The purpose of research is to enhance society by advancing knowledge through the development of scientific theories, concepts and ideas. A research purpose is met through forming hypotheses, collecting data, analysing results, forming conclusions, implementing findings into real-life applications and forming new research questions.
What is Research
Simply put, research is the process of discovering new knowledge. This knowledge can be either the development of new concepts or the advancement of existing knowledge and theories, leading to a new understanding that was not previously known.
As a more formal definition of research, the following has been extracted from the Code of Federal Regulations:
While research can be carried out by anyone and in any field, most research is usually done to broaden knowledge in the physical, biological, and social worlds. This can range from learning why certain materials behave the way they do, to asking why certain people are more resilient than others when faced with the same challenges.
The use of ‘systematic investigation’ in the formal definition represents how research is normally conducted – a hypothesis is formed, appropriate research methods are designed, data is collected and analysed, and research results are summarised into one or more ‘research conclusions’. These research conclusions are then shared with the rest of the scientific community to add to the existing knowledge and serve as evidence to form additional questions that can be investigated. It is this cyclical process that enables scientific research to make continuous progress over the years; the true purpose of research.
What is the Purpose of Research
From weather forecasts to the discovery of antibiotics, researchers are constantly trying to find new ways to understand the world and how things work – with the ultimate goal of improving our lives.
The purpose of research is therefore to find out what is known, what is not and what we can develop further. In this way, scientists can develop new theories, ideas and products that shape our society and our everyday lives.
Although research can take many forms, there are three main purposes of research:
- Exploratory: Exploratory research is the first research to be conducted around a problem that has not yet been clearly defined. Exploration research therefore aims to gain a better understanding of the exact nature of the problem and not to provide a conclusive answer to the problem itself. This enables us to conduct more in-depth research later on.
- Descriptive: Descriptive research expands knowledge of a research problem or phenomenon by describing it according to its characteristics and population. Descriptive research focuses on the ‘how’ and ‘what’, but not on the ‘why’.
- Explanatory: Explanatory research, also referred to as casual research, is conducted to determine how variables interact, i.e. to identify cause-and-effect relationships. Explanatory research deals with the ‘why’ of research questions and is therefore often based on experiments.
Characteristics of Research
There are 8 core characteristics that all research projects should have. These are:
- Empirical – based on proven scientific methods derived from real-life observations and experiments.
- Logical – follows sequential procedures based on valid principles.
- Cyclic – research begins with a question and ends with a question, i.e. research should lead to a new line of questioning.
- Controlled – vigorous measures put into place to keep all variables constant, except those under investigation.
- Hypothesis-based – the research design generates data that sufficiently meets the research objectives and can prove or disprove the hypothesis. It makes the research study repeatable and gives credibility to the results.
- Analytical – data is generated, recorded and analysed using proven techniques to ensure high accuracy and repeatability while minimising potential errors and anomalies.
- Objective – sound judgement is used by the researcher to ensure that the research findings are valid.
- Statistical treatment – statistical treatment is used to transform the available data into something more meaningful from which knowledge can be gained.
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Types of Research
Research can be divided into two main types: basic research (also known as pure research) and applied research.
Basic research, also known as pure research, is an original investigation into the reasons behind a process, phenomenon or particular event. It focuses on generating knowledge around existing basic principles.
Basic research is generally considered ‘non-commercial research’ because it does not focus on solving practical problems, and has no immediate benefit or ways it can be applied.
While basic research may not have direct applications, it usually provides new insights that can later be used in applied research.
Applied research investigates well-known theories and principles in order to enhance knowledge around a practical aim. Because of this, applied research focuses on solving real-life problems by deriving knowledge which has an immediate application.
Methods of Research
Research methods for data collection fall into one of two categories: inductive methods or deductive methods.
Inductive research methods focus on the analysis of an observation and are usually associated with qualitative research. Deductive research methods focus on the verification of an observation and are typically associated with quantitative research.
Qualitative research is a method that enables non-numerical data collection through open-ended methods such as interviews, case studies and focus groups.
It enables researchers to collect data on personal experiences, feelings or behaviours, as well as the reasons behind them. Because of this, qualitative research is often used in fields such as social science, psychology and philosophy and other areas where it is useful to know the connection between what has occurred and why it has occurred.
Quantitative research is a method that collects and analyses numerical data through statistical analysis.
It allows us to quantify variables, uncover relationships, and make generalisations across a larger population. As a result, quantitative research is often used in the natural and physical sciences such as engineering, biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, finance, and medical research, etc.
What does Research Involve?
Research often follows a systematic approach known as a Scientific Method, which is carried out using an hourglass model.
A research project first starts with a problem statement, or rather, the research purpose for engaging in the study. This can take the form of the ‘scope of the study’ or ‘aims and objectives’ of your research topic.
Subsequently, a literature review is carried out and a hypothesis is formed. The researcher then creates a research methodology and collects the data.
The data is then analysed using various statistical methods and the null hypothesis is either accepted or rejected.
In both cases, the study and its conclusion are officially written up as a report or research paper, and the researcher may also recommend lines of further questioning. The report or research paper is then shared with the wider research community, and the cycle begins all over again.
Although these steps outline the overall research process, keep in mind that research projects are highly dynamic and are therefore considered an iterative process with continued refinements and not a series of fixed stages.