What is Research? Definitions of Research

December 21, 2008


Research is about finding out. It is about searching systematically for solutions to problems. It is about rules to guide your search. It is also about helping you to evaluate the research of others.

The term “research” has several meanings:

  • Research is a systematic, formal rigorous and precise process employed to gain solutions to problems and/or to discover and interpret new facts and relationships. (Waltz and Bausell, 1981, p.1).
  • Research is the process of looking for a specific answer to a specific question in an organized objective reliable way (Payton, 1979, p.4)
  • Research is systematic, controlled, empirical and critical investigation of hypothetical propositions about the presumed relations among natural phenomena (Kerlinger, 1973, p.1).


The function of research is to either create or test a theory. Research is the instrument used to test whether a theory is good or not. It is the process by which data is gathered to generate a theory or used to test a theory. There are different ways of conducting research. However any method you use will be based on the systematic collection and analysis of data. The emphasis here is on the word systematic.

This means you have to collect your data in an ordered manner, with a purpose in mind, and following certain rules about your mode of collection.

You can become familiar with the basic principles underlying two major types of research: Qualitative Research and Quantitative Research.


§ Lets us explore choices with little risk

§ Helps us see more in each choice

§ Can be used in any job

§ Opens us up to new ways of learning

§ Helps us change old patterns of thinking that keep us in a rut

§ Helps us create other choices

§ Helps us handle change better

§ Helps us make healthy life decisions


§ Systematic

§ Logical

§ Empirical

§ Reductive

§ Replicable


a) Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is commonly associated with social research schools which fall broadly within the interpretivist sociological tradition. Qualitative research is concerned with observation Look up this term in the glossary, description and generation of hypotheses, as a contrast to positivist traditions of social research which are concerned with the testing of causality and examining correlations between variables.

Four major methods are:

· Observation

· Analysing texts and documents

· Interviews

· Recording and transcribing

b) Quantitative Research

Quantitative Research or commonly called survey method are one of the most frequently used modes of research in the social sciences. In a typical survey the researcher selects a sample of respondents and administers a standardised questionnaire to them.

Surveys may be used for descriptive, explanatory and exploratory purposes. They are used in studies that have individual people as units of analysis. Although this method can be used for other units of analysis such as groups, it is necessary that individual persons are recruited as respondents or informants.


Research Method

The research method is directly connected to your problem statement and goal of research. Because the research goal and problem may vary different methods of research can be utilized.

Research is a purposeful, precise and systematic search for new knowledge, skills, attitudes and values, or for the re-interpretation of existing knowledge, skills, attitudes and values.

The various kinds of human science research can be subdivided according to three criteria:

1. The measure of generality and applicability:

§ basic research

§ applied research

§ in-service research

§ action research

2 . The level of ordering:

§ descriptive research

§ prophetic research

§ diagnostic research

3 . The measure of control by researchers:

§ library research

§ field research

§ laboratory research


§ Exploratory research

§ Experimental research

§ Ex post facto research

§ Correlation research

§ Descriptive research

§ Testing research

§ Case studies

§ Sociometric research

§ Instrumental-nomological research

§ Interpretative-theoretical research


§ Micro-study

§ Macro-study

§ Longitudinal (diachronic) study

§ Cross-sectional (synchronic) study

§ Pilot study


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