INF 1240H: Research Methods

Time: Wednesdays, 9:30 am - 12:00 pm
Location: Bissell 538
Instructor: Alan Galey, Faculty of Information
TA: Glen Farrelly, Faculty of Information
Email: [see Blackboard site for email addresses]
Response time: usually by end of next business day, Monday-Friday
Galey office: Bissell 646
Galey office hours: Wed. 11:30 am - 12:30 pm (after class) & Wed. 1:30 - 2:30 pm
Farrelly office: tba
Farrelly office hours: tba



This course introduces students to a number of research methods useful for academic and professional investigations of information practices, texts and technologies. By examining the applications, strengths and major criticisms of methodologies drawn from both the qualitative and quantitative traditions, this course permits an understanding of the various decisions and steps involved in crafting (and executing) a research methodology, as well as a critically informed assessment of published research.

The course offers an overview of the different approaches, considerations and challenges involved in information research. In addition to reviewing core human research methods such as interviews, ethnographies, surveys and experiments, we will explore methods used in critical analysis of texts and technologies, with an emphasis on a holistic approach to research methods, connecting design and dissemination. We will also discuss mixed method approaches, case studies, participatory and user-centered research, as well as research methods from the humanities.


Learning objectives

The objectives of the course are:
  • To provide students with the tools and skills required to understand research terminology and assess published research;
  • To identify the types of methods best suited for investigating different types of problems and questions;
  • To develop research questions that are based on and build upon a critical appraisal of existing research;
  • To design a research proposal; and
  • To begin initial preparations for embarking on a new research project.



The class will meet for three hours each week for a lecture plus seminar-style discussion , which will include in-class discussions, group activities, and case studies. On their own time, students must complete weekly course readings and written assignments, as well as contribute to a collaborative research log.


Course materials

Our required textbook is available at the U of T bookstore:
Luker, K. (2010). Salsa dancing into the social sciences. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (ISBN 9780674048218) [full text available online via U Toronto Libraries:]
Additional readings (both required and recommended) can be accessed via dedicated links provided on Blackboard. Students may also find it worthwhile to invest in a research methods guide, such as one of the following:
Davidson, Julia O'Connell, and Derek Layder. (1994). Methods, Sex, and Madness. New York: Routledge. [full text available online via U Toronto Libraries:]

Knight, P.T. (2002). Small-Scale Research: Pragmatic Inquiry in Social Science and the Caring Professions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. [
full text available online via U Toronto Libraries:]

Neuman, W.L. (2011). Basics of Social Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. 3rd edn. London: Pearson.


Website / online resources

Course materials and resources aimed at helping students with assignments and key concepts will be made available online, through Blackboard ( and through this course weblog. Students are responsible for keeping up to date with these online resources, and are expected to log into Blackboard during the first week of class to enroll for email notices. Please be sure to check Blackboard periodically for new materials, announcements, updates and other important information.



15% Group research blog (first evaluation)
15% Group research blog (secod evaluation)
30% SSHRC Program of Work
40% Full research proposal

Assignments must be submitted via Blackboard by 5:00 pm on the due date. (The reason this deadline is set at 5:00 pm, not midnight, is so that we have time to help students with any technical problems with the submission system.) Extensions will only be granted in the event of illness or emergency, and then only with appropriate documentation. Late assignments (defined here as an assignment submitted after the deadline) will be penalized by one full letter grade per week (e.g. from A to A-), for a maximum of two weeks. After that point, late assignments will no longer be accepted. Furthermore, late papers will not receive detailed feedback or comments. Written assignments that do not meet a minimum standard (in terms of legibility, formatting and proofreading) will be returned for re-submission, with late penalties in full effect.


General assignment guidelines

The SSHRC proposal and full research proposal assignments must be submitted electronically as PDF files via Blackboard. The full research proposal must be submitted in double-spaced 12 pt serif font, but the SSHRC Program of Work should be single-spaced and follow the formatting instructions given in the SSHRC online help file. Assignments at the graduate level should be free of writing errors, and this is also true of genres like research proposals and SSHRC applications. Be sure to proofread your essays carefully before submitting them, and refer to an appropriate style guide on questions of grammar, punctuation, and usage. If you find writing to be a challenge, consult the resources listed under Writing Support below.

