Research says…

I’d like to suggest that we all stop using the phrase “research says…”

Here are some typical formulas I’ve noticed:

  1. “Research says (insert indisputable and robust snippet using adequately formal language)”.
  2. “Research says….(insert judgement of current situation based on a standard derived from a different context, with different goals and values)”.
  3. “Research says…(insert academic legalese that makes the non-academic person feel like they’re being spoken at and not spoken to)”
  4. “Research says…(signal end of conversation as quickly as refusing to wear Speedos would disallow you from swimming in Parisian public pool*)

I’ve just googled “research says” and the hits ranged from “research says bras are useless” to “research says we remember 10% of what we read”. 10%? Really? Not 9.5?

My problem with “research says” is the way it skews the general opinion of what research is. Research becomes a ubiquitous yardstick which we use to measure everything that we need to sound ‘serious’ about. Throwing in a comment about research shuts conversation up because research is higher than us all. It is the result of hard academic labour that many of us don’t feel we’ve done or have access to and thus cannot question. This is yet another thing that distances academic practice from teaching practice.

We read a study, or a report of a study, or a spoken account of a report of a study, or even better, an overheard spoken account of a report of a study – and we transform it into a super- statement that suddenly passes judgement on the environment we’re in.

And while there is great value in having standards to measure best practice by and so much to be gained from assessing how things are going, this can’t be done in seconds nor can it be done in a phrase. This particular way of framing research could do with some revamping. And we could all do with engaging with research as a tool for understanding and a tool for change.

The reason I’m a researcher is because I believe in the ability research has to change mindsets and thus to change practice and the systems that host them.

I think it’s wonderful when research comes with a desire to change things, a transformative agenda, where action researchers attempt change, document this change and spiral into discovery about their own practice. I think it’s equally interesting when research is highly context and culture sensitive, where the data speaks louder than the theory does. And I also think that research that needs to test, assume theoretical standpoints, hypothesise and generalise is an extremely useful and informative tool. These are all different kinds of research and I don’t think their goal is (or should be) to create this timeless theory that stops the thinking process.

Theory isn’t timeless. Theory is constantly shaped and reshaped by our practice. In moving away from “research says…” perhaps we allow colleagues who say “in my experience…” to have more of a place in our shared knowledge base of what good teaching is.

*For ‘purposes of general hygiene’, men have to wear Speedos in public pools. The better pools have vending machines where one may be purchased.

7 thoughts on “Research says…

  1. hi divya

    i get your point about phrase being used as a rhetorical device, though a quick look at COCA and GLOWBE shows “in my experience” is more frequent than “research says”.

    also more heartening is that if we take “research shows” as a synonym then frequencies of “research suggests” and “research indicates” are roughly equivalent to freq of “research shows” e.g.

    another point in favour of not abandoning “research says” is that at least one can ask for exactly what research you are referring to which can’t really be done with “in my experience”.

    learnt recently that Aussies call speedos “budgie smugglers” :/



    1. Hi Mura

      Thanks for your comment, and for the corpora refs- really interesting. I think the relative power of “research says” and “in my experience” is quite different though, at least my own (ahem) experience:) So frequency of usage is one thing for me but personal impact is another.

      I’ve observed people using “research says” precisely when they can’t remember exactly what research it was but feel the need to weave that voice of authority into the conversation context. The synonyms you draw out are great and I’m much more in favour of reframing than abandoning the phrase.



  2. Great post, Divya. Your penultimate paragraph sums up very nicely what research should and shouldn’t be about. It’s interesting to note that one of the most misquoted pieces of research in our business does exactly the opposite of what you’ve stated here: that words make up only 7% of the message ( It’s a load of nonsense, of course, and not what Mehrebian had intended his formula to be used for, but if we keep repeating it then we end up believing it and then we don’t need to think about it, do we?

    I shall endeavour to remove the expression “Research says…” from my repertoire forthwith unless I am able to substantiate it with “real” research whose background I have checked out myself!

    Thanks for posting and for making me think.


    1. Hi Helen,

      Thank you for commenting, lovely to hear from you. I have always wondered about that one and never made the time to look it up and from now on I’m gonna cite you on this 🙂

      Best wishes

      Divya x


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