Research: Definition, Characteristics, Goals, Approaches

research definitionResearch is an original and systematic investigation undertaken to increase existing knowledge and understanding of the unknown to establish facts and principles. Some people consider research as a voyage of discovery of new knowledge.

It comprises the creation of ideas and the generation of new knowledge that leads to new and improved insights and the development of new materials, devices, products, and processes. It should have the potentials to produce results that are sufficiently relevant to increase and synthesize existing knowledge or correcting and integrating previous knowledge.

Good reflective research produces theories and hypotheses and benefits any intellectual attempt to analyze facts and phenomena.

The word ‘research’ perhaps originates from the old French word “recerchier” that meant to ‘search again.’ It implicitly assumes that the earlier search was not exhaustive and complete, and hence a repeated search is called for.

In practice, the term ‘research’ refers to a scientific process of generating an unexplored horizon of knowledge, aiming at discovering or establishing facts, solving a problem, and reaching a decision. Keeping the above points in view, we arrive at the following definition of research:

Research Definition

Research is a scientific approach of answering a research question, solving a research problem, or generating new knowledge through a systematic and orderly collection, organization, and analysis of data with the ultimate goal of making the findings of research useful in decision-making.

When do we call a research scientific? Any research endeavor is said to be scientific if

  • It is based on empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning;
  • It consists of systematic observations, measurement, and experimentation;
  • It relies on the application of the scientific methods and harnessing of curiosity;
  • It provides scientific information and theories for the explanation of nature;
  • It makes practical applications possible; and
  • It ensures adequate analysis of data employing rigorous statistical techniques.

The chief characteristic which distinguishes the scientific method from other methods of acquiring knowledge is that scientists seek to let reality speak for itself, supporting a theory when a theory’s predictions are confirmed and challenging a theory when its predictions prove false.

Scientific research has multidimensional functions, characteristics, and objectives.

Keeping these issues in view, we assert that research in any field or discipline:

  • Attempts to solve a research problem;
  • Involves gathering new data from primary or first-hand sources or using existing data for a new purpose;
  • is based upon observable experiences or empirical evidence;
  • Demands accurate observation and description;
  • Employs carefully designed procedures and rigorous analysis;
  • attempts to find an objective, unbiased solution to the problem and takes great pains to validate the methods employed;
  • is a deliberate and unhurried activity that is directional but often refines the problem or questions as the research progresses.

Characteristics of Research

Keeping this in mind that research in any field of inquiry is undertaken to provide information to support decision-making in its respective area, we summarize some desirable characteristics of research:

  1. The research should focus on priority problems.
  2. The research should be systematic. It emphasizes that a researcher should employ a structured procedure.
  3. The research should be logical. Without manipulating ideas logically, the scientific researcher cannot make much progress in any investigation.
  4. The research should be reductive. This means that the findings of one researcher should be made available to other researchers to prevent them from repeating the same research.
  5. The research should be replicable. This asserts that there should be scope to confirm the findings of previous research in a new environment and different settings with a new group of subjects or at a different point in time.
  6. The research should be generative. This is one of the valuable characteristics of research because answering one question leads to generating many other new questions.
  7. The research should be action-oriented. In other words, it should be aimed at reaching a solution leading to the implementation of its findings.
  8. The research should follow an integrated multidisciplinary approach, i.e., research approaches from more than one discipline are needed.
  9. The research should be participatory, involving all parties concerned (from policymakers down to community members) at all stages of the study.
  10. The research must be relatively simple, timely, and time-bound, employing a comparatively simple design.
  11. The research must be as much cost-effective as possible.
  12. The results of the research should be presented in formats most useful for administrators, decision-makers, business managers, or the community members.

3 Basic Operations of Research

Scientific research in any field of inquiry involves three basic operations:

  1. Data collection;
  2. Data analysis;
  3. Report writing.

3 basic operations of research

Data collection refers to observing, measuring, and recording data or information.

Data analysis, on the other hand, refers to arranging and organizing the collected data so that we may be able to find out what their significance is and generalize about them.

