Action Research



Resources compiled by Maria Nemerowicz

 Graduate School of Education, University of Massachusetts Lowell

May 2006


















Action Research in…





















Alternative Paradigms in Action Research














More collected resources on action research











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What is Action Research?



This overview includes research paradigms, history and ethical issues of action research, with a particular interest in the study of information/organizational systems.






Discusses the distinctions between action research and practice, and action research and experimental and quasi-experimental research.






Rearick, M. & Feldman, A. (1999). A framework for understanding action research.

Includes discussion of critical, collaborative and “typical” action research. To access this article, copy and paste the following URL into your browser’s address bar:




Bryant’s statement discusses the values and assumptions underlying participatory research and the tensions that these present for researchers working in the university system where positivism remains the dominant paradigm.






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History of Action Research




This article on the evolution of action research defines three distinct types or paradigms within action research: positivist, collaborative & emancipatory.









Ethical Issues in Action Research



This collection of articles and other materials is hosted by Forum: Qualitative Social Research and moderated by Wolff-Michael Roth. Together, the materials comprise a debate among scholars in the field on ethical issues in qualitative research.



Written by a university human subjects protection committee, this posting outlines characteristics of action research which present challenges for traditional strategies of protecting human participants in research projects.





Ethical considerations in participatory action research in the area of environmental health.





A series of ethical questions for the researcher to consider in developing a research project.


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Dick & Swepson discuss action research validity issues in general and soft systems methodology as a means of addressing some of these issues.





Discusses validity issues in observational research in clinical settings. Abstract only; full text available through MedLine.






McNiff takes a straightforward approach: “So that your judgement of your work is not held to be only your opinion, you need to make the work available to the critical scrutiny of others.” She describes strategies for creating roles for colleagues to establish validity.



Describes validity checks in use in a project undertaken by a psychoanalyst relating individual behavior to political conditions.



An article in Bob Dick’s Resource Papers in Action Research concerning validity questions specific to interview methods in action research.



A collected online discussion of validity which occurred following a conference, The Reflective Practitioner. Newman compiled and preserved the online discussion here because she felt it comprised a coherent and important discussion of validity issues.



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The Dissertation Process: Special Issues Arising from an Action Research Approach


Considerations and implications of the choice to use action research in a thesis or dissertation.




The steps involved in conducting an action research thesis or dissertation.





More on why a researcher might choose action research for a thesis or dissertation.






Description and blurbs on this recent book on action research dissertations.





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Action Research in Education







Introduction to action research in education, including field notes from two New England school-based projects.






Presents basic issues in action research in educational settings.





Handbook developed from many years of presenting a course on action research for teachers.





Discusses action research as a strategy for improving practice in professional development schools.








This excerpt from Calhoun’s 1994 book introduces the “action research cycle” in school-wide action research.





Overview of teacher action research as an approach to equity and multicultural education.




Links to More Resources on Action Research in Education



Brief overview of action research in education and links to the University of Kansas Action Research Network.




The homepage of a quarterly journal on educational action research. A free sample copy is available at the site.




Electronic resources in action research with a primary focus on action research in education.





Basic information about action research in education and links to many electronic resources.



Associations and Networks for Action Research in Education



A Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.



Network based at the Institute of Education, Manchester, England, UK. Includes a discussion group and links to publications and conferences.



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Action Research in Information/Organizational Systems



Explains soft systems methodology and its origins and importance (“applying systems thinking to non-systemic situations;). A method for study complex (human, social, political) organizations or processes.




Discusses the application of soft systems methodology to evaluation and information systems.




Soft systems methodology study of a volunteer organization. Paper presented at the Fielding Graduate Institute Action Research Symposium.





Overview, bibliography and other resources for “action science,” action research applied to organizational development.





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Action Evaluation


Links to several online articles regarding action evaluation and related ethical and other issues.




Overview of the action evaluation process.





Overview of action evaluation purpose and strategies, in the context of complex social intervention (conflict resolution).



Discusses action evaluation as formative and participatory evaluation. Includes links to model projects.



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Critical and Feminist Approaches to Action Research


Explores the potential of feminist action research in education to create change for marginalized and non-dominant populations.





Explores issues in feminist action research in the areas of health and social justice, and its potential.






Center for Research on Violence Against Women & Children (1999). Designing a Feminist Action Research Project.

Defines feminist action research and provides a seven-step guide to designing a feminist action research project. To open, paste this URL into the address bar of a web browser:




An electronic reader on participatory feminism and participatory action research.



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Community Based/Participatory Action Research


Presents participatory action research as research primarily focused on achieving social change and discusses four “moments” (phases) of participatory action research.



Origins and principles of CBPR and distinctions from and similarities to related terms (including PAR, empowerment evaluation, community based action research).






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Online Collections of Action Research Resources



This is a compendium of online articles and other materials about Action Research (similar in content to this page).



An online journal published by the University of Sydney.




Annotated bibliography with a strong focus on validity, design & evaluation issues, among others.




