The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (20101) defines "research" as "1: careful or diligent search; 2: studious inquiry or examination, especially investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws; 3: the collecting of information about a particular subject".

All three meanings are extensively used in today's society, namely because the concept of "research" typically carries positive implications, similar to those carried by the concept of "science" but without the necessary "posturing" in favour of the scientific method. That is, attending to meaning 3 above, the mere collection of information about a particular subject should entitle anyone doing a minimum amount of searching to be called a researcher.

At academic levels, however, the concept of research is mostly used to refer to meaning 2 above, especially in regards to the studious inquiry or examination aimed at the discovery and interpretation of data, rather than on an exclusive focus on experimentation. That is, doing research does not necessarily mean that such research is scientific or fits the scientific method. Yet, the concept of "research" also has very good positive implications in academy because it sounds like doing science without necessarily this being the case (ie without researchers using the scientific method). An example of the good positive implications of the concept is its "re-ification" in academic parlance, as can be seen below. For example, "qualitative research" is actually research done using qualitative designs, and "correlational research" is actually research whose data has been analysed using correlative statistics (ie it is not the research itself which is qualitative or correlational, but its design and data analysis, respectively).

Research methods

Research approach

Primary research Secondary research
Collects data that does not already exist. Also known as field research. Summarises, collates and/or synthesises existing research. Also known as desk research.

Research design

Qualitative designs Quantitative designs
Use qualitative methods of inquiry. Also known as flexible designs or, in reified form, as qualitative research. Use quantitative methods of inquiry. Also known as fixed designs or, in reified form, as quantitative research.
Eg case studies, ethnographic studies, Grounded Theory studies… Eg correlational studies, experimental studies…
Comparative designs Non-comparative designs
Compare two or more sets of results, be these from different groups or from the same group at different times. Describe results for a group, without comparing them against other results.
Eg longitudinal designs (or within group designs), cross-sectional designs (or between groups designs).
Experimental designs Quasi-experimental designs Non-experimental designs
Use control groups and assign subjects to groups randomly. Also known as randomized experiments and true experiments. Use control groups or repeated measurements, but there is no random assignation of subjects to groups. Do not use control groups or repeated measurement. Also known as pre-experimental designs.

Sampling procedure

Non-random sampling procedures Random sampling procedures
Eg convenient sampling, purposive sampling… Eg simple random sampling, systematic sampling…

Sample size

Single subject Small samples Adequate samples Excessive samples Population

Data analysis

The following are some research categories attending to the intended data analysis. Categories are not mutually exclusive, but a particular research design may incorporate all of them.

Qualitative analysis Quantitative analysis
Uses qualitative methods for data collation and analysis. Also known, in reified form, as qualitative research. Uses quantification for data collation and statistics for data analysis. Also known, in reified form, as quantitative research.
Eg univariate, bivariate or multivariate statistical analysis
Descriptive analysis Predictive analysis
Describes results and relationships among variables. Tests hypotheses and/or predicts future results. Also known as inferential analysis.
Eg descriptive statistics, correlations, factor analysis… Eg regression, tests of significance…
Univariate analysis Bivariate analysis Multivariate analysis
Describes single variables Compares two variables Group, describes and/or compare more than two variables
Eg mean, mode, frequencies… Eg correlation, regression… Eg multiple regression, factor analysis…

"Types" of research:

  • Constructive research develops new constructs, models, programs, etc, normally deductively and by way of using a formal methodology.
  • Empirical research develops new knowledge normally inductively and by way of using direct observation, experience and experiments
    • Exploratory research structures and identifies new problems
    • Descriptive research describes data or characteristics of the population or phenomenon under research
    • Explanatory research aims to explain relationships between variables, not just describing data
      • Correlational research aims to explain relationships between variables (although it cannot prove cause-effect)
      • Causal research aims to explain cause-effect relationships between variables by using experimental designs
    • Confirmatory research aims to confirm the results found out by previous research
1. MERRIAM-WEBSTER ONLINE DICTIONARY (2010). Research. Retrieved from The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary on 8 November 2010.

Want to know more?

Wikipedia - Research
A handy first-stop encyclopedia for a quick peering into some concepts such as "science", "scientific method", "research", and "empiricism". Notice, however, that its wiki features may limit its reliability and usability as a referential source, thus caution is necessary beyond that quick peering for contents.

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