Report writing is the ultimate step of the study. Its purpose is to convey the information contained in it to the readers or audience.

If you note down, for example, the reading habit of newspapers of a group of residents in a community, that would be your data collection.

If you then divide these residents, say, into three categories, ‘regular,’ ‘occasional’ and ‘never,’ you have performed a simple data analysis. Your findings may now be presented in a report form.

A reader of your report comes to know what percentage of the community people never read any newspaper and so on.

Here are some examples that demonstrate what research is:

  • A farmer is planting two varieties of jute side by side to compare yields;
  • A sociologist is examining the causes and consequences of divorce;
  • An economist is looking at the interdependence of inflation and foreign direct investment;
  • A physician is experimenting with the effects of multiple uses of disposable insulin syringes in hospital;
  • A business enterprise is examining the effects of advertisement of their products on the volume of sales;
  • An economist is doing a cost-benefit analysis of reducing the sales tax on essential commodities;
  • The Bangladesh Bank is closely observing and monitoring the performance of nationalized and private banks;
  • Based on some prior information, Bank Management is planning to open new counters for female customers.
  • Supermarket Management is assessing the satisfaction level of the customers in their products.

In the above examples, all are doing research, whether the instrument is an electronic microscope, hospital records, a microcomputer, a questionnaire, or a checklist.

Research Motivation – What makes one motivated to do research?

A person may be motivated to undertake research activities because

  • He might have genuine interest and curiosity in the existing body of knowledge and understanding of the problem;
  • He is looking for answers to questions which remained unanswered so far and trying to unfold the truth;
  • The existing tools and techniques accessible to him, and others may need modification and change to suit the current needs.

One might research ensuring

  • Better livelihood;
  • Better career development;
  • Higher position, prestige, and dignity in the society;
  • Academic achievement leading to higher degrees;
  • Self-gratification.

At the individual level, the results of the research are used by many:

  • A villager is drinking water from an arsenic-free tube-well;
  • A rural woman is giving more green vegetable to her child than before;
  • A cigarette smoker is actively considering to quit smoking;
  • An old man is jogging for cardiovascular fitness;
  • A sociologist is using newly suggested tools and techniques in poverty measurement.

The above activities are all outcomes of the research.

All involved in the above processes are being benefited from the results of research. There is hardly any action in everyday life that does not depend upon previous research.

Research in any field of inquiry provides us with the knowledge and skills we need to solve the problems and meet the challenges of a fast-paced decision-making environment.

Desirable Qualities of Research

Good research is one that generates dependable data. It is conducted by professionals and can be used reliably for decision making.

It is thus of crucial importance that research should be made acceptable to the audience for which research should possess some desirable qualities in terms of its;

  1. purpose,
  2. research process,
  3. research design,
  4. ethical issues,
  5. limitations,
  6. results or findings,
  7. conclusions,
  8. recommendations and
  9. the researcher’s experiences.

We enumerate below a few qualities that good research should possess.

Purpose clearly defined

Good research must have its purposes clearly and unambiguously defined.

The problem involved or the decision to be made should be sharply delineated as clearly as possible to demonstrate the credibility of the research.

Research process detailed

The research procedures used should be described in sufficient detail to permit other researchers to repeat the research at a later date.

Failure to do so makes it difficult or impossible to estimate the validity and reliability of the results. This weakens the confidence of the readers.

Any recommendations made from such research justifiably get little attention from the policymakers and implementation.

Research design planned

The procedural design of the research should be carefully planned to yield results that are as objective as possible.

In doing so, care must be taken so that the representativeness of the sample is ensured, and relevant literature has been thoroughly searched, experimental controls, whenever necessary, have been followed, the personal bias in selecting and recording data have been minimized.

Ethical issues considered

A research design should always safeguard against causing mental and physical harm not only to the participants but also to those who belong to their organizations.

Careful consideration must also be given to research situations when there is a possibility for exploitation, invasion of privacy, and loss of dignity of all those who are involved in the study.

