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The Complexities of Comprehension: Conducting Think-Aloud Studies With Multiple Interacting Variables

By: Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2
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When learning from texts in practical settings, many factors can influence our strategies, attention, and memory. A common approach to understanding how particular factors affect reading is to isolate one or two variables, such as examining a specific reading skill or reading goal. However, real-world settings contain multiple factors that interact in complex ways. In this case study, I describe the complexities of studying multiple variables simultaneously and how to utilize the think-aloud approach to study participants’ thinking. In think-aloud approaches, participants verbalize their thoughts as they read, and researchers code their verbalizations for the types of processes and strategies they employed. However, researchers must carefully conduct think-aloud studies to appropriately align methods with their research questions, increase reliability and validity, minimize the effects of demand characteristics, and reduce biases in coding and interpretation. In addition, converging evidence from other methodologies should triangulate with think-aloud data for the purposes of validity. Think-aloud methods are applicable to anyone interested in studying how people think as they work through a variety of different tasks, such as comprehending a text, problem solving, and exploring the usability of products.

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