What is Research? Types, Purpose, Characteristics, Process

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What is Research?

Research means a systematic and objective study to find facts which can be answers to questions and solutions to problems.

Social sciences Encyclopedia defines research as the manipulation of things, concepts or symbols for the purpose of generalizing to extend, correct as to verify knowledge, whether that knowledge aid in the construction of a theory or in the practice of art.

In a different way effort to reach definiteness or certainty, to collect facts and ascertain truth constitute research. In research, we examine facts for truth. When facts are repeatedly examined and tested, truth is established. This leads to certainty and incorporates a generalization which is unique.

Types of Research

Basically, research is classified in two types.

  • Basic or pure research
  • Applied or practical research

Basic or pure research

Basic or pure research explores broad, inclusive laws, rules, theories and tendencies with precise causation. Pure research is an intellectual response to great questions and seemingly difficult causal complexities.

Theory of gravity (Newton), a theory of relativity (Einstein), and birth of the universe theory (Hoyle and Naralikar theory) are examples of pure research. Such pure research may or may not be practical and socially useful immediately.

Applied or practical research

Applied or practical research aims at making existing, available knowledge useful in solving present problems of the society and individuals vis-a-vis production, distribution, consumption, and minimization of pain.

What is Social Research?

According to Pauline Young, social research is defined in the following words. “We may define social research as the systematic method of discovering new facts or verifying old facts, through sequence, interrelationship, causal explanations and the natural laws which cover them.

Prof. M. H. Copal, a senior Indian social scientist defined social research as the study of phenomena resulting from an interaction between different human groups in the process of their living together.

This study helps us in generalizing, theorizing and policy planning.

Social research is intrinsically dynamic and involves a large number of variables, some controllable some not so controllable.

As a result, social research involves a process of continuous revision of existing laws, theories, periodic refutation and/or modification of the same laws and theories. Freshly generated or collected data i.e. primary data give us new insights and evidence to arrive at new conclusions.

Purpose of Research

Purpose and functions of social research can be enumerated as below

  • Search for truth
  • Application of knowledge for better human life.
  • Examining phenomena or events for identifying causes and establishing generalizations, and theories about human behaviour.
  • Predicting the future on the basis of existing knowledge and study methods.
  • Verifying, correlating or modifying existing generalizations or theories, differences of opinion and settling debates if any.

Characteristics of Research

Following are the essential characteristics of an ideal researcher.

  • An unquenchable and strong desire to find out the truth

  • Ability to identify similarity in diverse situations and diversity in similar Situations

  • Curiosity, quest, doubt, patient, slow thinking, willingness to reexamine, discipline, no dogmatism are according to Francis Beacon, essential attributes of a researcher

  • According to John Thompson, a researcher should have
    • insistence for data
    • caution in statements
    • clear right/understanding
    • awareness about multiplicity in varied social interrelations

  • According to Carl Pearson, disciplined imagination is the distinguishable characteristics of an ideal researcher

  • According to Sidney and Beatrice Web, a researcher must always avoid the influence of his personal biases

  • A researcher, according to C. Luther Fry, must possess intellectual honesty and integrity

  • According to Spaher and Swanson, a researcher must love his work, have abundant patience and perseverance, insist on authority and correctness of data, posses equity of consideration, thoughtfulness, and broadly responsible and always focused

Research process

To make your research efforts successful and socially meaningful, the whole approach has to be carefully planned and executed step by step in a scientific and logical way. It is, therefore, necessary to explain and present steps and design of any research work carefully.

Following are the steps in research process:

  • Explain the objectives of research, present the problem and state the hypothesis/es.

  • Elaborate on the research design mainly with reference to methodology of data collection and analysis.

  • System of data collection with clear understanding of sampling techniques and/or census approach.

  • Description, tabulation, coding, analysis of data and statement of analytical results/findings.

  • Interpretation of these findings/results and reaching objective conclusions.

  • Attempting reliable prediction.

Selection of the research topic/question is the first critically important step. Practical problems, emerging needs, scientific curiosity, intellectual quest values of life, life experiences are the main sources of research topics or questions.

Secondly, formation of the hypothesis is the next step. Before we start collecting, tabulating and analyzing data, it is necessary to have ‘a priori’ causal relationship which may explain the phenomenon under study, this is known as hypothesis/es.

A hypothesis/es explain the cause-effect relationship at a logical level. The hypothesis gives us basic concepts on the basis of which we collect data generate data, for empirical evidence.

In formulation of hypothesis, we in a way, organize our research question in a scientific way. The words hypothesis and concepts are explained elaborately in subsequent units.

In formulating research question and research design it is necessary that

  • the researcher has advanced in-depth reading in related literature,
  • he is fully aware of the current theories and research in related area
  • he has close interaction with peers in the field and
  • he must possess an inquisitive imaginative scientific mindset.

Thirdly, it is necessary to have a well planned research design. It helps in focussing work, precise explanation of events / questions and most importantly a research design helps in minimization of variance in the research system.

According to R. L. Ackoff there are two types of research design- Ideal Research Design – a design without practical limitation, the other research design is practical / feasible research design. In this, we consider limitations like time, resources availability of data and intellectual skills of the researcher.

Normally a practical research design has four important constituents.

  • Sampling Design
  • Statistical design
  • Observational Design
  • Operational Design

In preparing a practical research design, the researcher has to consider following aspects,

i. What is the primary research focus?
ii. What is the data required for the research?
iii. What are the exact objectives of the research?
iv. Sources of data?
v. Places to be visited for research
vi. Time limits
vii. A number of entities to be involved in the research
viii. Criteria of sampling
ix. Methods of data collection
x. Methods of data coding classification and tabulation.
xi. Material / financial resources available for research.

Broadly, there are five types of research design, according to Mac-Grant.

i. Controlled experiment
ii. Study / case study
iii. Survey sample / census
iv. Investigation
v. Action research

According to Seltiz and others, there are basically three types of research design,

i. Exploratory or formulative
ii. Descriptive or diagnostic
iii. Studies testing causal hypothesis.

Exploratory research relies heavily on review of literature, review of experience and entities/cases encouraging intuitions or inspiration. This depends heavily on the attitude of scientist, intensity of/or depth of his study/integrative powers of the researcher normally, reaction of indifferent individuals, behaviour of marginal individuals/groups, developmental transition, isolates, deviants and pathological cases and pure cases constitute factors which induce a researcher to explore.

In the case of many social sciences, majority of researchers collect and describe information regarding various groups, communities and sets of experiences consumption patterns, saving habits, investment, likes and dislikes, work culture, price responses, management decisions and practices, entrepreneurial behaviours, business leadership etc are such areas of research.

In the case of studies testing causal hypothesis the main objective of research is to verify an assumed causation, either positively or negatively. In such researches, experimental method is more frequently used.

However, with the passage of time and revolutionary changes in technology of analysis, experimental method is now used, as in natural sciences, in social sciences also. In a very formal way experiment is a way of organizing evidence so as to reach inference about the appropriateness of a hypothesis which essentially is a statement of relationship between a cause (set of causes) and a result (set of results).

In the case of experimental design two approaches are mainly practiced

  • after only experiment
  • before after experiment.

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