Using Kipling to teach research methods


Author(s) Helen Hodges


I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who. The ‘Kipling’s Wise Men’ or 5WH Approach is considered to be the backbone of journalism and is commonly used in policing contexts to promote creative problem solving. The presentation will demonstrate how the approach can be applied to encourage students to develop their thinking about their own research, drawing upon my experiences of teaching undergraduate research methods in criminology. The approach is highly flexible and can also be adapted for essay planning and critiquing journal articles across the social sciences.


• Introduction to Kipling’s Six Honest men – the poem’s first verse • Developing research questions – highlighting the link between the 5WH approach and the characteristics of research questions put forward by White (2009). • Introducing the ‘research grid’ template – An A3 sheet which is divided into 6 sections, headed Who, What, Where, Why, When, How, with an additional box in the centre where students can write their own research question. I envisage copies of this being available to each audience member for reference. • Short Activity – Exercise to develop appropriate research related questions. This will serve to demonstrate to the audience the range of questions that could be generated. For example: o WHERE could you find out more information about the topic? o WHAT work has already been done in this field? o HOW many responses / interviews should you aim for? o WHO are you going to speak to? o WHEN (during the day/week) would be best to organise a focus group? o WHY would design X work ‘better’ than Y? Note – I see this taking a couple of minutes and it could be done individually or in pairs. There is the potential to collate these on flip chart sheets at the front. Having run this activity last year, I feel that this stage is necessary as I observed that some students struggled to come up with questions on their own. • Explanation of the Activity – Students working in groups (typically of up to 5) but each have their own ‘grid’ and research topic. Depending upon the roll of the dice (these can be purchased with the 5WH questions on the faces), the 1st student has to come up with an appropriate question starting with that word which all the students then answer in relation to their own topic. Students take it in turns to roll the dice and come up with questions. As a seminar lead, I moved around the groups checking on the students, offering advice and suggestions. Students were also encouraged to help each other come up with ideas. I do not envisage participants undertaking this in the session. • Reflections on how the activity worked • Benefits: o the activity got students thinking about their research – in this instance, the assignment was to write a research proposal o peer learning encouraged o structured activity intended to bring what is often thought of as a dry topic to life o opportunity to encourage students to also think about who might already have undertaken research on this topic (for their literature review), who to reference (as in who suggests that doing design X is a good idea) as well as some of the more practical issues about undertaking their fieldwork o Each student leaves with some ideas for how to approach their piece of research o In the context of criminology, using this approach also links to employability • Q&A and opportunity for further discussion References White, P (2009) Developing Research Questions: A Guide for Social Scientists. London: Palgrave

Key Words

Research methods, decision dice, template, structured activity, interactive

Key Messages

• This is a very simple but versatile approach which can be adapted for teaching research methods and study skills • Learning about research methods can be made more interesting through the adoption of more creative approaches • Its use is not confined to criminology or journalism, it can be applied across the social sciences


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