How to Use the Think Aloud Method in Writing a Research Paper Proposal

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Have you ever seen those people who walk around talking to themselves all the time? They narrate what they’re doing, debate with themselves, and basically put words to every part of a process? Maybe you’re one of those people. Congratulations: you already know a lot about using the Think Aloud Method!

Think Aloud is a method of analyzing your thought process by expressing it verbally. Ideas that may have otherwise escaped your notice will become more apparent as you engage in a dialogue with yourself about what you’re doing. Advanced methods of Think Aloud are used by knowledge engineers to test the usability of computer systems, and social scientists to learn more about cognitive processes. If you’re trying to plan and write a tricky research paper proposal, Think Aloud may help you sort through the mental chatter. Here’s how:

While you’re looking through resources and making decisions for your research paper proposal, verbalize the process. Record yourself while you’re doing this, and pay attention to what you’re saying. Let the words flow naturally, otherwise your results won’t be as good. As you do this, you’ll become more aware about what your focusing on, and the connections in the research will become clearer to you. Your brain will process the information more fully, and you will have an easier time organizing your thoughts when you’re writing later. You may want to use this method when reading through your rough draft too, that way you’ll see serious and minor flaws more easily.

Doing Think Aloud with a Group

Two minds are always better than one! If you have a very complex research assignment, consider getting together with some classmates to have a group Think Aloud session. Exchange papers with a classmate. Take turns reading through each other’s proposals and notes while using the technique. They may catch something you didn’t, or make a connection you didn’t see. This can only enhance your paper as you’ll get a fresh perspective on your subject. They could point at any flaws in you reasoning, outdated research materials, or an over-reliance on a key resource. Think Aloud is shown to yield more honest results than simply asking for feedback, so be prepared to hear what people really think!

Advanced Methods of Think Aloud

This is not something you need to do to write a better research proposal, though you could probably write a research proposal to perform a Think Aloud session such as this. Let’s say a researcher wanted a better understanding of the thought process that goes behind scrolling through Facebook. They could set up a test wherein users were video and audio recorded while they perused the social site. A program would record their computer screen at the same time. The data would then be compiled and processed to show the stream of conscious thoughts involved in browsing social media. This wouldn’t be conclusive evidence that everyone thought this way, but it would shed light on the cognitive processes involved in the task, or it could be used to test the usability of the Facebook interface.

Fifteen adults were recorded using computers to research on the Web for half an hour. Using a video mixer, both the subjects’ face and the computer screen action were recorded. This is a common “picture in picture” technique wherein a smaller picture of the subject’s face is displayed in one corner of the screen, with the rest of the screen being filled with a recording of the user’s screen activity and most movements. Recordings of the subject’s voice while thinking aloud were gathered on the videotape as well. In addition the researchers took notes for later data triangulation. After the subject’s completed their task, the video recordings were transcribed and coded by the researchers, then re-coded using consensus and inter-rater reliability. Categories were established and the data was analyzed for patterns of behavior. The paper then presented a working model of how people read the Web, finding mainly that there was a lot more scanning then they anticipated.

While you probably don’t need to set up an advanced Think Aloud experiment, the basic idea behind it can improve your work as a student. The mind is a complicated thing, and it’s no wonder researchers are forever inventing new ways to study it. Give Think Aloud a try next time you’re writing a research paper proposal. You never know, you may learn something new about yourself—or at least about your research.

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