Research is a detailed, systematic study into a specific problem or concern using various methodologies set by professional fields and academic disciplines. It involves collecting necessary data, documenting critical information, and analyzing and interpreting that data/information.
Research is conducted to
- Assess the validity of a theory or an interpretive framework.
- Provide outcomes that can help with social, professional, and scientific evolution.
- Generate new concepts and questions for further inquiries.
In general, a professional researcher (usually a Psy.D. or Ph.D.) turns a specific problem into a hypothesis or an answerable question by analyzing previous studies on the related topic, performing experiments, and reviewing outcomes.
Research can be about anything. From science and business to psychology and political issues, there are literally countless topics to cover. One can categorize different types of research depending on the discipline and field.
For example, the outcome of a study is heavily influenced by the type of knowledge researchers aim to produce, the type of data they collect, the techniques used to sample those data, the timescale and location of the study, and many other factors. It is also important to note that a research project may not necessarily involve single research. Instead, it may utilize various research methodologies to generate effective outcomes.
Let’s dig deeper and find ways to categorize research methodologies and how they are different from each other.
8. According to the Depth of Scope
8.1 Exploratory Research
Steps to conduct exploratory research
Characteristics: Low cost; interactive and open-ended
Exploratory research is conducted to study problems that haven’t been clearly defined yet. The objective is to collect preliminary data that will help define problems and suggest hypotheses.
While it sounds difficult to analyze something that has no prior information, several proven methods exist to collect data and choose the best research design and variables that are important for the analysis. This includes in-depth interviews, focus groups, surveys, case studies, formal and informal discussions with management, employees, consumers, or competitors.
- A study to find out whether putting more items on the menu will generate more orders. If yes, then what items can be added with minimum expenses.
- An assessment of the role of business responsibility on consumer behavior in pharmaceutical in London.
Once the data is collected, the researcher continues the study through descriptive investigation. The findings can help other researchers figure out potential causes for the problem, which can be analyzed in detail in the following studies.
This type of research doesn’t provide a conclusive solution. Instead, it explores the topic with varying levels of depth. In simple terms, it’s a kind of initial research that forms the basis of more conclusive studies.
8.2 Descriptive Research
Characteristics: Cost-effective; quick to conduct; quantitative in nature
Descriptive research answers questions relating to “what,” describing the nature of demographics under study. It doesn’t focus on the “why” of the research subject. More specifically, it describes the attributes of the variables in the study without changing them.
Descriptive research is generally used to analyze the background of a problem and obtain insights required to carry out further study. It is utilized in many different ways by various businesses, especially when it’s about collecting data about the target audience.
- Market researchers want to analyze the habits of consumers.
- A university wants to understand if students will access online lessons rather than textbooks.
Since this type of research is effective in identifying patterns between variables and describing them, researchers can use the findings in further studies. It helps researchers to further figure out why certain patterns have been formed and how they are related to each other. Overall, it gives analysts a direction towards insightful research.
8.3 Explanatory Research
Characteristics: Allows for increased understanding of the phenomenon and its causes
Explanatory research describes why certain phenomena work the way they do. It answers the “why” questions by connecting different ideas and establishing cause-and-effect relationships.
Explanatory research isn’t conducted until researchers obtain enough information to begin to predict what will come next with some accuracy.
Most studies begin with exploratory research and then proceed to descriptive research and explanatory research. Explanatory research is conducted when a researcher has just started the analysis and wishes to understand the problem more clearly. Descriptive research defines the problem in detail. Explanatory research elaborates how different parameters come together and interact.
- A university conducting research to understand the connection between popularity and bullying.
- A study on students’ addiction to smartphones (that primarily explains the reason behind addiction and factors that contribute to the addiction).
Explanatory research usually involves literature research, in-depth interviews, focus group research, and case studies. Literature research involves gathering searching information from newspapers, journals, and other trusted sources. Interviews, on the other hand, involve an expert in the field who can explain the topic under investigation.
7. According To The Type Of Inference
7.1 Deductive Research
Characteristics: Explains causal relationships between concepts and variables; more narrow in nature
Deductive reasoning is a top-down approach — Researchers start with thinking up a theory about the topic of interest and then narrow it down into more specific hypotheses that can be tested.
In other words, deductive research follows the path of logic most closely. It begins with a theory and leads to a new hypothesis. The hypothesis is then tested against real-world data, and outcomes lead to a confirmation or a rejection of the hypothesis.
