterpretation taken place?

It can help to invite others to evaluate research both from within their methodological frame and from outside (i.e. critiquing a qualitative study from a positivist and constructivist perspective). In other words, if qualitative research has been out collecting information from in-depth interviews with a small number of people, would it be beneficial to carry out a different study using large scale survey responses?

When assessing the likelihood of any research claims you need to remember that research does not happen in a vacuum. They need to be contextualised and understood in the environment and climate in which they take place. While any type of data can tell us a lot, without common sense, context and interpretation, and a little bit of critical thinking, they mean nothing!