How to start with an Eskom Expo research project

You only need to spend between one to two hours each day to complete the tasks for your project. Following the Steps below will take you from a broad interest to a Hypothesis/ Engineering goal/ Design goal. This process is not linear but is iterative, that is you can move back and forth between the steps. After this process, you will be ready to write your Research Plan. It is very important to spend your time now to conceptualise your project. A well thought out and planned research project will have a greater chance of being successful.

Get your Journal ready to document all information while planning your project.

Step 1: Identifying what interests you

Brain storm research ideas. Look around you. What problems does your community face? Talk to your friends. Look at the objects/people/community around you. Are you aware of social issues in your community? Do you have a question about why people behave a certain way under certain conditions? Can you come up with new or improvement of an existing solution? Do you enjoy computer programming? Is there an App or a programme that you could design to solve a problem/ fulfil a need? Do you like to work with machines or designing models? Can you design a better product or solution? Can you design a new product or solution? Look at the Expo Categories, Sustainable Development Goal and other materials where you can find out what interests you.

Question: What broad area interests you? e.g. do you like working with numbers? People? Computer programming? Building machines? Marine animals? Plants?

Answer: I am interested in …………………….

Step 2: Narrow your focus to a specific topic

Read the relevant literature. Use credible sources (Refer to Document 1: Finding an Expo Research Topic). Credible sources include books or academic articles, most of which you can access online. There are a lot of different search engines that you can start looking for articles that are focused on your research project. Some of them require a subscription, there is only a handful that are free of charge and are publicly available. Each search engine works slightly different, see tips on how to get started:

  • when you’re beginning your literature search, try several different key words, both alone and in combination,
  • as you view the results, you can narrow your focus and figure out which key words best describe the kinds of articles in which you are interested.
  • as you read the literature, go back and try additional searches using the jargon and terms you learn while reading.
  • it’s worth taking the time to read any available help pages to figure out the best way to use each one.

See below list of various search engines that offer some free academic articles:

While doing your literature review, these are some of the things that you need to keep in mind: What research has been done? What are the gaps that your research/ device/ computer programme/ App could possibly address? What about the topic do you want to research? Perhaps, research and collect more information on problems/issues or a device that could be built as an improvement. In addition, what is the social impact of this research or alternatively, what social factors may have given rise to this research? Make notes as you read the literature. If you still not sure of a topic, go back to step 1.

Question: What specific topic do you want to research?

Answer: Specifically, I want to know about ………………………….

Question: What is the type of research? (page 4 of the Expo Project Guidebook)

Answer: My research will be a Scientific Investigation or Engineering or Computer Science or Theoretical or Mathematics or Social Science type research project.

Step 3: Literature Review and Significance of your study

Continue with the literature review. What else do I need to know about this topic? Has the research been done before? If the research has been done, try to find a gap in the study/ computer programme/Apps (look at what has not been done or what needs further research). Start writing your Literature Review. Ensure that you do not plagiarise any idea or text or graphics. Take note of the references. See “Referencing Guide.

Determine the significance/value of your study

Question: What is the significance/value of this study? Will your project be creating an awareness? Will your project help people behave differently to minimise a problem or explain a phenomenon?

What need/problem will you be addressing/fulfilling with your design or invention?

Does the solution/product/device/app/programme already exist? If yes, how can you improve/modify them to create something new or a better version?

Answer: The significance of the study/device/computer programme/App is that ………. This study is valuable because ……… This study/device/ computer programme/App is valuable to………… The value of the study/device/ computer programme/App……… Xxx will benefit from this study

Step 4: Write down a few sentences about what you want to research. State the problem/issue/phenomenon.

See page 3 of the Ideas to Stimulate Research document for assistance.

Question: What about the topic would you like to research? What exactly do you want your device to achieve?

