Research is the collection and evaluation of information about a particular subject. The overarching purpose of research is to answer questions and generate new knowledge.
Types of Research
Two broad approaches to research are commonly recognized, though these different approaches may overlap. Put simply, quantitative research involves the systematic collection and analysis of data, while qualitative research involves "the studied use and collection of a variety of empirical materials," which may include "case study, personal experience, introspection, life story, interviews, artifacts, and cultural texts and productions" (The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research, 2005). Finally, mixed-method research (sometimes called triangulation) has been defined as the incorporation of various qualitative and quantitative strategies within a single project.
There are other ways of classifying different research methods and approaches. For example, sociology professor Russell Schutt observes that " deductive research begins at the point of theory, inductive research begins with data but ends with theory, and descriptive research begins with data and ends with empirical generalizations"
(Investigating the Social World, 2012).
In the words of psychology professor Wayne Weiten, "No single research method is ideal for all purposes and situations. Much of the ingenuity in research involves selecting and tailoring the method to the question at hand"
(Psychology: Themes and Variations, 2014).
College Research Assignments
"College research assignments are an opportunity for you to contribute to an intellectual inquiry or debate. Most college assignments ask you to pose a question worth exploring, to read widely in search of possible answers, to interpret what you read, to draw reasoned conclusions, and to support those conclusions with valid and well-documented evidence. Such assignments may at first seem overwhelming, but if you pose a question that intrigues you and approaches it like a detective, with genuine curiosity, you will soon learn how rewarding research can be.
"Admittedly, the process takes time: time for researching and time for drafting, revising, and documenting the paper in the style recommended by your instructor. Before beginning a research project, you should set a realistic schedule of deadlines."
(Diana Hacker, The Bedford Handbook, 6th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2002)
"Talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas. Do research. Feed your talent. Research not only wins the war on cliche, it's the key to victory over fear and its cousin, depression."
(Robert McKee, Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting. HarperCollins, 1997)
A Framework for Conducting Research
"Beginning researchers need to start by using the seven steps listed below. The path is not always linear, but these steps provide a framework for conducting research…
(Leslie F. Stebbins, Student Guide to Research in the Digital Age. Libraries Unlimited, 2006)
- Define your research question
- Ask for help
- Develop a research strategy and locate resources
- Use effective search techniques
- Read critically, synthesize, and seek meaning
- Understand the scholarly communication process and cite sources
- Critically evaluate sources"
Write What You Know
"I refer to the writing motto 'Write what you know,' and problems emerge when it's interpreted to mean that first-grade teachers should (only?) write about being a first-grade teacher, short-story writers living in Brooklyn should write about being a short-story writer living in Brooklyn, and so forth…
"Writers who are intimately familiar with their subject produce more knowing, more confident and, as a result, stronger results…
"But that command is not perfect, implying, as it does, that one's written output should be limited to one's passions. Some people don't feel passionate about one given subject, which is regrettable but shouldn't consign them to the sidelines of the world of prose. Fortunately, this conundrum has an escape clause: you can actually acquire knowledge. In journalism, this is called 'reporting,' and in nonfiction, 'research… ' The idea is to investigate the subject till you can write about it with complete confidence and authority. Being a serial expert is actually one of the cool things about the very enterprise of writing: You learn 'em and leave 'em."
(Ben Yagoda, "Should We Write What We Know?" The New York Times, July 22, 2013)
The Lighter Side of Research
- "Poking a dead raccoon is not research." (Bart Simpson, The Simpsons)
- "'Google' is not a synonym for 'research.'" (Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol, 2009)
- "I find that a great part of the information I have was acquired by looking up something and finding something else on the way." (Franklin Pierce Adams, quoted in Reader's Digest, October 1960)