Research methodology – The Triangle

The Triangle

The triangle approach is one that I have devised to structure research observations or discussions. I use the simple image of a triangle that apportions three questions posed by the researcher to ask what subjects in the study think, feel and do. I explain to the subject that they will be asked questions about what they think, feel and do. When asked about what they think, the subject is encouraged to be factual and try not to talk about their feelings or emotional response to the questions. Once the subject has explored the factual response, their feelings related to their response can be explored in detail during the ‘feel’ section of the triangle. Finally, the subject is encouraged to focus on their reaction to their thoughts and feelings in the ‘do’ section of the triangle.

As an example, imagine a researcher investigating the research question, ‘Do newly admitted year 7 students feel safe when moving around the school?’ The first point of the triangle can be used to ask how the student thinks. The researcher will ask, ‘Tell me about where your most and least favourite spaces are around the school. Be descriptive and try not to tell me how this makes you feel – we’ll get on to that in a moment.’ This asks the student to articulate what they think. The student answers, ‘The garden area is best; it’s a nice open space with loads of plants. The toilet block is too small – there isn’t much space to move around if there are several people in it at once.’ The student is asked to provide a factual or rational answer based on what they think. The researcher will then move to the feelings associated with this answer and ask, ‘Tell me what you feel when you are in those spaces.’ This explores the feelings associated with being in their least and most favourite spaces. The student then shares, ‘I love the garden because year 9 aren’t allowed in. There’s a boy in Year 9 that doesn’t like me. I don’t like the toilet block because that’s where the year 9 lad and his friends wait and they push us about.’ The final step of the triangle tool
then asks the participant to state what they do as a result of their thoughts and feelings. The researcher asks, ‘Tell me what you do as a result of the feelings you have when you think about the toilet block.’ The participant then answers, ‘I don’t go to the toilet in school. This is OK in the morning, but by the end of the afternoon I can be really uncomfortable. I guess that is why I don’t concentrate well in history.’

As you can see from this example, the triangle method can give a simple but helpful framework to a research question. The method helped the researcher to define areas in the school where the year 7 pupil felt safe and less safe. As this research project unfolds, the researcher is well positioned to be clear about the thoughts and feelings of a vulnerable group of year 7 students and better plan for their integration into secondary school. While thoughts and feelings are interconnected, thoughts depend on rational observations and
feelings on an emotional response to these thoughts. It’s a subtle distinction, but by separating these out through the use of the triangle approach, the researcher gains a deepening insight to the thoughts, feelings and actions of their respondents

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