In 2009, a team of researchers hypothesized that law enforcement’s response would be less vigorous in regions that had a stronger history of racial violence. They tested it by examining the data on states’ lynching histories and hate crime responses and found that their hypothesis is true.
7.2 Inductive Research
Characteristics: More open-ended and exploratory
Inductive research is the exact opposite of deductive research. It starts with certain observations and leads to generalizations and theories. More specifically, this bottom-up approach involves identifying patterns, formulating some uncertain hypotheses, and developing general conclusions.
The conclusion drawn on the basis of the inductive method can be invalidated or never be proven.
Let’s say you observe 100 flights from affordable airlines. All of them were delayed by at least 15 minutes, which is in line with your theory. But you can never prove that the next low-cost flight will be delayed. Still, your conclusion can be made more reliable with more datasets.
Unlike deductive research which is perceived to be related to quantitative methods, the applications of inductive research are linked with qualitative methods of data collection and data analysis. Both inductive and deductive methods can be used together for a complete understanding of the topic.
7.3 Hypothetico-deductive Research
Characteristics: Belongs to the epistemological approach of practical science
Hypothetico-deductive is a method for developing scientific theories. It is based on observing reality to make a hypothesis, use deduction to form a conclusion, and finally, verify or disprove it by using empirical evidence derived from various observations experiments.
Suppose your laptop fails to switch on. You may consider a hypothesis that the battery is dead. So you predict that the laptop will work properly once you replace the battery. When you replace the battery, you conduct an experiment to test your prediction. If the laptop still doesn’t work, your hypothesis is disproved.
6. Based On Information Source
6.1 Primary Research
Characteristics: Self-conducted; could be expensive and time-consuming
Primary research is any kind of systematic investigation where researchers choose to be directly involved in the data collection process instead of relying on already acquired information.
In other words, researchers collect first-hand data from research subjects depending on the context of the research objectives. The data can be collected via interviews, focus groups, surveys, and observation techniques.
With this approach, researchers have full control of the data because they own the data.
Rafael Badziag, an entrepreneur and award-winning author, conducted face-to-face interviews with 21 self-made billionaires to understand the difference between financially successful people (millionaires) and financially super successful people (billionaires). Based on these in-depth interviews, he wrote a book titled 20 Principles of Billionaire Wealth and Success.
6.2 Secondary Research
Characteristics: Quick; inexpensive; based on data collected from previous studies
Secondary research is based on existing data that has already been analyzed, tested, and filtered. The existing data is collected and summarized to increase the overall effectiveness of the research.
Generally, data is taken from public libraries, websites, already filled in surveys, textbooks, encyclopedias, government documents, statistical databases, academic papers, and historical records.
- Review papers
- Books that analyze and interpret a certain topic
- Criticism of literature, artworks, or music
Most individuals and small businesses conduct secondary research because results can be obtained faster and more affordably than primary research. These studies vary in credibility depending on where the data is coming from and who is conducting the research.
5 According to the Data Type Used In Research
5.1 Qualitative Research
Characteristics: Explores complex human issues; easily adaptable to changes in the research environment
Qualitative research is primarily exploratory research, which means it relies on data obtained from first-hand observations, documents, recordings made in natural settings, artifacts, interviews, and focus groups. The data is non-statistical and unstructured or semi-structured.
In terms of design, qualitative research is flexible, adaptable, and can evolve over time. It can also be used to explain the outcome of quantitative research methods.
- A study of the perception of college students regarding technology and college readiness.
- A study of the psychological impact of unemployment on individuals.
Qualitative researchers dig deep into the topic to gain information about people’s thinking, attitudes, and motivations. They consider themselves “instruments” in research because every analysis and interpretation is filtered through their own personal lens.
Although this type of study brings a depth of understanding to the research questions, sometimes, it makes the results harder to analyze.
5.2 Quantitative Research
Characteristics: Deductive; step-wise; predetermined
Quantitative research is a systematic investigation of gathering and analyzing numerical data. It can be used to identify patterns, test casual relationships, make predictions, and generalize outcomes to wider populations.
There are numerous quantitative approaches that help researchers uncover various types of information on users. For instance, A/B testing is performed on finished products, while surveys are performed throughout the project’s design process.
The results obtained from quantitative research are logical, statistical, and unbiased. They can be generalized to an entire population to take necessary actions for improvement.
- Quantitative research into the stock market is used to develop algorithms to exploit investment hypotheses.
- Studies that include percentage volumes of all the compounds (gases) mixed in the Earth’s atmosphere.
