This spring semester, I’m beginning the work on my graduate thesis project. Because the project is a design research project, over the holiday break I’m reading several books on research to get a head start on what I’ll be doing over the next year. So far, it’s a bit overwhelming. The sort of research needed for a design project is quite different from the research needed for a law brief or a topical paper or article, the two types of research/writing with which I’m most familiar. Legal research involves reading laws, regulations, case law (written opinions handed down by courts on particular cases), and at times legislative history (committee reports and other documents that are part of the history of the writing and enactment of a law). It’s simply a matter of reading carefully and thoroughly to understand the salient points, then using those points to craft an argument. Research for a topical paper or article requires enough reading to learn about the topic in sufficient depth to discuss it intelligently. The extent of the research depends in large part on who will be reading the piece.
The research needed for this design project, however, is quite different. This type of research, known as behavioral-environmental research, requires a direct gathering of quantitative and qualitative data through field observation, questionnaires, experiments, or other empirical means. Data are organized and analyzed and the findings used to inform the design project. From the descriptions of these data-gathering processes, they appear to be quite time consuming. Now, if I could accomplish this as part of my everyday job, it would be a lot of fun, but I have no idea how I’ll manage it with only nights and weekends available. Hopefully, after I’ve plowed through a few books I’ll have a better idea of how to organize my time and structure my course of action.
Here are some of the how-to-research books I’m making my way through:
- Linda Groat and David Wang, Architectural Research Methods (John Wiley & Sons, NY 2002)
- Robert Sommer and Barbara Sommer, A Practical Guide to Behavioral Research: Tools and Techniques ( Oxford University Press, NY 2002)
- John Zeisel, Inquiry by Design: Environment/Behavior/Neuroscience in Architecture, Interiors, Landscape, and Planning (W.W. Norton, NY 2006)