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The “two sentences’ elevator pitch”: A pedagogical exercise to help students think about their research questions and empirical/theoretical contributions

ElevatorWe’ve probably all heard about the idea of an “elevator pitch” to summarize an idea or a project. One of the challenges I face on a regular basis, with my own thesis students and with those I teach (particularly because I teach research methods, research design, and the mechanics of conducting research) is helping them describe their studies clearly for an audience that will probably have a very short attention span or limited time. The other day, I woke up with an idea for a didactic exercise we all can use to help students think about their research questions and projects and what these contribue to the literature, particularly broader debates and empirical state of the art. It’s based off of the 5 sentences model of an abstract which Dr. Jessica Calarco has talked about before.

Photo credit: Ross Howard-Jones on Flickr. CC-Licensed BY-NC-ND

The model I’ve been thinking about could be defined as a “two-sentences elevator pitch”. It’s based on the same model of the first two sentences in Jess’s model:

1) say what we know (the state of the art), 2) state what we don’t (what your research contributes to the literature).

I am planning to do a quick exercise with my students, in class, in order to help them contextualize their research.

A few quick examples of this approach from my own work:

  • “Institutions are built through repeated interactions between actors. What happens when those repeated interactions are interrupted?”
  • “Waste is often best governed in collaboration between the informal sector and local governments. What happens when this collaboration breaks down?”
  • “Water is established as a constitutional human right in many countries. Which factors hinder its implementation at the local level?”
  • “Good resource governance is often the result of collaboration across networks of actors. How can these collaborations be fostered?”
  • “NGOs often influence domestic politics in contexts where national governments are receptive to engagements with civil society. What happens in less participatory countries?”
  • “Customers will drink tap water if they perceive it is safe. What happens when there’s no guarantee by the local government that this will be the case?”

I am curious to hear from you (you all y’all) if this “2 sentences elevator pitch” model of presenting a research question that animates your own work is helpful to quickly summarize what you study. Can you comment on this blog post some of your work in this 2 sentences’ model?

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