Limitations revealed

The researcher should report with complete honesty and frankness any flaws in procedural design; he followed and provided estimates of their effects on the findings.

This enhances the confidence of the readers and finally makes the report acceptable to the audience. One can legitimately question the value of research where no limitations are reported.

Adequate analysis ensured

Adequate analysis reveals the significance of the data and helps the researcher to check the reliability and validity of his estimates.

Data should, therefore, be analyzed with proper statistical rigor to assist the researcher in reaching firm conclusions.

When statistical methods have been employed, the probability of error should be estimated, and criteria of statistical significance applied.

Findings unambiguously presented

The presentation of the results should be comprehensive, easily understood by the readers, and organized so that the readers can readily locate the critical and central findings.

Conclusions and recommendations justified.

Proper research always specifies the conditions under which the research conclusions seem to be valid.

It is therefore of importance that any conclusions drawn and recommendations made should be solely based on the findings of the study.

No inferences or generalizations should be made beyond the data. If this were not followed, the objectivity of the research would tend to decrease, resulting in confidence in the findings.

The researcher’s experiences reflected.

The research report should contain information about the qualification of the researchers.

If the researcher is experienced, has a good reputation in research, and is a person of integrity, his report is likely to be highly valued. The policymakers feel confident in implementing the recommendation made in such reports.

Goals of Research

goals of research

The primary goal or purpose of research in any field of inquiry; is to add to what is known about the phenomenon under investigation through the application of scientific methods.

Though each research has its own specific goals, yet we may enumerate the following 4 broad goals of scientific research:

  1. Exploration.
  2. Description.
  3. Causal explanation.
  4. Prediction.

The link between the 4 goals of research and the questions raised in reaching these goals.

Goals/purposesTypes of questions
Exploration
  • What is the full nature of the problem or phenomenon?
  • What is going on?
  • What factors are related to the problem?
Description
  • How prevalent is the problem?
  • What are the characteristics of the problem?
  • What is the process by which the problem is experienced?
Explanation
  • What are the underlying causes of the problem?
  • What do the occurrences of the problem mean?
  • Why does the problem exist?
Prediction
  • If problem X occurs, will problem K follow?
  • Can the occurrence of the problem be controlled?
  • Does an intervention result in the intended effect?

Let’s try to understand the 4 goals of the research.

Exploration and Explorative Research

Exploration is finding out about some previously unexamined phenomenon. In other words, an explorative study structures and identifies new problems.

The explorative study aims at gaining familiarity with a phenomenon or to achieve new insights into it.

Exploration is particularly useful when researchers lack a clear idea of the problems they meet during their study.

Through exploration, researchers attempt to

  • Develop concepts more clearly;
  • Establish priorities among several alternatives;
  • Develop operational definitions of variables;
  • Formulate research hypotheses and sharpen research objectives;
  • Improve the methodology and modify (if needed) research design.

Exploration is achieved through what we call exploratory research.

The end of an explorative study comes when the researchers are convinced that they have established the major dimensions of the research task.

Description and Descriptive Research

Many research activities consist of gathering information on some topic of interest. The description refers to these data-based information-gathering activities. Descriptive studies portray precisely the characteristics of a particular individual, situation, or group.

Here we attempt to describe situations and events through studies, which we refer to as descriptive research.

Such research is undertaken when much is known about the problem under investigation.

Descriptive studies try to discover answers to the questions who, what, when, where, and sometimes how.

Such research studies may involve the collection of data and the creation of distribution of the number of times the researcher observes a single event or characteristic, known as a research variable.

A descriptive study may also involve the interaction of two or more variables and attempts to observe if there is any relationship between the variables under investigation.

Research that examines such a relationship is sometimes called correlational study. It is correlational because it attempts to relate (i.e., co-relate) two or more variables.

A descriptive study may be feasible to answer the questions of the following types:

  • What are the characteristics of the people who are involved in city crime? Are they young? Middle-aged? Poor? Muslim? Educated?
  • Who are the potential buyers of the new product? Men or women? Urban people or rural people?
  • Are rural women more likely to marry earlier than their urban counterparts?
  • Does previous experience help an employee to get a higher initial salary?