Referencing. The American Psychological Association (APA) citation style is the most commonly used one in academic writing in the social sciences, while Chicago and MLA (Modern Language Association) are the most common in the humanities (at least in North America). For this course, you will be expected to use APA style in all assignments, given that it's one of the most efficient citation styles for writing research proposals in any discipline. (Even humanists writing SSRHC proposals will often use an author-date style like APA, even if it's not the native style of their discipline.) However, the Chicago Manual of Style Online is nonetheless an excellent writing reference for our course on matters of grammar, usage, and other writing conventions apart from citation. You can find it here:

Images. Students can include copyrighted images in their assignments as long as they follow the Canadian Copyright Act’s current exceptions for fair dealing, in that the images must only be used for the purposes of criticism or review, and each image must be accompanied by:
(a) the source; and
(b) the name of the author(s) (if given in the source)

Acceptable secondary sources. As graduate students, you will be expected to use a majority of academic (i.e. peer reviewed) sources when writing your term paper. Students are very much allowed, but not at all limited, to use course readings and other sources referenced in lectures in their own papers. Additional sources and relevant journals that are recommended by the instructor are also acceptable. However, students are strongly encouraged to track down those resources that are best suited to their specific area of interest or inquiry, rather than rely too heavily on those provided in class. Media texts (books, comics, television episodes, films, videogames, websites, etc.) can be used and referenced as needed, but should always be treated as artifacts of study and analyzed accordingly. Here's a good position to adopt:
"The materials of popular culture may become raw materials for our creative expression, vehicles for exploring aspects of our own personalities, and shared points of reference to facilitate social interaction. Anthropologists and historians look at artifacts as materials that encapsulate the values and practices of another culture. We can look at the contents of mass media as artifacts that help us to better understand our own culture. In both cases, though, deciphering an artifact’s meanings is a complex process, because the same artifact may serve multiple purposes, operate in multiple contexts, and become invested with multiple meanings." Reproduced from Henry Jenkins' (2000) Children’s Culture Study Guide
For cutting edge information, news, announcements, etc., popular press articles are acceptable. But these should be used to supplement or update rather than replace peer reviewed sources, and should never be used to explain a theoretical concept. They should also come from credible, verifiable sources, who have the credentials (whatever these may be) to back up their claims. Online sources are fine, as long as you can determine who wrote the content and for what purpose, and are prepared to defend the author's credibility and expertise if questioned. For example, if you define critical discourse analysis, your definition should not come from Wikipedia -- even if the Wikipedia entry happens to be a good one. That said, my definition of expertise is flexible. For example, if you're looking for parents' reactions to the Harry Potter phenomenon, an online forum where fathers, mothers and other caregivers discuss the Harry Potter books and films is an excellent source of expertise.


Academic integrity

The life of the mind depends upon respect for the ideas of others, and especially for the labour that went into the creation of those ideas. Accordingly, the University of Toronto has a strict zero-tolerance policy on plagiarism, as defined in section B.I.1. (d) of the University's Code of Behavior on Academic Matters. Please make sure that you:
Remember: plagiarism through negligence, as distinct from deliberate intent, is still plagiarism in the eyes of the University. Take notes carefully, use quotation marks religiously when copying and pasting from digital sources (so that no one, including you, mistakes someone else's words for your own), and document your research process. And always, when in doubt, ask.


Writing support

The SGS Office of English Language and Writing Support provides writing support for graduate students. The services are designed to target the needs of both native and non- native speakers of English and include non-credit courses, single-session workshops, individual writing consultations, and website resources. These programs are free. Please avail yourself of these services, if necessary.


Special needs

Students with diverse learning styles and needs are welcome in this course. In particular, if you have a disability or health consideration that may require accommodations, please feel free to approach the instructor and/or the Accessibility Services Office at as soon as possible. The Accessibility Services staff are available by appointment to assess specific needs, provide referrals, and arrange appropriate accommodations.

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