There are a lot of disciplines with many subject areas. However, in every subject area, our knowledge is incomplete and problems are waiting to be solved. Problems are like holes in our knowledge; they are unresolved; we must fill the holes and resolve them by asking relevant questions and seeking answers to them through systematic research. This article discusses what research is.
Before we start our discussion on research, it is important to educate ourselves on what research is not.
- Research is not mere information gathering.
- Research is not mere transportation of facts from one location to another.
- Research is not merely rummaging through files for action.
- Research is not a catchword used to get attention.
- Research is not simply a compilation of quotations. Even though quotations are used to document and clarify findings, research is not the result of complied quotations.
- Research is not simply re-writing other people’s words and ideas into a neat description.
- Research is not a defense or apology of one’s own conviction.
- Research is not polemical; its objective is to clearly present truth, not to fight the position of other people, even if those may be erroneous. In good research, truth is presented in such a logical and convincing way that there is no need for harsh language.
- Research is not the presentation of one’s own opinions. Research demands that the researcher must show facts, data, information. Even though the conclusions one reaches are sometimes modified by one’s personal opinions, whoever reads the research report must be able to follow the logic and the evidence to see how the researcher reached the conclusions.
- Research, especially for theology and religion students is not preaching. It is a presentation of facts that seeks to inform and convince the mind. What is put on paper must stand, just as it is written, without any further embellishment.
What is Research?
Research is a systematic process of collecting, analyzing and interpreting information (data) in order to increase our understanding of the phenomenon about which we are interested or convinced. In conducting research, we intentionally set out to enhance our understanding of a phenomenon so that we can communicate what we discover to a larger scientific community.
Distinctive Characteristics of Scientific Research
Scientific research has some distinctive characteristics.
- Research originates with a question or problem. The world is filled with unanswered questions and unresolved problems. Wherever we turn, we see things that cause us to wonder, to speculate, to ask questions. The questions we ask, spark the first igniting chain of reaction that leads to the research process. So an inquisitive mind is the beginning of the research.
- Research requires a clear articulation of a goal. In doing research, the ultimate goal must be set forth clearly and precisely in a grammatically complete sentence. The statement answers the question, “What problem do we intend to solve?” It is essential for the success of any research undertaking.
- Research requires a specific plan for proceeding. Research is a carefully planned attack, a search-and-discover mission explicitly outlined in advance. Researchers plan their overall research design and specific research methods in a purposeful way so that they can acquire data relevant to their research problem. Depending on the research question, different designs and methods will be more or less appropriate. Thus, in addition to identifying the specific goal of your research, you must also identify how you propose to reach your goal. So the researcher needs to ask a lot of questions at the formative stages of the research project: Where are the data? Do any existing data address the problem? If the data exists, are you likely to have access to them? And if you have access to the data, what will you do with them after they are in your possession? These questions and many others merely hint the fact that planning and design cannot be postponed. Each of the questions just listed must have an answer early in the research process.
- Research usually divides the principal problem into more manageable sub-problems. From a design standpoint, it is often helpful to break the main research problem into several sub-problems that, when solved, will resolve the main problem. For example, you want to move from Accra to Kumasi.
Main problem: How do I move from Accra to Kumasi?
Sub-problems: (a) What is the most direct route?
(b) How far do I travel?
(c) Which route do I take to get me to my destination?
Thus, by closely inspecting the principal problem, the researcher often discovers important sub-problems that must be addressed before
the principal question can be solved.
- Research is guided by the specific research problem, question or hypothesis. After stating the problem and its attendant sub-problems, 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 the phenomenon under investigation. It may direct your thinking to possible sources of information that will aid in solving one or more sub-problems, and in the process, the principal research problem.In research, the hypothesis is rarely proved or disproved; instead, they are either supported or not supported by the data. When the data runs contrary to a particular 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. If a new data contradicts a particular theory, a researcher will either modify it to better account for that data or reject the theory altogether in favor of an alternative explanation.