Although the data description in descriptive research is factual, accurate, and systematic, the research cannot describe what caused a situation.

Thus, descriptive research cannot be used to create a causal relationship, where one variable affects another.

In other words, descriptive research can be said to have a low requirement for internal validity. In sum, descriptive research deals with everything that can be counted and studied.

But there are always restrictions on that. All research must have an impact on the lives of the people around us.

For example, finding the most frequent disease that affects the people of a community falls under descriptive research.

But the readers of the research will have the hunch to know why this has happened, and what to do to prevent that disease so that more people will live a healthy life.

It dictates that we need a causal explanation of the situation under reference and hence a causal study vis-a-vis causal research.

Causal Explanation and Causal Research

Explanation reveals why and how something happens.

An explanatory study goes beyond description and attempts to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between variables. It explains the reason for the phenomenon that the descriptive study observed.

Thus if a researcher finds that communities having larger family size have higher child death or that smoking is correlated with lung cancer, he is performing a descriptive study.

If he is explaining why it is so and tries to establish a cause-and-effect relationship, he is performing explanatory research or causal research. The researcher uses theories or at-least hypotheses to account for the factors that caused a certain phenomenon to occur.

Look at the following examples that fit causal studies:

  • Why are people involved in crime? Can we explain this as a consequence of the present crisis in the job market or for lack of parental care?
  • Will the buyers be motivated to purchase the new product in a new container? Can an attractive advertisement motivate them to buy a new product?
  • Why has the share market shown steepest ever fall in stock prices? Is it because of IMF’s warnings and prescriptions on the commercial banks’ exposure to the stock market or because of an abundant increase in the supply of new shares?

Prediction and Predictive Research

Prediction seeks to answer: when and in what situations the event will occur, if we can provide a plausible explanation for the event in question.

The precise nature of the relationship between explanation and prediction, however, has been a subject of debate.

One view is that explanation and prediction are the same phenomena except that prediction precedes the event while the explanation takes place after the event has occurred.

Another view is that explanation and prediction are fundamentally different processes.

We need not be concerned with this debate here but can simply state that in addition to being able to explain an event after it has occurred, we would also be able to predict when the event will occur.

Research Approaches

4 research approaches

There are two main approaches to doing research.

The first is the basic approach, which mostly pertains to academic research. Many people view this as pure research or fundamental research.

The research implemented through the second approach is variously known as applied research, action research, operations research, or a contract research approach.

Also, the third category of research, called evaluative research, is of importance in many applications. All these approaches have different purposes which influence the nature of the respective research.

Lastly, precautions in research are required for thorough research.

So, 4 research approaches are;

  1. Basic Research.
  2. Applied Research.
  3. Evaluative Research.
  4. Precautions in Research.

Areas of Research

The most important fields of research, among others, are;

  1. Social Research.
  2. Health Research.
  3. Population Research.
  4. Business Research.
  5. Marketing Research.
  6. Agricultural Research.
  7. Biomedical Research.
  8. Clinical Research.
  9. Outcomes Research.
  10. Internet Research.
  11. Archival Research.
  12. Empirical Research.
  13. Legal Research.
  14. Education Research.
  15. Engineering Research.
  16. Historical Research.

Precautions in Research

Whether a researcher is doing applied or basic research or research of any other form, he or she must take necessary precautions to ensure that the research he or she is doing is relevant, timely, efficient, accurate, and ethical.

The research is considered relevant if it anticipates the kinds of information that will be required by decision-makers, scientists, or policymakers.

Timely research is completed in time to influence decisions.

  • Research is efficient when it is of the best quality for the minimum expenditure, and the study is appropriate to the research context.
  • Research is considered accurate or valid when the interpretation can account for both consistencies and inconsistencies in the data.
  • Research is ethical when it can promote trust, exercise care, ensure standards, and protect the rights of the participants in the research process.

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