Action research is research done by the practitioner in order to improve his/her working conditions or efficacy. The purpose of the research is to solve a problem the worker/practitioner is having or to investigate a phenomena he/she has noticed in the course of his/her working life. The initial research question may be developed by the researcher alone or may come out of conversations or gripes with his/her colleagues. The researcher talks about the problem with colleagues or “critical” friends in order to hone his/her question and to develop a methodology to investigate it. Although it may seem counterintuitive, it can be important for the researcher/practitioner to resist using his/her expertise to try to solve the dilemma or answer the question. Instead, at this stage it is vitally important to stay open to unexpected possibilities and allow one’s observations (rather than one’s assumptions) to guide the next steps. While applying an action research approach to an existing issue, the researcher shares news about his/her progress in collecting and analyzing data with the same “critical friends” in order to get input from people outside of the data collection/analysis process who are familiar with the problem being investigated by the researcher. The researcher shares what he/she has learned with the same group of people and perhaps a wider audience formally or informally.
The goals of action research are to empower the practitioner as he/she should be regarded as an expert in his/her work. For that reason, what we typically think of as a literature review for the purpose of initiating a research study often does not happen at the beginning of action research. Instead, the practitioner/researcher might dip into the professional literature at multiple points as he/she identifies topics to explore. Or it can be postponed until the end of the action research, when the researcher is ready to compare his/her working theories with what others in their field have learned through other types of research. The process of conducting research can also improve the researcher’s affect in terms of valuing his/her own expertise. It can be a way create or improve “best practices” and to challenge commonly held “truths” that have been unsubstantiated. Often action research is the beginning of identifying deeper questions that sustain practitioners throughout their careers rather than solving a discreet problem and then coming to conclusion.