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Alexis Institute Initiative | An Autonomous Centre of Alexis Foundation

Registered Office: 108, First Floor, Eldeco Towne, IIM Road, Lucknow – 226020
Web: | Email: | Phone: (+91)-991-560-8674, (+91)-998-872-2644


Alexis Institute Initiative | An Autonomous Centre of Alexis Foundation

Registered Office: 108, First Floor, Eldeco Towne, IIM Road, Lucknow – 226020
Web: | Email: | Phone: (+91)-991-560-8674, (+91)-998-872-2644
Expected Time for Study: 20 Hours


The aim of the module is to present a basic overview on the subject of research and to
provide an introduction into the topics which we would discuss in details later in the
course. After completion of this module, the learner is expected to know about the
definition, characteristics and the different types of research methods. Further he is
also expected to know about Research methodology and research process.


Students are strongly advised to go through the recommended readings provided at

the end of the chapter and supplied through the separate handbook for understanding
the details about the specific issues discussed in this chapter. They are also encouraged
to go through more details about the topics on the internet and other sources.
A. RESEARCH- AN INTRODUCTION ...................................................................... 1
1. Definition Of Research .............................................................................................. 1
2. Significance Of Research........................................................................................... 2
3. Characteristics Of Research ...................................................................................... 4
4. Objectives Of Research .............................................................................................. 6
5. Research And Scientific Method ............................................................................. 7
B. TYPES OF RESEARCH ............................................................................................ 14
1. Descriptive Research ................................................................................................ 14
2. Analytical Research .................................................................................................. 15
3. Applied And Basic (Fundamental) Research ....................................................... 16
4. Quantitative And Qualitative Research ............................................................... 17
5. Empirical Research ................................................................................................... 18
C. RESEARCH PROCESS ............................................................................................ 19
1. Basic Overview .......................................................................................................... 19
2. Formulating The Research Problem ...................................................................... 23
3. Defining The Research Problem ............................................................................ 24
D. RESEARCH QUESTIONS ...................................................................................... 26
E. RESEARCH METHODS v. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY ........................... 32



a) Meaning of the word:

Research is composed of two syllables, a prefix re and a verb search.

• Re means again, anew, over again.

• Search means to examine closely and carefully, to test and try, to probe.

• The two words form a noun to describe a careful and systematic study in some field
of knowledge, undertaken to establish facts or principles. Research is an organized
and systematic way of finding answers to questions.

b) Definition1

A good working definition of academic research and writing can be given as follows:

Investigation and writing based upon the idea of scientific inquiry. A reader may at
this point wonder if this definition sheds any light on the subject. The key here is to
focus on the term “scientific inquiry”. We will be discussing about scientific inquiry
later in this chapter.

Canadian Department of Reconstruction and Supply in 1947 provided an alternative

definition of Research and stated it as follows:

“Purposeful seeking of knowledge or new ways of applying knowledge, through careful

consideration, experimentation and study.”

D. Slesinger and M. Stephenson in the Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences define research


“the manipulation of things, concepts or symbols for the purpose of generalising to extend,
correct or verify knowledge, whether that knowledge aids in construction of theory or in the
practice of an art.”

Additional definitions on the subject are available in the Compilation of recommended readings.


“All progress is born of inquiry. Doubt is often better than overconfidence, for it leads
to inquiry, and inquiry leads to invention” is a famous Hudson Maxim in context of
which the significance of research can well be understood. Increased amounts of
research make progress possible. Research inculcates scientific and inductive thinking
and it promotes the development of logical habits of thinking and organisation.

The role of research in several fields of applied economics, whether related to business
or to the economy as a whole, has greatly increased in modern times. The increasingly
complex nature of business and government has focused attention on the use of
research in solving operational problems. Research, as an aid to economic policy, has
gained added importance, both for government and business.

Research provides the basis for nearly all government policies in our economic system.
For instance, government’s budgets rest in part on an analysis of the needs and desires
of the people and on the availability of revenues to meet these needs. The cost of needs
has to be equated to probable revenues and this is a field where research is most
needed. Through research we can devise alternative policies and can as well examine
the consequences of each of these alternatives.

Decision-making may not be a part of research, but research certainly facilitates the
decisions of the policy maker. Government has also to chalk out programmes for
dealing with all facets of the country’s existence and most of these will be related
directly or indirectly to economic conditions. The plight of cultivators, the problems
of big and small business and industry, working conditions, trade union activities, the
problems of distribution, even the size and nature of defence services are matters
requiring research. Thus, research is considered necessary with regard to the
allocation of nation’s resources. Another area in government, where research is
necessary, is collecting information on the economic and social structure of the nation.
Such information indicates what is happening in the economy and what changes are
taking place. Collecting such statistical information is by no means a routine task, but
it involves a variety of research problems. These day nearly all governments maintain
large staff of research technicians or experts to carry on this work. Thus, in the context
of government, research as a tool to economic policy has three distinct phases of
operation, viz.,

(i) investigation of economic structure through continual compilation of facts;

(ii) diagnosis of events that are taking place and the analysis of the forces
underlying them; and
(iii) the prognosis, i.e., the prediction of future developments.

Research has its special significance in solving various operational and planning
problems of business and industry. Operations research and market research, along
with motivational research, are considered crucial and their results assist, in more than
one way, in taking business decisions. Market research is the investigation of the
structure and development of a market for the purpose of formulating efficient
policies for purchasing, production and sales. Operations research refers to the
application of mathematical, logical and analytical techniques to the solution of
business problems of cost minimisation or of profit maximisation or what can be
termed as optimisation problems. Motivational research of determining why people
behave as they do is mainly concerned with market characteristics.

In other words, it is concerned with the determination of motivations underlying the

consumer (market) behaviour. All these are of great help to people in business and
industry who are responsible for taking business decisions. Research with regard to
demand and market factors has great utility in business. Given knowledge of future
demand, it is generally not difficult for a firm, or for an industry to adjust its supply
schedule within the limits of its projected capacity. Market analysis has become an
integral tool of business policy these days. Business budgeting, which ultimately
results in a projected profit and loss account, is based mainly on sales estimates which
in turn depend on business research. Once sales forecasting is done, efficient
production and investment programmes can be set up around which are grouped the
purchasing and financing plans. Research, thus, replaces intuitive business decisions
by more logical and scientific decisions.

Research is equally important for social scientists in studying social relationships and
in seeking answers to various social problems. It provides the intellectual satisfaction
of knowing a few things just for the sake of knowledge and also has practical utility
for the social scientist to know for the sake of being able to do something better or in
a more efficient manner. Research in social sciences is concerned both with knowledge
for its own sake and with knowledge for what it can contribute to practical concerns.
“This double emphasis is perhaps especially appropriate in the case of social science.
On the one hand, its responsibility as a science is to develop a body of principles that
make possible the understanding and prediction of the whole range of human
interactions. On the other hand, because of its social orientation, it is increasingly

being looked to for practical guidance in solving immediate problems of human

In addition to what has been stated above, the significance of research can also be
understood keeping in view the following points:

(a) To those students who are to write a master’s or Ph.D. thesis, research may mean
a careerism or a way to attain a high position in the social structure;

(b) To professionals in research methodology, research may mean a source of


(c) To philosophers and thinkers, research may mean the outlet for new ideas and

(d) To literary men and women, research may mean the development of new styles
and creative work;

(e) To analysts and intellectuals, research may mean the generalisations of new

Thus, research is the fountain of knowledge for the sake of knowledge and an
important source of providing guidelines for solving different business, governmental
and social problems. It is a sort of formal training which enables one to understand
the new developments in one’s field in a better way.


Certain terms are very commonly used in research and the success of any research
depends on these terms. These terms determine whether a research is free of biases,
prejudices and subjective errors or not.

a) Reliability is a subjective term which cannot be measured precisely but today

there are instruments which can estimate the reliability of any research.
Reliability is the repeatability of any research, research instrument, tool or
procedure. If any research yields similar results each time it is undertaken with
similar population and with similar procedures, it is called to be a reliable
research. Suppose a research is conducted on the effects of separation between
parents on class performance of the children. If the results conclude that
separation causes low grades in class, these results should have to be reliable

for another sample taken from similar population. More the results are similar;
more reliability is present in the research.

b) Validity is the strength with which we can call a research conclusions,

assumptions or propositions true or false. Validity determines the applicability
of research. Validity of the research instrument can be defined as the suitability
of the research instrument to the research problem or how accurately the
instrument measures the problem. Some researchers say that validity and
reliability are co-related but validity is much more important than reliability.
Without validity research goes in the wrong direction. To keep the research on-
track define your concepts in the best possible manner so that no error occur
during measurement.

c) Accuracy is also the degree to which each research process, instrument and tool
is related to each other. Accuracy also measures whether research tools have
been selected in best possible manner and research procedures suits the
research problem or not. For example if a research has to be conducted on the
trans-gender people, several data collection tools can be used depending on the
research problems but if you find that population less cooperative the best way
is to observe them rather than submitting questionnaire because in
questionnaire either they will give biased responses or they will not return the
questionnaires at all. So choosing the best data collection tool improves the
accuracy of research.

d) Credibility comes with the use of best source of information and best
procedures in research. If you are using second-hand information in your
research due to any reason your research might complete in less time but its
credibility will be at stake because secondary data has been manipulated by
human beings and is therefore not very valid to use in research. A certain
percentage of secondary data can be used if primary source is not available but
basing a research completely on secondary data when primary data can be
gathered is least credible. When researcher give accurate references in research
the credibility of research increases but fake references also decrease the
credibility of research.

e) Generalisation is the extent to which a research findings can be applied to

larger population. When a researcher conducts a study he/she chooses a target
population and from this population he takes a small sample to conduct the
research. This sample is representative of the whole population so the findings

should also be. If research findings can be applied to any sample from the
population, the results of the research are said to be able to be generalised.

f) Empirical nature of research means that the research has been conducted
following rigorous scientific methods and procedures. Each step in the research
has been tested for accuracy and is based on real life experiences. Quantitative
research is easier to prove scientifically than qualitative research. In qualitative
research biases and prejudice are easy to occur.

g) Systematic approach is the only approach for research. No research can be

conducted haphazardly. Each step must follow other. There are set of
procedures that have been tested over a period of time and are thus suitable to
use in research. Each research therefore should follow a procedure.

h) Controlled-in real life experience there are many factors that affect an outcome.
A single event is often result of several factors. When similar event is tested in
research, due to the broader nature of factors that effect that event, some factors
are taken as controlled factors while others are tested for possible effect. The
controlled factors or variables should have to be controlled rigorously. In pure
sciences it is very easy to control such elements because experiments are
conducted in laboratory but in social sciences it becomes difficult to control
these factors because of the nature of research.


The objective of research for every researcher varies from topic to topic. For one topic,
he might be conducting research for academic purposes while research for another
topic might be for merely personal reasons.

Overall, research is conducted primarily with one of the following aims:

Descriptive research attempts to describe systematically a situation, problem,

phenomenon, service or programme, or provides information about , say, 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. This list of
research objectives is not exhaustive and the topic is covered in detail in the reading
material provided in the additional handbook.


Research is an often-misused term, its usage in everyday language very different from
the strict scientific meaning.

In the field of science, it is important to move away from the looser meaning and use
it only in its proper context. Scientific research adheres to a set of strict protocols and
long established structures. The term, research, is much stricter in science than in
everyday life. It revolves around using the scientific method to generate hypotheses
and provide analyzable results. All scientific research has a goal and ultimate aim,
repeated and refined experimentation gradually reaching an answer.

The strict definition of scientific research is performing a methodical study in order to

prove a hypothesis or answer a specific question. Finding a definitive answer is the
central goal of any experimental process. Research must be systematic and follow a
series of steps and a rigid standard protocol. These rules are broadly similar but may
vary slightly between the different fields of science.

Scientific research must be organized and undergo planning, including

performing literature reviews of past research and evaluating what questions need to
be answered. Any type of ‘real’ research, whether scientific, economic or historical,
requires some kind of interpretation and an opinion from the researcher. This opinion
is the underlying principle, or question, that establishes the nature and type
of experiment.

a) What is the Scientific Method? defines the scientific method in the following manner:

"The principles and empirical processes of discovery and demonstration considered

characteristic of or necessary for scientific investigation, generally involving the
observation of phenomena, the formulation of a hypothesis concerning the

phenomena, experimentation to demonstrate the truth or falseness of the hypothesis,
and a conclusion that validates or modifies the hypothesis."

Under normal circumstances, for a method to be considered as a scientific method, it

has to fulfil the following main rules:

1. Empirical

Science is based purely around observation and measurement, and the vast majority
of research involves some type of practical experimentation.

This can be anything, from measuring the Doppler Shift of a distant galaxy to handing
out questionnaires in a shopping centre. This may sound obvious, but this distinction
stems back to the time of the Ancient Greek Philosophers. Cutting a long story short,
Plato believed that all knowledge could be reasoned; Aristotle that knowledge relied
upon empirical observation and measurement.

This does bring up one interesting anomaly. Strictly speaking, the great physicists,
such as Einstein and Stephen Hawking, are not scientists. They generate sweeping and
elegant theories and mathematical models to describe the universe and the very
nature of time, but measure nothing. In reality, they are mathematicians, occupying
their own particular niche, and they should properly be referred to as theoreticians.

Still, they are still commonly referred to as scientists and do touch upon the scientific
method in that any theory they have can be destroyed by a single scrap of empirical

2. The Scientific Method Relies Upon Data

The scientific method uses some type of measurement to analyze results, feeding these
findings back into theories of what we know about the world. There are two major
ways of obtaining data, through measurement and observation. These are generally
referred to as quantitative and qualitative measurements. Quantitative measurements
are generally associated with what are known as ‘hard' sciences, such as physics,
chemistry and astronomy. They can be gained through experimentation or through

For Example:

a) At the end of the experiment, 50% of the bacteria in the sample treated with
penicillin were left alive.
b) The experiment showed that the moon is 384403 km away from the earth.
c) The pH of the solution was 7.1

As a rule of thumb, a quantitative unit has a unit of measurement after it, some
scientifically recognized (SI) or SI derived unit. Percentages and numbers fall into this
category. Qualitative measurements are based upon observation and they generally
require some type of numerical manipulation or scaling.

As an example, a social scientist interviewing drug addicts in a series of case studies,

and documenting what they see, is not really performing science, although the
research is still useful. However, if he performs some sort of manipulation, such as
devising a scale to assess the intensity of the response to specific questions, then he
generates qualitative results.


a) On average, the subjects showed an anxiety level of four.

b) 91% of respondents stated that they preferred Hershey bars.

Generally, qualitative measurements are arbitrary, a scale designed to measure

abstract responses and constructs. Measuring anxiety, preference, pain and aggression
are some examples of concepts measured qualitatively. For a small group of long-
established tests, the results are often regarded as quantitative, such as IQ (Intelligence
Quotient) and EQ (Emotional Quotient).

Both types of data are extremely important for understanding the world around us
and the majority of scientists use both types of data. A medical researcher might
design experiments to test the effectiveness of a drug, using a placebo to contrast.
However, she might perform in depth case studies on a few of the subjects, a pilot
study, to ensure that her experiment has no problems.

3. The Scientific Method is Intellectual and Visionary

Science requires vision, and the ability to observe the implications of results.
Collecting data is part of the process, and it also needs to be analyzed and interpreted.
However, the visionary part of science lies in relating the findings back into the real

world. Even pure sciences, which are studied for their own sake rather than any
practical application, are visionary and have wider goals.

The process of relating findings to the real world is known as induction, or inductive
reasoning, and is a way of relating the findings to the universe around us.

For example, Wegener was the first scientist to propose the idea of continental drift.
He noticed that the same fossils were found on both sides of the Atlantic, in old rocks,
and that the continental shelves of Africa and South America seemed to fit together.

He induced that they were once joined together, rather than joined by land bridges,
and faced ridicule for his challenge to the established paradigm. Over time, the
accumulated evidence showed that he was, in fact, correct and he was shown to be a
true visionary.

4. Science Uses Experiments to Test Predictions

This process of induction and generalization allows scientists to make predictions

about how they think that something should behave, and design an experiment to test
it. This experiment does not always mean setting up rows of test tubes in the lab or
designing surveys. It can also mean taking measurements and observing the natural

Wegener's ideas, whilst denigrated by many scientists, aroused the interest of a few.
They began to go out and look for other evidence that the continents moved around
the Earth. From Wegener's initial idea of continents floating through the ocean floor,
scientists now understand, through a process of prediction and measurement, the
process of plate tectonics.

5. Systematic and Methodical

Scientists are very conservative in how they approach results and they are naturally
very skeptical. It takes more than one experiment to change the way that they think,
however loud the headlines, and any results must be retested and repeated until a
solid body of evidence is built up. This process ensures that researchers do not make
mistakes or purposefully manipulate evidence. In Wegener's case, his ideas were not
accepted until after his death, when the amount of evidence supporting continental
drift became irrefutable.

This process of changing the current theories, called a paradigm shift, is an integral
part of the scientific method. Most groundbreaking research, such as Einstein's
Relativity or Mendel's Genetics, causes a titanic shift in the prevailing scientific

6. Summary

The scientific method has evolved, over many centuries, to ensure that scientists make
meaningful discoveries, founded upon logic and reason rather than emotion.

The exact process varies between scientific disciplines, but they all follow the above
principle of observe - predict - test - generalize. Now, to proceed for research through
the scientific method, we have to proceed through the following steps:

1. Formulating the General Question

The starting point of most new research is to formulate a general question about an
area of research and begin the process of defining it.

This initial question can be very broad, as the later research, observation and
narrowing down will hone it into a testable hypothesis.

For example, a broad question might ask 'whether fish stocks in the North Atlantic are
declining or not', based upon general observations about smaller yields of fish across

the whole area. Reviewing previous research will allow a general overview and will
help to establish a more specialized area.

Unless you have an unlimited budget and huge teams of scientists, it is impossible to
research such a general field and it needs to be pared down. This is the method of
trying to sample one small piece of the whole picture and gradually contribute to the
wider question.

Fig: The Hourglass Shape of steps of the scientific method

2. Narrowing Down the research area

The research stage, through a process of elimination, will narrow and focus the
research area.

This will take into account budgetary restrictions, time, available technology and
practicality, leading to the proposal of a few realistic hypotheses.

Eventually, the researcher will arrive at one fundamental hypothesis around which
the experiment can be designed.

3. Designing the Experiment

This stage of the scientific method involves designing the steps that will test and
evaluate the hypothesis, manipulating one or more variables to generate analyzable

The experiment should be designed with later statistical tests in mind, by making sure
that the experiment has controls and a large enough sample group to provide
statistically valid results.

4. Observation

This is the midpoint of the steps of the scientific method and involves observing and
recording the results of the research, gathering the findings into raw data.

The observation stage involves looking at what effect the manipulated variables have
upon the subject, and recording the results.

5. Analysis

The scope of the research begins to broaden again, as statistical analyses are performed
on the data, and it is organized into an understandable form.

The answers given by this step allow the further widening of the research, revealing
some trends and answers to the initial questions.

6. Conclusions and Publishing

This stage is where, technically, the hypothesis is stated as proved or disproved.

However, the bulk of research is never as clear-cut as that, and so it is necessary to

filter the results and state what happened and why. This stage is where interesting
results can be earmarked for further research and adaptation of the initial hypothesis.

Even if the hypothesis was incorrect, maybe the experiment had a flaw in its design or
implementation. There may be trends that, whilst not statistically significant, lead to
further research and refinement of the process.

The results are usually published and shared with the scientific community, allowing
verification of the findings and allowing others to continue research into other areas.

7. Cycles

This is not the final stage of the steps of the scientific method, as it generates data and
ideas to recycle into the first stage.

The initial and wider research area can again be addressed, with this research one of
the many individual pieces answering the whole question.

Building up understanding of a large area of research, by gradually building up a

picture, is the true path of scientific advancement. One great example is to look at the
work of J J Thomson, who gradually inched towards his ultimate answer of the atom.



Descriptive research design is a scientific method which involves observing and

describing the behaviour of a subject without influencing it in any way. The
descriptive research attempts to describe, explain and interpret conditions of the
present i.e. “what is’. The purpose of a descriptive research is to examine a
phenomenon that is occurring at a specific place(s) and time. A descriptive research is
concerned with conditions, practices, structures, differences or relationships that exist,
opinions held, processes that are going on or trends that are evident.

The results from a descriptive research can in no way be used as a definitive answer
or to disprove a hypothesis but, if the limitations are understood, they can still be a
useful tool in many areas of scientific research.

Descriptive research can be either quantitative or qualitative. It can involve collections

of quantitative information that can be tabulated along a continuum in numerical
form, such as scores on a test or the number of times a person chooses to use a-certain
feature of a multimedia program, or it can describe categories of information such as
gender or patterns of interaction when using technology in a group situation.
Descriptive research involves gathering data that describe events and then organizes,
tabulates, depicts, and describes the data collection. It often uses visual aids such as
graphs and charts to aid the reader in understanding the data distribution. Because
the human mind cannot extract the full import of a large mass of raw data, descriptive
statistics are very important in reducing the data to manageable form. When in-depth,
narrative descriptions of small numbers of cases are involved, the research uses

description as a tool to organize data into patterns that emerge during analysis. Those
patterns aid the mind in comprehending a qualitative study and its implications.

Descriptive studies are usually the best methods for collecting information that will
demonstrate relationships and describe the world as it exists. These types of studies
are often done before an experiment to know what specific things to manipulate and
include in an experiment. Researchers suggest that descriptive studies can answer
questions such as “what is” or “what was.” Experiments can typically answer “why”
or “how.”

The main types of Descriptive Research Methods are:

a) Correlational Research
b) Causal-Comparative Research
c) Case Study
d) Ethnography
e) Document Analysis
f) Analytical Method.

A detailed explanation of the types of descriptive research is given in the handbook

attached with this module.


Analytical or explanatory research is a continuation of descriptive research. The

researcher goes beyond merely describing the characteristics, to analysing and
explaining why or how the phenomenon being studied is happening. Thus, analytical
research aims to understand phenomena by discovering and measuring causal
relations among them. For example, information may be collected on the size of
companies and the levels of labour turnover. A statistical analysis of the data may
show that the larger the company the higher the level of turnover, although as we will
see later, research is rarely that simple. An important element of explanatory research
is identifying and, possibly, controlling the variables in the research activities, as this
permits the critical variables or the causal links between the characteristics to be better
explained. A variable is a characteristic of a phenomenon that can be observed or


A standard classification of research divides projects into applied research and basic
research. Applied research is a study that has been designed to apply its findings to
solving a specific, existing problem. It is the application of existing knowledge to
improve management practices and policies. The research project is likely to be short
term (often less than 6 months) and the immediacy of the problem will be more
important than academic theorizing. For example, you might be investigating the
reorganization of an office layout, the improvement of safety in the workplace or the
reduction of wastage of raw materials or energy in a factory process. The output from
this type of research is likely to be a consultant’s report, articles in professional or trade
magazines and presentations to practitioners.

When the research problem is of a less specific nature and the research is being
conducted primarily to improve our understanding of general issues without
emphasis on its immediate application, it is classified as basic or pure research. For
example, you might be interested in whether personal characteristics influence
people’s career choices. Basic research is regarded as the most academic form of
research, as the principal aim is to make a contribution to knowledge, usually for the
general good, rather than to solve a specific problem for one organization.

Another example of applied research that is conducted in academic institutions often

goes under the general title of educational scholarship (or instructional research or
pedagogic research). This type of study is concerned with improving the educational
activities within the institution and the output is likely to be case studies, instructional
software or textbooks. Basic research may focus on problem solving, but the problem
is likely to be theoretical rather than practical. The typical outcome of this type of
research is knowledge.

Basic research may not resolve an immediate problem, but will contribute to our
knowledge in a way that may assist in the solution of future problems. The emphasis,
therefore, is on academic rigour and the strength of the research design. The output
from basic research is likely to be papers presented at academic conferences and the
articles published in academic journals.


Looking at the approach adopted by the researcher can also differentiate research.
Some people prefer to take a quantitative approach to addressing their research
question(s) and design a study that involves collecting quantitative data (and/or
qualitative data that can be quantified) and analysing them using statistical methods.
Others prefer to take a qualitative approach to addressing their research question(s)
and design a study that involves collecting qualitative data and analysing those using
interpretative methods. As you will see in later modules, a large study might
incorporate elements of both as their merits are often considered to be complementary
in gaining an understanding in the social sciences.

Referring to a research approach as quantitative or qualitative can be misleading, as a

researcher can design a study with a view to collecting qualitative data (for example
published text or transcripts of interviews) and then quantifying them by counting the
frequency of occurrence of particular key words or themes. This allows researchers to
analyse their data using statistical methods. On the other hand, a researcher can collect
qualitative data with the intention of analysing those using non-numerical methods,
or collect data that are already in numerical form and use statistical methods to
analyse them.

Some students avoid taking a quantitative approach because they are not confident
with statistics and think a qualitative approach will be easier. Many students find that
it is harder to start and decide on an overall design for a quantitative study, but it is
easier to conduct the analysis and write up the research because it is highly structured.
Qualitative research is normally easier to start, but students often find it more difficult
to analyse the data and write up their final report. For example, if you were conducting
a study into stress caused by working night shifts, you might want to collect
quantitative data such as absenteeism rates or productivity levels, and analyse these
data statistically.

Alternatively, you might want to investigate the same question by collecting

qualitative data about how stress is experienced by night workers in terms of their
perceptions, health, social problems and so on. There are many arguments in the
literature regarding the merits of qualitative versus quantitative approaches, which
we will examine later on in the course. At this stage, you simply need to be aware that
your choice will be influenced by the nature of your research project as well as your
own philosophical preferences. Moreover, you may find that the access you have been

able to negotiate, the type of data available and the research problem persuade you to
put your philosophical preferences to one side.


Empirical Research can be defined as "research based on experimentation or

observation (evidence)". Such research is conducted to test a hypothesis. According to
the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd Edition, 1989), empiric is derived from the ancient
Greek for experience, ἐμπειρία, which is ultimately derived from ἐν "in" + πείρα "trial,
experiment". Therefore, empirical data is information that is derived from the trials
and errors of experience. In this way, the empirical method is similar to the
experimental method. However, an essential difference is that in an experiment the
different "trials" are strictly manipulated so that an inference can be made as to
causation of the observed change that results. This contrasts with the empirical
method of aggregating naturally occurring data.

Among scientific researchers, empirical evidence (as distinct from empirical research)
refers to objective evidence that appears the same regardless of the observer. For
example, a thermometer will not display different temperatures for each individual
who observes it. Temperature, as measured by an accurate, well calibrated
thermometer, is empirical evidence. By contrast, non-empirical evidence is subjective,
depending on the observer. Following the previous example, observer A might
truthfully report that a room is warm, while observer B might truthfully report that
the same room is cool, though both observe the same reading on the thermometer. The
use of empirical evidence negates this effect of personal (i.e., subjective) experience.

The empirical method is generally characterized by the collection of a large amount of

data before much speculation as to their significance, or without much idea of what to
expect, and is to be contrasted with more theoretical methods in which the collection
of empirical data is guided largely by preliminary theoretical exploration of what to
expect. The empirical method is necessary in entering hitherto completely unexplored
fields, and becomes less purely empirical as the acquired mastery of the field
increases. Successful use of an exclusively empirical method demands a higher degree
of intuitive ability in the practitioner. Evidence gathered through experiments or
empirical studies is today considered to be the most powerful support possible for a
given hypothesis.


The research process is the methodical approach to finding and examining a variety
of reliable, scholarly resources on a particular topic.

The research process has a beginning and an end, with many stages or steps in
between. Each one of these steps is built upon the foundation of information.
Brainstorming ideas, searching for resources, and analyzing ideas are all information-
based activities. Just like DNA is the building blocks of life, information is the building
blocks of the research process. That’s why learning how to find, evaluate, and use
information is essential to successfully engaging in and completing the research


Steps in a Research Process

There are many models available and taught concerning how to conduct a research
process. Therefore, the process presented here is only one of many; however, it is a
tried and proven process.

Step 1: Decide on a topic

To begin, state the research question, problem or issue. Then, develop a topic and

• Topic = a broadly defined subject area - example: effects of rain runoff

• formulate a question = find a narrower perspective or focus on the topic by asking a

series of questions about the topic. Example: what are the effects of rain runoff in

• Thesis statement = answer you suspect to find or points you will argue about the
topic question

- Example: rain runoff increases pollution in Delhi, it blocks drainage systems

Step 2: Develop an overview of the topic

This step is most often ignored, but is one of the most important. It will help you to:

• develop an overview of your topic

• gather background information

• refine your topic

• develop a general bibliography

• identify additional keywords related to your topic, useful when searching for
additional topic-related information.

Working from "general" to "specific" is most effective:

• get an overview of the topic by referring to general encyclopaedias, such as the

online Encyclopedia Britannica to learn more about the topic

• begin to browse the library's catalogue to find sources held by the library that relate
to your topic

• browse subject-based encyclopaedias, handbooks and directories to begin to refine

your topic

- review the footnotes, endnotes and bibliographies from the end of subject-based
encyclopaedia and handbook articles to identify related sources

• Also refer to bibliographies in course textbooks and reserve readings

• browse subject-related, indexed sources on the World Wide Web to find sources that
relate to your topic:

Step 3: Determine the information requirements

In this step, you determine the information requirements for the research question --
where will you find the information you need?

Learn what specific resources are available concerning your topic:

• meet with a reference librarian

• find books using keyword or subject searching in the library's catalogue

• use indexes and abstracts to find journal / periodical articles

- choose appropriate indexes for the subject you are researching. For example, you
should not use an index of business resources to search for information concerning
European history.

• find resources via the World Wide Web

Step 4: Organize the information

Know when to stop searching for information and start thinking about what your
compiled information means. This is also one of the most important steps for ethically
using information and avoiding plagiarism.

• make sure you write down where you found any information in case you have to
review it again. You will also need this information for references and your list of
works cited.

• using complete citation information when compiling information will save you time
when writing your paper

• format your citations using standard formats

- For Web sites - print out what you find and write down the date you found it as well
as the complete Web address (the URL)

• think over the ideas you read from the sources used, and write them down in your
own words. This is called paraphrasing, and it will help keep you from plagiarizing

Do you have enough information to complete your research? If not, you may have to
repeat several of the previous steps and/or extend the research process.

Step 5: Analyse and evaluate the information

Relate the information you have found and compiled, and your ideas from reading
and thinking about the information, to your topic.

• analyse your notes

- break down your notes into topic themes or categories

- decide how these themes or categories relate to your topic

• discard notes that do not relate to your thesis

• look for holes in your thesis statement support and go back to find information you
are missing

- do you have enough information to complete your research? If not, you may have to
repeat several of the previous steps and/or extend the research process

Step 6: Synthesize the information

• refine your thesis based upon the information compiled, read, and considered

• outline your project

• begin to write your paper

Step 7: Communicate/present the research

• Communicate your research in the format required by your professor

• Properly use citations to avoid plagiarism


There is no short cut to research. One has to go through every phase of it in detail.
Often, student-researchers hastily skip the stage of choosing and formulating a
research problem by borrowing or imitating a title which is wrongly presumed to be
a research problem and then face difficulties later. Here are some tips to select and
formulate a research problem.

