The Role of Serendipity and Flexibility in the Conduct of Social Science Research: Meeting the Unexpected

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There is profusion of textbooks being published (see the Sage website) on how to conduct research. We are not sure whether this reflects the growth in research projects and research higher degree students, the uncertainty about conducting research or the systematisation of the research process. We expect it reflects all three forces. In Australia a detailed national policy requiring an extensive review of the ethical implications of research has focussed attention towards the validity of research methods. Social science and business researchers are being confronted by ethics panels dominated by the hard sciences, engineering and medicine, where the research processes and protocol are typically well established. In contrast, in the social sciences there is a growing appreciation of the range of research approaches available through qualitative research, from traditional interviews and focus groups through to participant observation and textual analysis. Here the research terrain is less well established, not systematic and the researchers adaptability and tenacity are important attributes in seeing through a research project. In this paper we reflect on the role of the unexpected and the need to be both flexible and adaptable in conducting research. We bring in a number of stories by researchers reflecting on their experience in conducting research (Townsend and Burgess, 2008). K. Towsend and J. Burgess (2008), Method in the Madness? Research stories you won’t find in a textbook. Chandos, Oxford, forthcoming.


Keywords: Research Methods, Research Stories
Stream: Research Methodologies, Quantitative and Qualitative Methods
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. John Burgess

Graduate School of Business, University of Newcastle
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia


Dr. Keith Townsend

Centre of Research on Work, Organisation and Wellbeing
The Department of Employment Relations, Griffith University

Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


Ref: I08P0733