Research has always been an integral and very essential part of human life for a long time, whether in academia or wider society. In some ways, research can be seen as a measure of man’s intelligence as she grapples with her existence and environment.
The concept of research and its importance are briefly discussed below.
What is research?
The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines research as “a careful study of a subject, especially in order to discover new facts or information about it”
For the Cambridge English Dictionary, research is “a detailed study of a subject, especially in order to discover (new) information or reach a (new) understanding.”
In a nutshell, research can be seen as a planned, creative and systematic study or investigation of a subject matter to gain more knowledge and solve problems. A good example is the recent intensive research to find coronavirus vaccines. Researchers collect, process, analyze, interpret and utilizedata/information about a particular area of interest.
Etymologically, the word research comes from the French word “recherché” which means “to go about seeking” Recherche metamorphosed from an older French word “recerchier” (to search).
Research cuts across all sectors of the economy and all fields of knowledge. Professionals usually conduct research to find solutions to problems in their professions or just to generate more insight that can improve the understanding of a particular subject matter.
Types of research
Because of its need and application in very different spheres of life, research can be approached from different perspectives or methods. However, the scientific method for conducting research is the most widely used. A researcher using the scientific method empirically measures any theory, concept, or phenomenon of interest before arriving at a conclusion (and recommendations). The scientific method as we know it today was first developed by Ibn Haytham in his most influential work The Book of Optics during the Islamic Golden age. By the 17th century, the method had become an integral part of science. The scientific method usually follows the following steps:
- Identifying a problem or subject matter of interest
- Reviewing related literature on the subject matter (theoretical and empirical review)
- Formulation of research questions and/or hypothesis
- Constructing a research design
- Data collection/measurement
- Analysis and interpretation of data
- Communication of research findings to the scientific community for scrutiny and approval
There are two types of scientific research:
- Quantitative research
In quantitative research, numeric data is collected and analyzed. Quantitative data is mostly used to test hypotheses, measure variables precisely, or obtain in-depth statistical insight or inference about the researched sample. Such inference can then be used to generalize about the population from which the sample was drawn. An entire population can also be studied to yield a consensus. Quantitative research is very popular in the natura sciences.
- Qualitative research
In contrast to quantitative research, qualitative research collects and analyzes data that is non-numeric in nature. It often helps to describe ideas, learn about socio-cultural phenomena, comprehend thoughts and experiences, and explore a specific context to obtain further knowledge. It is mainly used in the humanities and some social sciences.
There are several forms of both quantitative and qualitative research.
Importance of research
- Research solves problems
Whether it is a technological breakthrough in engineering or a scientific breakthrough in health, research has always helped humanity tackle teething problems. Advancements made in all areas of life are usually powered by research. This is why it is a very important aspect of education and manufacturing, to mention a few.
- Research is a good mental exercise
Research tends to be a rigorous process that stretches human thinking or imagination. It involves the use of mental faculties to probe an area of interest (such as a theory) through logical processes like inductive and deductive reasoning.
- It expands knowledge
Man has always been inquisitive throughout the ages. In the field of astronomy, for example, the knowledge she has acquired over time through research has helped her adapt to her planet and the whole universe at large. Moreover, because of the vast nature of the universe’s components, constant research is fundamental for continuous knowledge about it. Another instance is in the area of climate change where research is helping man understand it better as well as how to tackle it.
- Research creates employment
For a significant part of man’s history, research has played an important role as a job creator. Major breakthroughs in research often lead to the establishment of new industries and creation of millions of jobs. An example is the internet which began as a research project and has since helped establish new industries such as web designing, programming, digital marketing, eCommerce, copywriting, and many others. Another good example is the aviation industry that emerged after the efforts of pioneer aviators such as the Wright brothers.
- Used to gauge public opinion
Some forms of research such as opinion polls, market research, and other surveys are used to gather useful information. Gathered information can help the researchers analyze and/or predict the whole population of interest (provided the sample is representative enough). Note that such predictions may not always come to pass since human nature is dynamic rather than static.
- It establishes the credibility of existing knowledge
Research not only breaks new grounds but also helps to concretize, modify or nullify existing knowledge. It is a good way of testing the real-life applicability of educational principles, and theories. Such tests can lead to modification of existing theories or act as building blocks for new ones.
Tips for conducting research
- Try and fill gaps in knowledge – Research should help update existing knowledge by finding and filling gaps in the existing stock of knowledge. Even if the research has been conducted previously, you can approach it from the specific gap that you have observed that you seek to fill.
- Plan your research – planning is essential for success in most activities in life. Research is not an exception. Moreover, research can be expensive, time, and energy-consuming. It, therefore, requires meticulous planning. Check out our other articles on planning your research.
- Avoid bias/subjectivity – to ensure valid and reliable research, all forms of bias (scientific or personal) must be avoided. Research findings must be based on appropriate scientific methods alone.
- Identify the most suitable method for your research – like noted above, research can be approached from different perspectives or methods. Hence, not only should your research focus on your field but you must also determine your most appropriate research design, according to your research objectives. An appropriate design helps answer your research questions and/or resolve your research hypothesis.
- Collect dependable data – data collection is one of the most important stages of the research process. To ensure that your research is valid and reliable, you must gather data that is relevant to what you are studying.
- Give credit to whom credit is due – plagiarism is a serious intellectual offense. Therefore, all sources of information you borrow must be properly cited.
- Authenticate your sources – Endeavour to ascertain the veracity of all external sources of information in your research. If you have sourced information from the internet, for example, ensure you cross-check such information carefully.
Research is man’s tool to find answers to nagging questions, develop his knowledge and understanding and find solutions to all kinds of problems. It is hard to imagine modern life as it is today with research. Most scientific and technological innovations are products of rigorous research. Research is therefore a fundamental aspect of human existence.