Hypotheses for Information Professionals
Robert M. Losee

I want to help move my students forward toward being successful information professionals.

Students are free to choose a research hypothesis within the broad area of library and information science whose answer will result in better service to patrons across a range of organizations. Students are expected to develop a hypothesis such that using the answer to the student's hypothesis will be expected to result in improved operation and management of information systems like that studied, as well as an increased understanding of performance issues.

Propose something constructive, rather than just providing information, describing what is going on, or just whining. Think of a variable that can be improved: numer of users, accuracy, speed, etc., and make this the focus of what you are studying. Be constructive! If you think that there are a disproportionate number of women in the LS program, do not just collect some data about this. Propose a constructive hypothesis, such as "increasing the number of pictures of males on the LS part of the SILS website will increase the number of male applicants to LS program." Suggest a solution and show that it improves (or doesn't improve) the situation.

Students should minimize collecting information or using variables not having a bearing on the outcome of their study. As a rule of thumb, just building something is not acceptable; analysis of the type of system or procedure and its performance is almost always required. If all you discuss is a single product or person or thing, you are missing basic generalizations; you often are not proposing constructive, professional research if your hypothesis contains proper nouns. Gathering information solely to allow a single manager to make a decision isn't research. Constructive, professional research should produce generalizations that can be either applied directly to practice in the field or to further theoretical development.

Students who are seeking me out as an advisor for their Master's Paper advisor should develop a research hypothesis, moving through the following steps:

  1. Select a constructive outcome (dependent) variable. Think about what you are improving; this will be a variable whose outcome you can improve. Think of this as what your boss might ask of you and then expand it to improving the world. This comes first, before developing the methodology or before developing the cause. Think of a factory; in the real world, people develop a factory to produce a specific set of products. They do not build the factory first and then consider what they might produce with their new factory. Focus on the outcome, not the cause, or the methodology. Select a narrow, precise variable; you will be responsible for knowing the literature on this variable, and choosing a broad variable may place a major burden on you as a student.
  2. Select a causal variable that could be tested or evaluated in order to determine whether particular values of the causal variable improves the constructive outcome variable.
  3. From the causal variable and the constructive outcome variable, develop a hypothesis.
  4. From the hypothesis, determine the methodology that would best allow you to study the relationships between the cause and the outcome variable.

I do not usually serve as the advisor for master's projects. I believe that our graduates need to learn how to be leaders, both by conducting research that advances their profession and by learning the strengths and weaknesses associated with conducting research in their chosen area so they can be smarter consumers. In short, I want my graduate students to be better givers and better takers when it comes to their professional communities. If you want to build something unique, I would be glad to consider serving as the faculty member associated with your work for a 3 credit course, but I do not usually support projects as the culminating experience for the master's program. You might want to talk with other faculty about them serving as your advisor if you are convinced that you wish to develop a master's project and not write a master's paper. I believe that a Master's paper is the desirable outcome for a graduate degree at UNC.

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