- Research accepts certain critical assumptions. In research, assumptions are equivalent to axioms in geometry. Assumptions are self-evident truths, the sine qua non of research. The assumption must be valid or else the research is meaningless. For this reason, researchers in an academic environment set forth a statement of their assumptions as the bedrock upon which their study must rest. 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 not be born out in 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. Two assumptions that underlie almost all research are: (i) The phenomenon under investigation is somewhat lawful and predictable; it is not comprised of completely random event. (ii) Certain cause-effect relationships can count for the pattern observed in the phenomenon.Aside from such basic ideas as these, careful researchers state their assumptions, so that others inspecting the research project may evaluate it in accordance with their “own” assumptions. For the beginning researcher, it is better to be explicit to take too much for granted.
- Research requires the collection and interpretation of data in an attempt to resolve the problem that initiated research. After a researcher has isolated the problem, it is divided into appropriate sub-problems, 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 that they can be interpreted.Data, events and observations are, in and of themselves, “only” data, events and observations – nothing more. The significance of the data depends on how the researcher extracts “meaning” from them. In research, data interpreted 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. One researcher may interpret data in a certain way, and another using the same data may arrive at an entirely different conclusion. The question is, which one is right? Perhaps they both are; perhaps neither is. But may have merely posed new problems for others to try to solve. The truth is that different minds often find different meanings in the same set of facts.Underlying and unifying any research project is its methodology. The research methodology directs the whole endeavor. It controls the study, dictates how the data are acquired, arranges them in logical relationships, sets up an approach for refining and synthesizing them, suggest a manner in which the meanings that lie below the surface of the data become manifest, and finally yields a conclusion or series of conclusions that lead to an expansion of knowledge. Thus research methodology has two primary functions: (i) To control and dictate the acquisition of data. (ii) To assemble the data after their acquisition and extract meaning from them.The second of these functions is what we mean by the phrase “interpretation of the data.” Data demand interpretation. But no rule, formula, or procedure can lead the researcher unerringly to a correct interpretation. Interpretation is inevitably subjective; it depends entirely on the hypotheses, assumptions, and logical reasoning processes of the researcher.
The Research Process
Research is, by its nature, cyclical or, more exactly helical. The research process follows a cycle and begins simply. It follows logical, developmental steps: (a) A questioning mind observes a particular situation and asks, why? What caused that? How come? (This is the subjective origin of research). (b) One question becomes formally stated as a problem. (This is the overt beginning of research). (c) The problem is divided into several simpler, more specific sub-problems. (d) Preliminary data are gathered that appear to bear on the problem. (e) The data seem to point to a tentative solution to the problem. A guess is made; a hypothesis or guiding question is formed. (f) Data are collected more systematically. (g) The body of data is processed and interpreted. (h) A discovery is made; a conclusion is reached. (i) The tentative hypothesis is either supported by the data or is not supported; the question is either answered (partially or completely) or not answered. (ii) The cycle is complete.
The resolution of the problem or the tentative answer to the question complete the cycle. Such is the format of all research. Different academic disciplines merely use different routes to arrive at the same destination.
Research is rarely conclusive. In a truer sense, the research cycle might be more accurately conceived as a “helix” or spiral of research. In exploring an arena, one comes across additional problems that need resolving, and so the process must begin anew.
To view research in this way is to invest it with a dynamic quality that is its true nature – a far cry from the conventional view, which sees research as a one-time act that is static, self -contained an end in itself.
Every research soon learns that genuine research yields as many problems as it resolves. Such is the nature of the acquisition of knowledge.
We have discussed research and its scientific distinctive characteristics. Research is a systematic process of studying a phenomenon and communicating its findings to a larger scientific community. Research is cyclical in nature. Research is rarely conclusive. Good research creates problems for further research.
- Explain the term “research” highlighting its characteristics.
- In what sense can research be said to be “scientific”?
- With the aid of a flowchart, illustrating the research process.
Creswell, John W., Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Method Approaches, 5th Edition (SAGE Publication, 2018).
Leedy, Paul D & Jeanne Ellis Ormrod. Practical Research: Planning and Design, 12th Edition (New Jersey: Pearson Education International, 2019).
This article is published with the kind courtesy of the author – Prof. Jonathan Edward Tetteh Kuwornu-Adjaottor. He is an Associate Professor of New Testament and Mother Tongue Biblical Hermeneutics in the Department of Religious Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana.