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Tutorial 4:  The Inquiry Context

Tutorial 4: Activities

A. Writing - A Rich Description of your Workplace or Action Research Site


You may have generated a number of questions, but for the most part, they are likely to be about problems that are in a similar setting. If you are considering different settings you may need to work on a description of each of them. This will be the first draft of part of your e-portfolio.

This is your time to really develop your description skills. What do you see, not what do you think. Tell us what you see taking place in your workspaces. Avoid words like "I think" or "this person feels..." Tell us what you see taking place working towards an insider's objective view of the setting. Thinking about these dimensions might help you.

Thick Description
Describe the context of the problem or challenge you have selected.


  • Where is your action research taking place? Describe the physical setting. There is the immediate setting, say a classroom or an office, and there is the larger context of the school or type of business. You don’t have to provide the names of the place, just the characteristics.

  • Who will be involved (community roles- leaders) –both the people you will be working with directly and those that might be involved indirectly. What are the norms and expectations patterns of interaction at this time? Describe the basic demographics of the community you will be working with and how you fit in. What are the roles and responsibilities of the people with whom you will be working?

  • What are the resources and assets you have available and what have you done up to this point? Is this going to be a new effort or a refinement of something you have been working on? What is likely to happen if nothing is done?

  • What is the history of the problem… new, ongoing, urgent? Are there regulations or rules that set boundaries that the reader should understand? Are there economic or political issues that need to be mentioned?




B. Writing - Develop a Review of the Research Literature

Give your readers an overview of what you have learned from reading the works of others.

The task is to analyze and synthesize across a number of studies the relevant information to think about the challenge you have undertaken. By starting with a review of what others have done, you place your research in the context of the work that has preceded you. We see more and understand better when we take advantage of the wisdom of those who have researched before us. Sometimes new researchers are disappointed when they find a study that is similar to what they plan to do. They feel that it diminishes the originality of their plan. But, in fact, experienced researchers realize they have a partner to work with, even if it is only from a distance. Will your findings be the same or different? Your setting is likely to be different in many ways you will be able to see if these differences are important or not. If you confirm the study results, you make them stronger. If you find differences, you can speculate about what was the difference that mattered. This is how, over time, we can build knowledge as a community of researchers. So welcome to the research community and enjoy what you learn as you work through your understanding of the problem from the perspectives of past research. See resources for guidance in developing a literature review. Depending on your audience and your goals in doing action research, your literature review can be a small number of paragraphs synthesizing 2-3 carefully selected studies,  a few pages examining  5-10 relevant studies, or it can be a chapter in your dissertation covering a wide range of related topic. 

You can end by describing your living theories. See the Educational Journal of Living Theories ( and think about what theories of learning and theories of change you are evolving in your work.  Your theories will lead into your logic model (see activities for the next tutorial) documenting your guess at the outcomes of the action you are planning. 

Example: Using google forms and sheets to keep notes as you read.




C. Reflecting -  Reflections on Learning in your Blog

At regular intervals, you should be recording your ideas, plans, and reflections in your blog. There will be a blog template from time to time with specific ideas for what you might include in your blog,  but you should be writing in your blog continuously throughout the project. The blog or journal is the record of your personal evolution.  You will need to review it to understand how your thinking and understanding shift over time. 



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