What Makes a Study Interesting?

Every once in a while, I go through my file cabinets (yes, I still have file cabinets), looking for things to purge or—if I’m lucky–for lost treasures.  I found a few today, and here is one of them.  It is a handout from a course on quantitative reasoning that I took in graduate school from M. Scott Poole in the early 1990s at the University of Minnesota. The title is “What makes a study interesting”.   As with most of Scott’s ideas, I think this remains relevant and good advice to new scholars (heck, to established scholars as well).  I’ve recreated it here exactly as given to me and my coursemates, with the exception of correcting a typo and the numbering of one list.

WHAT MAKES A STUDY INTERESTING?

I. Substantive Contributions

A. Build on previous work:

1. Add to theory:

a. Add-a-variable.
b. Qualify a known relationship by adding a moderator or interaction variables.
c. Extend the generality of a theory or finding.
d. Replicate a study.

2. Show complexities in current theories:

a. Show constructs aren’t as simple as they seem.
b. Show relationships aren’t as simple as they seem.

3. Combine two current theories:

a. Extend an accepted model to deal with a different phenomenon.
b. Show how two accepted models fit together.

B. Question previous work:

1. Question the obvious.

2. Question hallowed beliefs.

3. Test accepted lay wisdom.

4. Show methodological errors.

5. Test two accepted theories against each other.

C. Create a new theory:

1. Apply a novel model to a new area.

2. Create a new construct.

3. Find a novel phenomenon.

4. Apply a novel method to an area.

5. Link across levels:

a. Micro-macro
b. Part-whole
c. Long term-short term

6. Identify foundational concepts.

II. Human Interest

A. Tie work in with larger intellectual trends.

B. Relate work to current research traditions to show its significance.

C. Tie work in with current methodological trends.

D. Present the study in an accessible manner, so it is easy to comprehend by nonspecialists in the area.

E. Make a dramatic predication and test it.

F. Choose a quirky topic, which piques interest.

G. Tie work to concerns of laypersons or practitioners. Show that it makes a personal impact on people’s lives.

H. Surprise the audience with a finding.

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