This type of research is widely used to develop and test theories, models, and hypotheses pertaining to phenomena. It is mostly used in demography, economics, marketing, sociology, psychology, scientific studies; and less frequently in history and anthropology.
4 How Data Is Collected
4.1 Field Research
Biologists collecting data in the field
Characteristics: Expensive to conduct but can yield more detailed data
Field research is a method of collecting raw data outside the workplace setting. Although it is characterized as qualitative research, it often includes quantitative dimensions.
Field research is used in a wide range of disciplines, including biology, economics, sociology, anthropology, and earth and atmospheric sciences. Since researchers get to observe their subjects in their own setting, they can achieve more accurate and detailed data.
- Biologists conduct field research to observe how animals interact with their environments.
- Geologists collect lava samples to analyze how volcanoes work and predict future eruptions.
It can also be used to uncover information that may not be easily detectable, and that researchers may also be unaware of.
4.2 Laboratory research
Characteristics: Extraneous variables can be controlled; replication is more feasible
Studies conducted in a facility that provides controlled conditions are called lab research. They are used for testing chemical compounds, performing microbiological, microscopical, and biochemical tests, growing tissues in cultures, and conducting scientific experiments.
Laboratory research can also be described as a tightly controlled investigation, in which scientists can manipulate specific factors to determine if such manipulations produce a change in the subject. Also, the subject under investigation can be exposed to customized environments to observe its reaction.
- Testing hundreds of thousands of compounds to develop a medicine
- Conducting high energy physics experiments
- Running simulations to prove/disprove hypotheses
While lab studies have higher internal validity compared to field research, they tend to be less generalizable to the real world (which means they have less external validity).
4.3 Documentary Research
Characteristics: Inexpensive; useful for hypothesis
Documentary research involves the use of personal or official documents as the source of information. These documents could be anything, ranging from newspapers and statistical publications to maps and diaries.
It’s more like a content analysis that involves exploring existing data recorded in texts, media, and physical forms. The analysis can be either quantitative or qualitative (or both).
This type of research is mostly conducted by social scientists to examine various documents in the interest of historical or social value.
Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, wrote a book titled Suicide: A Study in Sociology in 1897. It was the first methodological study that used several documents for social research.
3. According to the Extent of Variable Manipulation
3.1 Experimental Research
Characteristics: Time-consuming process, but results are specific
Experimental research strictly adheres to a scientific research design. It includes three elements:
- A hypothesis
- Variables that can be manipulated
- Variables that can be calculated, measured, and compared
This type of research is always conducted in a controlled environment. Researchers gather data and test it in a specific manner. The outcomes either support or disprove the hypothesis.
Experimental research can be further grouped into two broad categories:
- True experimental research: relies on statistical analysis to prove or reject a hypothesis, which makes it the most accurate form of research.
- Quasi-experimental research is also known as natural experiments because researchers don’t have complete control over the independent variables. For instance, researchers looking at birth order and personality differences cannot manipulate the independent variable in the situation.
Forensic studies that examine splatter, decomposition process, and damages to objects, can be conducted precisely in a controlled environment. Another example would be determining several aspects of a product, such as the concentration levels on Ethyl Alcohol within antibacterial hand sanitizers.
3.2 Non-Experimental Research
Characteristics: Relies on correlations, surveys, or case studies
In a non-experimental study, researchers cannot manipulate or control the predictor variable or subjects. Instead, they rely on observation, interpretation, and interactions to draw a conclusion. This means researchers cannot demonstrate a true cause-and-effect relationship.
It is important to note that non-experimental research doesn’t mean nonscientific. The experimenter relies on correlations, case studies, or surveys to come to a conclusion.
Let’s say you want to analyze how violet men and women are in a particular state. In this case, the predictor variable for violence is gender. And since you cannot change this variable (you cant turn men into women and women into men, back and forth), you need to perform a non-experimental study.
This type of study is conducted when the hypothesis relates to a single variable (how precise are people’s first impressions?) or the research question relates to a non-causal statistical relationship between variables (is there a link between mathematical intelligence and verbal intelligence?).
2. Time-Dependent Studies
2.1 Cross-Sectional research
Characteristics: Inexpensive; observational in nature
Cross-sectional research involves analyzing data from a population, or a representative subset, at a specific point in time. The members participating in the research are selected based on certain variables of interest.
Since these studies capture a snapshot of a single moment in time, they may not provide definite information about cause-and-effect relationships. However, they allow researchers to compare several different variables at the same time.
- Scientists in healthcare can conduct a cross-sectional study to understand how adults ages 18-35 across London are prone to obesity.
