What is Research?

The word research as it is used in everyday speech has numerous meanings, making it a decidedly confusing term for students who must learn to use the word in a narrower, more precise sense. From elementary school to college to fitness and martial arts studies, students hear the word research used in the context of a variety of activities. In some situations, the word connotes finding a piece of information or making notes and then writing a documented paper. In other situations, it refers to the act of informing oneself about what one does not know, perhaps by rummaging through available sources to retrieve a bit of information.

The word research has a certain mystique about it. To many people, it suggests an activity that is somehow exclusive and removed from everyday life. Researchers are sometimes regarded as aloof individuals who seclude themselves in laboratories, scholarly libraries, or the ivory towers of large universities. The public is often unaware of what researchers do on a day-to-day basis or of how their work contributes to people’s overall quality of life and general welfare.

What I’d like to do here is clarify what research is and what it is not. Possibly in further posts, should there be an interest I will write more on the subject.

What Research is Not

Research is not simply information gathering.

While this to some may seem like research it truly is nothing more information discovery or building our reference skills. These are of course important but doesn’t qualify as research.

Research is not simply moving facts from one source to another.

Although referencing sources may in fact be ‘part’ of the research process this alone does not make something a research project. Research requires us to interpret and draw conclusions from the data. We could reference this type of work as fact organization or fact summarization.

Research is not simply sifting for information.

Sifting through information will help us zero in on specific facts however this is more accurately called exercise in self-enlightenment.

Research is not collecting catchwords or phrases used for getting attention

You see this all the time… “Years of Research Have Produced a New Exercise Program That Requires NO Exercise”

The phrase “years of research” catches people’s attention. Hey if it has years of research behind it then it must be good, right?!

What then is Research?

Put simply research is a systematic process of collecting, analyzing and interpreting information i.e. data in order to increase our understanding of a specific phenomenon.

Sometimes this could be as simply as solving a problem in our everyday life. I think of this as informal research projects. Formal research projects are ones in which we intentionally set out to enhance our understanding of a phenomenon and expect to communicate what we discover to a larger community.

Although our research will vary in complexity and duration.. Most research projects have 8 distinct characteristics.

Research originates with a question or problem.

The world is filled with unanswered questions and unresolved problems. Everywhere we look, we see things that cause us to wonder, to speculate, to ask questions. And by asking questions, we strike the first spark igniting a chain reaction that leads to the research process. An inquisitive mind is the beginning of research.

Research requires clear articulation of a goal.

A clear, unambiguous statement of the problem is critical. This statement is an exercise in intellectual honesty: The ultimate goal of the research must be set forth in a grammatically complete sentence that specifically and precisely answers the question, “What problem do you intend to solve?” When you describe your objective in clear, concrete terms, you have a good idea of what you need to accomplish and can direct

your efforts accordingly.

Research requires a specific plan for proceeding.

Research is not a blind excursion into the unknown, with the hope that the data necessary to answer the question at hand will somehow fortuitously turn up. It is, instead, a carefully planned itinerary of the route you intend to take in order to reach your final destination—your research goal.

We must plan our overall research design and specific research methods in a purposeful way so that we

can acquire data relevant to our research problem. Depending on the research question, different

designs and methods will be more or less appropriate. In addition to identifying the specific goal of your research, you must also identify how you propose to reach your goal.

Research usually divides the principal problem into more manageable subproblems.

From a design standpoint, it is often helpful to break a main research problem into several subproblems that, when solved, will resolve the main problem. Breaking down principal problems into small, easily solvable subproblems is a strategy we use in everyday living.

Research is guided by the specific research problem, question, or hypothesis.

Having stated the problem and its attendant subproblems, the researcher usually forms one or more hypotheses about what he or she may discover. A hypothesis is a logical supposition, a reasonable guess, an

educated conjecture. It provides a tentative explanation for a phenomenon under investigation. It may direct your thinking to possible sources of information that will aid in resolving one or more subproblems and, in the process, the principal research problem.

Hypotheses are certainly not unique to research. They are constant, recurring features of everyday life. They represent the natural working of the human mind. Something happens. Immediately you attempt to account for the cause of the event by making a series of reasonable guesses. In so doing, you are hypothesizing.

Good researchers always begin a project with open minds about what they may—or may not—discover in their data. Even with the best of data, however, hypotheses in a research project are rarely proved or disproved beyond the shadow of a doubt. Instead, they are either supported or not supported by the data. If the data are consistent with a particular hypothesis, the researcher can make a case that the hypothesis probably has some merit and should be taken seriously. In contrast, if the data run contrary to a hypothesis, the researcher rejects the hypothesis and turns to others as being more likely explanations of the phenomenon in question.

Over time, as particular hypotheses are supported by a growing body of data, they evolve into theories. A theory is an organized body of concepts and principles intended to explain a particular phenomenon. Like hypotheses, theories are tentative explanations that new data either support or do not support. To the extent that new data contradict a particular theory, a researcher will either modify it to better account for the data or reject the theory altogether in favor of an alternative explanation.

The researcher usually forms one or more hypotheses about what he or she may discover. Hypotheses—

predictions—are an essential ingredient in certain kinds of research, especially experimental research. o a lesser degree, they guide most other forms of research as well, but they are intentionally not identified in the early stages of some kinds of qualitative research. Yet regardless of whether researchers form specific hypotheses in advance, they must, at a minimum, use their research problem or question to focus their efforts.


Research accepts certain critical assumptions.

In research, assumptions are equivalent to axioms in geometry—self-evident truths, the sine qua non of research. The assumptions must be valid or else the research is meaningless. In your own research, it is essential that others know what you assume to be true with respect to your project. If one is to judge the quality of your study, then the knowledge of what you assume as basic to the very existence of your study is vitally important. Whereas a hypothesis involves a prediction that may or may not be supported by the data, an assumption is a condition that is taken for granted, without which the research project would

be pointless.

Assumptions are usually so self-evident that a researcher may consider it unnecessary to mention

them. For instance, two assumptions underlie almost all research:

A phenomenon under investigation is somewhat lawful and predictable.

Certain cause-and-effect relationships can account for the patterns observed in the phenomenon.


Research requires the collection and interpretation of data in an attempt to resolve the problem that initiated the research.

After a researcher has isolated the problem, divided it into appropriate

subproblems, posited reasonable questions or hypotheses, and identified the assumptions that

are basic to the entire effort, the next step is to collect whatever data seem appropriate and to

organize them in meaningful ways so that they can be interpreted.

Events, observations, and measurements are, in and of themselves, only events, observations,

and measurements—nothing more. The significance of the data depends on how the researcher

extracts meaning from them. In research, data uninterpreted by the human mind are worthless:

They can never help us answer the questions we have posed.

Yet researchers must recognize and come to terms with the subjective and dynamic nature

of interpretation.

Research is, by its nature, cyclical or, more exactly, helical.

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