This guide is meant as an introduction to running studies using BESS resources at the University of Reading. Below you will find a step-by-step guide to designing, organising, and running studies.
Isolate your research question
Social science research utilises much of the same process as the natural sciences. Questions are usually motivated by prior findings or theories. In formulating a question, you should be aware of the existing literature in order to understand where the gaps in knowledge lie, but also crucially so that you may design your experiment in a way such that your findings will be comparable to this existing research. (Don’t reinvent the wheel!) Background research will motivate a hypothesis, which can then be compared with the evidence you will gather in your study. Before you collect any data you should have a sense of what observations would confirm or disconfirm your hypothesis. This means you need to think about the variables you want to collect as data, the outcome of interest, and your independent explanatory variables which you hope will explain the outcome (dependent variable).
Set up the experiment
The great advantage of collecting your own data using BESS equipment is that you have control over the conditions that the study participants encounter – and can assign them to different conditions experimentally if you wish. That way, holding as many other factors constant, you can be confident inferring that differences in observed outcomes are caused by the specific conditions you vary. The best way to make sure this happens in practice is to write a protocol for your study. The protocol should specify what the person running the study will be doing throughout subjects’ participation. This may entail a script, written instructions to participants, set activities to be performed in a particular order, or all of the above. Since BESS provides computing resources, you’ll need to organise or program a set of tasks that subjects will interact with on their screen. Be sure to double-check that your code works like you expect it to!
Once you have a good sense of exactly what will happen in the sessions of your study, you can come to the BESS director for approval of your study. The director will check that you have a well-defined question and set of procedures when you use the equipment. The director can also get you set up with access to the scheduling of BESS resources and recruitment of participants from the UoR undergraduate pool if you do not want to recruit participants through other channels. You should also gain ethical approval for your study at this stage – since any research in which human participants are studied requires oversight at this university. Each school has different procedures and standards for approving studies, but each should be relatively straightforward. Please contact your head of school.
Conduct the experiment
Once you have approval to run your study you’ll need to organise it. That means identifying participants, arranging a time when the study will take place, and an appropriate venue. BESS does not have dedicated rooms for use. These must be booked centrally, though we can suggest locations which will be most convenient for the equipment. You will also need to reserve the equipment so that other researchers can schedule their studies as well. The BESS administrator will let you know about the online reservation system when you are approved to run your study. You may also wish to use this system to recruit participants. When recruiting participants you need to manage expectations appropriately. Accurately advertise the amount of time they will spend in your study and any compensation they might earn. If you recruit from the BESS pool you will advertise this through the recruitment platform.
Write up and publish the results
In writing up your study, you will usually want to convey to the reader the same steps that you have encountered in this guide. Lay out your research question, identify the background literature leading to your (explicitly stated) hypotheses, describe the methodology both in terms of the protocol used as well as the framework of analysis used to interpret the data. Then present the key patterns, examples, summary statistics, etc. that are the inputs to your analysis. The reader should be able to follow how you reach any conclusions based on the figures and summary statistics presented.