Research Strategies (abridged) - 7

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HomePreface1 - Taking Charge2 - Databases

3 - Information Fog4 - Periodical Maze 5 - Internet Research6 - Other Resources

7 - Case Studies8 - Learning to Read9 - Organizing Notes10 - Research Writing


Note that chapter arrangements in the 2011 4th print edition will differ from the above. 

Case Studies in Research

[Only one case study is presented below. See the print edition for a second case study.]

It�s all very well to read about the theory of research, but hands-on experience teaches us that we live in a complex world. Methods that may have worked perfectly well in one research project are disastrous in another. Keen minds and brave hearts are needed if we want to succeed in actually carrying out a research project. The moment you�ve been waiting for all along is here. Let�s do some research!

�Teenage Suicide�

While the rates for teenage suicide dropped in the 1990s and early 2000s, they are growing again. For a sociology class, you�ve been given the above topic, and now you�re dismayed at the possibilities. Should you prepare:

  • A statistical analysis of the prevalence of the problem?

  • A study of why the rate is growing?

  • An analysis of the social situations of those who commit suicide?

  • A study of suicide prevention methods?

  • Any one of a dozen other possibilities?

Before you go too much farther, it�s best to get a working knowledge. Let�s consider a few reference tools, then move on to consider our approach:

Reference Sources.

I turned to William Damon, ed. Handbook of Child Psychology. In volume 3 there is an interesting summary of the work of a researcher named Michael Chandler who shows evidence that suicide can result from teenagers losing �persistent identity over time.� He observes that �Even temporarily losing the narrative thread of one�s personal persistence � leaves adolescents especially vulnerable to a range of self destructive impulses against which others remain better insulated.� In balance to this view, I sought out a few more reference articles and built my knowledge both of the prevalence and characteristics of the problem.

Topic Analysis.

How about something like this: If Chandler is correct that adolescent suicide is linked to loss of persistent identity over time, can the increasingly disruptive nature of modern life be seen as a factor in the growth of suicides among teenagers?

A preliminary outline might look like this:

Introduction�the problem of a growing rate of teenage suicide
I. Chandler�s persistent identity model in relation to other possible models.
II. Analysis of increased life disruption among modern adolescents in light of the growing suicide rate.
III. Comparison of modern life disruption with the elements described in Chandler�s model.
Conclusion: The value of Chandler�s model in explaining the increase in teen suicides.

Book Search [more detail in 4th print edition]

For a book search you have some options:

  • You could do a controlled vocabulary Library of Congress Subject Heading search under the heading: Teenagers�Suicidal behavior.

  • You could do a controlled vocabulary subject search, using Chandler�s name as a subject heading to find any books written about him and/or his views.

  • You try a Boolean keyword search such as Chandler AND suicide. Using a keyword search that covered the whole catalog record, I discovered two essays (in books) by Michael Chandler directly on the personal continuity issue.

  • You could do an author search for books by Michael Chandler.

Journal Database Search.

In searching for journal articles, the first question might be: �What subject discipline are we dealing with?� It could be sociology or psychology or social psychology.

Let�s try PsycINFO. The first search should try to identify articles by Chandler on the topic using the �Authors� option. Now, if you want to find articles about Chandler and his views on identity, try something simple�a keyword search on chandler and identity. How about searching him as a subject heading?


ERIC should be the kind of database ideally suited to a topic like this one. A search of Chandler and suicide finds us only three relevant citations. Let's try adolescen* and suicide and identity.


Where are you now? You�ve identified books and articles related to rates of adolescent suicide and particularly to Michael Chandler�s work. Probably the only thing remaining would be to dig into the sources you�ve found to discover who else agrees with Chandler and to find out whether or not there are dissenting opinions. Clearly there is more than enough research information out there to provide you with the resources you need. Your goal, remember, is to discover whether or not Chandler�s theory is an adequate explanation of the growth in teen suicides.

[See third print edition for a second case study on Lucrezia Borgia.]

[The print edition has a combined study guide, practice exercise and assignment at this point.]



Updated July 17, 2012