All research projects are based around variables. A variable is the characteristic or attribute of an individual, group, educational system, or the environment that is of interest in a research study. Variables can be straightforward and easy to measure, such as gender, age, or course of study. Other variables are more complex, such as socioeconomic status, academic achievement, or attitude toward school.
Variables may also include an aspect of the educational system, such as a specific teaching method or counseling program. Characteristics of the environment may also be variables, such as the amount of school funding or availability of computers. Therefore, once the general research topic has been identified, the researcher should identify the key variables of interest.
Variables that might investigated by educational researchers include academic achievement of students, teachers attitude toward school, specific teaching methods, school environment or availability of resources are variables can be investigated by educators.
For example, a researcher is interested in low levels of literacy. Literacy itself is still a broad topic. In most instances, the broad topic and general variables need to be specifically identified. For example, the researcher needs to identify specific variables that define literacy: reading fluency (the ability to read a text out loud), reading comprehension (understanding what is read), vocabulary, interest in reading, etc. If a researcher is interested in motivation, what specific motivation variables are of interest: external motivation, goals, need for achievement, etc? Reading other research studies about your chosen topic will help you better identify the specific variables of interest.
Identifying the key variables is important for the following reasons:
- The key variables provide focus when writing the Introduction section.
- The key variables are the major terms to use when searching for research articles for the Literature Review.
- The key variables are the terms to be operationally defined if an Operational Definition of Terms section is necessary.
- The key variables provide focus to the Methods section.
- The Instrument will measure the key variables. These key variables must be directly measured or manipulated for the research study to be valid.