Includes online debates, reviews, conference information and links to other resources.




An electronic reader including papers on many issues including types of AR, validity, and applications in health and other fields.




Reason is Director of the Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice in the School of Management at the University of Bath. His work is focused on action research as a participatory strategy for inquiry.




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Annotated Bibliography

Compiled by Maria Nemerowicz


Bray, John N.; Lee, Joyce; Smith, Linda L.; and Yorks, Lyle, eds. (2000) Collaborative inquiry in practice: Action, reflection, and making meaning. Thousand Oaks, Ca.: Sage.

This book details the issues that one must consider creating a collaborative inquiry group and beginning a project that uses collaborative inquiry. The authors maintain that individuals should view collaborative inquiry as a way of generating adult learning through research.   Other types of participatory and action-based methods of inquiry are focused on as well.


Cross, K. P. & Steadman, M. H. (1996). Classroom Research- Implementing the Scholarship of Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

In this book the author examines classroom research and the collaborative process for collecting data about one's own practice. This book challenges practitioners to integrate their teaching experience with current research and theory on learning.  The author also provides examples of assessments and models of research projects that can be carried out in any classroom.


Dash, D. P. (1999). Current debates in action research. Systemic Practice and Action Research 12 (5):457-492.


In this paper the author describes the recent debates on the methodology of action research. The history of action research in the study of human relations, social and organizational studies, educational change, policy studies, psychology, geography, and physics is explored.  Current varied beliefs regarding participant issues are considered. How researchers approach this type of inquiry is discussed and current debates on the methodology used in action research are examined.  Proposed solutions to these different approaches are offered. The future of action research is summarized.


Herr, K. &  Anderson, G.L. (2005).  The action research dissertation: A guide for students and faculty.  Sage Publications.


The author of this book addresses the growing practice of action research for masters and doctoral level dissertations. The author provides the reader with a summary of the varieties of action research. Reviewing the literature, methodology issues, ethics and validity issues are all discussed.

Hollingsworth, Sandra, ed. (1997) International action research: A casebook for educational  reform. London: Falmer.

This book contains a varied collection of papers about action research in several different educational settings.  The topics are broadly defined.


Koshy, V. (2005).  Action research for improving practice:  A practical guide.  London: Sage


This book offers step-by-step advice on how to choose your action research topic, plan your action, and gather, review and analyze your data. It also offers direction on how to write your report or dissertation. Koshy offers suggestions on how to carry out action research and how to stay on the right track from start to finish. It is especially focused on small-scale research projects that work on improving practice in schools.  This book is designed for those who are new to action research and those wanting a straightforward explanation of the methods that are commonly used.



McNiff, J. (1993).  Teaching as learning: An action research approach. London: Routledge.


In this book the author argues that individual teachers create knowledge as they attempt to express their values in their personal lives.  Case studies of actual practice are examined as she examines the action research paradigm of identifying a problem, imagining, implementing and evaluating a solution and modifying practice.  Practical advice about professional development for action researcher and practitioner is provided.


McTaggart, Robin (1991) Action research: a short modern history. Geelong, Vic: Deakin



This book provides a description of the history of action research in education. The author also provides a critical analysis of these alternate types of research from a critical action research perspective.  Issues that the researcher faces as a result of carrying out alternative forms of research are examined.


Reason, P. & Bradbury H. (2006).  Handbook of action research.  London, Sage.


This draws together the different strands of action research and investigates how they are used as well as how they are interrelated. The book is divided into four parts.  Part one describes the range of paradigms and metatheories, the perspectives, values and epistemologies that are used to inform the different approaches to action research. The second part investigates the diverse approaches to action research and the range of methodologies. Part three give examples of how several researchers have used the varied paradigms and methodologies in their own work. Finally, part four addresses the range of competencies that are often required for initiating and carrying out action research.



Schmuck, R. A.(1997). Practical Action Research for Change. Arlington Heights Skylight Training and Publishing, Inc.


In this book the author provides practical ideas for teachers, administrators, curriculum specialists, counselors, psychologists, parents and students who are interested in learning about the use of reflective practice. Modes of reflection, research methods, and problem-solving skills are provided for the reader.  The author encourages the reader to critically examine the continual process of intense reflection, informed inquiry and planned improvement.  It also provides an argument that justifies the role of action research in schools. Different types of action research are discussed and the models presented provide the reader with strategies they can use for data collection, reflection, and implementation of action research.


Zuber-Skerritt, Ortrun, ed. (1996) New directions in action research. London: Falmer.

In this book leading action researchers discuss the issues surrounding emancipatory or critical action research.  The authors reflect on their own theory and practice regarding this type of action research.  Models of action research and principles and procedures used are outlined.  There are also a variety of suggested solutions that can help the researcher to overcome problems that they may encounter when attempting to carry out this type of research.


This page is a project of the University of Massachusetts Lowell Qualitative Research Network. Last updated August 31, 2006.


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