*A research problem cannot be borrowed; a researcher has to find his own problem; a
guide can only help in choosing a broad subject or topic

*Right questions must be addressed; having a topic to read about is different from
having a problem to solve; a topic to read leads to aimless and endless gathering of
data and there is no way of ascertaining when we have enough to start. Further, this
can also lead to a struggle to decide what to incorporate in the report

*Have an unbiased and unattached approach; No matter how complex it is, be


*Be uncommitted before selection

*Have more than one problem to ponder over, i.e., keep alternatives

*Never settle on a particular approach at the first instance; the decision on

methodology should not precede problem selection

*Interact with experts and practitioners

*Avoid superficial and obvious problems as well as overdone and controversial


*Avoid too narrow or too vague problems (settling on a broad topic with four or five
words is risky.)

*Have a preliminary ‘quick and dirty’ study and / or a brief feasibility study

*Problems should suit your interest, competence and ability

*Identifying gaps through literature surveys throw up new problems

*Check the availability of the required data and co-operation of people concerned

*The problem should be novel, significant and useful to practitioners; the utility of the
expected findings should be judged

*Spend a lot of time writing and note taking to understand the problem

*Make preliminary outlines, disagree with what is read, draw diagrams to connect
disparate/ disconnected facts, summarise sources, record random thoughts, which can
be discarded later if necessary. Start writing at the very beginning in order to
encourage critical thinking, to understand sources better and to draft more effectively.

Some important sources for research problems include reading, academic/ or other
daily work experience, exposure to field situations, consultations, brainstorming, past
research and intuition. Discussing how to select and define a project, Catherine
Dawson in Practical Research Methods (2002) summarises the questions to be raised
and answered by a research student.

*Why have I decided to do some research?

*What personal characteristics do I have which might help me to complete my


*What skills and experience do I have which might help me in my research?

*The five ‘Ws’: What is my research?; Why do I want to do this research?; Who are my
research participants?; Where am I going to do the research?; When am I going to do
the research?

You must take time to think about your research as this will save you problems later.
When you’re thinking about your research, keep asking yourself questions. Then sum
up your research project in one sentence. Discuss your sentence with your tutor or
boss and revise if there is any confusion.

Note: Formulating the Research Problem is a very important topic and detailed
material is provided in the additional handbook. Students are advised to refer to
the handbook for a detailed understanding.


Defining a problem is the first step in a research process. It simply means that the
researcher has to lay down certain boundaries within which he/she has to study the
problem with a pre-defined objective in mind. Defining a research problem is the fuel

that drives the scientific process, and is the foundation of any research method and
experimental design, from true experiment to case study.

Defining a problem is a herculean task, and this must be done intelligently to avoid
confusions that arise in the research operation. Try to follow the below steps
systematically to best define a problem:

i. State the problem in a general way:

First state the problem in general terms with respect to some practical, scientific or
intellectual interest. For this, the researcher may himself read the concerned subject
matter thoroughly or take the help of the subject expert. Often, the guide states the
problem in general terms; it depends on the researcher if he/she wants to narrow it
down to operational terms. The problem stated should also be checked for ambiguity
and feasibility.

ii. Understand the nature of the problem:

The next step is to understand the nature and origin of the problem. The researcher
needs to discuss the problem with those related to the subject matter in order to clearly
understand the origin of the problem, its nature, objectives, and the environment in
which the problem is to be studied.

iii. Survey the available literature:

All available literature including relevant theories, reports, records, and other relevant
literature on the problem needs to be reviewed and examined. This would help the
researcher to identify the data available, the techniques that might be used, types of
difficulties that may be encountered during the study, possible analytical
shortcomings, and even new methods of approach to the present problem.

iv. Go for discussions for developing ideas:

The researcher may discuss the problem with his/her colleagues and others related to
the concerned subject. This helps the researcher to generate new ideas, identify
different aspects on the problem, gain suggestions and advices from others, and
sharpen his focus on certain aspects within the field. However, discussions should not
be limited to the problem only, but should also be related to the general approach to
the problem, techniques that might be used, possible solutions, etc.

v. Rephrase the research problem into a working proposition:

Finally, the researcher must rephrase the problem into a working proposition.
Rephrasing the problem means putting the problem in specific terms that is feasible
and may help in the development of working hypotheses. Once the researcher has
gone through the above steps systematically, it is easy to rephrase the problem into
analytical and operational terms.


Your research question is the most critical part of your research -- it defines the whole
process, it guides your arguments and inquiry, and it provokes the interests of the
reviewer. If your question does not work well, no matter how strong the rest of the
research, the endeavour is unlikely to be successful.

To write a strong research question you will need time. Step away from your
computer; consider what drew you to your topic. What about it animates and matters
to you? Listen to yourself and start formulating your question by following your own
interests. Remember, you will spend a lot of time researching and writing about the
proposed project: if it does not interest you in the beginning, it will certainly become
very difficult to write about in the end.

Next, extensively research your topic. What have people said about it? How have they
framed their research? What gaps, contradictions, or concerns arise for you as you
read, talk to people, and visit places?

After you have done this you can go back to your computer or note pad and start
crafting the question itself. When you do, consider that a strong research question
should be problematic/evocative, relevant, clear, and researchable.

1- The research question should be problematic and evocative.

Evocative questions are ones that catch the interest of the reviewer and draw her/him
into the proposal. Equally important, they easily adhere in the reviewers' memory
after reading the proposal. Questions tend to be evocative because of the ways they
engage with challenging topics: they pose innovative approaches to the exploration of
problems, and because of this the answers found are far from obvious. There is no

single way to form a conceptually innovative question. However, some of the
following qualities are common to successful proposals.

Make it timely. Evocative and problematic questions are often distilled from very contemporary
social or theoretical concerns. For example, questions regarding the energy crisis,
international tribunals, nationalism, or the rise of anti-globalization protests are likely
to peak the interests of others because they are questions whose relevance will be
clearly discernible for reviewer.

Think about this one: Why should we attend to a comparative study between Plato's
and Aristotle's attitudes toward women's rights unless we link it to the contemporary
debates in the West regarding gender issues?

Frame it as a paradox. Frame your question around a provocative paradox. For

example, why have indigenous organizations in Bolivia markedly declined while the
number and quantity of funding sources has increased? Or why have violent conflicts
over forest resources increased in the last ten years while the very people involved in
these conflicts have become less and less dependent on forest resources for their
livelihoods? There are many potential answers to these questions, and your research
may ultimately challenge your own expected explanation -- but this in itself is a
relevant discovery. These types of paradoxes pull the reader into the proposal and set
up a situation whereby the research will fill in a provocative piece of the puzzle and
make clear a much-needed broader understanding.

Take a distinctive approach. Finally, a question that approaches an old problem in a

refreshingly new way, or proposes a surprising angle of analysis on a difficult
dilemma, is likely to prove evocative for reviewers. This could involve a new
methodology, a new conceptual approach, or the linking of two previously disparate
fields of knowledge. These innovative approaches both develop confidence in the
intellect of the researcher and hold promise for new understandings and insights to
old and difficult questions.

2- The research question should be relevant.

Questions that clearly demonstrate their relevance to society, a social group, or

scholarly literature and debates are likely to be given more weight by reviewers. Of
course the relevance of a research question, not to mention the question of who finds
it relevant, will vary widely according to the funding source. As a general rule,

research is more likely to be interesting if it is seen as part of a larger intellectual project or
line of inquiry, not just a way for the researcher to get a degree. Below are two
common ways to demonstrate this in your proposal.

Fill in the missing piece. If your proposal can lay out a given field or dilemma and
then point to a specific portion that is missing in that field or dilemma -- a gap which
will be filled by the answer to your research question -- your research is likely to
garner a great deal of support. Reviewers will note its importance and recognize its
relevance to a larger community of researchers.

Make connections. Even if you are working on a narrow topic or in a specific place,
ask questions that help relate the research to broader trends, patterns, and contexts.
Doing this will help show how funding a seemingly distinct research project helps
fuel larger debates. For example, show how someone working in a small town in rural
U.P. will help understand the broader process of post-globalisation economic
transformations in India.

3- The research question should be clear.

Clear questions tend to be short, conceptually straightforward, and jargon-free. This

does not mean they have to be overly simplistic; but save your theoretical gymnastics
and abstract disciplinary language for the analysis. Work to keep your questions as
lucid and simple as possible. This may be easier in some cases than in others, but some
of the strongest and most theoretically sophisticated proposals we reviewed were
framed by some of the simplest, most straightforward research questions. In contrast,
the most complicated questions tended to appear in proposals where the researcher
seemed more interested in demonstrating his/her theoretical knowledge than in
engaging the research itself. Below are simple ways to keep your question clear.

Ground the questions. Keep your questions close to the topic or place you are
researching. Questions that are too abstract or obtuse make it difficult for the reader
to determine your question's relevance and intent. You must still link your question
to a larger context, but ground that connection in temporal and spatial specifics.

4- Parsimony or Limit variables

If a question is burdened with too many variables or too many clauses it becomes
both difficult to read and difficult to research. Here are two contrasting examples from
the SSRC web site: a question like "Was the decline of population growth in Brazil the
result of government policies?" is much easier to understand than "Was the decline in

population growth in Brazil related more to sex education, the distribution of birth
control, or resource depletion?" You may talk about all these factors in your proposal,
but the first question allows the reader to focus on the central aspect of your research
rather than the variables surrounding it.

Think about this one: If a piece or research gives you 180 reasons why a person
becomes a terrorist, what is the use of the research? What are the policy
recommendations we might have?

However, do not be too parsimonious or you will fall in the trap of reductionism.

5- The research question should be researchable.

Research questions need to be clearly "doable." One of the most common rationales
for rejecting proposals is that the question is simply too expansive (or expensive) to
be carried out by the applicant. There are many questions that you will need to ask
yourself to avoid this pitfall. Above all else, consider your limitations. Many very
practical questions need to be considered when choosing your research question. First
among them is: How long will the research take to carry out? Next, do you have the
appropriate background to carry out the research? Are there ethical constraints? Is the
project likely to be approved by your advisor and your university's committee for the
protection of human subjects? Can you obtain the cooperation from all the necessary
individuals, communities and institutions you need to answer the question you have
asked? Are the costs of conducting the research more than you will be likely to raise? If
I can't complete this project well, can I break it down and address the most important

6- What is a good research question?

It is important to start your thinking about the final paper with a question rather than
simply a topic heading. The question sets out what you hope to learn about the topic.
This question, together with your approach, will guide and structure the choice of
data to be collected and analysed.

Some research questions focus your attention onto the relationship of particular
theories and concepts: 'how does gender relate to career choices of members of
different religions?' Some research questions aim to open an area to let possible new
theories emerge: 'what is going on here?' is the most basic research question in
exploratory research. For an undergraduate dissertation, your question needs to be
more targeted than either of these.

Creating a research question is a task. Good research questions are formed and
worked on, and are rarely simply found. You start with what interests you, and you
refine it until it is workable.

There is no recipe for the perfect research question, but there are bad research
questions. The following guidelines highlight some of the features of good questions.


The question will be of academic and intellectual interest to people in the field you
have chosen to study. The question arises from issues raised in the literature or in
practice. You should be able to establish a clear purpose for your research in relation
to the chosen field. For example, are you filling a gap in knowledge, analysing
academic assumptions or professional practice, monitoring a development in practice,
comparing different approaches or testing theories within a specific population?


You need to be realistic about the scope and scale of the project. The question you ask
must be within your ability to tackle. For example, are you able to access people,
statistics, or documents from which to collect the data you need to address the
question fully? Are you able to relate the concepts of your research question to the
observations, phenomena, indicators or variables you can access? Can this data be
accessed within the limited time and resources you have available to you?
Sometimes a research question appears feasible, but when you start your fieldwork or
library study, it proves otherwise. In this situation, it is important to write up the
problems honestly and to reflect on what has been learnt. It may be possible, with
your supervisor, to develop a contingency plan to anticipate possible problems of

Substantial and (within reason) original

The question should not simply copy questions asked in other final year modules, or
modules previously undertaken. It shows your own imagination and your ability to
construct and develop research issues. And it needs to give sufficient scope to develop
into a dissertation.

Consistent with the requirements of the assessment

The question must allow you the scope to satisfy the learning outcomes of the
research. For example, you can choose to conduct a theoretical study, one that does
not contain analysis of empirical data. In this case, it will be necessary for you to think
carefully before making such a choice. You would be required to give an account of
your methodology, to explain why theoretical analysis was the most appropriate way
of addressing the question and how you have gone about using theoretical models to
produce new insights about the subject.

Clear and simple

The complexity of a question can frequently hide unclear thoughts and lead to a
confused research process. A very elaborate research question, or a question which is
not differentiated into different parts, may hide concepts that are contradictory or not
relevant. This needs to be clear and thought-through, but it is one of the hardest parts
of your work.

Equally, you may want to begin with your literature review and data collection and
you may feel tempted to 'make do' with a broad and vague research question for the
moment. However, a muddled question is likely to generate muddled data and
equally muddled analysis.

If you create a clear and simple research question, you may find that it becomes more
complex as you think about the situation you are studying and undertake the
literature review. Having one key question with several sub-components will guide
your research here.


This is essential. The question needs to intrigue you and maintain your interest
throughout the project. There are two traps to avoid.

 Some questions are convenient - the best you can come up with when you are
asked to state a question on a form, maybe – or perhaps the question fits in with
your units so you decide it will suffice.
 Some questions are fads - they arise out of a particular set of personal
circumstances, for example a job application. Once the circumstances change
you can lose enthusiasm for the topic and it becomes very tedious.

Make sure that you have a real, grounded interest in your research question, and that
you can explore this and back it up by academic and intellectual debate. It is your
interest that will motivate you to keep working and to produce a good dissertation/
paper/ thesis.


Research Methods and Research Methodology are two terms that are often confused
as one and the same. Strictly speaking they are not so and they show differences
between them. One of the primary differences between them is that research methods
are the methods by which you conduct research into a subject or a topic. On the other
hand research methodology explains the methods by which you may proceed with
your research.

Research methods involve conduct of experiments, tests, surveys and the like. On the
other hand research methodology involves the learning of the various techniques that
can be used in the conduct of research and in the conduct of tests, experiments,
surveys and critical studies. This is the technical difference between the two terms,
namely, research methods and research methodology.

In short it can be said that research methods aim at finding solutions to research
problems. On the other hand research methodology aims at the employment of the
correct procedures to find out solutions.It is thus interesting to note that research
methodology paves the way for research methods to be conducted properly. Research
methodology is the beginning whereas research methods are the end of any scientific
or non-scientific research.

Let us take for example a subject or a topic, namely, ‘employment of figures of speech
in English literature’. In this topic if we are to conduct research, then the research
methods that are involved are study of various works of the different poets and the
understanding of the employment of figures of speech in their works.

On the other hand research methodology pertaining to the topic mentioned above
involves the study about the tools of research, collation of various manuscripts related
to the topic, techniques involved in the critical edition of these manuscripts and the
like. If the subject into which you conduct a research is a scientific subject or topic then

the research methods include experiments, tests, study of various other results of
different experiments performed earlier in relation to the topic or the subject and the

On the other hand research methodology pertaining to the scientific topic involves the
techniques regarding how to go about conducting the research, the tools of research,
advanced techniques that can be used in the conduct of the experiments and the like.
Any student or research candidate is supposed to be good at both research methods
and research methodology if he or she is to succeed in his or her attempt at conducting
research into a subject.

Note: A detailed explanation of the difference would be undertaken in the

upcoming modules.






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Alexis Institute Initiative | An Autonomous Centre of Alexis Foundation

Registered Office: 108, First Floor, Eldeco Towne, IIM Road, Lucknow – 226020
Web: | Email: | Phone: (+91)-991-560-8674, (+91)-998-872-2644
1 research and the research Problem

Historical 9
Comparative 11
Descriptive 12
Correlation 13
Experimental 14
Evaluation 16
Action 18
Ethnogenic 19
Feminist 19
Cultural 20
Desirable characteristics of research findings 27
Finding and defining a research problem 29
Some common mistakes 31
Aids to locating and analysing problems 33
Research problem definition 35
The sub-problems 36
Choosing a research strategy 40
Planning your projects 42
Checklist of activities that will progress your research 52
Consolidation and assessment 54

01-Walliman-4197-Ch-01.indd 1 07/03/2011 9:50:58 AM

2  Your Research Project

•• To explain what research is, and what it is not, and the objectives of research
•• To outline the different types of research
•• To discuss the research process
•• To introduce the concept at the heart of any research project – the research
problem – and to discuss what a researchable problem is
•• To warn of common mistakes
•• To describe how to choose your research strategy and plan your research project


The shortest way of describing the contents of this chapter is to say that it provides
a starting point for your research efforts.
It introduces the concept of research as understood in the academic world, and
contrasts it to the loose way the word ‘research’ is used in everyday speech.
However, even in the academic world, the nature of research is the subject of a great
deal of debate. The characteristics of scientific method are briefly explained, and
the interpretivist alternative is discussed as one of the aspects of the debate about
research methods. This debate is treated in much greater detail in Chapter 2. An
overview of the research process is given showing various ways to illustrate it.
research problem An essential early step in the process of research is to find a research problem.
What a research problem is, and how to find one, are explained. The nature of your
problem will, in its turn, influence the form of your research. It is this quest for a
problem which forms the task in the final section, where what you have learned in
the earlier sections is applied to your own subject.
Key words are shown in bold and are repeated in the margin so you can scan
through the chapter to check up on their meaning.

What is Research?

‘Research’ is a term loosely used in everyday speech to describe a multitude of

activities, such as collecting masses of information, delving into esoteric theories,
and producing wonderful new products. It is important that a student or practitioner
embarking on a programme of academic or practical research has a clear idea of
what the word ‘research’ really means, and clears away any misconceptions that
might exist owing to the word’s common use in other fields.
It is, therefore, worth looking at a few of the ways that the word is used in
common language to describe activities, often called research, which are not

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Research and the Research Problem  3 

research in its real meaning, and also at some of the emotive language that
surrounds the term.
These are some of the ways in which the term ‘research’ is wrongly used:

1 As a mere gathering of facts or information: ‘I’ll go and do a bit of research into the
subject.’ This usually means quickly reading through a few books or magazines to
become better informed about something. Such information can be collected in
other ways too, e.g. by asking people questions in the street or by recording the
number of vehicles driving along a road. This kind of activity may more accurately be
called ‘collection of information’, and can be carried out in a systematic and thorough
way. It certainly can be seen as an important part of research.
2 Moving facts from one situation to another: ‘I have done my research, and come up
with this information which I present in this paper.’ It is easy to collect information
and reassemble it in a report or paper, duly annotated and referenced, and think of it
as research. However, even if the work is meticulously carried out, and brings enlight-
enment about the subject to the author and the reader, one vital ingredient of the
research process is missing – the interpretation of the information. One might call this
form of activity ‘assembly of information’. This is, as with the collection of information,
an important component of research, but not its entirety.
3 As an esoteric activity, far removed from practical life: ‘He’s just gone back into his
laboratory to bury himself in his research into the mysterious processes of bimolecu-
lar fragmentation.’ While many research projects deal with abstract and theoretical
subjects, it is often forgotten that the activity of research has greatly influenced all
aspects of our daily lives and created our understanding of the world. It is an activity
that is prompted by our need to satisfy our natural curiosity and our wish to make
sense of the world around us.
4 As a word to get your product noticed: ‘Years of painstaking research have produced
this revolutionary, labour-saving product!’ Very often the term ‘research’ is used in an
emotive fashion in order to impress and build confidence. If you ask for evidence of
the research process and methodology, you are likely to be faced with incomprehen-
sion, muddled thinking, and possibly even worse: the product may be the outcome of
mere guesswork!

So how can true research be defined? Box 1.1 suggests some alternatives.

Box 1.1  Definitions of research

The Oxford Encyclopaedic English Dictionary defines research as:

a the systematic investigation into the study of materials, sources etc. in

order to establish facts and reach new conclusions

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4  Your Research Project

b an endeavour to discover new or collate old facts etc. by the scientific study
of a subject or by a course of critical investigation. (OEED, 1991, p. 1228)

Leedy defines it from a more utilitarian point of view:

Research is a procedure by which we attempt to find systematically, and with

the support of demonstrable fact, the answer to a question or the resolution
of a problem. (1989, p. 5)

Dominowski is so terse in his definition that he seems to miss the point (see above):

Research is a fact-finding activity. (1980, p. 2)

Kerlinger uses more technical language to define it as:

the systematic, controlled, empirical and critical investigation of hypothetical

propositions about presumed relations among natural phenomena. (1970, p. 8)

You could go on finding definitions of research, which would, as in the examples in

the box, differ in emphasis and scope. What is certain is that there are many differ-
ent opinions about and approaches to research. However, as a means of achieving a
greater comprehension of our world, research distinguishes itself from the two
other basic and more ancient means, those of experience and reasoning.
experience Briefly, experience results in knowledge and understanding gained either
individually or as a group or society, or shared by experts or leaders, through
day-to-day living. Reflective awareness of the world around us, present to a degree
even in other mammals, provides invaluable knowledge. The most immediate form
of experience is personal experience, the body of knowledge gained individually
through encountering situations and events in life. A child learns to walk by trial
and error, and an adult gets adept at decorating jobs in the house after renovating
several rooms. When solutions to problems are not to be found within the personal
experience of an individual, then he or she may turn to those who have wider or
more specialist experience for advice, for example a solicitor in legal matters. Beyond
this are the ‘experts’ who have written books on particular subjects, e.g. health care
or the finer points of playing golf.
Knowledge gained from experience forms an essential aid to our understanding
and activities in everyday life. However, it does have severe limitations as a means
of methodically and reliably extending knowledge and understanding of the world.
This is because learning from experience tends to be rather haphazard and uncon-
trolled. Conclusions are often quickly drawn and not exhaustively tested, ‘common

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Research and the Research Problem  5 

Figure 1.1  Knowledge gained from experience forms an

essential aid to our understanding and activities in
everyday life

sense’ is invoked as self-evident, and the advice of experts is frequently misplaced or

seen as irrelevant. Despite these shortcomings, experience can be a valuable starting
point for systematic research, and may provide a wealth of questions to be investigated
and ideas to be tested.
Reasoning is a method of coming to conclusions by the use of logical argument. reasoning
There are three basic forms of argument: deductive, inductive and a combination
of both called inductive/deductive (or hypothetico-deductive, or scientific
method). Deductive reasoning was first developed by the Ancient Greeks, and was
refined by Aristotle through his deductive syllogisms. An argument based on
deduction begins with general statements and, through logical argument, comes
to a specific conclusion. A syllogism is the simplest form of this kind of argument
and consists of a major general premise (statement), followed by a minor, more
specific premise, and a conclusion which follows logically. Here is a simple example:

All live mammals breathe. – general premise

This cow is a live mammal. – specific premise
Therefore, this cow breathes. – conclusion

Inductive argument works the other way round. It starts from specific observations
and derives general conclusions therefrom. Its logical form cannot be so neatly
encapsulated in a three-line format, but a simple example will demonstrate the line
of reasoning:

All swans that have been observed are white in colour. – specific observations
Therefore one can conclude that all swans are white. – general conclusion

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6  Your Research Project

The value of inductive argument was revealed by Bacon in the 1600s. By careful and
systematic observation of the events in the world around us, many theories have
been evolved to explain the rules of nature. Darwin’s theory of evolution and
Mendel’s discovery of genetics are perhaps the most famous theories claimed (even
by their authors) to be derived from inductive argument.
However, deductive reasoning was found to be limiting because it could only
handle certain types of statement, and could become increasingly divorced from
observation and experience. Purely inductive reasoning proved to be unwieldy and
haphazard, and in practice was rarely applied to the letter. Medawar (1969, pp. 10–11)
quoted Darwin writing in his sixth edition of Origin of Species, where he said of
himself that he ‘worked on true Baconian principles, and without any theory
collected facts on a wholesale scale’, but later on he admitted he could not resist
forming a hypothesis on every subject.
When inductive and deductive argument were combined to form inductive/
deductive argument, the to-and-fro process of developing hypotheses (testable
theories) inductively from observations, charting their implications by deduction,
and testing them to refine or reject them in the light of the results, formed a powerful
basis for the progress of knowledge, especially of scientific knowledge, and is now
commonly referred to as scientific method.
It is the combination of experience with deductive and inductive reasoning which
is the foundation of modern scientific research. Three characteristics of research
can be seen to distinguish it from gaining knowledge either purely by experience or
by reasoning, as shown in Box 1.2.

Box 1.2  Three characteristics of research

1 Gaining experience is an uncontrolled and haphazard activity, while research is

systematic and controlled.
2 Reasoning can operate in an abstract world, divorced from reality, while
research is empirical and turns to experience and the world around us for
3 Unlike experience and reason, research aims to be self-correcting. The process
of research involves rigorously testing the results obtained, and methods and
results are open to public scrutiny and criticism.

In short:

Research is a combination of both experience and reasoning and must be

regarded as the most successful approach to the discovery of truth. (Cohen
and Manion, 1994, p. 5)

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Research and the Research Problem  7 

When we talk about this type of systematic research, it is usually assumed that it
makes use of the rigorous and questioning techniques of scientific enquiry. This
form of enquiry is called scientific method.

What it is for – the Objectives of Research

Research can have several legitimate objectives, either singly or in combination. The
main, overriding objective must be that of gaining useful or interesting knowledge.
Reynolds (1971, pp. 4–11) listed five things that he believed most people expected
scientific knowledge to provide. These, together with one that I have added myself,
can conveniently be used as the basis for a list of the possible objectives of research,
as in Box 1.3.

Box 1.3  Objectives of research

•• Categorization
•• Explanation
•• Prediction
•• Creating a sense of understanding
•• Providing potential for control
•• Evaluation

Categorization involves forming a typology of objects, events or concepts. This can categorization
be useful in explaining what ‘things’ belong together and how. One of the main
problems is to decide on the most useful methods of categorization, depending on
the reasons for attempting the categorization in the first place. Following from this
is the problem of determining what criteria to use to judge the usefulness of the
categorization. Two obvious criteria are mentioned by Reynolds: that of exhaustive-
ness, by which all items should be able to be placed into a category, without any
being left out; and that of mutual exclusiveness, by which each item should, without
question, be appropriately placed into only one category. Finally, it should be noted
that the typologies must be consistent with the concepts used in the theoretical
background to the study.
There are many events and issues that we do not fully, or even partly, understand.
The objective of providing an explanation of particular phenomena has been a explanation
common one in many forms of research.

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8  Your Research Project

On the basis of an explanation of a phenomenon it is often possible to make a

prediction prediction of future events related to it. In the natural sciences these predictions are
often made in the form of abstract statements, for example given C1, C2, … , Cn, if
X, then Y. More readily understood are predictions made in text form, for example:
if a person disagrees with a friend about his attitude toward an object, then a state
of psychological tension is produced.
Whilst explanation and prediction can reveal the inner workings of phenomena,
sense of
i.e. what happens and when, they do not always provide a sense of understanding
of phenomena – how or why they happen. A complete explanation of a phenome-
non will require a wider study of the processes which surround the phenomenon
and influence it or cause it to happen.
A good level of understanding of a phenomenon might lead to the possibility of
control finding a way to control it. Obviously, not all phenomena lend themselves to this: for
example, it is difficult to imagine how the disciplines of astronomy or geology could
include an element of control. But all of technology is dependent on the ability to
control the behaviour, movement or stability of things. Even in society there are many
attempts, often based on scientific principles, to control events such as crime, poverty,
the economy etc., though the record of success is more limited than in the natural
sciences, and perhaps there are cases of attempting the impossible. The problem is
that such attempts cannot be truly scientific as the variables cannot all be controlled,
nor can one be certain that all relevant variables have been considered. The crucial
issue in control is to understand how certain variables affect one another, and then
be able to change the variables in such a way as to produce predictable results.
evaluation Evaluation is making judgements about the quality of objects or events. Quality
can be measured either in an absolute sense or on a comparative basis. To be
useful, the methods of evaluation must be relevant to the context and intentions
of the research. For example, level of income is a relevant variable in the evalua-
tion of wealth, while degree of marital fidelity is not. Evaluation goes beyond
measurement, as it implies allotting values to objects or events. It is the context
of the research which will help to establish the types of values that should be used.

Types of Research

The different kinds of questions which instigate research require approaches to

research that are distinguished by their theoretical background and methodologies.
A brief summary of various types of research will illustrate the possibilities for your
research efforts.
Several major types of research can be identified, as in Box 1.4. Writers differ in how
they distinguish between them, and some catalogue many more types than those listed.

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Research and the Research Problem  9 

Box 1.4  Major types of research

  1 Historical
  2 Comparative
  3 Descriptive
  4 Correlation
  5 Experimental
  6 Evaluation
  7 Action
  8 Ethnogenic
  9 Feminist
10 Cultural

I will use these types as convenient overall headings and include under them a
variety of approaches which share some common features.


Historical research has been defined as the systematic and objective location, evalu-
ation and synthesis of evidence in order to establish facts and draw conclusions
about past events (Borg, 1963).
It involves exploring the meaning and relationship of events, and as its resource
it uses primary historical data in the form of historic artefacts, records and writings.
It attempts to find out what happened in the past and to reveal reasons for why and
how things happened. An interesting aspect of the values of historical research as
categorized by Hill and Kerber (1967), listed in Box 1.5, is the relationship the past
can have with the present and even the future.

Box 1.5  Values of historical research

•• It enables solutions to contemporary problems to be sought in the past.

•• It throws light on present and future trends.
•• It stresses the relative importance and the effects of the interactions that are
found within all cultures.
•• It allows for the revaluation of data supporting selected hypotheses, theories
and generalizations that are presently held about the past.

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10  Your Research Project

Historical evidence, consisting of primary historical data, must be scrutinized from

two points of view. The first is to ascertain whether the artefact or document to be
studied is genuine. There have been many mistakes made in the past, either through
a lack of analytical rigour by over-enthusiastic researchers, or through fraud. (You
might remember the Piltdown Skull, fraudulent skull bones which researchers long
believed to be the ‘missing link’ in human history.) The second is to examine, in
written evidence in the form of historic documents etc., the authenticity of the
contents. What is the meaning of what is written, and how accurate is it? For
example, many authentic medieval texts are known to be wildly inaccurate and
vague in their descriptions of events.

Figure 1.2  The first is to ascertain whether the artefact

to be studied is genuine

According to Gottschalk (1951), the questions of where, which, when and what
are crucial in identifying the four aspects of historical research which determine the
scope of a study, as shown in Box 1.6.

Box 1.6  Aspects of historical research that determine scope

1 Where the events took place.

2 Which people were involved.
3 When the events occurred.
4 What kind of human activity was involved.

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Research and the Research Problem  11 

The degree to which an aspect is studied can be varied, i.e. the number of human
activities examined can be increased or decreased, the time-span covered can be
extended or contracted etc. It must be remembered that the mere collection of
historic facts, or the setting up of chronologies of events, does not constitute
research. Although these are a necessary part of historical research, an interpretation interpretation
of the meanings and an assessment of the significance of the events are required.
Historic research is not based purely on scientific method. For instance, the data
used are seldom based on direct observation or experimentation. But it should
share many of the disciplines of scientific method, such as objectivity and the desire
to minimize bias and distortion, the use of scientific techniques such as chemical
and radioactive analysis, and statistics. The problem for historians tends to be the
paucity of information, while scientists are often overwhelmed by it!
All research students, whatever their chosen field of study, have to undertake a
review of the literature. This is a study of what has been done and written in the
past, and so the principles of historical research can be seen to be of direct relevance
to this part of their work.


Comparative research is often used together with historical research. Researchers

compare people’s experience of different societies, either between times in the past
or in parallel situations in the present. These studies can be on the macro level, e.g.
studying the role of revolutions in class struggle, or on the micro level, e.g. individ-
ual experiences in different types of marriage.
It is often easier to understand phenomena when they are compared with similar
phenomena from another time or place. Culture and society rely heavily on what
has gone before and often use references from the past to justify the present. The
constitution, the tax system, social mores are all rooted in their own histories.
Similarly, place also determines that phenomena develop differently.
The study and comparison of differences help to reveal the origins and develop-
ment of social phenomena, locating them in a certain time and place, and thus
defeating claims that they are universal and atemporal.
Many social theories are presented as if the generalizations that they embody are
valid for all times and places, when in fact they were arrived at on the basis of
limited contemporary Western experience (Llobera, 1998, p. 74).
We can also learn by making comparisons both with the past and with experi-
ences elsewhere. It would be foolish for politicians to introduce, say, sweeping
changes to the electoral system, without carefully studying the effects of such
changes in the past and in other situations.

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12  Your Research Project

Experimental research (described below), where the researcher can artificially

control causal factors, is not really possible in social research. However, the idea is
put forward that history and comparison can often supply the researcher with what
is a natural experiment. According to Mill’s method of agreement (one of his five
‘methods of experimental enquiry’ devised in the nineteenth century), ‘If two or
more instances of the phenomenon under investigation have only one circumstance
in common, the circumstances in which alone all the instances agree is the cause (or
effect) of the given phenomenon’ (1973, p. 390). Using this test it is possible to
compare the suggested causes of several instances of a phenomenon (e.g. an indus-
trial strike) and eliminate those that are not present in all instances as being
non-essential to the occurrence of the phenomenon. For example, reasons for strik-
ing could be trade union power struggles, poor working conditions, resistance to
change, low pay, unfair labour relations etc. If, say, one cause only is present in all
cases, e.g. unfair labour relations, then one could conclude that this is likely to be
the determining cause. One could then check to see if a situation where unfair
labour relations did not result in a strike could be found. If not, then this would
support the foregoing conclusion.
This kind of comparative exercise to explore and test causal factors is an emblem
of good research of this type, and helps to overcome the fact that the researcher has
no control over the available variables.


Instead of examining record or artefacts, descriptive research relies on observation as

a means of collecting data. It attempts to examine situations in order to establish what
is the norm, i.e. what can be predicted to happen again under the same circumstances.
‘Observation’ can take many forms. Depending on the type of information sought,
people can be interviewed, questionnaires distributed, visual records made, even
sounds and smells recorded. The important point is that the observations are written
down or recorded in some way, in order that they can be subsequently analysed. It
is important that the data so collected are organized and presented in a clear and
systematic way, so that the analysis can result in valid and accurate conclusions.
The scale of the research is influenced by two major factors, identified in Box 1.7.

Box 1.7  Influence on scale of descriptive research

1 The level of complexity of the survey.

2 The scope of the survey.

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Research and the Research Problem  13 

For example, seeking relationships between specific events inevitably requires a

more complex survey technique than aiming merely to describe the nature of exist-
ing conditions. Likewise, surveying a large number of cases over a wide area will
require greater resources than a small, local survey.
In order both to save on unnecessary work and to give accurate information on
the subject of your research, the sample of people or events surveyed (technically
called the population) must be carefully chosen and delineated. To do this, it is
necessary to be aware of the precise subject focus of the research so that specific
objectives can be formulated.
As descriptive research depends on human observations and responses, there is a
danger that distortion of the data can occur. This can be caused, among other ways,
by inadvertently including biased questions in questionnaires or interviews, or
through selective observation of events. Although bias cannot be wholly eliminated,
an awareness of its existence and likely extent is essential.


The information sought in correlation research is expressed not in the form of

artefacts, words or observations, but in numbers. While historical and descriptive
approaches are predominantly forms of qualitative research, analytical survey or
correlation research is principally quantitative. ‘Correlation’ is another word to
describe the measure of association or the relationships between two phenomena.
In order to find meaning in the numerical data, the techniques of statistics are
used. What kind of statistical tests are used to analyse the data depends very much
on the nature of the data.
This form of quantitative research can be broadly classified into two types of
studies, as shown in Box 1.8.

Box 1.8  Types of quantitative studies

1 Relational studies.
2 Prediction studies.

The first is an investigation of possible relationships between phenomena to estab-

lish if a correlation exists and, if so, its extent. This exploratory form of research is
carried out particularly where little or no previous work has been done, and its
outcomes can form the basis for further investigations.

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14  Your Research Project

Prediction studies tend to be carried out in research areas where correlations are
already known. This knowledge is used to predict possible future behaviour or
events, on the basis that if there has been a strong relationship between two or more
characteristics or events in the past, then these should exist in similar circumstances
in the future, leading to predictable outcomes.
In order to produce statistically significant results, quantitative research demands
data from a large number of cases. Greater numbers of cases tend to produce more
reliable results; 20–30 is considered to be about the minimum, though this depends
on the type of statistical test applied. The data, whatever their original character,
must be converted into numbers.
One of the advantages of correlation research is that it allows for the measure-
ment of a number of characteristics (technically called variables) and their relation-
ships simultaneously. Particularly in social science, many variables contribute to a
particular outcome (e.g. satisfaction with housing depends on many factors).
Another advantage is that, unlike other research approaches, it produces a measure
of the amount of relationship between the variables being studied. It also, when
used in prediction studies, gives an estimation of the probable accuracy of the
predictions made. One limitation to what can be learned from correlation research
is that, while the association of variables can be established, the cause and effect
relationships are not revealed.


Experimental research differs from the other research approaches noted above
through its greater control over the objects of its study. The researcher strives to
isolate and control every relevant condition that determines the events investigated,
so as to observe the effects when the conditions are manipulated. Chemical experi-
ments in a laboratory represent one of the purest forms of this research type.
At its simplest, an experiment involves making a change in the value of one
variable – called the independent variable – and observing the effect of that change on
another variable – called the dependent variable (Cohen and Manion, 1994, p. 164).
Thus, the most important characteristic of the experimental approach is that it
deals with the phenomenon of ‘cause and effect’.
However, the actual experiment is only a part of the research process. There are
several planned stages in experimental research. When the researcher has estab-
lished that the study is amenable to experimental methods, a prediction (technically
called a hypothesis) of the likely cause and effect patterns of the phenomenon has
to be made. This allows decisions to be made as to what variables are to be tested
and how they are to be controlled and measured. This stage, called the design of the
experiment, must also include the choice of relevant types of test and methods of

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Research and the Research Problem  15 

analysing the results of the experiments (usually by statistical analysis). Pre-tests are
then usually carried out to detect any problems in the experimental procedure.
Only after this is the experiment proper carried out. The procedures decided
upon must be rigorously adhered to and the observations meticulously recorded
and checked. Following the successful completion of the experiment, the important
task – the whole point of the research exercise – is to process and analyse the data
and to formulate an interpretation of the experimental findings.

Figure 1.3  Not all experimental research has to, or

even can, take place in a laboratory

Not all experimental research has to, or even can, take place in a laboratory. The
experimental methods used must take account of how much it is possible to control
the variables. Writers of textbooks on research have classified experimental designs
in different ways. As an example, Campbell and Stanley (1966) make their catego-
rization into four classes as shown in Box 1.9, which can be regarded as a useful
starting point for discussing their different characteristics.

Box 1.9  Classes of experiments

1 Pre-experimental.
2 True experimental.
3 Quasi-experimental.
4 Correlation and ex post facto.

Pre-experimental designs are unreliable and primitive experimental methods in

which assumptions are made despite the lack of essential control of variables. An

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16  Your Research Project

example of this is the supposition that, faced with the same stimulus, all samples will
behave identically to the one tested, despite possible differences between the samples.
True experimental designs are those that rigorously check the identical nature of
the groups before testing the influence of a variable on a sample of them in control-
led circumstances. Parallel tests are made on identical samples (control samples)
which are not subjected to the variable.
In quasi-experimental designs, not all of the conditions of true experimental
design can be fulfilled. The nature of the shortcomings is however recognized, and
reliability steps are taken to minimize them or predict a level of reliability of the results. The
most common case is when a group is tested for the influence of a variable and
compared with a non-identical group with known differences (control group)
which has not been subjected to the variable. Another, in the absence of a control
group, is repeated testing over time of one group, with and without the variable
(i.e. the same group acts as its own control at different times).
Correlation design looks for cause and effect relationships between two sets of
data, while ex post facto designs turn experimentation into reverse, and attempt to
interpret the nature of the cause of a phenomenon by the observed effects. Both of
these forms of research result in conclusions which are difficult to prove and they
rely heavily on logic and inference.


This is a descriptive type of research specifically designed to deal with complex

social issues. It aims to move beyond ‘just getting the facts’ in order to make sense
of the myriad human, political, social, cultural and contextual elements involved.
The latest form of this type of research, named by Guba and Lincoln (1989) as
fourth-generation evaluation, has, according to them, six properties, as in Box 1.10.

Box 1.10  Properties of evaluation research

1 The evaluation outcomes are not intended to represent ‘the way things really
are, or how they work’, but present the meaningful constructions which the
individual actors or groups of actors create in order to make sense of the situa-
tions in which they find themselves.
2 In representing these constructions, it is recognized that they are shaped to a
large extent by the values held by the constructors. This is a very important
consideration in a value-pluralistic society, where groups rarely share a
common value system.

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Research and the Research Problem  17 

3 These constructions are seen to be inextricably linked to the particular physical,

psychological, social and cultural contexts within which they are formed and
to which they refer. These surrounding conditions, however, are themselves
dependent on the constructions of the actors which endow them with
parameters, features and limits.
4 It is recognized that the evaluation of these constructions is highly depend-
ent on the involvement and viewpoint of the evaluators in the situation
5 This type of research stresses that evaluation should be action-oriented, define
a course that can be practically followed, and stimulate the carrying out of its
recommendations. This usually requires a stage of negotiation with all the
interested parties.
6 Due regard should be given to the dignity, integrity and privacy of those
involved at any level, and those who are drawn into the evaluation should be
welcomed as equal partners in every aspect of design, implementation, inter-
pretation and resulting action. (Guba and Lincoln, 1989, pp. 8–11)

There are a range of different approaches or evaluation models. Two of them are models
systems analysis and responsive evaluation.
Systems analysis is a holistic type of research, which reverses the three-stage order
of thinking which is typical of scientific enquiry, i.e. breaking the problem or
phenomenon to be investigated down into researchable parts, then separately
evaluating the parts, and finally aggregating these evaluations into an explanation
of the whole. In systems analysis, there are also three stages, but they start from
appraising the whole, as in Box 1.11.

Box 1.11  Stages of systems analysis

1 Identifying an encompassing whole (system) of which the phenomenon or

problem is a part.
2 Evaluating the behaviour or properties of the encompassing whole.
3 Explaining the behaviour or properties of the phenomenon or problem in
terms of its roles or functions within the encompassing whole.

Systems analysis lends itself to creating understanding in complicated situations,

particularly those involving people and organizations; such problems are often
referred to as ‘messes’ because of their indeterminate nature and large number of

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18  Your Research Project

interconnected variables. Modelling and diagramming are two of the principal

techniques used to describe systems.
In the responsive evaluation model a series of investigative steps is undertaken in
order to evaluate how responsive a programme is (e.g. an advertising campaign, a
new degree course or an experimental traffic scheme) to all those taking part in it.
Typical steps are shown in Box 1.12.

Box 1.12  Steps in responsive evaluation

•• Data collection: identifying issues from the people directly involved in the
programme; identifying further issues from the programme documents; observing
how the programme is actually working.
•• Evaluation: the design of an evaluation based on the data collected and reporting
•• Suggesting changes: informing the participants of the findings in ways specifically
designed for each type of audience.

A common purpose of evaluation research is to examine programmes or the

working of projects from the point of view of levels of awareness, costs and benefits,
cost-effectiveness, attainment of objectives and quality assurance. The results are
generally used to prescribe changes to improve and develop the situation, but in
some cases might be limited to descriptions giving a better understanding of the
programme (Robson, 1993, pp. 170–9).


This can be seen as related to experimental research, though it is carried out in the
real world rather than in the context of a closed experimental system. A basic defini-
tion of this type of research is: ‘a small scale intervention in the functioning of the
real world and a close examination of the effects of such an intervention’ (Cohen
and Manion, 1994, p. 186).
Its main characteristic is that it is essentially an ‘on the spot’ procedure, princi-
pally designed to deal with a specific problem evident in a particular situation. No
attempt is made to separate a particular feature of the problem from its context in
order to study it in isolation. Constant monitoring and evaluation are carried out,
and the conclusions from the findings are applied immediately, and further
monitored. Action research depends mainly on observation and behavioural data.
As a practical form of research, aimed at a specific problem and situation and with little
or no control over independent variables, it cannot fulfil the scientific requirement for

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Research and the Research Problem  19 

generalizability. In this sense, despite its exploratory nature, it is the antithesis of

experimental research.


In this approach, the researcher is interested in how the subjects of the research
theorize about their own behaviour rather than imposing a theory from outside.
The test of success is that the subjects themselves recognize the description of
familiar features of their culture. As a process of studying human behaviour,
according to Goetz and LeCompte (1984), the ethnogenic approach has three
characteristic features: it aims to represent a view of the world as it is structured by
the participants under observation by eliciting phenomenological data; it takes
place in the undisturbed natural settings of the subjects; and it attempts to repre-
sent the totality of the social, cultural and economic situation, regarding the context
to be equally important as the action (Uzzell, 1995, pp. 304–5).
This is a difficult form of research for several reasons. As so much of culture is
hidden and rarely made explicit, the data being sought by the researcher need to be
pursued by delving deep into the language and behaviour of the subjects of the study,
and of the surrounding conditions in which they live. There is an ever-present
danger that the cultural background and assumptions of the researcher will unduly
influence the interpretations and descriptions made on the basis of the data collected.
In addition to this, there can be confusions produced by the use of language and the
different meanings which may be given to words by the respondents and researcher.
The accounts of events in the past can never capture the infinite contents of
history. Historical knowledge, however well authenticated, is always subject to the
biases and memory of its chronicler. It is also very difficult for one living in the
twenty-first century to understand a world outside the framework of contemporary
beliefs, values and attitudes.
Apart from these problems of interpretation of data, there is the fact that when
working in a naturalistic setting, with social groups engaged in everyday activities,
it is impossible to repeat the situation in order to verify the research. Social reality
is not stable: a thing never ‘is’, as it is always changing into something else. It is
therefore of great importance that multi-method and confirmatory data sources are
used to capture the moment.


Feminist research is a particular model of social research which involves theory and
analysis that highlight the differences between men’s and women’s lives. It claims

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20  Your Research Project

that researchers who ignore these differences have invalid knowledge, as non-feminist
paradigms usually ignore the partiality of researchers’ ideas about the social world.
Value neutrality is impossible as no researcher practises research outside his or her
system of values and no methods of social science can guarantee that knowledge is
originated independently of values.
No specific methods are seen to be particularly feminist, but the methodology
used is informed by theories of gender relations. However, feminist research is
undertaken with a political commitment to the identification and transformation
of gender relations. This tends to reveal that this form of research is not uniquely
political, but rather exposes all methods of social research to be political.


postmodernism, Many of the prevailing theoretical debates (e.g. postmodernism, post-structuralism)

post-structuralism are concerned with the subjects of language and cultural interpretation, with the
result that these issues have frequently become central to sociological studies. The
need has therefore arisen for methodologies that allow analysis of cultural texts
to be compared, replicated, disproved and generalized. From the late 1950s,
language has been analysed from several basic viewpoints: the structural proper-
ties of language (notably Chomsky, Sacks, Schegloff), language as an action in its
contextual environment (notably Wittgenstein, Austin and Searle) and sociolin-
guistics and the ‘ethnography of speaking’ (Hymes, Bernstein, Labov and many
However, the meaning of the term ‘cultural texts’ has been broadened from that
of purely literary works to that of the many manifestations of cultural exchange, be
they formal such as opera, TV news programmes, cocktail parties etc., or informal
such as how people dress or converse. The main criterion for cultural texts is that
one should be able to ‘read’ some meanings into the phenomena. Texts can there-
fore include tactile, visual and aural aspects, even smells and tastes. Three
approaches to the consistent interpretation of cultural texts can be mentioned here
briefly: content analysis, semiotics and discourse analysis.
Content analysis was developed from the mid 1900s, chiefly in America, and is a
order rather positivistic attempt to apply order to the subjective domain of cultural
meaning. A quantitative approach is taken by counting the frequency of phenom-
ena within a case in order to gauge its importance in comparison with other cases.
As a simple example, in a study of racial equality one could compare the frequency
of the appearance of black people in television advertisements in various European
countries. Much importance is given to careful sampling and rigorous categorization
and coding in order to achieve a level of objectivity, reliability and generalizability
and the development of theories.

01-Walliman-4197-Ch-01.indd 20 07/03/2011 9:51:00 AM

Research and the Research Problem  21 

Semiotics takes an almost opposite approach by attempting to gain a deep

understanding of meanings by the interpretation of single elements of text rather
than to generalize through a quantitative assessment of components. The approach
is derived from the linguistic studies of Saussure, in which he saw meanings being
derived from their place in a system of signs. Words are only meaningful in their
relationship with other words, e.g. we only know the meaning of ‘horse’ if we can
compare it with different animals with different features.
This approach was further developed by Barthes and others to extend the analysis
of linguistic-based signs to more general sign systems in any sets of objects:

semiotics as a method focuses our attention on to the task of tracing the meanings of
things back through the systems and codes through which they have meaning and
make meaning. (Slater, 1995, p. 240)

Hence the meanings of a red traffic light can be seen as embedded in the system
of traffic laws, colour psychology, codes of conduct and convention etc. (which
could explain why in China a red traffic light means ‘go’). A strong distinction is
therefore made between denotation (what we perceive) and connotation (what we
read into) when analysing a sign.
Discourse analysis studies the way that people communicate with each other
through language within a social setting. Language is not seen as a neutral medium
for transmitting information; it is bedded in our social situation and helps to create
and recreate it. Language shapes our perception of the world, our attitudes and
identities. While a study of communication can be simply broken down into four
elements (sender, message code, receiver and channel), or alternatively into a set of
signs with both syntactical (i.e. orderly or systematic) organization and semantic
(i.e. meaningful and significant) relationships, such simplistic analysis does not
reflect the power of discourse.
It is the triangular relationship between discourse, cognition and society that
provides the focus for this form of analysis (van Dijk, 1994, p. 122). Two central
themes can be identified: the interpretive context in which the discourse is set, and
the rhetorical organization of the discourse. The former concentrates on analysing
the social context, for example the power relations between the speakers (perhaps
due to age or seniority) or the type of occasion where the discourse takes place (at
a private meeting or a party). The latter investigates the style and scheme of the
argument in the discourse, for example a sermon will aim to convince the listener
in a very different way to a lawyer’s presentation in court.
Post-structuralist social theory, and particularly the work of the French theorist
Michel Foucault, has been influential in the development of this analytical approach
to language. According to Foucault, discourses are ‘practices that systematically form
the objects of which they speak’ (1972, p. 43). He could thus demonstrate how
discourse is used to make social regulation and control appear natural.

01-Walliman-4197-Ch-01.indd 21 07/03/2011 9:51:00 AM


Unit Structure

5.0 Objectives
5.1 Meaning of Descriptive Research
5.2 Co relational Research
5.3 Causal-Comparative Research
5.4 Document Analysis
5.5 Ethnography
5.6 Case Study
5.7 Analytical Method.


After reading this unit, the student will be able to :

(a) State the nature of descriptive research

(b) Explain how to conduct correlational research
(c) Explain how to conduct correlational research
(d) Explain how to conduct causal-comparative research
(e) Explain how to conduct case study research
(f) Explain the concept of documentary research
(g) Explain how to conduct ethnographic research
(h) Explain the concept of analytical research


The descriptive research attempts to describe, explain and

interpret conditions of the present i.e. “what is’. The purpose of a
descriptive research is to examine a phenomenon that is occurring at
a specific place(s) and time. A descriptive research is concerned with
conditions, practices, structures, differences or relationships that
exist, opinions held, processes that are going on or trends that are

Types of Descriptive Research Methods

In the present unit, the following descriptive research

methods are described in detail:

1. Correlational Research
2. Causal-Comparative Research
3. Case Study
4. Ethnography
5. Document Analysis
6. Analytical Method.


Correlational research describes what exists at the moment

(conditions, practices, processes, structures etc.) and is therefore,
classified as a type of descriptive method. Nevertheless, these
conditions, practices, processes or structures described are markedly
different from the way they are usually described in a survey or an
observational study.

Correlational research comprises of collecting data to

determine whether, and to what extent, a relationship exists between
two or more quantifiable variables. Correlational research uses
numerical data to explore relationships between two or more
variables. The degree of relationship is expressed in terms of a
coefficient of correlation. If the relationship exists between
variables, it implies that scores on one variable are associated with
or vary with the scores on another variable. The exploration of
relationship of the relationship between variables provides insight
into the nature of the variables themselves as well as an
understanding of their relationships. If the relationships are
substantial and consistent, they enable a researcher to make
predictions about the variables.

Correlational research is aimed at determining the nature,

degree and direction of relationships between variables or using
these relationships to make predictions. Correlational studies
typically investigate a number of variables expected to be related to
a major, complex variable. Those variables which are not found to
be related to this major, complex variable are omitted from further
analysis. On the other hand, those variables which are found to be
related to this major, complex variable are further analysed in a
causal-comparative or experimental study so as to determine the
exact nature of the relationship between them.

In a correlational study, hypotheses or research questions are

stated at the beginning of the study. The null hypotheses are often
used in a correlational study.

Correlational study does not specify cause-and-effect

relationships between variables under consideration. It merely
specifies concomitant variations in the scores on the variables. For
example, there is a strong relationship between students’ scores on
academic achievement in Mathematics and their scores on academic
achievement in Science. This does not suggest that one of these
variables is the cause and the other is the effect. In fact, a third
variable, viz., students’ intelligence could be the cause of students’
academic achievement in both, Mathematics and Science.

Steps of a Correlational Research

1. Selection of a Problem: Correlational study is designed (a) to

determine whether and how a set of variables are related, or
(b) to test the hypothesis of expected relationship between
among the set of two or more variables. The variables to be
included in the study need to be selected on the basis of a
sound theory or prior research or observation and experience.
There has to be some logical connection between the
variables so as to make interpretations of the findings of the
study more meaningful, valid and scientific. A correlational
study is not done just to find out what exists: it is done for the
ultimate purpose of explanation and prediction of phenomena.
If a correlational study is done just to find out what exists, it
is usually known as a ‘shot gun’ approach and the findings of
such a study are very difficult to interpret.

2. Selection of the Sample and the Tools: The minimum

acceptable sample size should be 30, as statistically, it is
regarded as a large sample. The sample is generally selected
using one of the acceptable sampling methods. If the validity
and the reliability of the variables to be studied are low, the
measurement error is likely to be high and hence the sample
size should be large. Thus it is necessary to ensure that valid
and reliable tools are used for the purpose of collecting the
data. Moreover, suppose you are studying the relationship
between classroom environment and academic achievement
of students. If your tool measuring classroom environment
focuses only on the physical aspects of the classroom and not
its psycho-social aspects, then your findings would indicate a
relationship only between academic achievement of students

and the physical aspects of the classroom environment and

not the entire classroom environment since the physical
aspects of the classroom environment is not the only
comprehensive and reliable measure of classroom
environment. Thus the measurement instruments should be
valid and reliable.

3. Design and Procedure: The basic design of a correlational

study is simple. It requires scores obtained on two or more
variables from each unit of the sample and the correlation
coefficient between the paired scores is computed which
indicates the degree and direction of the relationship between

4. Interpretation of the Findings: In a study designed to explore

or test hypothesized relationships, a correlation coefficient is
interpreted in terms of its statistical significance.

Co relational research is of the following two types:

(a) Relationship Studies: These attempt to gain insight into

variables that are related to complex variables such as
academic performance, self-concept, stress, achievement
motivation or creativity.

(b) Prediction Studies: These are conducted to facilitate

decisions about individuals or to aid in various types of
selection. They are also conducted to determine predictive
validity of measuring tools as well as to test variables
hypothesized to be predictors of a criterion variable.

Some questions that could be examined through correlational

research are as follows:
1. How is job satisfaction of a teacher related to the extent of
autonomy available in job?
2. Is there a relationship between Socio-Economic Status of
parents and their involvement with the school?
3. How well do Common Entrance Test Scores for admission to
B.Ed. reflect / predict teacher effectiveness?

Check Your Progress - I

(a) State the meaning of correlational research.


(b) Explain the steps of correlational research.




It is a type of descriptive research since it describes

conditions that already exist. It is a form of investigation in which
the researcher has no direct control over independent variable as its
expression has already occurred or because they are essentially non-
manipulable. It also attempts to identify reasons or causes of pre-
existing differences in groups of individuals i.e. if a researcher
observes that two or more groups are different on a variable, he tries
to identify the main factor that has led to this difference. Another
name for this type of research is ex post facto research (which in
Latin means “after the fact”) since both the hypothesised cause and
the effect have already occurred and must be studied in retrospect.

Causal-comparative studies attempt to identify cause-effect

relationships, correlational studies do not. Causal-comparative
studies involve comparison, correlational studies involve
relationship. However, neither method provides researchers with true
experimental data. On the other hand, causal-comparative and
experimental research both attempt to establish cause-and-effect
relationships and both involve comparisons. In an experimental
study, the researcher selects a random sample and then randomly
divides the sample into two or more groups. Groups are assigned to
the treatments and the study is carried out. However, in causal-
comparative research, individuals are not randomly assigned to

treatment groups because they already were selected into groups

before the research began. In experimental research, the independent
variable is manipulated by the researcher, whereas in causal-
comparative research, the groups are already formed and already
different on the independent variable.

Inferences about cause-and-effect relationships are made

without direct intervention, on the basis of concomitant variation of
independent and dependent variables. The basic causal-comparative
method starts with an effect and seeks possible causes. For example,
if a researcher observes that the academic achievement of students
from different schools. He may hypothesise the possible cause for
this as the type of management of schools, viz. private-aided,
private-unaided, or government schools (local or state or any other).
He therefore decides to conduct a causal-comparative research in
which academic achievement of students is the effect that has
already occurred and school types by management is the possible
hypothesised cause. This approach is known as retrospective causal-
comparative research since it starts with the effects and investigates
the causes.

In another variation of this type of research, the investigator

starts with a cause and investigates its effect on some other variable.
i.e. such research is concerned with the question ‘what is the effect
of X on Y when X has already occurred?’ For example, what long-
term effect has occurred on the self-concept of students who are
grouped according to ability in schools? Here, the investigator
hypothesises that students who are grouped according to ability in
schools are labelled ‘brilliant’, ‘average’ or ‘dull’ and this over a
period of time could lead to unduly high or unduly poor self-concept
in them. This approach is known as prospective causal-comparative
research since it starts with the causes and investigates the effects.
However, retrospective causal-comparative studies are far more
common in educational research.

Causal-comparative research involves two or more groups

and one independent variable. The goal of causal-comparative
research is to establish cause-and-effect relationships just like an
experimental research. However, in causal-comparative research, the
researcher is able to identify past experiences of the subjects that are
consistent with a ‘treatment’ and compares them with those subjects
who have had a different treatment or no treatment. The causal-
comparative research may also involve a pre-test and a post-test. For
instance, a researcher wants to compare the effect of “Environmental
Education” in the B.Ed. syllabus on student-teachers’ awareness of

environmental issues and problems attitude towards environmental

protection. Here, a researcher can develop and administer a pre-test
before being taught the paper on “Environmental Education” and a
post-test after being taught the same. At the same time, the pre-test
as well as the post-test are also administered to a group which was
not taught the paper on “Environmental Education”. This is
essentially a non-experimental research as there is no manipulation
of the treatment although it involves a pre-test and a post-test. In this
type of research, the groups are not randomly assigned to exposure
to the paper on “Environmental Education”. Thus it is possible that
other variables could also affect the outcome variables. Therefore, in
a causal-comparative research, it is important to think whether
differences other than the independent variable could affect the

In order to establish cause-and-effect in a causal-comparative

research, it is essential to build a convincing rational argument that
the independent variable is influencing the dependent variable. It is
also essential to ensure that other uncontrolled variables do not have
an effect on the dependent variable. For this purpose, the researcher
should try to draw a sample that minimises the effects of other
extraneous variables. According to Picciano, “In stating a hypothesis
in a causal comparative study, the word “effect” is frequently used”.

Conducting a Causal-Comparative Study

Although the independent variable is not manipulated, there

are control procedures that can be exercised to improve
interpretation of results.

Design and Procedure

The researcher selects two groups of participants, accurately

referred to as comparison groups. These groups may differ in two
ways as follows:
(i) One group possesses a characteristic that the other does
(ii) Each group has the characteristic, but to differing degrees
or amounts.
(iii) Definition and selection of the comparison groups are
very important parts of the causal-comparative procedure.
(iv) The independent variable differentiating the groups must
be clearly and operationally defined, since each group
represents a different population.

(v) In causal-comparative research the random sample is

selected from two already existing populations, not from a
single population as in experimental research.
(vi) As in experimental studies, the goal is to have groups that
are as similar as possible on all relevant variables except
the independent variable.
(vii) The more similar the two groups are on such variables, the
more homogeneous they are on everything but the
independent variable.

Control Procedures
• Lack of randomization, manipulation, and control are
all sources of weakness in a causal-comparative study.
• Random assignment is probably the single best way to
try to ensure equality of the groups.
• A problem is the possibility that the groups are
different on some other important variable (e.g.
gender, experience, or age) besides the identified
independent variable.
• Matching is another control technique.
• If a researcher has identified a variable likely to influence
performance on the dependent variable, the researcher may
control for that variable by pair-wise matching of
• For each participant in one group, the researcher finds a
participant in the other group with the same or very similar
score on the control variable.
• If a participant in either group does not have a suitable match,
the participant is eliminated from the study.
• The resulting matched groups are identical or very similar
with respect to the identified extraneous variable.
• The problem becomes serious when the researcher attempts to
simultaneously match participants on two or more variables.
Comparing Homogeneous Groups or Subgroups
• To control extraneous variables, groups that are homogeneous
with respect to the extraneous variable are compared.

• This procedure may lower the number of participants and

limit the generalisability of the findings.
• A similar but more satisfactory approach is to form subgroups
within each group that represent all levels of the control
• Each group might be divided into two or more subgroups on
the basis of high, average, and low levels of ‘Independent
• Suppose the independent variable in the study is students’ IQ.
The subgroups then will comprise of high, average, and low
levels of IQ. The existence of comparable subgroups in each
group controls for IQ.
• In addition to controlling for the variable, this approach also
permits the researcher to determine whether the independent
variable affects the dependent variable differently at different
levels of the control variable.
• The best approach is to build the control variable right into
the research design and analyze the results in a statistical
technique called factorial analysis of variance.
• A factorial analysis allows the researcher to determine the
effect of the independent variable and the control variable on
the dependent variable both separately and in combination.
• It permits determination of whether there is interaction
between the independent variable and the control variable
such that the independent variable operates differently at
different levels of the control variable.

Independent variables in a causal-comparative research can

be of following types:

Type of Variable Examples

Organismic Variables Age

Ability Variables Intelligence
Scholastic Ability
Specific Aptitudes

Personality Variables Anxiety Level

Aggression Level
Emotional Intelligence
Introversion / Extroversion
Academic or Vocational Aspirations
Brain Dominance
Learning, Cognitive or Thinking Styles
Psycho-Social Maturity
Home Background Home Environment
Related Variables
Socio-Economic Status
Educational Background of Parents
Economic Background of Parents
Employment Status of Parents
Single Parent v/s Both Parents
Employment Status of Mother (Working or
Non- Working)
Birth Order
No. of Siblings
School Related Variables School Environment
Classroom Environment
Teacher Personality
Teaching Style
Leadership Style
School Type by Management ( Private-aided
v/s Private-unaided v/s Government)
School Type by Gender( Single-sex v/s Co-
School Type by Denomination (Run by a non-
religious organisation v/s Run by a religious
organisation whose one of the objectives is to
propagate a specific religion.)
School Type by Board Affiliation (SSC,
School Size
Per Student Expenditure
Socio-Economic Context of the School

The Value of Causal-Comparative Research: In a large majority

of educational research especially in the fields of sociology of
education and educational psychology, it is not possible to
manipulate independent variables due to ethical considerations
especially when one is dealing with variables such as anxiety,
intelligence, home environment, teacher personality, negative
reinforcement, equality of opportunity and so on. It is also not
possible to control such variables as in an experimental research. For
studying such topics and their influence on students, causal-
comparative method is the most appropriate.

The Weaknesses of Causal-Comparative Research: There are

three major limitations of causal-comparative research. These
include, (a) lack of control or the inability to manipulate independent
variables methodologically, (b) the lack of power to assign subjects
randomly to groups and (c) the danger of inappropriate
interpretations. The lack of randomization, manipulation, and
control factors make it difficult to establish cause-and-effect
relationships with any degree of confidence.

The statistical techniques used to compare groups in a causal-

comparative research include the t-test when two groups are to be
compared and ANOVA when more than two groups are to be
compared. The technique of ANCOVA may also be used in case
some other variables likely to influence the dependent variable need
to be controlled statistically. Sometimes, chi square is also used to
compare group frequencies, or to see if an event occurs more
frequently in one group than another.

Use of Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) : It is used to

adjust initial group differences on variables used in causal-
comparative and experimental research studies. Analysis of
covariance adjusts scores on a dependent variable for initial
differences on some other variable related to performance on the
dependent. Suppose we were doing a study to compare two methods,
X and Y, of teaching sixth standard students to solve mathematical
problems. Covariate analysis statistically adjusts the scores of
method Y to remove the initial advantage so that the results at the
end of the study can be fairly compared as if the two groups started


Documentary Analysis is closely related to historical

research since in such surveys we study the existing documents. But
it is different from historical research in which our emphasis is on
the study of the past; and in the descriptive research we emphasise
on the study of the present. Descriptive research in the field of
education may focus on describing the existing school practices,
attendance rate of the students, health records, and so on.

The method of documentary analysis enables the researcher

to include large amounts of textual information and systematically
identify its properties. Documentary analysis today is a widely used
research tool aimed at determining the presence of certain words or
concepts within texts or sets of texts. Researchers quantify and
analyze the presence, meanings and relationships of such words and
concepts, then make inferences about the messages within the texts,
the writer(s), the audience and even the culture and time of which
these are a part. Documentary analysis could be defined as a
research technique for the objective, systematic, and quantitative
description of manifest content of communications. It is a technique
for making inferences by objectively and systematically identifying
specified characteristics of messages. The technique of documentary
analysis is not restricted to the domain of textual analysis, but may
be applied to other areas such as coding student drawings or coding
of actions observed in videotaped studies, analyzing past documents
such as memos, minutes of the meetings, legal and policy statements
and so on. In order to allow for replication, however, the technique
can only be applied to data that are durable in nature. Texts in
documentary analysis can be defined broadly as books, book
chapters, essays, interviews, discussions, newspaper headlines and
articles, historical documents, speeches, conversations, advertising,
theater, informal conversation, or really any occurrence of
communicative language. Texts in a single study may also represent
a variety of different types of occurrences.

Documentary analysis enables researchers to sift through

large amount of data with comparative ease in a systematic fashion.
It can be a useful technique for allowing one to discover and
describe the focus of individual, group, institutional or social
attention. It also allows inferences to be made which can then be
corroborated using other methods of data collection. Much
documentary analysis research is motivated by the search for
techniques to infer from symbolic data what would be too costly, no
longer possible, or too obtrusive by the use of other techniques.

These definitions illustrate that documentary analysis emphasises an

integrated view of speech/texts and their specific contexts.
Document analysis is the systematic exploration of written
documents or other artefacts such as films, videos and photographs.
In pedagogic research, it is usually the contents of the artefacts,
rather than say, the style or design, that are of interest.
Why analyse documents?

Documents are an essential element of day-to-day work in

education. They include:

• Student essays
• Exam papers
• Minutes of meetings
• Module outlines
• Policy documents

In some pedagogic research, analysis of relevant documents

will inform the investigation. If used to triangulate, or give another
perspective on a research question, results of document analysis may
complement or refute other data. For example, policy documents in
an institution may be analysed and interviews with staff or students
and observation of classes may suggest whether or not new policies
are being implemented. A set of data from documents, interviews
and observations could contribute to a case study of a particular
aspect of pedagogy.

How can documents be analysed?

The content of documents can be explored in systematic ways

which look at patterns and themes related to the research question(s).
For example, in making a case study of deep and surface learning in
a particular course, the question might be

'How has deep learning been encouraged in this course in the

last three years?'

Minutes of course meetings could be examined to see whether

or how much this issue has been discussed; Student handouts could
be analysed to see whether they are expressed in ways which might
encourage deep learning. Together with other data-gathering
activities such as student questionnaires or observation of classes, an
action research study might then be based on an extended research
question so that strategies are implemented to develop deep learning.

In the example of deep learning, perhaps the most obvious

way to analyse the set of minutes would be to use a highlighting pen
every time the term 'deep learning' was used. You might also choose
to highlight 'surface learning' a term with an implied relationship to
deep learning. You might also decide, either before starting the
analysis, or after reading the documents, that there are other terms or
inferences which imply an emphasis on deep learning. You might
therefore go through the documents again, selecting additional

The levels of analysis will vary but a practitioner-researcher

will need to be clear and explicit about the rationale for, and the
approach to, selection of content.

Advantages and disadvantages of document analysis

Robson (2002) points out the advantages and disadvantages

of content analysis. An advantage is that documents are unobtrusive
and can be used without imposing on participants; they can be
checked and re-checked for reliability.

A major problem is that documents may not have been

written for the same purposes as the research and therefore
conclusions will not usually be possible from document analysis

Check Your Progress - III

(a) State the meaning of documentary research.


(b) Explain the applications of documentary research.





Ethnographic studies are usually holistic, founded on the idea

that human beings are best understood in the fullest possible context,
including the place where they live, the improvements they have
made to that place, how they make a living and gather food, housing,
energy and water for themselves, what their marriage customs are,
what language(s) they speak and so on. Ethnography is a form of
research focusing on the sociology of meaning through close field
observation of socio-cultural phenomena. Typically, the
ethnographer focuses on a community (not necessarily geographic,
considering also work, leisure, classroom or school groups and other
communities). Ethnography may be approached from the point of
view of art and cultural preservation and as a descriptive rather than
analytic endeavour. It essentially is a branch of social and cultural
anthropology. The emphasis in ethnography is on studying an entire
culture.The method starts with selection of a culture, review of the
literature pertaining to the culture, and identification of variables of
interest - typically variables perceived as significant by members of
the culture. Ethnography is an enormously wide area with an
immense diversity of practitioners and methods. However, the most
common ethnographic approach is participant observation and
unstructured interviewing as a part of field research. The
ethnographer becomes immersed in the culture as an active
participant and records extensive field notes. In an ethnographic
study, there is no preset limit of what will be observed and
interviewed and no real end point in as is the case with grounded

Hammersley and Atkinson define ethnography as, "We see

the term as referring primarily to a particular method or sets of
methods. In its most characteristic form it involves the ethnographer
participating, overtly or covertly, in people's lives for an extended
period of time, watching what happens, listening to what is said,
asking questions—in fact, collecting whatever data are available to
throw light on the issues that are the focus of the research. Johnson
defines ethnography as "a descriptive account of social life and
culture in a particular social system based on detailed observations
of what people actually do."

Assumptions in an Ethnographic Research

According to Garson, these are as follows:

a. Ethnography assumes that the principal research interest is
primarily affected by community cultural understandings. The
methodology virtually assures that common cultural
understandings will be identified for the research interest at
hand. Interpretation is apt to place great emphasis on the causal
importance of such cultural understandings. There is a
possibility that an ethnographic focus will overestimate the role
of cultural perceptions and underestimate the causal role of
objective forces.
b. Ethnography assumes an ability to identify the relevant
community of interest. In some settings, this can be difficult.
Community, formal organization, informal group and
individual-level perceptions may all play a causal role in the
subject under study and the importance of these may vary by
time, place and issue. There is a possibility that an
ethnographic focus may overestimate the role of community
culture and underestimate the causal role of individual
psychological or of sub-community (or for that matter, extra-
community) forces.
c. Ethnography assumes that the researcher is capable of
understanding the cultural mores of the population under study,
has mastered the language or technical jargon of the culture and
has based findings on comprehensive knowledge of the culture.
There is a danger that the researcher may introduce bias toward
perspectives of his or her own culture.
d. While not inherent to the method, cross-cultural ethnographic
research runs the risk of falsely assuming that given measures
have the same meaning across cultures.

Characteristics of Ethnographic Research:

According to Hammersley and Sanders, ethnography is

characterized by the following features :

(a) People's behaviour is studied in everyday contexts.

(b) It is conducted in a natural setting.
(c) Its goal is more likely to be exploratory rather than evaluative.
(d) It is aimed at discovering the local person’s or “native’s” point of
view, wherein, the native may be a consumer or an end-user.

(e) Data are gathered from a wide range of sources, but observation
and/or relatively informal conversations are usually the
principal ones.
(f) The approach to data collection is unstructured in that it does not
involve following through a predetermined detailed plan set up
at the beginning of the study nor does it determine the
categories that will be used for analysing and interpreting the
soft data obtained. This does not mean that the research is
unsystematic. It simply means that initially the data are
collected as raw form and a wide amount as feasible.
(g) The focus is usually a single setting or group of a relatively
small size. In life history research, the focus may even be a
single individual.
(h) The analysis of the data involves interpretation of the meanings
and functions of human actions and mainly takes the form of
verbal descriptions and explanations, with quantification and
statistical analysis playing a subordinate role at most.
(i) It is cyclic in nature concerning data collection and analysis. It is
open to change and refinement throughout the process as new
learning shapes future observations. As one type of data
provides new information, this information may stimulate the
researcher to look at another type of data or to elicit
confirmation of an interpretation from another person who is
part of the culture being studied.

Guidelines for Conducting Ethnography

Following are some broad guidelines for conducting fieldwork:

1. Be descriptive in taking field notes. Avoid evaluations.

2. Collect a diversity of information from different perspectives.
3. Cross-validate and triangulate by collecting different kinds of
data obtained using observations, interviews, programme
documentation, recordings and photographs.
4. Capture participants' views of their own experiences in their
own words. Use quotations to represent programme
participants in their own terms.
5. Select key informants carefully. Draw on the wisdom of their
informed perspectives, but keep in mind that their
perspectives are limited.

6. Be conscious of and perceptive to the different stages of

fieldwork. (a) Build trust and rapport at the entry stage.
Remember that the researcher-observer is also being observed
and evaluated. (b) Stay attentive and disciplined during the
more routine middle-phase of fieldwork. (c) Focus on pulling
together a useful synthesis as fieldwork draws to a close. (d)
Be well-organized and meticulous in taking detailed field
notes at all stages of fieldwork. (e) Maintain an analytical
perspective grounded in the purpose of the fieldwork: to
conduct research while at the same time remaining involved
in experiencing the observed setting as fully as possible. (f)
Distinguish clearly between description, interpretation and
judgment. (g) Provide formative feedback carefully as part of
the verification process of fieldwork. Observe its effect. (h)
Include in your field notes and observations reports of your
own experiences, thoughts and feelings. These are also field
data. Fieldwork is a highly personal experience. The meshing
of fieldwork procedures with individual capabilities and
situational variation is what makes fieldwork a highly
personal experience. The validity and meaningfulness of the
results obtained depend directly on the observer's skill,
discipline, and perspective. This is both the strength and
weakness of observational methods.

Techniques Used in Conducting Ethnography

These include the following :

A. Listening to conversations and interviewing. The researcher

needs to make notes or audio-record these.
B. Observing behaviour and its traces, making notes and
mapping patterns of behaviour, sketching of relationship
between people, taking photographs, video-recordings of
daily life and activities and using digital technology and web

Stages in Conducting Ethnography

According to Spradley, following are the stages in conducting

an ethnographic study :

1. Selecting an ethnographic project.

2. Asking ethnographic questions and collecting ethnographic

3. Making an ethnographic record.

4. Analysing ethnographic data and conducting more research as
5. Outlining and writing an ethnography.

Steps of Conducting Ethnography

According to Spradley, ethnography is a non-linear research

process but is rather, a cyclical process. As the researcher develops
questions and uncovers answers, more questions emerge and the
researcher must move through the steps again.

According to Spradley, following are the steps of conducting an

ethnographic study (However, all research topics may not follow all
the steps listed here) :

1. Locating a social situation. The scope of the topic may vary

from the “micro-ethnography” of a “single-social-
situation” to “macro-ethnography” of a complex society.
According to Hymes, there are three levels of ethnography
including (i) “comprehensive ethnography” which documents
an entire culture, (ii) the “topic-oriented ethnography” which
looks at aspects of a culture and (iii) “hypothesis-oriented
ethnography” which beings with an idea about why
something happens in a culture. Suppose you want to conduct
research on classroom environment. This step requires that
you select a category of classroom environment and identify
social and academic situations in which it is used.

2. Collecting data. There are four types of data collection used

in ethnographic research, namely, (a) watching or being part
of a social context using participant and non-participant
observation and noted in the form of on observer notes, logs,
diaries, and so on, (b) asking open and closed questions that
cover identified topics using semi-structured interviews, (c)
asking open questions that enable a free development of
conversation using unstructured interviews and (d) using
collected material such as published and unpublished
documents, photographs, papers, videos and assorted
artefacts, letters, books or reports. The problem with such
data is that the more you have, greater is the effort required to
analyse. Moreover, as the study progresses, the amount of
data increases making it more difficult and sharp to analyse
the data. Yet more data leads to better codes, categories,

theories and conclusions. What is 'enough' data is subject to

debate and may well be constrained by the time and resource
the researcher has available. Deciding when and where to
collect data can be a crucial decision. A profound analysis at
one point may miss others, whilst a broad encounter may miss
critical finer points. Several deep dives can be a useful
method. Social data can be difficult to access due to ethics,
confidentiality and determination necessary in such research.
There is often less division of activity phases in qualitative
research and the researcher may be memoing and coding as
he proceeds with the study. The researcher usually uses
theoretical and selective sampling for data collection.

3. Doing participant observation. Formulate open questions

about the social situations under study. Malinowski opines
that ethnographic research should begin with “foreshadowed
problems”. These problems are questions that researchers
bring to a study and to which they keep an open eye but to
which they are not enslaved. Collect examples of the
classroom environment. Select research tools/techniques.
Spradley provides a matrix of questions about cultural space,
objects, acts activities, events, time, actors, goals and feelings
that researchers can use when just starting the study.
4. Making an ethnographic record. Write descriptions of
classroom environment and the situations in which it is used.

5. Making descriptive observations. Select method for doing


6. Making domain analysis. Discover themes within the data and

apply existing theories, if any, as applicable. Domain
analysis requires the researcher to first choose one semantic
relationship such as “causes” or “classes”. Second, you select
a portion of your data and begin reading it and while doing
so, fill out a domain analysis worksheet where you list all the
terms that fit the semantic relationship you chose. Now
formulate structural questions for each domain. Structural
questions occur less frequently as compared to descriptive
questions in normal conversation. Hence they require more
framing. Types of structural questions include the following :

(i) Verification and elicitation questions such as (a)

verification of hypotheses (Is the teacher-student
relationship a conducive?), (b) domain verification (Are
there different types of teacher-student relationships?
What are the different types? (c) verification of included

terms (is teachers’ strike an illegal activity?) and (d)

verification of semantic relationship (Is teaching

(ii) Frame substitution. This requires starting with real

sentence like "you get a lot of brickbats in
administration". Then ask, can you think of any other
terms that go in that sentence instead of brickbats? You
get a lot of _____ in administration. (This can be done
systematically by giving them list of terms to choose

(iii) Card sorts. Write phrases or words on cards. Then lay

them out and ask the questions mentioned above. The
researcher can ask which words are similar. Testing
hypotheses about relations between domains and
between domains and items. Like: "Are there different
kinds of classroom climates?" If yes, it is a domain.
Then ask "what kinds of classroom climates are there?”
The final step in domain analysis is to make a list of all
the hypothetical domains you have identified, the
relationships in these domain and the structural
questions that follow your analysis.

7. Making focussed observations.

8. Making a taxonomic analysis. Taxonomy is a scientific

process of classifying things and arranging them in groups or
a set of categories (domains) organised on a single semantic
relationships. The researcher needs to test his taxonomies
against data given by informants. Make comparisons of two
or three symbols such as word, event, constructs.

9. Making selected observations.

10. Making a componential analysis which is a systematic search

fro the attributes or features of cultural symbols that
distinguish them from others and give them meaning. The
basic idea in componential analysis is that all items in a
domain can be decomposed into combinations of semantic
features which combine to give the item meaning.

11. Discovering cultural themes. A theme is a postulate or

position, explicit or implicit, which is directly or indirectly
approved and promoted in a society. Strategies of discovering
cultural themes include (i) in-depth study of culture, (ii)
making a cultural inventory, (iii) identifying and analysing

components of all domains, (iv) searching for common

elements across all domains such as gender, age, SES groups
etc., (v) identifying domains that clearly show a strong pattern
of behaviour, (vi) making schema of cultural scene and (vii)
identifying generic (etic) codes usually functional such as
social conflict, inequality, cultural contradictions in the
institutional social system, strategies of social control,
managing interpersonal relations, acquiring status in the
institution and outside, solving educational and administrative
problems and so on.

12. Taking a cultural inventory.

13. Writing an ethnography

Guidelines for Interviewing
According to Patton, following are some useful guidelines
that can be used for effective interviewing :
1. Throughout all phases of interviewing, from planning through
data collection to analysis, keep centred on the purpose of the
research endeavour. Let that purpose guide the interviewing
2. The fundamental principle of qualitative interviewing is to
provide a framework within which respondents can express their
own understandings in their own terms.
3. Understand the strengths and weaknesses of different types of
interviews: the informal conversational interview; the interview
guide approach; and the standardized open-ended interview.
4. Select the type of interview (or combination of types) that is most
appropriate to the purposes of the research effort.
5. Understand the different kinds of information one can collect
through interviews: behavioural data; opinions; feelings;
knowledge; sensory data; and background information.
6. Think about and plan how these different kinds of questions can
be most appropriately sequenced for each interview topic,
including past, present, and future questions.
7. Ask truly open-ended questions.
8. Ask clear questions, using understandable and appropriate
9. Ask one question at a time.

10. Use probes and follow-up questions to solicit depth and detail.
11. Communicate clearly what information is desired, why that
information is important, and let the interviewee know how the
interview is progressing.
12. Listen attentively and respond appropriately to let the person
know he or she is being heard.
13. Avoid leading questions.
14. Understand the difference between a depth interview and an
interrogation. Qualitative evaluators conduct depth interviews;
police investigators and tax auditors conduct interrogations.
15. Establish personal rapport and a sense of mutual interest.
16. Maintain neutrality toward the specific content of responses. You
are there to collect information not to make judgments about that
17. Observe while interviewing. Be aware of and sensitive to how
the person is affected by and responds to different questions.
18. Maintain control of the interview.
19. Tape record whenever possible to capture full and exact
quotations for analysis and reporting.
20. Take notes to capture and highlight major points as the interview
21. As soon as possible after the interview check the recording for
malfunctions; review notes for clarity; elaborate where
necessary; and record observations.
22. Take whatever steps are appropriate and necessary to gather valid
and reliable information.
23. Treat the person being interviewed with respect. Keep in mind
that it is a privilege and responsibility to peer into another
person's experience.
24. Practice interviewing. Develop your skills.
25. Enjoy interviewing. Take the time along the way to stop and
"hear" the roses.

Writing Ethnographic Research Report


The components of an ethnographic research report should

include the following :

1. Purpose / Goals / Questions.

2. Research Philosophy.
3. Conceptual/Theoretical Framework
4. Research Design / Model.
5. Setting/Circumstances.
6. Sampling Procedures.
7. Background and Experience of Researcher.
8. Role/s of Researcher.
9. Data Collection Method.
10. Data Analysis/Interpretation.
11. Applications/Recommendations.
12. Presentation Format and Sequence.

Advantages of Ethnography

These are as follows:

1. It provides the researcher with a much more comprehensive

perspective than other forms of research
2. It is also appropriate to behaviours that are best understood by
observing them within their natural environment (dynamics)

Disadvantages of Ethnography

These are as follows:

1. It is highly dependent on the researcher’s observations and

2. There is no way to check the validity of the researcher’s
conclusion, since numerical data is rarely provided
3. Observer bias is almost impossible to eliminate
4. Generalizations are almost non-existent since only a single
situation is observed, leaving ambiguity in the study.
5. It is very time consuming.

Check Your Progress - IV

(a) State the characteristics of ethnographic research.




(b) Explain the steps of conducting ehtnographic research.





Case study research is descriptive research that involves
describing and interpreting events, conditions, circumstances or
situations that are occurring in the present. Case study seeks to
engage with and report the complexities of social activity in order to
represent the meanings that individual social actors bring to their
social settings. It excels at bringing us to an understanding of a
complex issue or object and can extend experience or add strength to
what is already known through previous research. Case studies
emphasize detailed contextual analysis of a limited number of events
or conditions and their relationships. Darwin's theory of evolution
was based, in essence, on case study research, not experimentation,
for instance. In education, this is one of the most widely used
qualitative approaches of research.

According to Odum, “The case study method is a technique

by which individual factor whether it be an institution or just an
episode in the life of an individual or a group is analyzed in its
relationship to any other in the group.” Its distinguishing
characteristic is that each respondent is (individual, family,
classroom, institution, cultural group) is taken as a unit and the
unitary nature of individual case is the focus of analysis. It seeks to
engage with and report the complexity of social and/or educational

activity in order to represent the meanings that individual actors in

the situation bring to that setting. It assumes that social and/or
educational reality is created through social interactions, situated in
specific contexts and histories and seeks to identify and describe
followed by analysing and theorising. It assumes that things may not
be as they seem and involve in-depth analysis so as to understand a
‘case’ rather than generalising to a larger population. It derives much
of its philosophical underpinnings and methodology from
ethnography, symbolic interactionism, ethnomethodology and
phenomenology. It follows the ‘social constructivism’ perspective of
social sciences.
Most case studies are usually qualitative in nature. Case study
research excels at enabling us to understand a complex issue or
object and can extend experience or add strength to what is already
known through previous research. Case studies involve a detailed
contextual analysis of a limited number of events or conditions and
their relationships. Social scientists have made a wide use of this
qualitative research method to examine contemporary real-life
situations and provide the basis for the application of ideas and
extension of methods. Yin defines the case study research method as
an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon
within its real-life context; when the boundaries between
phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which
multiple sources of evidence are used.
However, some case studies can also be quantitative in nature
especially if they deal with cost-effectiveness, cost-benefit analysis
or institutional effectiveness. Many case studies have been done by
combining the qualitative as well as the quantitative approaches in
which initially the qualitative approach has been used and data have
been collected using interviews and observations followed by the
quantitative approach. The approach of case studies ranges from
general field studies to interview of a single individual or group. A
case study can be precisely focused on a topic or can include a broad
view of life and society. For example, a case study can focus on the
life of a single gifted student, his actions, behaviour, abilities and so
on in his school or it can focus on the social life of an individual
including his entire background, experiences, motivations and
aspirations that influence his behaviour society. Examples of case
studies include a ‘case’ of curriculum development, of innovative
training, of disruptive behaviour, of an ineffective institution and so
Case studies can be conducted to develop a ‘research-based’
theory with which to analyse situations: a theory of, for and about

practice. It is essential to note that since most case studies focus on a

single unit or small number of units, the findings cannot be
generalised to larger populations. However, its utility can not be
underestimated. A case study is conducted with a fundamental
assumption that though human behaviour is situation-specific and
individualised, there is a predictable uniformity in basic human
A case study can be conducted to explore, to describe or to
explain a phenomenon. It could be a synchronic study in which data
are collected at one point of time or it could be longitudinal in
nature. It could be conducted at a single site or it could be multi-site.
In other words, it is inherently a very flexible methodology.

A case typically refers to a person, either a learner, a teacher,

an administrator or an entity, such as a school, a university, a
classroom or a programme. In some policy-related research, the case
could be a country. Case studies may be included in larger
quantitative or qualitative studies to provide a concrete illustration of
findings, or they may be conducted independently, either
longitudinally or in a more restricted temporal period. Unlike
ethnographic research, case studies do not necessarily focus on
cultural aspects of a group or its members. Case study research may
focus on a single case or multiple cases.

Characteristics of a Case Study

Following are the characteristics of a case study:

1. It is concerned with an exhaustive study of particular instances.

A case is a particular instance of a phenomenon. In education,
examples of phenomena include educational programmes,
curricula, roles, events, interactions, policies, process, concept
and so on. Its distinguishing feature is that each respondent
(individual, class, institution or cultural group) is treated as a

2. It emphasises the study of interrelationship between different

attributes of a unit.

3. According to Cooley, case study deepens our perception and

gives us a clear insight into life… It gets at behaviour directly
and not by an indirect or abstract approach.

4. Each case study needs to have a clear focus which may include
those aspects of the case on which the data collection and

analysis will concentrate. The focus of a study could be a specific

topic, theme, proposition or a working hypothesis.

5. It focuses on the natural history of the unit under study and its
interaction with the social world around it.

6. The progressive records of personal experience in a case study

reveals the internal strivings, tensions and motivations that lead
to specific behaviours or actions of individuals or the unit of

7. In order to ensure that the case study is intensive and in-depth,

data are collected over a long period of time from a variety of
sources including human and material and by using a variety of
techniques such as interviews and observations and tools such as
questionnaires, documents, artefacts, diaries and so on.

8. According to Smith, as cited by Merriam, (1998), these studies

are different from other forms of qualitative of research in that
they focus on a ‘single unit’ or a ‘bounded system’. A system is
said to be a bounded system if it includes a finite or limited
number of cases to interviewed or observed within a definite
amount of time.

9. It may be defined as an in-depth study of one or more instances

of a phenomenon- an individual, a group, an institution, a
classroom or an event- with the objective of discovering
meaning, investigating processes, gaining an insight and an
understanding of an individual, group or phenomena within the
context in such a way that it reflects the real life context of the
participants involved in the phenomena. These individuals,
groups, institutions, classrooms or events may represent the unit
of analysis in a case study. For example, in a case study, the unit
of analysis may be a classroom and the researcher may decide to
investigate the events in three such classrooms.

10. According to Yin, case studies typically involve investigation of

a phenomenon for which the boundaries between the
phenomenon and its context are not clearly evident. These
boundaries should be clearly clarified as part of the case study.
He further emphasises the importance of conducting a case study
in its real life context. In education, the classroom or the school
is the real life context of a case study as the participants of such a
case study are naturally found in these settings.

11. There are two major perspectives in a case study, namely, the etic
perspective and the emic perspective. The etic perspective is that

of the researcher (i.e. the outsider’s perspective) whereas the

emic perspective is that of the research participants including
teachers, principals and students (i.e. the insider’s perspective).
This enables the researcher to study the local, immediate
meanings of social actions of the participants and to study how
they view the social situation of the setting and the phenomenon
under study. A comprehensive case study includes both the

12. A case study can be a single-site study or a multi-site study.

13. Cases are selected on the basis of dimensions of a theory

(pattern-matching) or on diversity on a dependent phenomenon

14. No generalization is made to a population beyond cases similar

to those studied.

15. Conclusions are phrased in terms of model elimination, not

model validation. Numerous alternative theories may be
consistent with data gathered from a case study.

16. Case study approaches have difficulty in terms of evaluation of

low-probability causal paths in a model as any given case
selected for study may fail to display such a path, even when it
exists in the larger population of potential cases.

17. Acknowledging multiple realities in qualitative case studies, as

is now commonly done, involves discerning the various
perspectives of the researcher, the case/participant, and others,
which may or may not converge.
Components of a Case Study Design
According to Yin, following are the five component elements
of a case study design:
1. Study questions
2. Study propositions (if any are being used) or theoretical
3. Identification of the units of analysis
4. The logical linking of the data to the propositions (or theory)
5. The criteria for interpreting the findings.

The purpose of a case study is a detailed examination of a

specific activity, event, institution, or person/s. The hypotheses or
the research questions are stated broadly at the beginning at the
study. A study’s questions are directed towards ‘how’ and ‘why’

considerations and enunciating and defining these are the first task
of the researcher. The study’s propositions could be derived from
these ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. These propositions could help in
developing a theoretical focus. However, all case studies may not
have propositions. For instance, an exploratory case study may give
only a purpose statement or criteria that could guide the research
process. The unit of analysis defines what the case study is focussing
on, whether an individual, a group, n institution, a city, a society, a
nation and so on. Linkages between the data and the propositions (or
theory) and the criteria for interpreting the findings are usually the
least developed aspects of case studies (Yin, 1994).
Types of Case Study Designs
Yin (1994) and Winston (1997) have identified several types
of case study designs. These are as follows:
(A) Exploratory Case Study Design: In this type of case study
design, field work and data collection are carried out before
determining the research questions. It examines a topic on
which there is very little prior research. Such a study is a
prelude to a large social scientific study. However, before
conducting such an exploratory case study, its organisational
framework is designed in advance so as to ensure its
usefulness as a pilot study of a larger, more comprehensive
research. The purpose of the exploratory study is to elaborate
a concept, build up a model or advocate propositions.

(B) Explanatory Case Study Design: These are useful when

providing explanation to phenomena under consideration.
These explanations are patterns implying that one type of
variation observed in a case study is systematically related to
another variation. Such a pattern can be a relational pattern
or a causal pattern depending on the conceptual framework
of the study. In complex studies of organisations and
communities, multivariate cases are included so as to
examine a plurality of influences. Yin and Moore (1988)
suggest the use of a pattern-matching technique in such a
research wherein several pieces of information from the
same case may be related to some theoretical proposition.

(C) Descriptive Case Study Design: A descriptive case study

necessitates that the researcher present a descriptive theory
which establishes the overall framework for the investigator
to follow throughout the study. This type of case study
requires formulation and identification of a practicable

theoretical framework before articulating research questions.

It is also essential to determine the unit of analysis before
beginning the research study. In this type of case study, the
researcher attempts to portray a phenomenon and
conceptualize it, including statements that recreate a
situation and context as much as possible.
(D) Evaluative Case Study Design : Often, in responsive
evaluation, quasi-legal evaluation and expertise-based
evaluation, a case study is conducted to make judgments.
This may include a deep account of the phenomenon being
evaluated and identification of most important and relevant
constructs, themes and patterns. Evaluative case studies can
be conducted on educational programmes funded by the
Government such as “Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan” or
Orientation Programmes and Refresher Courses conducted
by Academic Staff Colleges for college teachers or other
such programmes organised by the State and Local
Governments for secondary and primary school teachers.

Steps of Conducting a Case Study

Following are the steps of a case study:

1. Identifying a current topic which is of interest to the researcher.
2. Identifying research questions and developing hypotheses
(if any).
3. Determining the unit of sampling and the number of units. Select
the cases.
4. Identifying sources, tools and techniques of data collection.
These could include interviews, observations, documentation,
student records and school databases. Collect data in the field.
5. Evaluating and Analysing Data.
6. Report writing.

Each of these is described in detail in the following

Step 1 : Identifying a current topic which is of interest to the
In order to identify a topic for case study research, the
following questions need to be asked:
(i) What kind of topics can be addressed using the case study

(ii) How can a case study research be designed, shaped and

scoped in order to answer the research question
(iii) How can the participation of individuals/institutions be
obtained for the case study research?
(iv) How can case study data be obtained from case
participants in an effective and efficient manner?
(v) How can rigour be established in the case study research
report so that it is publishable in academic journals?
According to Maxwell, there are eight different factors that
could influence the goals of a case study as follows:

1. To grasp the meanings that events, situations, experiences and

actions have for participants in the study which is part of the
reality that the researcher wants to understand.

2. To understand the particular context within which the

participants are operating and its influence on their actions, in
addition to the context in which one’s research participants
are embedded. Qualitative researchers also take into account
the contextual factors that influence the research itself.

3. To identify unanticipated phenomena and influences that

emerge in the setting and to generate new grounded theories
about such aspects.

4. To grasp the process by which events and actions take place

that lead to particular outcomes.

5. To develop causal explanations based on process theory

(which involves tracing the process by which specific aspects
affect other aspects), rather than variance theory (which
involves showing a relationship between two variables as in
quantitative research).

6. To generate results and theories that are understandable and

experientially credible, both to the participants in the study
and to others.

7. To conduct summative evaluations designed to improve

practice rather than merely to assess the value of a final
programme or product.

8. To engage in collaborative and action research practitioners

and research participants.

Step 2 : Identifying research questions and developing

hypotheses (if any)

The second step in case study research is to establish a

research focal point by forming questions about the situation or
problem to be studied and determining a purpose for the study. The
research objective in a case study is often a programme, an entity, a
person or a group of people. Each objective is likely to be connected
to political, social, historical and personal issues providing extensive
potential for questions and adding intricacy to the case study. The
researcher attains the objective of the case study through an in-depth
investigation using a variety of data gathering methods to generate
substantiation that leads to understanding of the case and answers
the research questions. Case study research is usually aimed at
answering one or more questions which begin with "how" or "why."
The questions are concerned with a limited number of events or
conditions and their inter-relationships. In order to formulate
research questions, literature review needs to be undertaken so as to
establish what research has been previously conducted. This helps in
refining the research questions and making them more insightful.
The literature review, definition of the purpose of the case study and
early determination of the significance of the study for potential
audience for the final report direct how the study will be designed,
conducted and publicly reported.

Step 3 : Determining the unit of sampling and the number of

units. Select the cases.
Sampling Strategies in a Case Study : In a case study design,
purposeful sampling is done which has been defined by Patton as
“selecting information-rich cases for study in-depth.” a case study
research, purposeful sampling is preferred over probability sampling
as they enhance the usefulness of the information acquired from
small samples. Purposive samples are expected to be conversant and
informative about the phenomenon under investigation.
A case study requires a plan for choosing sites and
participants in order to start data collection. The plan is known as an
‘emergent design’ in which research decisions depend on preceding
information. This necessitates purposive sampling, data collection
and partial, simultaneous analysis of data as well as interactive rather
than distinct sequential steps.

During the phase of designing a case study research, the

researcher determines whether to use single or multiple real-life
cases to examine in-depth and which instruments and data collection

techniques to use. When multiple cases are used, each case is treated
as a single case. Each case/s conclusions can then be used as
contributing information to the entire study, but each case remains a
single case for collecting data and analysis. Exemplary case studies
carefully select cases and carefully examine the choices available
from among many research tools available so as to enhance the
validity of the study. Careful selection helps in determining
boundaries around the case. The researcher must determine whether
to study ‘unique cases’, or ‘typical cases’. He also needs to decide
whether to select cases from different geographical areas. It is
necessary at this stage to keep in mind the goals of the study so as to
identify and select relevant cases and evidence that will fulfil the
goals of the study and answer the research questions raised.
Selecting multiple or single cases is a key element, but a case study
can include more than one unit of embedded analysis. For example,
a case study may involve study of a single type of school (Fro
example, Municipal School) and a school belonging to this type.
This type of case study involves two levels of analysis and increases
the complexity and amount of data to be gathered and analyzed.
Multiple cases are often preferable to single cases, particularly when
the cases may not be representative of the population from which
they are drawn and when a range of behaviours/profiles,
experiences, outcomes, or situations is desirable. However, including
multiple cases limits the depth with which each case may be
analyzed and also has implications for the structure and length of the
final report.

Step 4 : Identifying sources, tools and techniques of data


Sources of Data in a Case Study : A case study method involves

using multiple sources and techniques in the data collection process.
The researcher determines in advance what evidence to collect and
which techniques of data analysis to use so as to answer the research
questions. Data collected is normally principally qualitative and soft
data, but it may also be quantitative also. Data are collected from
primary documents such as school records and databases, students’
records, transcripts and results, field notes, self-reports or think-
aloud protocols and memoranda. Techniques used to collect data can
include surveys, interviews, questionnaires, documentation review,
observation and physical artefacts. These multiple tools and
techniques of data collection add texture, depth, and multiple
insights to an analysis and can enhance the validity or credibility of
the results.

Case studies may make use of field notes and databases to

categorize and reference data so that it is readily available for
subsequent re-interpretation. Field notes record feelings and intuitive
hunches, pose questions, and document the work in progress. They
record testimonies, stories and illustrations which can be used in
reporting the study. They may inform of impending preconceptions
because of the detailed exposure of the client to special attention or
give an early signal that a pattern is emerging. They assist in
determining whether or not the investigation needs to be
reformulated or redefined based on what is being observed. Field
notes should be kept separate from the data being collected and
stored for analysis.

According to Cohen and Manion, the researcher must use the

chosen data collection tools and techniques systematically and
properly in collecting the evidence. Observations and data collection
settings may range from natural to artificial, with relatively
unstructured to highly structured elicitation tasks and category
systems depending on the purpose of the study and the disciplinary
traditions associated with it.

Case studies necessitate that effective training programmes be

developed for investigators, clear protocols and procedures be
established in advance before starting the field work and conduct a
pilot study in before moving into the field so as to eliminate apparent
obstacles and problems. The researcher training programme need to
cover the vital concepts of the study, terminology, processes and
methods and need to teach researcher/s how to apply the techniques
being used in the study accurately. The programme should also be
aimed at training researcher/s to understand how the collection of
data using multiple techniques strengthens the study by providing
opportunities for triangulation during the analysis phase of the study.
The programme should also include protocols for case study
research including time deadlines, formats for narrative reporting
and field notes, guidelines for collection of documents, and
guidelines for field procedures to be used. Investigators need to be
good listeners who can hear exactly the words being used by those
interviewed. Qualities of effective investigators also include being
able to ask good questions and interpret answers. Effective
investigators not only review documents looking for facts but also
read between the lines and pursue collaborative evidence elsewhere
when that seems appropriate. Investigators need to be flexible in
real-life situations and not feel threatened by unexpected change,
missed appointments or lack of space. Investigators need to
understand the goals of the study and comprehend the issues and

must be open to contrary findings. Investigators must also be aware

that they are going into the world of real human beings who may be
threatened or unsure of what the case study will bring.

After investigators are trained, the final advance preparation

step is to select a site for pilot study and conduct a pilot test using all
the data collection tools and techniques so that difficult and tricky
areas can be uncovered and corrected. Researchers need to anticipate
key problems and events, identify key people, prepare letters of
introduction, establish rules for confidentiality, and actively seek
opportunities to revisit and revise the research design in order to
address and add to the original set of research questions.

Throughout the design phase, researchers must ensure that

the construct validity, internal validity, external validity, and
reliability of the tools and the research method are adequate.
Construct validity requires the researcher to use the suitable
measures for the concepts being studied. Internal validity (especially
important in explanatory or causal studies) demonstrates that certain
conditions/events (causes) lead to other conditions/events (effect/s)
and necessitates the use of multiple sets of evidence from multiple
sources to reveal convergent lines of inquiry. The researcher makes
efforts to ascertain a series of substantiation forward and backward.
External validity reflects whether findings are generalisable beyond
the immediate case/s. The more variations in places, people and
procedures a case study can withstand and still yield the same
findings, the more will be its external validity. Techniques such as
cross-case examination and within-case examination along with
literature review help in ensuring external validity. Reliability refers
to the stability, accuracy and precision of measurement. Exemplary
case study design ensures that the procedures used are well
documented and can be repeated with the same results over and over
again. Establishing a trusting relationship with research participants,
using multiple data collection procedures, obtaining sufficient
pertinent background information about case participants and sites
and having access to or contact with the case over a period of time
are, in general, all decidedly advantageous.

Step 5 : Evaluating and analysing data

The case study research generates a huge quantity of data

from multiple sources. Hence systematic organisation of the data is
essential in prevent the researcher from losing sight of the original
research purpose and questions. Advance preparation assists in
handling huge quantity of largely soft data in a documented and
systematic manner. Researchers prepare databases for categorizing,

sorting, storing and retrieving data for analysis. The researcher

examines raw data so as to find linkages between the research object
and the outcomes with reference to the original research questions.
Throughout the evaluation and analysis process, the researcher
remains open to new opportunities and insights. The case study
method, with its use of multiple data collection methods and analysis
techniques, provides researchers with opportunities to triangulate
data in order to strengthen the research findings and conclusions.
According to Creswell, analysis of data in case study research
usually involves an iterative, spiralling or cyclical process that
proceeds from more general to more specific observations.
According to Miles and Huberman, data analysis may commence
during interviews or observations and continue during transcription,
when recurring themes, patterns and categories become apparent.
Once written records are available, analysis involves the coding of
data and the identification of prominent points or structures. Having
additional coders is highly desirable, especially in structural analyses
of discourse, texts, syntactic structures or interaction patterns
involving high-inference categories leading ultimately to the
quantification of types of items within categories. Data reduction
may include quantification or other means of data aggregation and
reduction, including the use of data matrices, tables, and figures.

The strategies used in analysis require researchers to move

beyond initial impressions to improve the likelihood of precise and
consistent findings. Data need to be consciously sorted in many
different ways to expose or create new insights and will deliberately
look for contradictory data to disconfirm the analysis. Researchers
categorize, tabulate and recombine data to answer the initial research
questions and conduct cross-checking of facts and incongruities in
accounts. Focused, short, repeated interviews may be essential to
collect supplementary data to authenticate key observations or check
a fact.

Precise techniques that could be used for data analysis include

placing information into arrays, creating matrices of categories,
creating flow charts or other displays and tabulating frequency of
events. Researchers can use quantitative data to substantiate and
support the qualitative data so as to comprehend the raison d'être or
theory underlying relationships. Besides, multiple investigators
could be used to gain the advantage provided when diverse
perspectives and insights scrutinize the data and the patterns. When
the multiple observations converge, reliability of the findings
enhances. Inconsistent discernments, on the other hand, necessitate
the researchers to inquire more intensely. Moreover, the cross-case

search for patterns, keeps investigators from reaching untimely

conclusions by requiring that investigators look at the data in diverse
ways. Cross-case analysis divides the data by type across all cases
investigated. One researcher then examines the data of that type
carefully. When a pattern from one data type is substantiated by the
evidence from another, the result is stronger. When substantiation
conflicts, deeper probing of the variation is necessary to identify the
cause/s or source/s of conflict. In all cases, the researcher treats the
evidence reasonably to construct analytic conclusions answering the
original "how" and "why" research questions.

Step 6 : Report writing

Case studies report the data in a way that transforms a

multifarious issue into one that can be understood, permitting the
reader to question and examine the study and reach an understanding
independent of the researcher. The objective of the written report is
to depict a multifaceted problem in a way that conveys an explicit
experience to the reader. Case studies should present data in a way
that leads the reader to apply the experience in his or her own real-
life situation. Researchers need to pay exacting consideration to
displaying adequate evidence to achieve the reader’s confidence that
all avenues have been explored, clearly communicating the confines
of the case and giving special attention to conflicting propositions.

In general, a research report in a case study should include the

following aspects:

• A statement of the study's purpose and the theoretical context.

• The problem or issue being addressed.
• Central research questions.
• A detailed description of the case(s) and explanation of
decisions related to sampling and selection.
• Context of the study and case history, where relevant. The
research report should provide sufficient contextual
information about the case, including relevant biographical
and social information (depending on the focus), such as
teaching - learning history, students’ and teachers’
background, years of studying/working in the institution, data
collection site(s) or other relevant descriptive information
pertaining to the case and situation.
• Issues of access to the site/participants and the relationship
between you and the research participant (case).

• The duration of the study.

• Evidence that you obtained informed consent, that the
participants' identities and privacy are protected, and, ideally,
that participants benefited in some way from taking part in
the study.
• Methods of data collection and analysis, either manual or
computer-based data management and analysis (see weitzman
& miles, 1995), or other equipment and procedures used.
• Findings, which may take the form of major emergent
themes, developmental stages, or an in-depth discussion of
each case in relation to the research questions; and illustrative
quotations or excerpts and sufficient amounts of other data to
establish the validity and credibility of the analysis and
• A discussion of factors that might have influenced the
interpretation of data in undesired, unanticipated, or
conflicting ways.

A consideration of the connection between the case study and

larger theoretical and practical issues in the field is essential to
report. The report could include a separate chapter handling each
case separately or treating the case as a chronological recounting.
Some researchers report the case study as a story. During the report
preparation process, the researcher critically scrutinizes the report
trying to identify ways of making it comprehensive and complete.
The researcher could use representative audience groups to review
and comment on the draft report. Based on the comments, the
researcher could rewrite and revise the report. Some case study
researchers suggest that the report review audience should include
the participants of the study.

Strengths of Case Study Method

1. It involves detailed, holistic investigation of all aspects of the

unit under study.
2. Case studies data are strong in reality.
3. It can utilise a wide range of measurement tools and
4. Data can be collected over a period of time and is contextual.
5. It enables the researcher to assess and document not just the
empirical data but also how the subject or institution under
study interacts with the larger social system.

6. Case study reports are often written in non-technical language

and are therefore easily understood by laypersons.
7. They help in interpreting similar other cases.

Weaknesses of Case Study Method

1. The small sample size prevents the researcher from

generalising to larger populations.
2. The case study method has been criticised for use of a small
number of cases can offer no grounds for establishing
reliability or generality of findings.
3. The intense exposure to study of the case biases the findings.
4. It has also been criticised as being useful only as an
exploratory tool.
5. They are often not easy to cross-check.
Yet researchers continue to use the case study research method
with success in carefully planned and crafted studies of real-life
situations, issues, and problems.

Check Your Progress - V

(a) State the meaning of case study research.




(b) Explain the characteristics of case study research.



(c) Explain the steps of case study research.





It involves the identification and interpretation of data already

existing in documents, pictures and artefacts. It is a form of research
in which events, ideas, concepts or artefacts are examined through
analysis of documents, records, recordings or other media. Here,
contextual information is very essential to for an accurate
interpretation of data. Historical research comprises of systematic
collection and analysis of documents, records and artefacts with the
objective of providing a description and interpretation of past events
or persons. Its application lies in a range of research methods such as
historical research which could use both quantitative and qualitative
data, legal analysis which focuses on selected laws and court
decisions with the objective of understanding how legal principles
and precedents apply to educational practices, concept analysis
which is carried out to understand the meaning and usage of
educational concepts (eg. school-based reforms, ability grouping,
affective teacher education) and content analysis which is carried
out to understand the meaning and identify properties of large
amounts of textual information in a systematic manner.
Characteristics of Analytical Research

Following are the characteristics of analytical research:

1. It does not ‘create’ or ‘generate’ data through research tools

and techniques.
2. The topic of analytical research deals with the past.
3. It reinterprets existing data.
4. It predominantly uses primary sources for collecting data.
5. Internal and external criticism is used as a technique while
searching for facts and providing interpretative explanations.
6. It uses documents, relics and oral testimonies for collecting
Objectives Analytical Research

Following are the objectives of analytical research:

1. It offers understanding of the past/existing/available data.

2. It enables the researcher to shed light on existing policies by
interpreting the past.
3. It generates a sense of universal justification and underlying
principles and aims of education in a society.

4. It reinterprets the past for each age group.

5. It uses data and logic to analyse the past and demythologises
idealised conceptions of the past.

Check Your Progress - VI

(a) State the meaning of analytical research.



Suggested Readings

Auberbach, C. F. and Silverstein, L. B. Qualitative Data: An

Introduction to Coding and Analysis. New York: New
York University Press. 2003.

Baron, R. A. Psychology. India : Allyn and Bacon. 2001.

Brewer, M. (2000). Research Design and Issues of Validity. In Reis,

H. & Judd, C. (eds) Handbook of Research Methods in
Social and Personality Psychology.
Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.
Cohen, L and Manion, L. Research Methods in Education. London :
Routledge, 1989.

Creswell, J. W. Educational Research, Planning, Conducting, and

Evaluating Quantitative and Qualitative Research,
University of Netvaska : Merrill Prentice Hall, 2002,

Creswell, J. W. Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing

among Five Traditions. Sage Publications, Inc. 1998.

Picciano, A. G. Educational Research Primer. London : Continuum.

Guidelines for Empirical Research

Empirical Variables

The most important rule of experimentation is to decide which variables are independent, dependent,
and controlled. Below are definitions and some examples of these variables.

• Independent – What do we change? (X-axis or different data series)

o Parameter
o Time limit
o Heuristic
• Dependent – What do we observe? (Y-axis)
o Solution quality
o Running time
o Did the algorithm finish running within the time limit?
• Controlled – What do we keep constant?
o Problem instances
o Algorithm, when comparing heuristics
o Heuristic, when comparing algorithms

Experimenting with Time

Note that time limit and running time are two very different variables. If I am running an algorithm and
measuring how long it takes to complete its run, I cannot create a graph that has time in its X-axis. Time
is an observed variable, and can therefore only be displayed as dependent of another variable (the
algorithm’s parameter, for example).

However, observing anytime behavior does require us to measure variables (solution quality) that are
dependent on time. We can do this by choosing several time limits, and halting our algorithm whenever
it reaches the limit. Another advantage of this method is that we can plan exactly how much time our
computer will run our experiments. For example, if you have 1000 executions to run, you can make sure
that your time limit does not exceed one minute.

You may also limit experiments that are not based on time (if you want to hand in the assignment on
time), but be extra careful when doing so. Using a time limit as a controlled variable requires that you do
not change it, and address its impact on your results when explaining them.

Dealing with Inconsistent Results

Experimenting on a wide variety of problem instances will usually yield inconsistent results. We will
examine two cases of inconsistency: value and rank.

Value inconsistency occurs when we observing a value such as solution length across different problem
instances. It is only natural that different instances will cause our algorithm to find solutions of different
lengths. This is very problematic, because the variance between the solution of one problem and
another could be enormous, rendering the average solution length a meaningless metric.

The first thing we need to do is observe the distribution of the variable (solution length). Generating a
histogram1 is probably the best way to go. If the variable is normally distributed, its average is indeed a
valid metric. Unfortunately, many variables do not behave like a pretty bell curve.

Another option is to normalize the variable with respect to each problem instance. The solution quality
metric (optimal over found) is a good example. This variable should be more consistent, but that is not

Assuming that our goal is to understand which algorithm (or heuristic) is better, the most robust
solution is to ignore the absolute values of the variable and rank the algorithms instead. This requires
that we use a different arsenal of statistical tests called “signed tests” to establish significance. We
recommend using Wilcoxon2’s test for comparing pairs or Friedman3’s test for trios and above.

Inconsistency can still occur when ranking; a certain heuristic can be more suitable for one type of
problems, and less suitable for another. This usually means that the set of problem instances can be
further differentiated. Try partitioning the instances into more consistent subsets by rules of thumb
(many dirt piles vs. limited dirt piles, for example). This should give you a deeper understanding of your
algorithms and heuristics.


The conclusions you present should not describe the results, but explain them. We can read the graphs
by ourselves (and if we can’t, you’re doing it wrong) so there’s no need to write “h1 is better than h2”;
we want to know why h1 is better than h2. Use your theoretical understanding of the algorithms and
the problem to enrich these explanations.

from matplotlib.pyplot import hist
from scipy.stats import wilcoxon
from scipy.stats import friedmanchisquare
Qualitative and Quantitative research
There are numerous differences between qualitative and quantitative measurement.

Quantitative Research

Quantitative Research options have been predetermined and a large number of respondents are
involved. By definition, measurement must be objective, quantitative and statistically valid.
Simply put, it’s about numbers, objective hard data. The sample size for a survey is calculated by
statisticians using formulas to determine how large a sample size will be needed from a given
population in order to achieve findings with an acceptable degree of accuracy. Generally,
researchers seek sample sizes which yield findings with at least a 95% confidence interval
(which means that if you repeat the survey 100 times, 95 times out of a hundred, you would get
the same response), plus/minus a margin error of 5 percentage points. Many surveys are designed
to produce a smaller margin of error.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative Research is collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data by observing what people do
and say. Whereas, quantitative research refers to counts and measures of things, qualitative
research refers to the meanings, concepts, definitions, characteristics, metaphors, symbols, and
descriptions of things.

Qualitative research is much more subjective than quantitative research and uses very different
methods of collecting information, mainly individual, in-depth interviews and focus groups. The
nature of this type of research is exploratory and open-ended. Small numbers of people are
interviewed in-depth and/or a relatively small number of focus groups are conducted.
Participants are asked to respond to general questions and the interviewer or group moderator
probes and explores their responses to identify and define people’s perceptions, opinions and
feelings about the topic or idea being discussed and to determine the degree of agreement that
exists in the group. The quality of the finding from qualitative research is directly dependent
upon the skills, experience and sensitive of the interviewer or group moderator.
This type of research is often less costly than surveys and is extremely effective in acquiring
information about people’s communications needs and their responses to and views about
specific communications.

Basically, quantitative research is objective; qualitative is subjective. Quantitative research

seeks explanatory laws; qualitative research aims at in-depth description. Qualitative research
measures what it assumes to be a static reality in hopes of developing universal laws. Qualitative
research is an exploration of what is assumed to be a dynamic reality. It does not claim that what
is discovered in the process is universal, and thus, replicable. Common differences usually cited
between these types of research include.

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John D. Anderson, Superintendent of Schools Page 3
Characteristics of quantitative and qualitative research
Quantitative Qualitative

Objective Subjective

Research questions: How many? Strength of Research questions: What? Why?


"Hard" science "Soft" science

Literature review must be done early in study Literature review may be done as study progresses or

Test theory Develops theory

One reality: focus is concise and narrow Multiple realities: focus is complex and broad

Facts are value-free and unbiased Facts are value-laden and biased

Reduction, control, precision Discovery, description, understanding, shared


Measurable Interpretive

Mechanistic: parts equal the whole Organismic: whole is greater than the parts

Report statistical analysis. Report rich narrative, individual; interpretation. Basic

Basic element of analysis is numbers element of analysis is words/ideas.

Researcher is separate Researcher is part of process

Subjects Participants

Context free Context dependent

Hypothesis Research questions

Reasoning is logistic and deductive Reasoning is dialectic and inductive

Establishes relationships, causation Describes meaning, discovery

Uses instruments Uses communications and observation

Strives for generalization Strives for uniqueness

Generalizations leading to prediction, explanation, and Patterns and theories developed for understanding

Highly controlled setting: experimental setting (outcome Flexible approach: natural setting (process oriented)

Sample size: n Sample size is not a concern; seeks "informal rich"


"Counts the beans" Provides information as to "which beans are worth counting"

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John D. Anderson, Superintendent of Schools Page 3
In general, qualitative research generates rich, detailed and valid (process) data that contribute to
in-depth understanding of the context. Quantitative research generates reliable population based
and generalizable data and is well suited to establishing cause-and-effect relationships. The
decision of whether to choose a quantitative or a qualitative design is a philosophical question.
Which methods to choose will depend on the nature of the project, the type of information
needed the context of the study and the availability of recourses (time, money, and human).

It is important to keep in mind that these are two different philosophers, not necessarily polar
opposites. In fact, elements of both designs can be used together in mixed-methods studies.
Combining of qualitative and quantitative research is becoming more and more common.

Every method is different line of sight directed toward the same point, observing social and
symbolic reality. The use of multiple lines of sight is called triangulation.
It is a combination of two types of research. It is also called pluralistic research.
Advantages of combining both types of research include:
research development (one approach is used to inform the other, such as using qualitative
research to develop an instrument to be used in quantitative research)
Increased validity (confirmation of results by means of different data sources)
Complementarities (adding information, i.e. words to numbers and vice versa)
Creating new lines of thinking by the emergence of fresh perspectives and contradictions.
Barriers to integration include philosophical differences, cost, inadequate training and
publication bias.

Qualitative data analysis

Qualitative analysis involves a continual interplay between theory and analysis. In analyzing
qualitative data, we seek to discover patterns such as changes over time or possible causal links
between variables.

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Criteria Qualitative Research Quantitative Research

Purpose To understand & interpret social To test hypotheses, look at cause & effect,
interactions. & make predictions.
Group Studied Smaller & not randomly selected. Larger & randomly selected.
Variables Study of the whole, not variables. Specific variables studied
Type of Data Collected Words, images, or objects. Numbers and statistics.
Form of Data Collected Qualitative data such as open- ended Quantitative data based on precise
responses, interviews, participant measurements using structured &
observations, field notes, & reflections. validated data-collection instruments.
Type of Data Analysis Identify patterns, features, themes. Identify statistical relationships.
Objectivity and Subjectivity Subjectivity is expected. Objectivity is critical.
Role of Researcher Researcher & their biases may be known Researcher & their biases are not known
to participants in the study, & participant to participants in the study, & participant
characteristics may be known to the characteristics are deliberately hidden
researcher. from the researcher (double blind studies).
Results Particular or specialized findings that is Generalizable findings that can be applied
less generalizable. to other populations.
Scientific Method Exploratory or bottom–up: the researcher Confirmatory or top-down: the researcher
generates a new hypothesis and theory tests the hypothesis and theory with the
from the data collected. data.
View of Human Behavior Dynamic, situational, social, & personal. Regular & predictable.
Most Common Research Explore, discover, & construct. Describe, explain, & predict.
Focus Wide-angle lens; examines the breadth & Narrow-angle lens; tests a specific
depth of phenomena. hypotheses.
Nature of Observation Study behavior in a natural environment. Study behavior under controlled
conditions; isolate causal effects.
Nature of Reality Multiple realities; subjective. Single reality; objective.
Final Report Narrative report with contextual Statistical report with correlations,
description & direct quotations from comparisons of means, & statistical
research participants. significance of findings.

The content in the above table was taken from the following sources:

Johnson, B., & Christensen, L. (2008). Educational research: Quantitative, qualitative, and
mixed approaches (p. 34). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Lichtman, M. (2006). Qualitative research in education: A user’s guide (pp. 7-8). Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

a way of examining your practice…

Research is undertaken within most professions.

More than a set of skills, it is a way of thinking: examining critically the various
aspects of your professional work.

It is a habit of questioning what you do, and a systematic examination of the observed
information to find answers with a view to instituting appropriate changes for a more
effective professional service.


When you say that you are undertaking a research study to find answers to a question,
you are implying that the process;

1. is being undertaken within a framework of a set of philosophies ( approaches);

2. uses procedures, methods and techniques that have been tested for their
validity and reliability;
3. is designed to be unbiased and objective .

Philosophies means 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
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, anew or over again
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.
Although we engage in such process in our daily life, the difference between our
casual day- to-day generalisation and the conclusions usually recognized as scientific
method lies in the degree of formality, rigorousness, verifiability and general validity
of latter.


Research is a process of collecting, analyzing and interpreting information to answer

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

-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 rigor
varies markedly between the physical and social sciences and within the social

-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

Research can be classified from three perspectives:
1. application of research study
2. objectives in undertaking the research
3. inquiry mode employed

From the point of view of application, there are two broad categories of research:
- pure research and
- applied research.
Pure research involves developing and testing theories and hypotheses that are
intellectually challenging to the researcher but may or may not have 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 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

From the viewpoint of objectives, a research can be classified as

Descriptive research attempts to describe systematically a situation, problem,

phenomenon, service or programme, or provides information about , say, 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.

Inquiry Mode:
From the process adopted to find answer to research questions – the two approaches
- Structured approach
- Unstructured approach

Structured approach:
The structured approach to inquiry is usually classified as quantitative research.
Here 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
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.
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

In many studies you have to combine 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 is the qualitative aspect of the study as finding out about them entails
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 restaurant serving such cuisine and calculating the other
indicators that reflect the extent of popularity.

The research process is similar to undertaking a journey.

For a research journey there are two important decisions to make-

1) What you want to find out about

or what research questions (problems) you want to find answers to;

2) How to go about finding their answers.

There are practical steps through which you must pass in your research journey in
order to find answers to your research questions.
The path to finding answers to your research questions constitutes research
At each operational step in the research process you are required to choose from a
multiplicity of methods, procedures and models of research methodology which will
help you to best achieve your objectives.

This is where your knowledge base of research methodology plays a crucial role.

Steps in Research Process:

1. Formulating the Research Problem

2. Extensive Literature Review

3. Developing the objectives

4. Preparing the Research Design including Sample Design

5. Collecting the Data

6. Analysis of Data

7. Generalisation and Interpretation

8. Preparation of the Report or Presentation of Results-Formal write ups of

conclusions reached.
Step1. Formulating the research problem:

It is the first and most crucial step in the research process

- Main function is to decide what you want to find out about.
- The way you formulate a problem determines almost every step that

Sources of research problems

Research in social sciences revolves around four Ps:
• People- a group of individuals

• Problems- examine the existence of certain issues or problems relating to

their lives; to ascertain attitude of a group of people towards an issue

• Programs- to evaluate the effectiveness of an intervention

• Phenomena- to establish the existence of a regularity.

In practice most research studies are based upon at least a combination of two

Every research study has two aspects:

1. Study population-
• People: individuals, organizations, groups, communities
( they provide you with the information or you collect information about them)

2. Subject area-
• Problems: issues, situations, associations, needs, profiles
• Program : content, structure, outcomes, attributes, satisfactions, consumers,
Service providers, etc.
• Phenomenon: cause-and-effect relationships, the study of a phenomenon
(Information that you need to collect to find answers to your research questions)

You can examine the professional field of your choice in the context of the four Ps in
order to identify anything that looks interesting.
Considerations in selecting a research problem:
These help to ensure that your study will remain manageable and that you will remain
1. Interest: a research endeavour is usually time consuming, and involves
hard work and possibly unforeseen problems. One should select topic of great interest
to sustain the required motivation.
2. Magnitude: It is extremely important to select a topic that you can manage
within the time and resources at your disposal. Narrow the topic down to something
manageable, specific and clear.
3. Measurement of concepts: Make sure that you are clear about the
indicators and measurement of concepts (if used) in your study.
4. Level of expertise: Make sure that you have adequate level of expertise for
the task you are proposing since you need to do the work yourself.
5. Relevance: Ensure that your study adds to the existing body of
knowledge, bridges current gaps and is useful in policy formulation. This will help you
to sustain interest in the study.
6. Availability of data: Before finalizing the topic, make sure that data are
7. Ethical issues: How ethical issues can affect the study population and how
ethical problems can be overcome should be thoroughly examined at the problem
formulating stage.

Steps in formulation of a research problem :

Working through these steps presupposes a reasonable level of knowledge in the broad
subject area within which the study is to be undertaken. Without such knowledge it is
difficult to clearly and adequately ‘dissect’ a subject area.

Step 1 Identify a broad field or subject area of interest to you.

Step 2 Dissect the broad area into sub areas.

Step 3 Select what is of most interest to you.

Step 4 Raise research questions.

Step 5 Formulate objectives.

Step 6 Assess your objectives.

Step 7 Double check.

So far we have focused on the basis of your study, the research problem. But every study
in social sciences has a second element, the study population from whom the required
information to find answers to your research questions is obtained.
As you narrow the research problem, similarly you need to decide very specifically who
constitutes your study population, in order to select the appropriate respondents.

Step 2. Reviewing the literature:

-Essential preliminary task in order to acquaint yourself
with the available body of knowledge in your area of interest.
-Literature review is integral part of entire research process and makes valuable
contribution to every operational step.
-Reviewing literature can be time-consuming, daunting and frustrating, but is also
rewarding. Its functions are:
a. Bring clarity and focus to your research problem;
b. Improve your methodology;
c. Broaden your knowledge;
d. Contextualise your findings.
a.Bring clarity and focus to your research problem;
The process of reviewing the literature helps you to understand the subject area better and
thus helps you to conceptualise your research problem clearly and precisely. It also helps
you to understand the relationship between your research problem and the body of
knowledge in the area.
b.Improve your methodology:
A literature review tells you if others have used procedures and methods similar to the
ones that you are proposing, which procedures and methods have worked well for them,
and what problems they have faced with them. Thus you will be better positioned to select
a methodology that is capable of providing valid answer to your research questions.
c.Broaden your knowledge base in your research area:
It ensures you to read widely around the subject area in which you intend to conduct your
research study. As you are expected to be an expert in your area of study, it helps fulfill
this expectation. It also helps you to understand how the findings of your study fit into the
existing body of knowledge.
d..Contextualise your findings:
How do answers to your research questions compare with what others have found? What
contribution have you been able to make in to the existing body of knowledge? How are
your findings different from those of others? For you to be able to answer these
questions, you need to go back to your literature review. It is important to place your
findings in the context of what is already known in your field of enquiry.

Procedure for reviewing the literature:

i) search for existing literature in your area of study;
ii) review the literature selected;
iii) develop a theoretical framework;
iv) develop a conceptual framework.

Search for existing literature:

-To effectively search for literature in your field of enquiry, it is imperative that you have
in mind at least some idea of broad subject area and of the problem you wish to
investigate, in order to set parameters for your search.
-Next compile a bibliography for this broad area. Sources are:
1. books

comprise a central part of any bibliography.
Advantage-material published generally is of good quality and the findings are integrated
with other research to form a coherent body of knowledge.
Disadvantage-material is not completely up to date, as it can take a few years between the
completion of a work and publication in the form of a book.
Search for books in your area of interest, prepare a final list, locate these books in the
libraries or borrow from other sources. Examine their content, if contents are not
found to be relevant to your topic, delete it from your reading list.

Journals provide you with the most up-to-date information, even though there is a gap of
two to three years between the completion of a research project and the publication
in a journal.
As with books, you need to prepare a list of journals for identifying literature relevant to
your study. This can be done as follows:

-locate the hard copies of the journal that are appropriate to your study;
- use the internet
- look at the index of research abstracts in the relevant field to identify and read the

Whichever method you choose, first identify the journals you want to look at in more
detail for your review of literature. Select the latest issue, examine its content page
to see if there is an article of relevance to your research topic. If you feel a particular
article is of relevance to you, read its abstract. If you think you are likely to use it,
photocopy or prepare a summary and record it for reference for later use.
Review the literature selected:
After identifying books and articles as useful, the next step is to start reading them
critically to pull together themes and issues that are associated.
If you do not have a theoretical framework of themes in mind to start with, use separate
sheets of paper for each article or book.
Once you develop a rough framework, slot the findings from the material so far reviewed
into that framework, using a separate sheet of paper for each theme of that
As you read further, go on slotting the information where it logically belongs under the
theme so far developed. You may need to add more themes as you go.
Read critically with particular reference to the following aspects:
• Note whether the knowledge relevant to your theoretical framework is confirmed
beyond doubt.
• Note the theories put forward, the criticisms of these and their basis, the
methodologies adopted and the criticisms of them.
• Examine to what extent the findings can be generalized to other situations.
Ascertain the areas in which little or nothing is known-the gaps that exist in the body of

Develop a theoretical framework:

As you have limited time it is important to set parameters by reviewing the literature in
relation to some main themes pertinent to your research topic.
As you start reading the literature, you will realize that it deals with a number of aspects
that have a direct `and indirect bearing on your research topic. Use these aspects as a
basis for developing your theoretical framework.

Until you go through the literature you cannot develop a theoretical framework and until
you have developed a theoretical framework, you cannot effectively review the
Literature pertinent to your study may deal with two types of information:
- universal;
- more specific( i.e. local trends or specific program)
In writing about such information you should start with the general information,
gradually narrowing down to the specific.

Writing up the literature reviewed:

In order to comply with the first function of literature review
i.e. to provide theoretical background to your study:
-List the main themes that have emerged while reading literature.
-Convert them into subheadings. These subheadings should be precise, descriptive of the
theme in question, and follow a logical progression.
-Now, under each subheading, record the main findings with respect to the theme in
question, highlighting the reasons for and against an argument if they exist, and identify
gaps and issues.
In order to comply with the second function of literature review
i.e. contextualising the findings of your study- requires you to very systematically compare
your findings with those made by others. Quote from these studies to show how your
findings contradict, confirm or add to them. It places your findings in the context of
what others have found out. This function is undertaken when writing about your
findings i.e. after analysis of your data.

The bibliography should give a clear, complete description of the sources that were
used while preparing the report.
It is an alphabetical list as per the author’s surname.

1. For a Book
Surname of author, name or two initials, Title taken from titlepage-underlined or in
italics, Edition (if more than one), volume if more than one, place of publication,
publishers, date on title page or copyright date.
e.g. Kothari, C.R., Research Methods-Methods and Techniques,1989,New Delhi
:Wiley Eastern Limited,4835/24 Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi 110 006.

Step 3 The formulation of objectives:

-Objectives are the goals you set out to attain in your study.
-They inform a reader what you want to attain through the study.
-It is extremely important to word them clearly and specifically.

Objectives should be listed under two headings:

a) main objectives ( aims);
b) sub-objectives.
• The main objective is an overall statement of the thrust of your study.
It is also a statement of the main associations and relationships that you seek to
discover or establish.
• The sub-objectives are the specific aspects of the topic that you want to investigate
within the main framework of your study.
-They should be numerically listed.
-Wording should clearly, completely and specifically
Communicate to your readers your intention.
-Each objective should contain only one aspect of the Study.
-Use action oriented words or verbs when writing objectives.

The objectives should start with words such as

‘to determine’,
‘to find out’,
‘to ascertain’,
‘to measure’,
‘to explore’ etc.
The wording of objectives determines the type of research (descriptive, correlational
and experimental) and the type of research design you need to adopt to achieve them.
Descriptive studies:
-To describe the types of incentives provides by Hotel XYZ to employees in Mumbai.
-To find out the opinion of the employees about the medical facilities provided by five
star hotels in Mumbai.
Correlatinal studies:
-To ascertain the impact of training on employee retention.
-To compare the effectivenesss of different loyalty programmes on repeat clientele.
Hypothesis –testing studies:
-To ascertain if an increase in working hours will increase the incidence of
drug/alchohol abuse.
-To demonstrate that the provision of company accommodation to employees in
Mumbai hotels will reduce staff turnover.


Clear +Complete +Specific + Identify main + Identify the

variables to direction of
be correlated relationship
I……Descriptive Studies…………I
I..Correlational Studies (experimental and non-experimental)….I
I…………Hypothesis testing studies…………………………...I
Identifying Variables:
In a research study it is important that the concepts used should be operationalised in
measurable terms so that the extent of variations in respondents’ understanding is
reduced if not eliminated.

Techniques about how to operationalise concepts, and knowledge about variables, play
an important role in reducing this variability.

Their knowledge, therefore is important in ‘fine tuning’ your research problem.

For example:
-‘Jet Airways’ is a perfect example of quality cabin service.
- Food in this restaurant is excellent.
- The middle class in India is getting more prosperous.

When people express these feelings or preferences, they do so on the basis of certain
criteria in their minds. Their judgement is based upon indicators that lead them to
conclude and express that opinion.
These are judgements that require a sound basis on which to proclaim. This warrants the
use of a measuring mechanism and it is in the process of measurement that knowledge
about variables plays an important role.

The definition of a variable:

An image, perception or concept that can be measured – hence capable of taking on
different values- is called a variable.
The difference between a concept and a variable:
Concepts are mental images or perceptions and therefore their meaning varies markedly
from individual to individual.
A concept cannot be measured whereas a variable can be subjected to measurement by
crude/refined or subjective/objective units of measurement.
It is therefore important for the concept to be converted into variables .

Concept Variable
-Subjective impression - Measurable though the
-No uniformity as to its degree of precision varies
Understanding among from scale to scale and
Different people variable to variable.
-As such cannot be measured.
e.g. e.g.
• Excellent - gender (male/female)
• High achiever -age (x years y months)
• Rich -weight ( --kg)
• Satisfaction - height ( -- cms)
• Domestic violence - religion (Catholic, Hindu)
-Income ( Rs ---per year)

Concepts, indicators and variables:

If you are using a concept in your study, you need to consider its
operationalisation- that is, how it will be measured.
For this, you need to identify indicators- a set of criteria reflective of the concept-
which can then be converted into variables.
The choice of indicators for a concept might vary with researchers, but those
selected must have a logical link with the concept.


Concepts Indicators Variables Working definition

Rich 1. Income 1. Income 1.If>Rs100000

2. Assets 2.Total value 2.If>Rs250000
of home,car,

Effectiveness 1.No. of 1.No.of guests diff. in before

guests served in and after levels

2.Changes 2.No. of excellent - do -

in Ratings per 100 feedback
a ) extent of
b) pattern of
Types of measurement scales:
Measurement is central to any enquiry.
The greater the refinement in the unit of measurement of a variable, the greater the
confidence, other things being equal, one can place in the findings.
S.S.Stevens has classified the different types of into four categories:
• Nominal or classificatory scale
• Ordinal or ranking scale
• Interval scale
• Ratio scale

The nominal or classificatory scale:

A nominal scale enables the classification of individuals, objects or responses into
subgroups based on a common/shared property or characteristic.
A variable measured on a nominal scale may have one, two or more subcategories
depending upon the extent of variation.
For example, ’water’ or ‘tree’ have only one subgroup, whereas the variable “gender”
can be classified into two sub-categories: male and female. ‘Hotels’ can be classified
into ---- sub-categories.
The sequence in which subgroups are listed makes no difference as there is no
relationship among subgroups.

The ordinal or ranking scale:

Besides categorizing individuals, objects, responses or a property into subgroups on
the basis of common characteristic, it ranks the subgroups in a certain order.
They are arranged either in ascending or descending order according to the extent a
subcategory reflects the magnitude of variation in the variable.
For example, ‘income’ can be measured either quantitatively (in rupees and paise) or
qualitatively using subcategories ‘above average’, ‘average’ and ‘below average’. The
‘distance’ between these subcategories are not equal as there is no quantitative unit of
‘Socioeconomic status’ and ‘attitude’ are other variables that can be measured on
ordinal scale.

The interval scale:

An interval scale has all the characteristics of an ordinal scale. In addition, it uses a
unit of measurement with an arbitrary starting and terminating points.
For example,
Celsius scale: 0*C to 100*C
Fahrenheit scale: 32*F to 212*F
Attitudinal scales: 10-20
31-40 etc
The ratio scale:
A ratio scale has all the properties of nominal, ordinal and interval scales plus its own
property:the zero point of a ratio scale is fixed, which means it has a fixed starting
point. Since the difference between intervals is always measured from a zero point,
this scale can be used for mathematical operations.
The measurement of variables like income, age, height and weight are examples of
this scale. A person who is 40 year old is twice as old as one who is 20 year old.

Constructing hypotheses:
As a researcher you do not know about a phenomenon, but you do have a hunch to
form the basis of certain assumption or guesses. You test these by collecting
information that will enable you to conclude if your hunch was right.
The verification process can have one of the three outcomes. Your hunch may prove
to be: 1. right;
2. partially right; or
3. wrong.
Without this process of verification, you cannot conclude anything about the validity
of your assumption.
Hence, a hypotheses is a hunch, assumption, suspicion, assertion or an idea about a
phenomenon, relationship or situation, the reality or truth of which you do not know.
A researcher calls these assumptions/ hunches hypotheses and they become the basis
of an enquiry.
In most studies the hypotheses will be based upon your own or someone else’s
Hypotheses bring clarity, specificity and focus to a research problem, but are not
essential for a study.
You can conduct a valid investigation without constructing formal hypotheses.

The functions of hypotheses:

• The formulation of hypothesis provides a study with focus. It tells you what
specific aspects of a research problem to investigate.
• A hypothesis tells you what data to collect and what not to collect, thereby
providing focus to the study.
• As it provides a focus, the construction of a hypothesis enhances objectivity in a
• A hypothesis may enable you to add to the formulation of a theory. It enables
you to specifically conclude what is true or what is false.

Research design is the conceptual structure within which research would be

The function of research design is to provide for the collection of relevant information
with minimal expenditure of effort, time and money.

The preparation of research design, appropriate for a particular research problem,

involves the consideration of the following :

1. Objectives of the research study.

2. Method of Data Collection to be adopted

3. Source of information—Sample Design

4. Tool for Data collection

5. Data Analysis-- qualitative and quantitative

1. Objectives of the Research Study: Objectives identified to answer the research

questions have to be listed making sure that they are:
a) numbered, and
b) statement begins with an action verb.

2. Methods of Data Collection: There are two types of data

Primary Data— collected for the first time
Secondary Data—those which have already been collected
and analysed by someone else.

Methods of Primary Data Collection

Commonly used in behavioural sciences
It is the gathering of primary data by investigator’s own direct observation of relevant
people, actions and situations without asking from the respondent.
• A hotel chain sends observers posing as guests into its coffee shop to check on
cleanliness and customer service.
• A food service operator sends researchers into competing restaurants to learn
menu items prices, check portion sizes and consistency and observe point-of-
purchase merchandising.
• A restaurant evaluates possible new locations by checking out locations of
competing restaurants, traffic patterns and neighborhood conditions.

Observation can yield information which people are normally unwilling or unable to

e.g. Observing numerous plates containing uneaten portions the same menu items
indicates that food is not satisfactory.

Types of Observation:
1. Structured – for descriptive research
2. Unstructured—for exploratory research
3. Participant Observation
4. Non- participant observation
5. Disguised observation

- feelings, beliefs and attitudes that motivate buying behaviour and
infrequent behaviour cannot be observed.
- expensive method

Because of these limitations, researchers often supplement observation with survey


Approach most suited for gathering descriptive information.

Structured Surveys: use formal lists of questions asked of all respondents in the same

Unstructured Surveys: let the interviewer probe respondents and guide the interview
according to their answers.

Survey research may be Direct or Indirect.

Direct Approach: The researcher asks direct questions about behaviours and thoughts.
e.g. Why don’t you eat at MacDonalds?
Indirect Approach: The researcher might ask: “What kind of people eat at
From the response, the researcher may be able to discover why the consumer avoids
MacDonald’s. It may suggest factors of which the consumer is not consciously aware.

-can be used to collect many different kinds of information
-Quick and low cost as compared to observation and experimental method.

-Respondent’s reluctance to answer questions asked by unknown interviewers about
things they consider private.
-Busy people may not want to take the time
-may try to help by giving pleasant answers
-unable to answer because they cannot remember or never gave a thought to what they
do and why
-may answer in order to look smart or well informed.

Information may be collected by
Personal interview

Mail Questionnaires:
-can be used to collect large amounts of information at a low cost per respondent.
-respondents may give more honest answers to personal questions on a mail
-no interviewer is involved to bias the respondent’s answers.
-convenient for respondent’s who can answer when they have time
- good way to reach people who often travel

-not flexible
-take longer to complete than telephone or personal interview
-response rate is often very low
- researcher has no control over who answers.
Telephone Interviewing:
- quick method
- more flexible as interviewer can explain questions not understood by the
- depending on respondent’s answer they can skip some Qs and probe more on
- allows greater sample control
- response rate tends to be higher than mail

-Cost per respondent higher
-Some people may not want to discuss personal Qs with interviewer
-Interviewer’s manner of speaking may affect the respondent’s answers
-Different interviewers may interpret and record response in a variety of ways
-under time pressure ,data may be entered without actually interviewing

Personal Interviewing:

It is very flexible and can be used to collect large amounts of information.

Trained interviewers are can hold the respondent’s attention and are available to
clarify difficult questions.
They can guide interviews, explore issues, and probe as the situation requires.

Personal interview can be used in any type of questionnaire and can be conducted
fairly quickly.
Interviewers can also show actual products, advertisements, packages and observe and
record their reactions and behaviour.

This takes two forms-

Individual- Intercept interviewing

Group - Focus Group Interviewing

Intercept interviewing:
Widely used in tourism research.

-allows researcher to reach known people in a short period of time.

- only method of reaching people whose names and addresses are unknown
-involves talking to people at homes, offices, on the street, or in shopping malls.
-interviewer must gain the interviewee’s cooperation
-time involved may range from a few minutes to several hours( for longer surveys
compensation may be offered)
--involves the use of judgmental sampling i.e. interviewer has guidelines as to whom
to “intercept”, such as 25% under age 20 and 75% over age 60

-Room for error and bias on the part of the interviewer who may not be able to
correctly judge age, race etc.
-Interviewer may be uncomfortable talking to certain ethnic or age groups.

Focus Group Interviewing:

It is rapidly becoming one of the major research tool to understand people’s thoughts
and feelings.
It is usually conducted by inviting six to ten people to gather for a few hours with a
trained moderator to talk about a product, service or organization.The meeting is held
in a pleasant place, and refreshments are served to create a relaxed environment.
The moderator needs objectivity, knowledge of the subject and industry, and some
understanding of group and consumer behaviour.
The moderator starts with a broad question before moving to more specific issues,
encouraging open and easy discussion to bring out true feelings and thoughts.
At the same time, the interviewer focuses the discussion, hence the name focus group
-often held to help determine the subject areas on which questions should be asked in
a later, large-scale, structured-direct interview
Comments are recorded through note taking or videotaped and studied later to
understand consumer’ buying process.
This method is especially suited for managers of hotels and restaurants, who have easy
access to their customers.
e.g. Some hotel managers often invite a group of hotel guests from a particular market
segment to have a free breakfast with them. Managers get the chance to meet the
guests and discuss what they like about the hotel and what the hotel could do to make
their stay more enjoyable and comfortable.
The guests appreciate this recognition and the manager gets valuable information.
Restaurant managers use the same approach by holding discussion meetings over
lunch or dinner.

-Cost: may cost more than telephone survey
-Sampling: group interview studies keep small sample size to keep time and cost
down, therefore it may be difficult to generalize from the results.
- Interviewer bias.

Also called Empirical Research or Cause and Effect Method, it is a data-based
research, coming up with conclusions which are capable of being verified with
observation or experiment.
Experimental research is appropriate when proof is sought that certain variables affect
other variables in some way.
-Tenderisers ( independent variable) affect cooking time and texture of meat(
dependent variable) .
- The effect of substituting one ingredient in whole or in part for another such as soya
flour to flour for making high protein bread.
-Develop recipes to use products.

Such research is characterised by the experimenter’s control over the variables under
study and the deliberate manipulation of one of them to study its effects.
In such a research, it is necessary to get at facts first hand, at their source, and actively
go about doing certain things to stimulate the production of desired information.

-Researcher must provide self with a working hypothesis or guess as to the probable
- Then work to get enough facts (data) to prove or disprove the hypothesis.
-He then sets up experimental designs which he thinks will manipulate the persons or
the materials concerned so as to bring forth the desired information.

Evidence gathered through experimental or empirical studies today is considered to be

the most powerful support possible for a given hypothesis.
Lowe,Belle;1958,Experimental Cookery, John Willey & Sons, New York, pp 34-46


Researchers usually draw conclusions about large groups by taking a sample

A Sample is a segment of the population selected to represent the population as a
Ideally, the sample should be representative and allow the researcher to make accurate
estimates of the thoughts and behaviour of the larger population.
Designing the sample calls for three decisions:
Who will be surveyed? ( The Sample)
• The researcher must determine what type of information is needed and who is most
likely to have it.
How many people will be surveyed? (Sample Size)
• Large samples give more reliable results than small samples. However it is not
necessary to sample the entire target population.
How should the sample be chosen? (Sampling)
• Sample members may be chosen at random from the entire population
( probability sample)
• The researcher might select people who are easier to obtain information from
( nonprobability sample)

The needs of the research project will determine which method is most effective

Types of Samples
Probability samples
Simple random sample: Every member of the population has a known and equal
chance of being selected.

Stratified random sample :Population is divided into mutually exclusive groups such
as age groups and randomsamples are drawn from each group.

Cluster(area)sample: The population is divided into mutually exclusive groups such

as blocks, and the researcher draws a sample of the group to interview.

Nonprobability samples
Convenience sample: The researcher selects the easiest population members from
which to obtain information.

Judgment sample: The researcher uses his/her judgement to select population

members who are good prospects for accurate information.

Quota sample: The researcher finds and interviews a prescribed number of

people in each of several categories.


The construction of a research instrument or tool for data collection is the most important asp
of a research project because anything you say by way of findings or conclusions is based upo
the type of information you collect, and the data you collect is entirely dependent upon the
questions that you ask of your respondents. The famous saying about computers- “garbage in
garbage out”- is also applicable for data collection. The research tool provides the input into a
study and therefore the quality and validity of the output (the findings), are solely dependent o

Guidelines to Construct a Research Tool:

The underlying principle behind the guidelines suggested below is to ensure the validity of yo
instrument by making sure that your questions relate to the objectives of your study.

Step I: Clearly define and individually list all the specific objectives or research
Questions for your study.
Step II: For each objective or research questions, list all the associated questions
That you want to answer through your study.
Step III: Take each research question listed in step II and list the information
Required to answer it.
Step IV: Formulate question(s) to obtain this information.

The Questionnaire:
Structured surveys/ interviews employ the use of a questionnaire.

A questionnaire consists of a set of questions presented to a respondent for answers.

The respondents read the questions, interpret what is expected and then write down
the answers themselves.
It is called an Interview Schedule when the researcher asks the questions (and if
necessary, explain them) and record the respondent’s reply on the interview schedule.

Because there are many ways to ask questions, the questionnaire is very flexible.
Questionnaire should be developed and tested carefully before being used on a large

There are three basic types of questionnaire:

• Closed –ended
• Open-ended
• Combination of both
1.Closed –ended Questionnaire:
-Closed ended questions include all possible answers/prewritten response categories,
and respondents are asked to choose among them.
-e.g. multiple choice questions, scale questions
- Type of questions used to generate statistics in quantitative research.
- As these follow a set format, and most responses can be entered easily into a
computer for ease of analysis, greater numbers can be distributed.

2. Open-ended Questionnaire:
-Open-ended questions allow respondents to answer in their own words.
-Questionnaire does not contain boxes to tick but instead leaves a blank section for the respon
to write in an answer.
-Whereas closed –ended questionnaires might be used to find out how many people use a serv
open-ended questionnaires might be used to find out what people think about a service.
-As there are no standard answers to these questions, data analysis is more complex.
- As it is opinions which are sought rather than numbers, fewer questionnaires need to be

3. Combination of both:
-This way it is possible to find out how many people use a service and what they think of the
service in the same form.
-Begins with a series of closed –ended questions, with boxes to tick or scales to rank, and then
finish with a section of open-ended questions or more detailed response.

How to construct questionnaires:

• Deciding which questionnaire to use- - closed or open ended,

- self or interviewer administered
• Wording and structure of questions

- Questions should be kept short and simple--avoid double barreled i.e. two
questions in one –ask two Qs rather than one.
- Avoid negative questions-
which have not in them as it is confusing for respondent to agree or disagree.

- Question should not contain Prestige Bias – causing embarrassment or forcing the
respondent to give false answer in order to look good. Questions about educational
qualification or income might elicit this type of response
- Use indirect questions for sensitive issues- in indirect questions respondents can
relate their answer to other people .
- Using closed- ended questions- try to make sure that all possible answers are
covered so that respondents are not constrained in their answer. “Don’t Know”
category also needs to be added.

-Avoiding Leading Question: Don’t lead the respondent to answer in a certain way.
e.g. “How often do you wash your car?” assumes that respondent has a car and he
washes his car. Instead, ask a filter question to find if he has a car, and then, ‘If
you wash your car, how many times a year?’

• Length and ordering of the Questions:

- Keep the questionnaire as short as possible
-Ask easy Qs. Which respondents will enjoy answering
- If combined questionnaire, keep open ended Qs for the end.
-Make Qs as interesting as possible and easy to follow by varying type
and length of question
- Group the qs. Into specific topic as this it makes it easier to understand
and follow.
- Layout and spacing is important as cluttered Questionnaire is less likely
to be answered.

Piloting the Questionnaire

Once you have constructed your questionnaire, you must pilot it.
This means that you must test it out to see if it is obtaining the result you require.
This is done by asking people to read it through and see if there are any ambiguities
which you have not noticed.
They should also be asked to comment about the length, structure and wording of the
Alter the questions accordingly


Having formulated the research problem,, developed a study design, constructed a

research instrument and selected a sample, you then collect the data from which you
will draw inferences and conclusions for your study. Depending upon your plans, you
might commence interviews, mail out a questionnaire, conduct experiments and/or
make observations.
Collecting data through any of the methods may involve some ethical issues
in relation to the participants and the researcher :
- Those from whom information is collected or those who are studied by a
researcher become participants of the study.
- Anyone who collects information for a specific purpose, adhering to the
accepted code of conduct, is a researcher.
a) Ethical issues concerning research participants: There are many ethical issues in
relation to participants of a research activity.

i) Collecting information:
Your request for information may put pressure or create anxiety on a respondent. Is it
Research is required to improve conditions. Provided any piece of research is likely
to help society directly or indirectly, it is acceptable to ask questions, if you first
obtain the respondents’ informed consent.
If you cannot justify the relevance of the research you are conducting, you are wasting
your respondents’ time, which is unethical.

ii)Seeking consent:
In every discipline it is considered unethical to collect information without the
knowledge of the participant, and their expressed willingness and informed consent.
Informed consent implies that subjects are made adequately aware of the type of
information you want from them, why the information is being sought, what purpose
it will be put to, how they are expected to participate in the study, and how it will
directly or indirectly affect them. It is important that the consent should be voluntary
and without pressure of any kind.

iii) Providing incentives:

Most people do not participate in a study because of incentives, but because they
realize the importance of the study.
Is it ethical to provide incentives to respondents to share information with you because
they are giving their time?
Giving a present before data collection is unethical.

iv)Seeking sensitive information:

Certain types of information can be regarded as sensitive or confidential by some
people and thus an invasion to their privacy, asking for such information may upset or
embarrass a respondent.
For most people, questions on drug use, pilferage, income, age, marital status etc are
intrusive. In collecting data you need to be careful about the sensitivities of your
It is not unethical to ask such questions provided that you tell your respondents the
type of information you are going to ask clearly and frankly, and give them sufficient
time to decide if they want to participate, without any major inducement.

v) The possibility of causing harm to participant:

When you collect data from respondents or involve subjects in an experiment, you
need to examine carefully whether their involvement is likely to harm them in any
way. Harm includes l research that might include hazardous experiments, discomfort,
anxiety, harassment, invasion of privacy, or demeaning or dehumanizing procedures.
If it is likely to, you must make sure that the risk is minimal i.e. the extent of harm or
discomfort is not greater that ordinarily encountered in daily life. If the way
information is sought creates anxiety or harassment, you need to take steps to prevent

vi) Maintaining confidentiality:

Sharing information about a respondent with others for purposes other than research
is unethical. Sometimes you need to identify your study population to put your
findings into context. In such a situation you need to make sure that at least the
information provided by respondents is kept anonymous.
It is unethical to identify an individual’s responses. Therefore you need to ensure that
after the information has been collected, the source cannot be known.

b) Ethical issues relating to the researcher:

i) Avoiding bias:
Bias on the part of the researcher is unethical. Bias is a deliberate attempt to either to
hide what you have found in your study, or highlight something disproportionately to
its true existence.

ii) Provision or deprivation of a treatment:

Both the provision and deprivation of a treatment/ intervention may pose an ethical
dilemma for you as a researcher. Is it ethical to provide a study population with an
intervention/ treatment that has not yet been conclusively proven effective or
beneficial? But if you do not test, how can you prove or disprove its effectiveness or
There are no simple answers to these dilemmas. Ensuring informed consent,
‘minimum risk’ and frank discussion as to the implications of participation in the
study will help to resolve ethical issues.

iii) Using inappropriate research methodology:

It is unethical to use a method or procedure you know to be inappropriate e.g.
selecting a highly biased sample, using an invalid instrument or drawing wrong

iv) Incorrect reporting:

To report the findings in a way that changes or slants them to serve your own or
someone else’s interest, is unethical.

v) Inappropriate use of the information:

The use of information in a way that directly or indirectly adversely affects the
respondents is unethical. If so, the study population needs to be protected.
Sometimes it is possible to harm individuals in the process of achieving benefits for
the organizations. An example would be a study to examine the feasibility of
restructuring an organization. Restructuring may be beneficial to the organization as a
whole bur may be harmful to some individuals.
Should you ask respondents for information that is likely to be used against them?
It is ethical to ask questions provided you tell respondents of the potential use of the
information, including the possibility of it being used against
some of them, and you let them decide if they want to participate.