- Analysts can conduct cross-sectional research in school to see how students in the same grade respond to changes in the curriculum.
This type of research is often used in medicine, social science, and developmental psychology. It is mostly used to describe specific characteristics of the population, such as the prevalence of an illness, and to support further research and experimentation.
2.2 Longitudinal Research
Characteristics: Expensive; takes a longer time, from years to even decades
A longitudinal study is a type of correlational research that involves examining variables over an extended period of time. This means researchers conduct many observations of the same subject over a period of time, sometimes lasting a few decades.
Since scientists can observe changes over time, this type of study can provide unique insights that might not be possible any other way.
- Researchers may analyze the changes in cholesterol levels among men over 50 who walk daily for a period of 10 years.
- The Harvard Study of Adult Development is one of the world’s longest studies of adult life — researchers have collected vast amounts of data on participants’ physical and mental health for over 80 years.
Although longitudinal studies can provide a wealth of information on a topic, they are expensive and difficult to carry out. They often require many researchers and participants, some of whom may leave the project before its completion.
1. According To Its Purpose
1.1 Theoretical Research
Characteristics: Answers “what” and “why” questions without commercial goals
Theoretical research is a logical exploration of a system of beliefs and assumptions. The researchers theorize how a particular system and its environment act under certain conditions and then study the implications of how it is defined.
In general, theoretical research follows an argumentative pattern and is organized around the solution of a problem. It addresses questions like “what’s the point of the study,” “why is this topic relevant,” “what has been done in the field so far,” “what are the current problems,” “what solution may be offered,” and “why is this solution feasible or impractical.”
- A case study of graphene research by temporal and geographic analysis
- Black holes hint towards De Sitter-Matrix theory
This type of research is important to understand the edge cases, bounds, and emergent behaviors of a system. Since it seeks to answer fundamental questions for the human being, it is common to all areas of knowledge, from chemists, biologists, and engineers to sociologists, philosophers, and historians.
1.2 Applied Research
Characteristics: Targets real-world problems; has specific commercial objectives
Applied research involves using scientific methods and knowledge to solve practical problems that often have an impact on life, health, work, and overall well-being.
In other words, applied research is the practical application science. It examines and utilizes accumulated theories, techniques, and knowledge for a specific purpose.
Applied research may also use a more provisional conceptual framework, like pillar questions or working hypotheses, because it has a provisional close-to-the-data and close-to-the-problem orientation.
In most cases, applied research has specific commercial objectives related to procedures, products, or services.
- A company might hire an applied researcher to establish rules or standards for hiring employees that are best suited for specific jobs.
- A hospital might conduct applied research to determine the most effective way of preparing patients for certain types of surgical procedures.
One can say that applied research is conducted with the goal of improving human living standards. For instance, researchers may study ways and means to treat a specific disease, increase crop production, improve the energy efficiency of homes or modes of transportation, etc.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the purpose of conducting research?
Research is conducted to enhance society by advancing knowledge through the development of ideas, concepts, and theories. A research purpose is met through formulating hypotheses, gathering relevant data, examining results, drawing conclusions, implementing findings into real-world applications, and coming up with new research questions.
From discovering antibiotics to forecasting weather, researchers are constantly discovering new ways to understand the world and how it works — with the ultimate goal of improving human lives.
What are the main characteristics of research?
Following are the most important characteristics of research in any field:
- The research must focus on priority problems
- It should be systematic and logical
- It should be generative and action-oriented
- Findings of one researcher should be made available to other researchers
What is market research?
Market research is conducted directly with potential customers to determine the viability of a new product or service. It is either conducted by companies or outsourced to agencies that have expertise in the process. It can be done through focus groups, surveys, or product testing.
The research allows companies and businesses to discover their target market and get feedback from customers about their interest in the product or service. It provides a wealth of information about the customers’ needs and demands, which helps businesses plan and strategize accordingly.
How to conduct accurate and effective research?
Conducting quality research is a systematic process, which involves various steps:
- Define a research question and judge the scope of the project
- Find all possible sources of information
- Synthesize, analyze and integrate prior knowledge
- Select the most appropriate investigation methods and research tools
- Devise and carry out an experiment yourself
- Report research findings and test them in real-world (if applicable)
If you are writing an academic paper, explain how you analyzed data and minimized the impact of any unexpected obstacles. Preempt major critiques of your methodology and show that you made the research as rigorous as possible. And don’t forget to give credit where credit is due; cite your sources properly.