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Research: Meaning, Types and Characteristics
When you say that you are undertaking a research study to find answers to a question, you are implying that the process;
- is being undertaken within a framework of a set of philosophies (approaches);
- uses procedures, methods, and techniques that have been tested for their validity and reliability;
- is designed to be unbiased and objective.
Philosophies mean approaches, e.g., qualitative, quantitative, and the academic discipline in which you have been trained.
Validity means that correct procedures have been applied to find answers to a question.
Reliability refers to the quality of a measurement procedure that provides repeatability and accuracy.
Unbiased and objective means that you have taken each step in an unbiased manner and drawn each conclusion to the best of your ability and without introducing your own vested interest.
(Bias is a deliberate attempt to either conceal or highlight something).
Adherence to the three criteria mentioned above enables the process to be called ‘research’.
However, the degree to which these criteria are expected to be fulfilled varies from discipline to discipline and so the meaning of ‘research’ differs from one academic discipline to another.
The difference between research and non-research activity is, in the way we find answers: the process must meet certain requirements to be called research. We can identify these requirements by examining some definitions of research.
The word research is composed of two syllables, “re” and “search.” “re” is a prefix meaning again, a new or over again and “search” is a verb meaning to examine closely and carefully, to test and try, or to probe. Together they form a noun describing a careful, systematic, patient study and investigation in some field of knowledge, undertaken to establish facts or principles.
Research is a structured enquiry that utilizes acceptable scientific methodology to solve problems and create new knowledge that is generally applicable.
Scientific methods consist of systematic observation, classification and interpretation of data.
Characteristics of Research
Research is a process of collecting, analyzing and interpreting information to answer questions. But to qualify as research, the process must have certain characteristics: it must, as far as possible, be controlled, rigorous, systematic, valid and verifiable, empirical and critical.
Controlled– in real life there are many factors that affect an outcome. The concept of control implies that, in exploring causality in relation to two variables (factors), you set up your study in a way that minimizes the effects of other factors affecting the relationship. This can be achieved to a large extent in the physical sciences (cookery, bakery), as most of the research is done in a laboratory. However, in the social sciences (Hospitality and Tourism) it is extremely difficult as research is carried out on issues related to human beings living in society, where such controls are not possible. Therefore, in Hospitality and Tourism, as you cannot control external factors, you attempt to quantify their impact.
Rigorous-you must be scrupulous in ensuring that the procedures followed to find answers to questions are relevant, appropriate and justified. Again, the degree of rigour varies markedly between the physical and social sciences and within the social sciences.
Systematic-this implies that the procedure adopted to undertake an investigation follow a certain logical sequence. The different steps cannot be taken in a haphazard way. Some procedures must follow others.
Valid and verifiable-this concept implies that whatever you conclude on the basis of your findings is correct and can be verified by you and others.
Empirical-this means that any conclusion drawn are based upon hard evidence gathered from information collected from real-life experiences or observations.
Critical-critical scrutiny of the procedures used and the methods employed is crucial to a research enquiry. The process of investigation must be foolproof and free from drawbacks. The process adopted and the procedures used must be able to withstand critical scrutiny.
For a process to be called research, it is imperative that it has the above characteristics.
Types of Research
Research can be classified from three perspectives:
- Application of research study
- Objectives in undertaking the research
- Inquiry Mode employed
Based on Application:
From the point of view of the application, there are two broad categories of research:
- Pure Research
- Applied Research,
Pure research (Fundamental) involves developing and testing theories and hypotheses that are intellectually challenging to the researcher but may or may not have a practical application at the present time or in the future. The knowledge produced through pure research is sought in order to add to the existing body of research methods.
Applied research (Action Research) is done to solve specific, practical questions; for policy formulation, administration and understanding of a phenomenon. It can be exploratory but is usually descriptive. It is almost always done on the basis of basic research.
Applied research can be carried out by academic or industrial institutions. Often, an academic institution such as a university will have a specific applied research program funded by an industrial partner interested in that program.
Based on Objectives:
From the viewpoint of objectives, research can be classified as
Descriptive research attempts to describe systematically a situation, problem, phenomenon, service or programme, or provides information about, say, the living condition of a community, or describes attitudes towards an issue.
Correlational research attempts to discover or establish the existence of a relationship/ interdependence between two or more aspects of a situation.
Explanatory research attempts to clarify why and how there is a relationship between two or more aspects of a situation or phenomenon.
Exploratory research is undertaken to explore an area where little is known or to investigate the possibilities of undertaking a particular research study (feasibility study pilot study).
In practice, most studies are a combination of the first three categories.
Based on Inquiry Mode:
From the process adopted to find the answer to re search questions; the two approaches are:
- Structured approach
- Unstructured approach
Structured approach: The structured approach to inquiry is usually classified as quantitative research. Everything that forms the research process- objectives, design, sample, and the questions that you plan to ask of respondents- is predetermined. It is more appropriate to determine the extent of a problem, issue or phenomenon by quantifying the variation.
e.g. how many people have a particular problem? How many people hold a particular attitude?
Unstructured approach: The unstructured approach to inquiry is usually classified as qualitative research. This approach allows flexibility in all aspects of the research process.
It is more appropriate to explore the nature of a problem, issue or phenomenon without quantifying it. The main objective is to describe the variation in a phenomenon, situation or attitude.
e,g, description of an observed situation, the historical enumeration of events, an account of different opinions different people have about an issue, description of working condition in a particular industry.
Both approaches have their place in research. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.
In many studies, there is a combination of both qualitative and quantitative approaches.
For example, suppose you have to find the types of cuisine/accommodation available in a city and the extent of their popularity.
Types of cuisine are the qualitative aspect of the study as finding out about them entails a description of the culture and cuisine
The extent of their popularity is the quantitative aspect as it involves estimating the number of people who visit a restaurant serving such cuisine and calculating the other indicators that reflect the extent of popularity.
Positivism and Post-Positivism Approach
Positivism argues for the existence of a true and objective reality that can be studied by applying the methods and principles of natural sciences and scientific inquiry. It maintains that “the object of study is independent of researchers; knowledge is discovered and verified through direct observations or measurements of phenomena; facts are established by taking apart a phenomenon to examine its component parts.” According to this paradigm, the role of the researcher is to provide material for the development of laws by testing theories.
Positivists believe in five principles which include
- Phenomenalism (knowledge confirmed by the senses can be regarded as knowledge),
- Deductivism (the purpose of theory is to generate hypotheses that can be tested to make laws),
- Inductivism (the gathering of facts provides the basis for laws and knowledge),
- Objectivism (science should be value-free) and
- Scientific statements
Post Positivism is considered a contemporary paradigm that developed as a result of the criticism of positivism. Like positivists, post positivists also believe in the existence of a single reality, however, they acknowledge that reality can never be fully known and efforts to understand reality are limited owing to the human beings’ sensory and intellectual limitations.
The aim of post positivist research is also a prediction and explanation. Like positivists, post positivists also strive to be objective, neutral and ensure that the findings fit with the existing knowledge base. However, unlike positivists, they acknowledge and spell out any predispositions that may affect the objectivity
Positivism and post positivism was precluded from use in this study for several reasons. Firstly, research conducted under both of these paradigms is usually quantitative where a hypothesis is tested while the researcher remains objective and separate from the area of investigation.
Ref – Kumar, R. (2019). Resarch methodology: A step-by-step guide for beginners. Sage Publications Limited.