Processing and analysing data involves a number of closely related operations which
are performed with the purpose of summarizing the collected data and organizing
these in a manner that they answer the research questions (objectives).

The Data Processing operations are:

1. Editing- a process of examining the collected raw data to detect errors and
omissions and to correct these when possible.
2. Classification- a process of arranging data in groups or classes on the basis of
common characteristics. Depending on the nature of phenomenon involved

a) Classification according to attributes: here data is analysed on the basis

of common characteristics which can either be

: descriptive such as literacy, sex, religion etc. or

: numerical such as weight, height, income etc.
Such classification can be either:

Simple classification: where we consider only one attribute, and divide the universe
into two classes—one class consisting of items possessing the given attribute and the
other class consisting of items which do not possess the given attribute.

Table 1. Hotel Employees with MBA Degree

Yes No Total
MBA Degree 21 9 30

Manifold classification: Here we consider two or more attributes

simultaneously, and divide the data into a number of classes.

Table 2. Educational Qualification of Hotel Employees

Yes No Total
MBA Degree 12 9 3 6 15 15
B.Sc. H&HA 15 15 0 0 15 15

b) Classification according to class –intervals: is done with data relating to

income, age, weight, tariff, production, occupancy etc. Such quantitative
data are known as the statistics of variables and are classified on the
basis of class –intervals.
e.g. persons whose income are within Rs 2001 to Rs 4000 can form one
group or class, those with income within Rs 4001 t0 Rs 6000 can form another group
or class and so on.
The number of items which fall in a given class is known as the frequency of the
given class.

Table 3. Pocket Money Received by IHM Students

Income Range Frequency %

Rs.1001-2000 10 50
Rs.2001-3000 8 40
Rs.3001-4000 2 10
Total 20 100

3. Tabulation-Tabulation is the process of summarizing raw data and displaying

the same in compact form for further analysis. It is an orderly arrangement of
data in columns and rows. Tabulation is essential because:
a) It conserves space and reduces explanatory and descriptive statement to a
b) It facilitates the process of comparison.
c) It facilitates the summation of items and the detection of errors and
d) It provides the basis for various statistical computations.

Tabulation may also be classified as simple and complex tabulation. Simple

tabulation generally results in one-way tables which supply answers to
questions about one characteristic of data only. Complex tabulation usually
results on two-way tables (which give information about two inter-related
characteristics of data), three –way tables or still higher order tables, also
known as manifold tables.

Data Analysis Methods

Qualitative Data Analysis:
Qualitative data analysis is a very personal process with few rigid rules and
procedures. For this purpose, the researcher needs to go through a process called
Content Analysis.
Content Analysis means analysis of the contents of an interview in order to identify
the main themes that emerge from the responses given by the respondents .This
process involves a number of steps:

Step 1. Identify the main themes. The researcher needs to carefully go through the
descriptive responses given by respondents to each question in order to understand the
meaning they communicate. From these responses the researcher develop broad
themes that reflect these meanings People use different words and language to express
themselves. It is important that researcher select wording of the theme in a way that
accurately represents the meaning of the responses categorized under a theme.These
themes become the basis for analyzing the text of unstructured interviews.

Step 2. Assign codes to the main themes: If the researcher wants to count the number
of times a theme has occurred in an interview, he/she needs to select a few responses
to an open- ended question and identify the main themes. He/she continues to identify
these themes from the same question till a saturation point is reached. Write these
themes and assign a code to each of them, using numbers or keywords.

Step 3. Classify responses under the main themes: Having identified the themes Next
step is to go through the transcripts of all the interviews and classify the responses
under the different themes.

Step 4. Integrate themes and responses into the text of your report: Having identified
responses that fall within different themes, the next step is to integrate into the text of
your report. While discussing the main themes that emerged from their study, some
researchers use verbatim responses to keep the feel of the response. There are others
who count how frequently a theme has occurred, and then provide a sample of the
responses. It entirely depends upon the way the researcher wants to communicate the
findings to the readers.

Quantitative Data Analysis:

This method is most suitable for large well designed and well administered surveys
using properly constructed and worded questionnaire.

Data can be analysed either manually or with the help of a computer .

Manual Data Analysis: This can be done if the number of respondents is

reasonably small, and there are not many variables to analyse.

However, this is useful only for calculating frequencies and for simple cross-

Manual data analysis is extremely time consuming. The easiest way to do this is to
code it directly onto large graph paper in columns. Detailed headings can be used
or question numbers can be written on each column to code information about the

To manually analyse data (frequency distribution), count various codes in a

column and then decode them.

In addition, if you want to carry out statistical tests, they have to be calculated
manually. However, the use of statistics depends on your expertise and the
desire/need to communicate the findings in a certain way.
Data Analysis Using a Computer:

If you want to analyse data using computer, you should be familiar with the
appropriate program. In this area, knowledge of computer and statistics plays an
important role.

The most common software is SPSS for windows. However, data input can be long
and laborious process, and if data is entered incorrectly, it will influence the final


Writing the report is the last, and for many, the most difficult step of the research
process. The report informs the world what you have done, what you have discovered
and what conclusions you have drawn from your findings. The report should be
written in an academic style. Language should be formal and not journalistic.
Written Research Project Report Format
Traditional written reports tend to be produced in the following format.

Title Page
-Title of the Research Project,
-Name of the researcher,
-Purpose of the research project, e.g. “A research project submitted in partial
fulfillment of the requirements of National Council for Hotel Management and
Catering Technology, New Delhi for the degree of B.Sc Hospitality and Hotel
-Date of Publication

Table of Contents
In this section is listed the contents of the report, either in chapters or in subheadings

Contents Page No

Introduction 1

Chapter I Theoretical Framework and

Review of Related Literature 3

Chapter II Research Design 30

Chapter III Data Analysis and Interpretation 35

Chapter IV Summary and Conclusion 70

Suggestions for Further Research 75

References/ Bibliography


Appendix I Questionnaire for Employees

Appendix II Questionnaire for Managers
List of Tables

This section includes title and page number of all tables e.g.

Table No. Title Page No.

1 Income levels of Respondents 31
2 Age distribution of Respondents 35

List Of Figures

This section contains title and page number of all graphs, pie charts etc. e.g.

Figure No. Title Page No

1. Pie Chart showing age distribution of respondents 33

2. Bar Graph showing popularity of menu items 37


Here the researcher may acknowledge Institute Principal, Faculty Guide-both

research guide and technical guide, research participants, friends etc.

This section introduces the research setting out aims and objectives.
It includes a rationale for the research.

Theoretical Framework and Review of Literature

In this section is included all your background research which may be obtained from the
literature review. You must indicate from where all the information
Has come, so remember to keep a complete record of everything you read. If you do not do
this, you could be accused of plagiarism which is a form of intellectual theft. When
you are referring to a particular book or journal article, use the Harvard system.

Research design:
This section includes all practical details followed for research . After reading this, any
interested party should be able to replicate the research study. The methods used for
data collection, how many people took part, how they were chosen, what tool was
used for data collection, how the data was analysed etc.

Data Analysis and Interpretation:

If you have conducted a large quantitative survey, this section may contain tables, graphs,
pie charts and associated statistics. If you have conducted a qualitative piece of
research this section may be descriptive prose.

Summary and Conclusion:

In this section you sum up your findings and draw conclusions from them, perhaps in
relation to other research or literature.

If you have conducted a piece of research for a hotel or any other client organization, this
section could be the most important part of the report. A list of clear recommendations
which have been developed from the research is included- sometimes this section is
included at the beginning of the report.

Suggestion for Further Research

It is useful in both academic reports and work-related reports to include a section which
shows how the research can be continued. Perhaps some results are inconclusive, or
perhaps the research has thrown up many more research questions which need to be
addressed. It is useful to include this section because it shows that you are aware of
the wider picture and that you are not trying to cover up something which you feel
may be lacking in your own work.

List of References /Bibliography

- List of references contains details only of those works cited in the text.
- A bibliography includes sources not cited in the text but which are relevant to the
subject.(larger dissertations or thesis)
- Small research projects will need only a reference section. This includes all the
literature to which you have referred in your report. The popular referencing
system Harvard System lists books and periodicals in the following manner:
For Books
1.Authors surname ( alphabetically), followed by their initials,
2.Date of publication
3.Title of book in italics
4.Place of publication, Publisher. e.g.

Philip, T.E.; 1986, Modern Cookery for Teaching and Trade, Mumbai, Orient Longman.

For Journal Article:

The title of the article appears in inverted commas and name of the journal comes in italics,
followed by volume number and pages of the article. e.g.

Philip, T.E.; “Influence of British Raj on Indian Cuisine”; Journal of Hospitality Education;

If you have constructed a questionnaire or Interview schedule for your research, it may be
useful to include them in your report as an appendix.

Appendices do not count towards your total number of pages/words. It is a useful way of
including relevant material so that the examiner can gain a deeper understanding of
your work by reading it.

Certification Page:

Meaning of Research

• Research is composed of two syllables, a prefix re and a verb search.

• Re means again, anew, over again.
• Search means to examine closely and carefully, to test and try, to probe.
• The two words form a noun to describe a careful and systematic study in some field of
knowledge, undertaken to establish facts or principles.
• Research is an organized and systematic way of finding answers to questions.

Basic Research and Applied Research

• Basic research is geared toward advancing our knowledge about human behavior with little
concern for any immediate practical benefits that might result.
• Applied research is designed with a practical outcome in mind and with the assumption that
some group or society as a whole will gain specific benefits from the research.

The Wheel of Science

• Theory – Hypotheses – Observation – Empirical Generalization

Hypothesis and Focused Question

• In deductive research, a hypothesis is focused statement which predicts an answer to your

research question. It is based on the findings of previous research (gained from your review of
the literature) and perhaps your previous experience with the subject. The ultimate objective
of deductive research is to decide whether to accept or reject the hypothesis as stated. When
formulating research methods (subjects, data collection instruments, etc.), wise researchers
are guided by their hypothesis. In this way, the hypothesis gives direction and focus to the
• In heuristic research, a hypothesis is not necessary. This type of research employs a
"discovery approach." In spite of the fact that this type of research does not use a formal
hypothesis, focus and structure is still critical. If the research question is too general, the
search to find an answer to it may be futile or fruitless. Therefore, after reviewing the relevant
literature, the researcher may arrive at a focused research question.

Research Process

• Choosing the research problem

• Review of related literature
• Collection of data
• Interpretation of data
• Preparing the research report

Methods of Research

• Historical method: to reconstruct the past objectively and accurately, often in relation to the
tenability of a hypothesis.
• Descriptive method: to describe systematically a situation or area of interest factually and
• Developmental method: to investigate patterns and sequences of growth and/or change as a
function of time.
• Case and field method: to study intensively the background, current status, and environmental
interactions of a given social unit.
• Correlational method: to investigate the extent to which variations in one factor correlate with
variations in one or more other factors based on correlation coefficient.
• Casual-comparative or “Ex post facto” method: to investigate possible cause-and-effect
relationships by observing some existing consequence and looking back through the data for
plausible casual factors.
• True experimental method: to investigate possible cause-and-effect relationships by exposing
one or more experimental groups to one or more treatment conditions and comparing the
results to one or more control groups not receiving the treatment, random assignment being
• Quasi-experimental method: to investigate the conditions of the true experiment in a setting
which does not allow the control or manipulation of all relevant variables.
• Action research: to develop skills or new approaches and to solve problems with direct
application to the classroom or other applied setting.


A variable is a measurable characteristic that varies. There are three common variable types:

• Dependent variables: show the effect of manipulating or introducing the independent

variables. The variation in the dependent variable depends on the variation in the independent
• Independent variables: are those that the researcher has control over. This "control" may
involve manipulating existing variables (e.g., modifying existing methods of instruction) or
introducing new variables (e.g., adopting a totally new method for some sections of a class) in
the research setting.
• Control variables: research studies are very complex processes. It is not possible to consider
every variable in a single study. Therefore, the variables that are not measured in a particular
study must be held constant, neutralized/balanced, or eliminated, so they will not have a
biasing effect on the other variables. Variables that have been controlled in this way are called
control variables.

Parametric Analysis

• Description and examination of relationships between different parameters, such as energy

and economic factors.
• It is an excellent way to get accurate information about the influence of all parameters on the
design objectives, such as system performance with respect to other variables.
• Together with sensitivity analysis, it enables the engineer to identify the key parameters and
know where the focus should be.

Sensitivity Analysis

• It is the study of how the variation (uncertainty) in the output of a mathematical model can be
apportioned, qualitatively or quantitatively, to different sources of variation in the input of a
• In more general terms, uncertainty and sensitivity analyses investigate the robustness of a
study when the study includes some form of mathematical modelling. While uncertainty
analysis studies the overall uncertainty in the conclusions of the study, sensitivity analysis
tries to identify what source of uncertainty weights more on the study's conclusions.
• It looks at the effect of varying the inputs of a mathematical model on the output of the model
itself. Sensitivity tests help people to understand dynamics of a system.
22  Your Research Project

Thought Space does not allow the description of other types of research. Different disci-
plines, such as philosophy, theology and metaphysics, have types of research which
are specifically suited to their purposes, but are beyond the scope of this book. It is
important to point out that the above types of research are not generally mutually
exclusive in a research project. More than one of these approaches may be
relevantly used in order to achieve the outcomes aimed at in the research.

The Research Process

Whichever type of research you choose, it will be useful to understand something

of the process of research. This can help you to form a framework for your activities.

Figure 1.4  Sitting down to write a 30,000 to 60,000

word thesis or research report is no simple task

Sitting down to write a 30,000 to 60,000 word thesis or research report is no

simple task. The research on which it is based does not develop in a linear fashion,
any more than does the writing of the report itself. So how does one go about doing
research? You will have undoubtedly noticed by now that the acquisition of knowl-
edge and the questioning of what to do with it is a complex process. From the numer-
ous books on research methods, three interpretations of how the activities of research
interweave with each other have been selected, each viewing the process at a different
level of detail.
A simple summary of the relationships between five main elements of the
research process can be mapped (Diagram 1.1). This compact diagram stresses

01-Walliman-4197-Ch-01.indd 22 07/03/2011 9:51:01 AM

Research and the Research Problem  23 


on es
ati tig
lic on





collection RESEARCH

Diagram 1.1  The research process

the circularity of the process and the central role of research theory. Is it clear to
you how progress is achieved, and at which point you can enter the system? One
should point out that this diagram makes research look a very tidy and logical
process, but in reality you may find that it involves guesses, intuition and intel-
lectual cul-de-sacs.
The spiral diagram that I have developed from the rather two-dimensional circu-
lar representation by Leedy (1989, p. 9) illustrates even more strongly the cyclical
nature of the research process (Diagram 1.2). The division of the segments clearly
indicates where you get on board. Notice how each turn through the spiral repeats
the basic process. The knowledge gained and questions raised at each turn provide
the basis for the next cycle.

•• To view research 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 – static, self-contained, and an end in itself … Every researcher soon learns
that genuine research creates more problems than it resolves. Such is the
nature of the discovery of truth. (1989, p. 9)

The diagram developed from that of Newman (1989) concentrates on the first
stages in the process. It shows a clear direction in sequence of time, and displays
how the process involves successive widening and narrowing of knowledge
bands (Diagram 1.3). As each level of knowledge is achieved, the subject area is

01-Walliman-4197-Ch-01.indd 23 07/03/2011 9:51:01 AM

24  Your Research Project


Analysis of data,
Data collection conclusions
Division into
Statement Identification of
of problem further problems

of hypotheses
or questions

Division into Identification

Statement of problem
of problem

Diagram 1.2  The research process (Leedy, 1989, p. 9)

narrowed down to become more specific, followed by subsequent widening of

knowledge as that specific area is researched in detail. This sequence of moving
into more specific, yet more widely researched subject areas could be extended
right through the project, culminating in the specifically narrow conclusions
and finally widening out into recommendations which are of more general

Exercise Sketch the continuation of Diagram 1.3 using the following stages, and show what
gets rejected every time the subject is narrowed down:
•• definition of problem area
•• research into area
•• definition of research problem
•• investigation into relevant concepts, theories and research methods
•• research proposal
•• data-gathering and analysis
•• findings and conclusions
•• recommendations

01-Walliman-4197-Ch-01.indd 24 07/03/2011 9:51:01 AM

Research and the Research Problem  25 

Consideration of interests

General reading,
Commencement of
research training
formal period
Theoretical subject(s) guidance by tutors
of research
area with relatively and discussion
constant but unknown

Breadth of

Knowledge widens

Discontinued lines
Discontinued lines
of research found Thesis title
of research
to be unsuitable (specific

Thesis oriented
study, guidance
Expansion of knowledge and discussion
within thesis area

Diagram 1.3  The research process (Newman, 1989, p. 28)

An alternative way of looking at it is as a series of stages that are interrelated and are
sometimes revisited in an iterative fashion during the project (see Diagram 1.4).
The teaching of research methods usually relates to these stages and reflects the
practical nature of the subject.

To be able to design and plan your own research project you will have to use your Thought
understanding of the process of research. The steps to take in planning the project
will be explained later in this chapter.

01-Walliman-4197-Ch-01.indd 25 07/03/2011 9:51:02 AM

01-Walliman-4197-Ch-01.indd 26
Study theoretical

Review your Investigate problem Write proposal to

Gain approval to
subject area to find area to define a explain the research
problem area research problem project and its timing

Investigate relevant Examine ethical

research methods issues

Disseminate results. Carry out detailed Explore methods for Carry out more
Indicate areas that research – data data collection and background
need further collection and analysis. Check research to refine
research analysis ethical issues research problem

Report actions and Describe why and Write up

results and draw how research background
conclusions methods used to research

Diagram 1.4  The research process

07/03/2011 9:51:02 AM
Research and the Research Problem  27 

Desirable characteristics of research findings

There is an untold mass of information in the world. By doing research, you will be
adding to this plethora of information. What is it that will make your efforts worth-
while? What should the characteristics of your findings be to make your contribu-
tion valuable? Reynolds (1971) identified four desirable characteristics of scientific
knowledge which we can use as a good guide and as a basis for discussion, as shown
in Box 1.13.

Box 1.13  Desirable characteristics of scientific knowledge

•• Abstractness
•• Intersubjectivity (meaning)
•• Intersubjectivity (logical rigour)
•• Empirical relevance

The common thread between these is that the findings should be relevant to a wider
sphere than the specific cases in your research, and that they should be based on a
research process that is both accessible to and understandable by others. It is worth
considering these characteristics in more detail.
The characteristic of abstractness is independence from a specific time and abstractness
place. Research findings are useful if they can be applied in other situations, and can
lead to the development of general theories. To discover the causes of a particular
phenomenon that occurred in a particular time at a particular place is of little
general value if the knowledge gained is not relevant to any other phenomena at
different times and in different places. There are two reasons for this.
First, no future predictions about future events can be made using this knowl-
edge, as the phenomenon can only be seen as a unique historical event. As seen
above, one of the important objectives of research is to provide predictions about
the future. Resulting from this lack of predictability is the inability to affect any
control over similar future events.
Secondly, by being restricted to a phenomenon in a particular place, it will be
impossible to generalize from the results of this discovery to events which happen
There are cases where the study of a particular event is both useful and unavoid-
able, for instance in historical and ethnographic research. Historians are unlikely to
feel competent to make predictions of future events (e.g. election results) on the
basis of historical studies. The main aim of this kind of research is to analyse,
explain and gain a sense of understanding. With a better understanding of a social

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28  Your Research Project

phenomenon, interventions to alleviate problems are likely to be more effective and

have more predictable outcomes. Similarly, in investigations following an accident,
the findings aim to explain events, understand their causes and invite predictions:
for example, a railway signalling fault discovered in an enquiry may cause more
accidents if it is not rectified.
intersubjectivity Intersubjectivity may be understood in two senses. First, to ensure that everyone
has the same understanding of words and events there must be agreement as to the
meaning of concepts used in statements. This intersubjectivity of meaning, i.e.
agreement between people about meaning, is attained by precise definition of
concepts. Secondly, any statement describes the relationship of at least two concepts.
Often, many connected statements are used in a research project to make predic-
tions, or to explain a theory. To avoid ambiguity and disagreement about the appro-
priate combination of statements to use, logical systems have been evolved such as
mathematics, statistics, symbolic logic etc. These are used to promote intersubjec-
tivity, i.e. agreement about use, at a logical level.

If scientists cannot agree on the predictions derived from combinations of state-

ments, then there can be no agreement as to the usefulness of the statements for
predicting or explaining phenomena. (Reynolds, 1971, p. 17)

Most of science and all technology is based on empirical foundations, i.e. built on,
or guided by, the results of observation and experimentation. The basic purpose of
a scientific theory is to explain what causes an event or why one event is associated
with another. The basis for these explanations is the recorded measurements made
empirical relevance by the researcher of the events. Empirical relevance is a measure of the correspond-
ence between a particular theory and what is taken to be objective empirical data,
which enable other scientists to verify the results of the research for themselves. The
greater the relevance of the empirical data, the more confidence can be put in the
veracity of the theory.

Starting your own Research

The common element in student academic research at every level, from under-
graduate to doctorate, is that they are, some more than others, exercises in the doing
of research. The student will have to demonstrate knowledge of research theory and
methods and the ability to apply these in an appropriate and successful manner
relevant to the chosen topic. You might consider that the topic itself serves merely
as a vehicle in order to make this demonstration possible. That is perhaps too
cynical a view. The topic must be the driving force behind the project and, particu-
larly at PhD level, the research must make some contribution to knowledge about

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Research and the Research Problem  29 

the subject. But without a proper understanding of research and its application, this
knowledge will not be discovered.
But perhaps you are embarking on a research project as part of your work. Most
of the issues that you will face will be similar to those faced by academic researchers.
The major differences might be the greater resources available to you, the lack of
access to supervision and advice, and the stresses of work in a professional context.
What will be the same, however, is the requirement that the research has clear and
achievable goals and is carried out efficiently using the appropriate research methods.

Finding and defining a research problem

It should be evident from what you have read so far that in order to carry out
research, you need to start by identifying a question that demands an answer, or a
need that requires a resolution, or a riddle that seeks a solution, which can be devel-
oped into a research problem: the heart of the research project.
Students starting their research degree course, and practitioners wishing to
become involved in research, tend to come from widely different backgrounds, and
are equipped with varied amounts of knowledge and degrees of experience in their
chosen field of study. While most are fairly sure of the subject they want to research,
many are uncertain of the exact problem they wish to address.
One of the first tasks, therefore, on the way to deciding on the detailed topic of
research is to find a question, an unresolved controversy, a gap in knowledge or an
unrequited need within the chosen subject. This search requires an awareness of
current issues in the subject and an inquisitive and questioning mind. Although you
will find that the world is teeming with questions and unresolved problems, not
every one of these is a suitable subject for research. So what features should you

Figure 1.5  The world is teeming with questions and

unresolved problems

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30  Your Research Project

look for which could lead you to a suitable research problem? Box 1.14 lists the
most important.

Box 1.14  Features of a suitable research problem

1 It should be of great interest to you. You will have to spend many months
investigating the problem. A lively interest in the subject will be an invaluable
incentive to persevere.
2 The problem should be significant. It is not worth time and effort investigating
a trivial problem or repeating work that has already been done elsewhere.
3 The problem should be delineated. Consider the time you have to complete the
work, and the depth to which the problem will be addressed. You can cover a
wide field only superficially, and the more you restrict the field, the more
detailed the study can be. You should also consider the cost of necessary travel
and other expenses.
4 You should be able to obtain the information required. You cannot carry out
research if you fail to collect the relevant information needed to tackle your
problem, either because you lack access to documents or other sources, and/or
because you have not obtained the cooperation of individuals or organizations
essential to your research.
5 You should be able to draw conclusions related to the problem. The point of
asking a question is to find an answer. The problem should be one to which the
research can offer some solution, or at least the elimination of some false
6 You should be able to state the problem clearly and concisely. A precise, well
thought out and fully articulated sentence, understandable by anyone, should
normally clearly be able to explain just what the problem is.

It is not easy to decide on and define a research problem, and you will not be
expected to do so immediately. The important thing, at this stage, is to know what
you are looking for, and to explore your subject for suitable possibilities.
The problem can be generated either by an initiating idea, or by a perceived
problem area problem area. For example, investigation of ‘rhythmic patterns in settlement
planning’ is the product of an idea that there are such things as rhythmic patterns
in settlement plans, even if no one has detected them before. This kind of idea will
then need to be formulated more precisely in order to develop it into a researchable
problem. We are surrounded by problems connected with society, the built environ-
ment, education etc., many of which can readily be perceived. Take, for example,
social problems such as poverty, crime, unsuitable housing and uncomfortable
workplaces, technical problems such as design deficiencies, organizational problems

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Research and the Research Problem  31 

such as business failures and bureaucratic bungles, and many subjects where there
may be a lack of knowledge that prevents improvements being made, for example,
the influence of parents on a child’s progress at school, the relationship between
designers and clients. Obviously, it is not difficult to find problem areas. The diffi-
culty lies in choosing an area that contains possible specific research problems
suitable for the subject of a research project or degree.

Some common mistakes

It is worth warning you at this stage of some common mistakes made when a
research problem is chosen. These mistakes arise mainly from the failure to grasp
the necessity for the interpretation of data in the research project. Box 1.15 shows
four common mistakes.

Box 1.15  Common mistakes when choosing a research problem

1 Making the choice of a problem an excuse to fill in gaps in your own knowl-
edge. We all welcome the chance to learn more for ourselves, but the point of
research is not just personal enlightenment, but making a contribution to
public knowledge. Anyone can find a problem that involves the gathering and
duplication of information, but it requires an additional effort to find one that
requires data to be analysed and conclusions to be drawn which are of wider
2 Formulating a problem that involves merely a comparison of two or more sets of
data. A comparison of sets of data or records might fill up many pages (e.g. the
average age of marriage through the centuries), but without any effort to
reveal something new from the information, there is no research activity. The
problem should clearly state the objectives behind making the comparison.
3 Setting a problem in terms of finding the degree of correlation between two
sets of data. Comparing two sets of data to reveal an apparent link between
them (e.g. the average age of marriage and the size of families) might be inter-
esting, but the result is only a number, and does not reveal a causal connection.
This number, or coefficient of correlation, reveals nothing about the nature of
the link, and invites the question – so what?
4 Devising a problem to which the answer can be only yes or no. In order to
improve on our knowledge of the world we need to know why things are as
they are and how they work. A yes–no solution to a problem skirts the issues
by avoiding the search for the reasons why yes or no is the answer, and the
implications which the answer has.

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32  Your Research Project

Exercise Consider the following short sentences claiming to be research problems and
decide whether they are researchable, and are a feasible proposition for an individ-
1.2 ual student, like yourself, to undertake for a research degree or as a research
project. Respond first with the answers ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘possibly’. Then, if you think that
the research problem is not viable or will present difficulties, briefly give your

  1 An enquiry into the history of the building of the Channel Tunnel.

  2 A study to compare the results in school history exams for 16-year-olds
throughout Europe between 1970 and 1980.
  3 The effects of parent unemployment on their children’s attitude to
  4 The relationship between temperature, humidity and air movement in the
cooling effect of sweating on the human skin.
  5 The effects of using glass of different thickness and qualities in single, double
and triple glazing.
  6 What factors must be evaluated and what is their relative importance,
in constructing a formula for allotting grants to university students in
  7 An analysis of the influence of Palladio’s villa designs on large country houses
built in Britain in the eighteenth century.
  8 Whether the advantages of foreign borrowing by Third World countries
outweigh the disadvantages.
  9 The composition of prefabricated elements of buildings in the construction of
multi-storey car parks in tight urban situations in large conurbations of the
United States of America during the 1970s.
10 A study of how hospital patients’ recovery is affected by the colour of their
surroundings and of how they react to the effects of different light levels after
major operations.
11 An enquiry to identify and evaluate the causes of ‘sick building syndrome’ in
order to indicate possible methods of avoiding the occurrence of this
‘syndrome’ in new buildings.
12 The impact of local tax and exaction policies on the London commercial office
13 Economic implications of the programme of rental increases and housing
sales in China.
14 How the career plans of school leavers compare with their subsequent careers
in terms of self-satisfaction and self-adjustment, and what information the
analysis of the difference between planned and realized careers provides to
assist in career planning.

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Research and the Research Problem  33 

As you can see, it requires a good deal of thought and knowledge of your chosen Thought
topic of study in order to isolate a suitable research problem. Unless you have
come to do your research with a particular detailed problem already identified
(probably following on from some previous research which you have done), you
will need to narrow down to a specific problem from a wider problem area.

Aids to locating and analysing problems

Booth et al. (1995, p. 36) suggest that the process for focusing on the formulation
of your research problem is as shown in Box 1.16. As you can see, they recommend
that, apart from simply narrowing down the object of study, you should carefully
scrutinize the resultant topic in the light of what you have found out in your
background studies.

Box 1.16  How to focus on a research problem

1 Find an interest in a broad subject area (problem area).

2 Narrow the interest to a plausible topic.
3 Question the topic from several points of view.
4 Define a rationale for your project.

Initially, it is useful to define no more than a problem area, rather than a specific problem area
research problem, within the general body of knowledge that interests you, e.g.
housing and homelessness, parks in cities, building regulations and historic conserva-
tion. Your aim should be to subsequently narrow down the scope of the idea or
problem until it becomes a highly specific research problem. This narrowing process
will require a lot of background reading in order to discover what has been written
about the subject already, what research has been carried out, where further work
needs to be done and where controversial issues still remain.
You should keep in mind three questions when engaged in the preliminary explora-
tory work. The first is, what is your motivation for doing the research? A major motivation
should be a curiosity about the research results. Another will undoubtedly be the fulfil-
ment of the requirements of a research degree. Learning about the process of research –
practical knowledge that can be used in the future – is also likely to be a motivation.
The choice of problem is likely to be influenced by these motivational factors.

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34  Your Research Project

The second question is, what relevant interest, experience or expertise do you bring
to bear on the subject? Obviously, interest in a subject is essential if you are to
concentrate happily on it for a year or more. Although experience or expertise in a
subject is not a prerequisite to doing research in that field, it does have an effect on
the preliminary and information-gathering stage of the work, as you will be familiar
with the literature and the potential problem areas. However, a ‘new light’ may be
cast on a subject by someone looking at it with ‘fresh eyes’.
The third question is, what are you going to produce? As a researcher, your priority
will be to produce a defendable thesis or useful research report within your time
limit. If you are a research student, you should check the requirements of your
university or college in the regulations issued about the nature of suitable research
topics. (It might be a good idea to do that now. You will find the information in the
latest university research degree regulations kept in the library. You should also be
issued with your own copy.) If you are doing a dissertation as part of a course, check
the course notes for guidance. If you are doing a funded research project, then you
will need to know the requirements of the likely funders or of the policy of the
organization for which you work.

Figure 1.6  What are you going to produce?