Answer: I want to know/ research/ investigate/ design/ construct/ explain/ describe: ………………

Question: State the problem/issue/phenomenon

Answer: The problem is that…….…… / The issue ………….… / The phenomenon…………

Friday, 10 April 2020

Step 5: Write the Aim; Research Question(s); Hypothesis/Engineering goal/Design goal/Algorithms.

See page 2 of the Ideas to Stimulate Research document for assistance.

What is the Aim of your research?

Answer: The aim of this research is to …………………………………………………………….

Rewrite the problem/ phenomenon as Research Question(s).

Answer must NOT be yes/no: How… /Why… /When… /Under what condition… /What …? Is your Research Question answerable? Do you have the required time/resources?

A good research has strong yet simple and clear Research Question(s)

What is your Research Question?

The research question is? ……………………………………………………………………………

What is your Hypothesis? / Engineering Goals? ……………………………………………………..

The hypothesis must clearly mention the dependent and independent variables. Your hypothesis is sometimes the answer you have to your Problem Statement/Research Question.

If applicable, Identify the variables / Design Criteria: (see page 7 of the Ideas to Stimulate Research)

Independent Variable:

Dependent Variable:

Control:

Step 6: Ethics and safety

Think about any potential Ethics or safety issues that you may encounter when doing this research.

Questions: Will this research involve breaking any laws of the country? Does this research involve vertebrate (human or animal) testing? Will anyone be hurt, harmed in any way (physically, emotionally, and mentally? Will this research involve collecting personal or sensitive information from people? Will the experiments involve dangerous or hazardous biological specimens or chemicals? Will any of the methods or procedures be dangerous or harmful to yourself and other humans and animals or the environment? Do I need to get permission from the participants to do this research? Do I need to do experiments in a recognised research institute such as at a laboratory or university? Who will supervise my data collection or experiments? Does the research require supervision by a qualified scientist or a researcher?

Answers: If you answer yes or maybe to any of the questions above, you must either change the focus of your study or write down ways in which you will deal with the above potential ethics issues. Ask a mentor/teacher/adult/supervisor/Expo official to check the ethics and safety of your research before you proceed. You will also need to complete the document: Learner Ethics Checklist

Step 7: Think about the Materials and Methods

Questions: Are you doing a qualitative or a quantitative study or both (see definitions below)? What materials will you need? How big will your sample size be? How will you collect the data? Repeat tests/experiments/ at least 3 times. What method(s) will you use? Review some literature for possible methods you can use. Modify existing methods to suit your research needs. Do not be totally dependent on surveys/questionnaires as your research method, conduct other tests to strengthen your data. Where will you collect the data? How much data must you collect? How will you record the data? How will you analyse the data?

What material will you need to build your prototype? Keep the cost factor in mind as certain components like solar panels are very expensive. Do you have the necessary skills to build the device and/or will you need assistance with for example coding of micro-processors? How will you test the prototype/solution? Include labelled diagrams of prototypes and solutions.

Qualitative study: using description, mind-mapping, graphic representations to describe the data and findings in experiments and observations. Involves unstructured interviews, observation, and content analysis.

Quantitative study: using figures, numbers and statistics to gather data, process and analyse data in experiments or observations.

Continue reviewing the relevant literature and refining your ideas and focus

Step 8: Write your Research Plan

The Research Plan shows how you intend on conducting your research. It is written in the future tense i.e. before you actually do your project. It needs to be written in the 3rd person (do not use: I, We, Us, My etc.). When planning your project, consider “what”, “why”, “how”, “when” and “where” you will do your research. What resources will you need? What literature do you have to read before starting the research? What time frames are needed to complete the research? Is this research doable? Think about ethical issues you may encounter and how you will address these.

See Research Plan template

Step 9: Submit your Research Plan for approval and review your Research Plan

Your Research Plan must address ethics and safety issues, if applicable and must be approved by a mentor/ teacher/ supervisor/ Expo Official. Make any recommended changes to your Research Plan.

Continue with the Literature Review and start writing up your Introduction section of your project report.

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