Written by Dr. Hannes Nel, D. Com, D. Phil
Research is always done in a specific context.
Your contextual perspective is necessary to explain the background of your research.
You will need to explain the context for your research in your research proposal if you are studying towards a Ph. D.
You should also repeat the context for your study in your research report, regardless if it is for a master’s degree or a Ph. D.
All the stakeholders in your research will be interested in the context of your research.
Stakeholders can be a Postgraduate Committee, your study leader, sponsors, external assessors, leaders in the industry, government officials and, of course, future students.
Context is expressed as the scope or limits of your research.
It is the “playing field” on which you will conduct your research.
You can and should use the context for your research to create interest in your research and to show that you can do the research.
The context for your research can change when to do your research. You will need to check with your study leader that such change will be acceptable because it can impact on the viability of your study.
You can also use the context for your research to refine your research topic and to formulate your research problem, research question or hypothesis.
The Elements of Context
The following can be elements of the context of your research:
- Geographical area. You can, for example, confirm the viability of your research by showing that you will investigate just one country rather than a whole continent or the world.
- Field of research
- Your field of research will decide the faculty where you will study. For example, Medical Science, Human Resources Management, Military Science, Arts and Culture, Marketing, and many more.
- The field of research can also decide the research method and the paradigmatic approach that you will use, but we will need to discuss these issues in a future post or posts.
- Target population. Your target population can be people, animals, insects, rocks, cloud formations, etc.
- Time. Your research can stretch over a period, focus on a specific point in time, compare one era (mostly in the past) with a different era (mostly the present), etc. Data seldom apply infinitely, although rationalists are of the opinion that some scientific principles do.
- Gender. You can conduct research on just one gender, all genders, compare the behavioural profiles of different genders, etc.
- Value systems. You can focus on just one value system, for example, a comparison of how tourists would behave compared to how locals will behave. You can also investigate many behavioural patterns and link them to the profile elements of your target group.
- The level of your research. Research is mostly done on a micro or macro level. The field of research will have an impact on the level of your research.
You will need to explain why you chose the context that you did. Possible reasons for deciding on a context can be the nature of the problem that you would like to solve, the time and funds that you have available, viability in general, etc.
From the reason for your choice of context should follow the value that your research will add to the academia, the industry, the community, government, etc.
The context of your research explains the “what”, where”, “who” and the “when” of your research.
The context can include a geographical area, a value system, a religious group, a species of living organisms, artefacts, etc.
Context can be refined in terms of structures, stakeholders, social groups, etc.
Your research problem or hypothesis can be deduced from the context for your research.
Do not over-complicate the context for your research. Just explain it in simple language.