Initial literature review and defining the problem area

The objective of the initial review of the literature is to discover relevant material
published in the chosen field of study and to search for a suitable problem area.
Fox (1969) mentions two kinds of literature that should be reviewed. The first is
‘conceptual literature’. This is written by authorities on the subject you have in
mind, giving opinions, ideas, theories or experiences, and published in the form of

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Research and the Research Problem  35 

books, articles and papers. The second is ‘research literature’, which gives accounts
and results of research that has been undertaken in the subject, often presented in
the form of papers and reports. Chapter 2 in this book tells you how you can effec-
tively carry out this search through the literature.
As every piece of research contributes only a small part to a greater body of
knowledge or understanding, researchers must be aware of the context within
which their research work is to be carried out. At this stage it is important to get an
overview of the subject, rather than knowledge in depth. This will provide you with
an understanding of the principal issues and problems or controversies, and the
opportunity to select a problem area within a frame of reference. Within this
problem area, it is important that you familiarize yourself with those aspects that
have already been well established by previous research, and are generally accepted
as true. These ‘truths’ can then be assumed to need no further proof, and the
research problem simply uses them. It is not possible for a researcher to question
absolutely everything in his/her investigations. Alternatively the research problem
can be in the form of a challenge to veracity of one or more of these ‘truths’.
Advances in wisdom are only made by building on the solid foundations of previ-
ous knowledge. Obviously, someone who is already familiar with the subject inves-
tigated will tend to be quicker to advance through this stage.

At this early stage in your research programme you are exploring your subject field Thought
only to identify a problem area, and do not need to try to define your research
problem in any detail. All the same, I think it is useful to know what the next steps
will be so that you can see the direction in which you will be moving. This might
well help you to choose a problem area. The knowledge and techniques you will
require for defining your specific research problem in detail are explained in
Chapters 2–8 of this book.

Research problem definition

From the interest in the wider issues of the chosen subject, and after the selection of a
problem area, the next step is to define the problem more closely so that it becomes a
specific research problem, with all the characteristics already discussed. This stage research problem
requires an enquiring mind, an eye for inconsistencies and inadequacies in current
theory, and a measure of imagination. It is often useful in identifying a specific problem
to pose a simple question, for example, ‘Does the presence of indoor plants affect
people’s frame of mind?’ or ‘How can prevention measures reduce vandalism?’ or ‘Can
planning and building regulations prevent the destruction of indigenous architecture?’

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36  Your Research Project

Such a question can provide a starting point for the formulation of a specific
research problem, whose conclusion should aim to answer the question. At this
stage, the nature of the question will give some indication of the type of research
approach (or approaches) that could be appropriate. Will it be a historical study or
a descriptive enquiry, an analysis of correlations or an experimental exercise, or a
combination of more than one of them? Seemingly simple questions are riddled
with ambiguities, which must be cleared up by careful definition. For example, in
the above questions, what does ‘frame of mind’ mean, what sort of ‘prevention
measures’ are envisaged, and does the question embrace all types of ‘indigenous
architecture’ everywhere? It is likely that the problem is too broad if you can state it
in less than half a dozen words. A few additional questions posed against each word
can help to delineate the problem – where, who, what, which, when? Break the
problem down into short sentences, not worrying at this stage about the overall
length of the problem statement. It is a useful trick to put each sentence on a
separate slip of paper, so that they can be put into order in different sequences.
When the best logical progression from sentence to sentence is achieved, the state-
ment can be edited into a more elegant form. (Chapter 4 deals in more detail with
the techniques of problem statement.)
While developing a specific research problem, keep in mind the skills you will
require to carry out the research posed by the problem. Fox (1969, p. 39) defines five
types of skill which are essential: research design, instrument development, data
collection, data analysis and research writing.
Designing research can be learned, in consultation with your tutor or supervisor
(just wait till Chapters 5 and 6). Instrument development is, however, a highly
specialized skill, so it is advisable to formulate the problem so that you can use
standardized or previously developed instruments. The skills required by data
collection techniques are generally readily acquired (introduced in Chapter 5),
though consideration must be given to the extent of data needed. Data analysis does
require specialist skills, which can be of a highly sophisticated nature (specialist
help is on hand when you get that far). It will definitely be worth your while to
consult your tutor or supervisor on the implications for data analysis that the
research problem might have. Skills in research writing will be developed in Chapter 7,
and by consultation with your tutors or supervisors over the next months (or years).
Careful consideration of these points will ensure that the planned research is
practicable and has a good chance of success.

The sub-problems

Most research problems are difficult, or even impossible, to solve without breaking
them down into smaller problems. The short sentences devised during the problem

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Research and the Research Problem  37 

formulation period can give a clue to the presence of sub-problems. Does one sub-problems
aspect have to be researched before another aspect can be begun? For example, in
one of the research questions asked above – the kinds of prevention measures that
can be used against vandalism – how the measures can be employed and for what
types of vandalism they are suitable, will have to be examined. The sub-problems
should delineate the scope of the work and, taken together, should define the entire
problem to be tackled as summarized in the main problem.
Following on from their recommended steps for narrowing down the scope of
your study to one topic, as shown in Box 1.16, Booth et al. (1995, p. 40) elaborate
on how you can organize your questions to define the sub-problems by looking at
your topic from the four perspectives shown in Box 1.17. It is interesting to note
that the usefulness of the topic is also an issue that should be taken into account –
but does this exclude blue-sky research? I hope not!

Box 1.17  Questions used to define sub-problems

1 What are the parts of your topic and what larger whole is it a part of?
2 What is its history and what larger history is it a part of?
3 What kind of categories can you find in it, and to what larger categories of
things does it belong?
4 What good is it? What can you use it for?

Second review of literature

A more focused review of the literature follows the formulation of the research
problem. The purpose of this review is to learn about research already carried out
into one or more of the aspects of the research problem, as shown in Box 1.18.

Box 1.18  Purposes of a literature review

1 To summarize the results of previous research to form a foundation on which

to build your own research.
2 To collect ideas on how to gather data.
3 To investigate methods of data analysis.
4 To study instrumentation that has been used.
5 To assess the success of the various research designs of the studies already

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38  Your Research Project

A full introduction to the techniques of literature review, information storage and

information retrieval is given in Chapter 4.

Exercise In order to exercise what you have learned about the characteristics of the research
problem and how it should be presented, here is part of a research proposal written
1.3 by a postgraduate research student. It aimed to describe accurately and succinctly
the relevant background, the problem to be researched and its importance.
Obviously, you are not required at this stage to write anything as detailed as this
yourself. The point of this exercise is for you to examine this text to see how a research
problem can be extracted out of a context and defined and described in such a way
as to convince the reader that the project is both worthwhile and possible to carry out.
After reading the following short research proposal, check the report against the
following criteria:

1 Is the research problem clearly stated? What is it? Write it out. If it is not clear,
try to detect what it probably is and then summarize it.
2 Does the problem seem to arise naturally from the background information
and questions? Summarize the main points of the argument which lead up to
the problem. If you have difficulty finding the relevant background information
and argument, explain where you see the gaps.
3 Are any sub-problems stated? If so, what are they? Write them out. Do they
really form parts of the main problem?
4 Is the proposed research limited in scope? What are the limitations? (It will help
you if you think of different aspects of the research, e.g. time, place etc.)
5 Did the researcher state what type of research approach would be used? If so,
write a summary of the research activities to be undertaken.
6 Is there any indication of the importance of the study? Describe how, if at all,
this is conveyed.
7 Is there any reference to, or discussion of, related literature or studies by other
researchers? If so, which?


A Study of Group-living Accommodation for Young Physically Disabled People

The aims of this study are to investigate different forms of group-living accommo-
dation designed for people with physical disabilities; and to evaluate their effec-
tiveness in meeting requirements for independent living, particularly for young
severely disabled people.
The ethos behind segregation of disabled people has been that those who are
incapable of managing their own lives might reasonably be placed in institutions

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Research and the Research Problem  39 

that can take over those responsibilities. Admission into such institutions has for a
long time implied, by circumstance or design, a relinquishment of certain rights,
most particularly that of independent living.
As distinctions between those who are dependent on others have become
more clear – the poor, sick, old and abandoned – so institutions and buildings,
such as workhouses, orphanages and asylums, have evolved to provide for them.
Their common ethos was segregation. After World War II, that acceptability of
segregated institutions was called into question and alternatives to institutional
living were sought for those dependent on others for their care. The response of
the caring institutions was to shift away from segregation and towards the
integration of people with disabilities into mainstream society. The underlying
problem for architects was how buildings would need to change to accommodate
this shift. Architects needed to devise a diversified range of buildings that
widened the options for independent living for people with differing degrees of
In the 1950s and 1960s new building forms such as sheltered and special needs
housing were developed, but these were predominantly for the elderly. For younger
disabled people there continued to be few alternatives between admission to an
institution or staying at home.
However, by 1970 new concepts were developed; most striking were young
disabled units (YDUs) for severely disabled people of working age who had to leave
Over 320 YDUs and similar buildings have been built in the last two decades,
providing places for 10,500 people. Some are built in the grounds of hospitals and
some in the community; they generally accommodate 30 residents with their own
bedroom and shared common facilities. Their objective has been to meet require-
ments for independent living, across the age range of residents, from school
leaving age to retirement. However, research on the effectiveness of these
schemes is sparse. Investigation so far suggests that their design has been more
successful at accommodating the needs of older residents and less successful at
accommodating the requirements for independent living of younger disabled
The focus of this study will therefore be to investigate the influences on different
YDU built forms, and evaluate their effectiveness in meeting the independent-
living needs and aspirations of the young people with severe disabilities who live
in them.
Indicators of independent living established early in the study will be used to
measure the effectiveness of independent living attained in the different building
types, all purpose-designed to wheelchair parameters. Data will be collected by
undertaking detailed multi-method surveys of different YDU-type group-living
schemes. The surveys will include detailed appraisal of plans and measurements of
buildings, observation of the building in use and structured interviews with
residents across the age range.

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40  Your Research Project

The findings of the study are intended to make an original contribution to

research in this area, and provide recommendations of practical value for the design
of independent-living schemes which set out to optimize the independence of
young people with severe physical disabilities.
(Proposal by David Bonnett – who successfully completed his PhD three years later.)

Thought Are you finding it quicker to analyse a given text now? The example given above is
the first part of a research proposal for an MPhil with intention to transfer to a PhD.
What has been left out in this example is the detailed methodology, explaining
exactly how the research will be carried out. As already mentioned, you are not
expected to be able to write anything as detailed as that at this stage. However,
after Chapter 7, you should be able to write something comparable and this
extract gives you some idea of what you are aiming at. Of course, your subject may
be completely different, but the criteria listed above will be the same.

Planning a Research Project

The purpose of the research plan is to take the initial research problem and decide how
it will be researched. A clearly defined and expressed research problem is one impor-
tant prerequisite for evolving a research plan. Important facts to be considered when
designing the project are: available time, financial resources, facilities, availability of
data, possible methods of analysis, and your own developing skills as a researcher.
Remember that you do not have a team of researchers to support you, and that
you have only a few weeks to complete a dissertation, about one year to complete
an MPhil or about three years to complete a PhD. All other research projects are
similarly limited in their time-frame. There will be some hard choices to make;
however fascinating your subject and however important the expected outcomes, it
is essential to limit the area of your investigation and keep it within manageable
proportions. Keep in mind that working towards a research degree is also a training
exercise to develop research skills, and your thesis will finally demonstrate that you
have acquired them sufficiently.

Choosing a research strategy

What sort of research will you pursue? It is worth remembering the different overall
aims that could be at the centre of your project. Phillips and Pugh (1994, pp. 49–52)

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Research and the Research Problem  41 

identified three basic aims of research, as shown in Box 1.19 and discussed in the
text that follows.

Box 1.19  Basic aims of research

•• Exploration
•• Testing out
•• Problem-solving

This kind of research delves into the unknown, tackling new problem issues or
topics. As little or no previous research has been done on those topics, it will be
impossible to delineate precisely the scope of the research or to predict its outcomes.
Because it will be in a relatively unexplored domain, a necessary part of the research
is to explore what existing theories, concepts and methodologies might be used or
adapted, or failing those, to devise new ones. It pushes out the boundaries of
knowledge in the anticipation that the outcomes will be of value.

Testing out
A common feature of such research is that it makes generalizations from specific
instances. But how far are the generalizations valid? Testing out research explores
the validity of the generalizations in other circumstances, and tries to define their
limits. This basic scientific activity leads to the refinement of theories. There are a
host of opportunities in this approach: testing the generalizations in different
locations, under different social or physical conditions, in different contexts etc.

This type of research identifies a ‘real-life problem’. Its aim is to find possible
solutions to the problem by using techniques of systematic appraisal and analysis.
As ‘real-life problems’ tend to be complex, the study might involve several disci-
plines and a variety of methods, requiring a great deal of background knowledge.
Although it is possible to pursue this kind of research on a theoretical level,
commonly practical benefits flow from it. However, solutions are unlikely to be
obvious and clear-cut.
Which type of research lends itself best to gaining a research degree? Phillips and
Pugh (1994) pragmatically suggest that the safest option is to be recommended,
that is, the one with the fewest unknown factors. Testing out research, based on

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42  Your Research Project

Figure 1.7  Problem-solving type of research identifies

a ‘real-life problem’

known theories and established methods of testing, avoids the unpredictability

(though it might miss out on the excitement) of the other two research approaches.
It is probably better to keep your feet on the bottom until you are able to swim! You
will still have to introduce some new insights or methods into the subject to make
the research worthwhile (rather than just replication), and it can be argued that this
mainstream type of research will usefully produce more readily publishable and
quotable results than the other two types.
There are greater risks and unknowns in the exploratory and problem-solving
approaches. They undoubtedly require more expertise and experience on the part of
the researcher and demand the enthusiastic support of the supervisor. In such innova-
tive and original research, it is more difficult to achieve the authority in the subject
required for it to be publishable, which might, in turn, impede a career in research.

Thought You should now think about your own research interest and reflect on which of the
above types of research might be considered to be appropriate for your own work.

Planning your projects

Any research project requires planning so that the researcher’s time is used
efficiently in pursuance of the research objectives. Much effort can be wasted and
frustration incurred by haphazard reading and collecting of notes and references,

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Research and the Research Problem  43 

sundry information and opinions. This form of activity might be ‘very interesting’,
but leads in no particular direction and hence does nothing to advance the progress
of the research.

Research planning and architectural planning have much in common. Each requires a
conceptualisation of the overall organisation and a detail plan before work on the
project can begin. For successful completion, a building requires plans that are clearly
conceived and accurately drawn. A research project should be no less totally visual-
ised and precisely detailed. (Leedy, 1989, p. 79)

According to Leedy (1989, p. 81), all research has a basic format. Whatever subjects
or disciplines are its focus, they all share the need of a central research problem, a
search for and collation of data, appropriate methods of analysis and the formula-
tion of substantiated conclusions. This is not to say that the methodology will be
similar in all disciplines. On the contrary, much of the planning of research projects
is taken up with deciding on the most appropriate techniques for data collection
and analysis. The underlying dynamics of the process also include the features of
the researcher, such as motivation, experience and skills; aspects of the research
situation, such as cost, time, facilities, situation etc.; and the needs and demands of
the respondents or others co-operating in the research.
Boxes 1.20, 1.21 and 1.22 give three examples of research plans, two for PhD
theses and the third for a funded research programme. Note that references in these
plans are not included in the reference list for this book.

Box 1.20  Example research plan 1

Oxford City Primary Care Group: A Case Study of Interagency Collaboration

Promoting independence in older people

For this part of the study, fracture of the neck of the femur (hip fracture) will be
used as a tracer condition. Care provision for this group potentially involves the
whole system of health and social care, including prevention (accident reduction),
trauma, rehabilitation, primary care, continuing community care, social services,
the voluntary sector, carers, day centres, residential care etc. If the PCG is to have an
impact on interagency collaboration, it should be apparent in the treatment of this
care group.
The study will seek to identify the impact of the PCG on interagency collabora-
tion from the perspectives both of those at management level and of service
users. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with a purposive sample of

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03-Brewer-4721.qxd 5/18/2005 5:03 PM Page 39

Research Problems

R esearch problems are questions that indicate gaps in the scope or

the certainty of our knowledge. They point either to problematic
phenomena, observed events that are puzzling in terms of our currently
accepted ideas, or to problematic theories, current ideas that are chal-
lenged by new hypotheses. This chapter first looks at the role of such
questions in the research process, and especially the ongoing debate
among social scientists as to when and how problems should be formu-
lated. Second, we consider methodology’s effect on defining problems,
and how the multimethod approach can be used to focus research more
sharply upon the substance of research problems. Finally, we consider
the role of theory in problem formulation, and how the multimethod
approach integrates theory and research more closely in posing these
research questions.

The Role of Research Problems

in the Research Process
The problems of everyday life are difficulties to be avoided, if possible.
Research problems are eagerly sought after. The difference is that research
problems represent opportunities as well as trouble spots. Because

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scientific knowledge is provisional, all empirical findings and theories are

in principle problematic and are, therefore, subject to further investiga-
tion. But in addition to seeking more exact confirmations of existing
claims to knowledge, research has the equally important goal of generat-
ing new claims. Problem formulation is the logical first step toward this
goal. As Northrop (1966) writes, “Inquiry starts only when something is
unsatisfactory, when traditional beliefs are inadequate or in question,
when the facts necessary to resolve one’s uncertainties are not known,
when the likely relevant hypotheses are not even imagined. What one has
at the beginning of inquiry is merely the problem” (p. 17).
The formulation of research problems also has an important social func-
tion. As Merton, Broom, and Cottrell (1959) suggest, researchers must jus-
tify the demands for attention and other scarce resources that research
makes: “In conferring upon the scientist the right to claim that a question
deserves the concerted attention of others as well as himself, the social
institution of science exacts the obligation that he justify the claim” (p. xix).
Achieving significant research results is perhaps the most powerful justifi-
cation for such claims, but this type of justification can be offered only after
the fact, and only in the event that the research is successful. A compel-
ling research problem, by contrast, must marshal support in advance of
research and, if it is sufficiently compelling, can even sustain that support
through the sometimes fruitless periods that researchers experience.
However, despite research problems’ logical priority in inquiry, and
their importance as a priori justifications, a problem’s formulation, as
John Dewey stresses, is in fact a “progressive” matter. Dewey means that
problem formulations are themselves problematic and so require contin-
ual attention to assure that the questions being asked will direct research
toward the desired end: “If we assume, prematurely, that the problem
involved is definite and clear, subsequent inquiry proceeds on the wrong
track. Hence the question arises; How is the formation of a genuine prob-
lem so controlled that further inquiries will move toward a solution?”
(quoted by Northrop, 1966, p. 13).

When and How to Formulate Problems: A Debate

It sometimes seems that there is little about which social scientists
agree, and the most effective procedure for formulating research prob-
lems is no exception. In particular, there has been considerable debate
over whether or not it is important to define problems explicitly in
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Formulating Research Problems 41

advance of research and to show how they are linked to prior work. Many
social scientists hold that research problems should be formulated by
carefully analyzing as much of the relevant research literature as possible,
formally stating the problem and the major hypotheses that the literature
suggests, and only then collecting the data. Their intention is to give
research a clear and firm justification and to encourage hypothesis testing.
This will ensure that each new study does its utmost to add in an orderly
fashion to the sum of knowledge. However, there are many other social
scientists who are equally convinced that this style of formulating prob-
lems tends to stifle questions and prevent discoveries that a more open-
ended approach might stimulate.
This latter group argues instead for letting problems and hypotheses
emerge throughout the research process, pushed forth by new empirical
observations that encourage the researcher to ask new questions and
build new theories. For example, Schatzman and Strauss (1973) write:

The automatic use of formally stated hypotheses, and of statements of “the

problem” may make it easier to program action, but it will also limit the
kinds of experience that he (the researcher) will tolerate and deal with. In
original research there is less likely to be a conceptual closure to inquiry, for
as the work of discovery continues and new kinds of data are conceptual-
ized, new problems and hypotheses will emerge. Consequently far from
putting a closure on his new experience the researcher will modify his prob-
lem and hypotheses—if indeed he ever stated them explicitly—arrange to
handle new ones simultaneously with the old, or do so in serial order. This is
how the relationship between the observer and the observed object is altered,
and how it becomes possible for new questions to be asked and answered
through research. (pp. 12–13)

Stating the problem early and in a highly structured form may indeed
lock the researcher into a fixed stance with respect to the situation being
observed, and it may also block the emergence of new ideas that might
be stimulated by new experience. But open-endedness may have costs as
well. For instance, Huber (1973) argues that letting the emergent features
of each new research situation continually exert pressure to redefine prob-
lems and hypotheses tends to bias the emerging theory in the direction
of the status quo. It gives undue weight to the particular situation being
studied at the moment, diverts attention from the problems posed by
other theories, and interferes with theory-testing because the same data
obviously cannot be used both to form and to test an hypothesis. In this
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view, prestated problems and hypotheses do much more than make it

“easier to program action” (as Schatzman and Strauss [1973] suggest).
They discipline research in the interest of testing theory, accumulating
knowledge, and achieving a theoretical standpoint independent of the
time and place in which researchers presently find themselves.

Overcoming Methodological
Constraints on Problem Formulation
Both sides in the foregoing debate clearly have merit. However, in
practice the decision as to when and how research problems should be
defined usually depends less upon the perceived merits of one or the
other of these procedures than upon the research style selected. Methods
differ in their abilities to predict the kinds, quantities, and quality of the
data that may be available in any given instance. For example, survey
researchers or experimentalists can usually say with more certainty than
fieldworkers whether or not the data pertinent to a particular research
problem can be readily collected. Fieldwork offers the possibility of many
data sources, but it is usually hard to say in advance which data will actu-
ally be obtainable. Similarly, Selltiz, Jahoda, Deutsch, and Cook (1959)
note the need to take a “wait-and-see” attitude in the use of nonreactive
data sources such as statistical records: “The use of such data demands
a capacity to ask many different questions related to a research
problem. . . . The guiding principle for the use of available statistics con-
sists in keeping oneself flexible with respect to the form in which the
research questions are asked” (p. 318).
Furthermore, as we will discuss in greater detail in Chapter 4, an
empirical search for problems is considerably less expensive with some
methods than others. Exploratory experiments and surveys are certainly
feasible, but pilot field studies and searches through archives generally
cost less, except perhaps for the researcher whose personal expenditure of
time and energy usually “fund” such studies. Moreover, discoveries arise
in different ways for different methods. Fieldworkers and nonreactive
researchers are more likely to make discoveries as a result of finding new
data sources and examining new situations; while survey researchers
and experimentalists are more likely to make discoveries through innova-
tions in techniques of study design, sampling, or data analysis, which
can generate unexpected (serendipitous) findings by more precise tests
of hypotheses.
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Formulating Research Problems 43

Different research styles thus exert different constraints on formulating

problems: open-ended constraints in response to the immediate research
situation for fieldwork and nonreactive research or more programmed
constraints for surveys and experiments. The multimethod strategy pro-
vides the opportunity to overcome these methodological constraints upon
problem formulation and thereby gain the advantages of each approach
while compensating for its disadvantages.
Sieber (1973), for example, notes Stinchcombe’s (1964) reliance upon
about six months of fieldwork among the teachers and administrators in a
high school to formulate the hypotheses that guided Stinchcombe’s analy-
sis of survey data from the same school. Sieber (1973) concludes that “an
optimal schedule for theoretical survey research would include a lengthy
period of fieldwork prior to the survey” (p. 1346). He further observes
that although he could find in the literature few other examples of this
practice of deriving a survey’s guiding theory from fieldwork, it may be
quite common, since “Often, only passing acknowledgment is made of
prior personal familiarity with the situation, a familiarity that has pro-
duced rather definite ideas for research (p. 1345). Sieber (1973) cites, for
instance, Lipset’s (1964) autobiographical account of how the childhood
experience of his father’s membership in the International Typographical
Union, along with the classic works of Robert Michels and Alexis de
Tocqueville, influenced the research problem that Lipset and his col-
leagues formulated and tested in the classic survey study, Union Democracy
(1956). If, as Dewey suggested, the correct formulation of research prob-
lems is crucial to their solution, then it is critical that no source of poten-
tially valid information—no matter how “unscientific” it may seem—be
Furthermore, Sieber (1973) demonstrates how despite “an historical
antagonism between proponents of qualitative fieldwork and survey
research,” integration between these two research styles has been
achieved in numerous studies (p. 1335). He shows how fieldwork has
been employed to define the theoretical structure of problems later stud-
ied in surveys, to define and gain greater knowledge of the problem-
relevant populations for surveys, and to reformulate problems by aiding
in the interpretation of surprising survey findings and statistical relation-
ships between variables. He likewise shows how surveys have been used
to define and pinpoint relevant cases for fieldwork, to verify and establish
the generality of field observations, and to cast new light on “hitherto
inexplicable or misinterpreted” observations.
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Generating Versus Verifying Theories

The issue of when and how to formulate research problems is closely
related to another issue: the relative importance of generating new
theories versus the verification of existing theories. Both building and
testing theories empirically, as Chapter 2 explained, are important research
activities, but they serve very different functions in scientific inquiry.
Since at least the 1960s, the appropriate balance between these two
aspects of research has provoked considerable controversy in the social
For example, Glaser and Strauss, writing about sociology in 1967,
observe: “Verification is the keynote of current sociology. Some three
decades ago, it was felt that we had plenty of theories but few confirma-
tions of them—a position made very feasible by the greatly increased
sophistication of quantitative methods. As this shift in emphasis took
hold, the discovery of new theories became slighted and, at some univer-
sities, virtually neglected” (p. 10). Glaser and Strauss (1967) argue that the
emphasis on verification of existing theories kept researchers from inves-
tigating new problem areas; prevented them from acknowledging the
necessarily exploratory nature of much of their work, encouraged instead
the inappropriate use of verificational logic and rhetoric; and discouraged
the development and use of systematic empirical procedures for generat-
ing as well as testing theories. To compensate for the overemphasis upon
verification, Glaser and Strauss urged that research designed to build
empirically “grounded” theories must be recognized as a legitimate social
scientific pursuit independent of verification. They saw no necessary logi-
cal conflict between empirically building and testing theories. But they
felt that the social and the psychological conflicts “reflecting the opposi-
tion between a desire to generate theory and a trained need to verify it”
(p. 2) were so strong that clear designation of theory building as a proper
research goal was essential: “when generating [theory] is not clearly rec-
ognized as the main goal of a given research, it can be quickly killed by
the twin critiques of accurate evidence and verified hypotheses” (p. 28).
If we accept that generating theories empirically is not a substitute for
empirical verification, then building theories without immediate regard
for testing poses no special logical problems. However, it may complicate
matters methodologically. One serious complication is that theories are
often built empirically using research methods that are different from the
methods required to verify them.
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Formulating Research Problems 45

Each style of social research can be employed either to generate or to

verify theories. But in fact, purely generational studies tend to rely more
upon fieldwork or nonreactive data sources than upon experiments or
surveys, and often more upon qualitative than upon quantitative obser-
vation and analysis. The transition from generational to verificational
research may therefore involve a methodological shift as well as a change
in the focus of problem formulation. As Chapter 2 suggested, studying a
theory with different research methods provides an opportunity for fuller
examination of that theory. However, employing a new or different
method also creates difficulties. It may be far from obvious how, for
instance, concepts and propositions developed through qualitative field
studies may be measured and operationalized in terms suitable for quan-
titative surveys or experiments—or vice versa, how to design a field
study to test a theory deriving from surveys or experiments. There may
also be questions about the appropriateness of the new method to the
theory’s content, or about whether or not operational hypotheses that can
be tested with that method do in fact adequately represent the theory and
so provide a fair and full test.
Bernstein, Kelly, and Doyle (1977) encountered these kinds of difficul-
ties in formulating and testing hypotheses derived from symbolic interac-
tionist theories of deviance. These were theories that had been generated
largely in qualitative field studies. Bernstein et al.’s strategy was to com-
bine qualitative field observation with quantitative analysis of interviews
and court records collected for a larger sample of criminal defenders. This
multimethod approach, which is an example of the transition study des-
cribed in Chapter 2, allowed them to use the fieldwork data to aid in both
the design and the interpretation of the survey and archival segment of
their study. The approach also permitted them to be open and sensitive to
the kinds of firsthand field observations that had prompted the initial
theories. They thereby retained descriptive realism without sacrificing
either the quantitative precision required for verification or the generaliz-
ability provided by their larger sample.

The Empirical Unfolding of Research Problems

Once a study is published, it is in many ways irrelevant whether the
research problem prompted the study or instead emerged from it. With
publication, the study’s problem enters the public domain and becomes
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the responsibility not only of the study’s author but of all who are
professionally interested in that research area. At that point, the key issue
is what to do with the problem next. Research into a problem does not end
with a single study. Nor is there truly a final formulation of a problem any
more than there is a final solution. All research, as Chapter 2 suggested,
involves some simplification of the problem being investigated. This is
unavoidable given the limitations on our resources, theories, and meth-
ods. However, each of a discipline’s separate new studies, or each phase
of study in an individual’s research program, reveals new aspects of the
problem by addressing issues (such as those raised by the “skeptic’s ques-
tions” in Chapter 2) that earlier research could not address.
The two modes of formulating research problems that we have just dis-
cussed differ in that one looks to past studies, while the other looks to
ongoing work. But the two are similar in that both rely upon empirical
inquiry rather than upon nonempirical procedures, such as speculation or
the purely logical analysis of ideas. This means that whether research
problems emerge from current research or instead derive from earlier
work, research methods are directly implicated in the process. Every
empirically based research problem has a methodological as well as a sub-
stantive component, and this methodological component may equally
influence our perceptions as to which particular phenomena and theories
are problematic. One of the central questions to be posed, therefore, is
how do the methods employed in research directly affect the formulation
of research problems?

The Substantive Importance of Methodology

Deutscher (1966), for example, posed this question of methodological
influence by revealing one of the major simplifications of social policy
research conducted through the early 1960s. He noted the very heavy
reliance upon survey research at that time, and suggested that this reli-
ance upon surveys led social scientists to oversimplify research problems
by assuming that verbal responses reflect behavioral tendencies.
Deutscher observed that only by making this assumption were resear-
chers, who were studying issues such as racial and ethnic discrimination,
able to make causal inferences about behavior solely on the basis of ques-
tionnaire and interview data. However, he stressed that this assumption
neglected a central problem that had begun to emerge from exploratory
field studies as early as the 1930s: People’s words and deeds frequently do
not agree. To correct this oversimplification, Deutscher urged both that
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Formulating Research Problems 47

this neglected problem of “attitude versus action” must be formulated

more systematically and that a new research technology, a multimethod
approach, must be developed to capture both attitudinal and behavioral
aspects of policy problems.
The problem of attitude versus action is now a major topic of multi-
method research. But when Deutscher addressed this problem in 1966, the
topic was relatively unexplored. New areas of inquiry, where little is pre-
sumably yet known, promise productive research problems. However,
the actual formulation of the problems may be more difficult than in more
developed areas in which consistent bodies of empirical generalizations
and theories have already been established. This became evident when
Deutscher (1966) set about formulating the problem of attitude versus

We still do not know much about the relationship between what people say
and what they do—attitudes and behavior, sentiments and acts, verbaliza-
tions and interactions, words and deeds. We know so little that I can’t even find
an adequate vocabulary to make the distinction! Under what conditions do they
say one thing and behave exactly the opposite? In spite of the fact that all of
these combinations have been observed and reported few efforts have been
made to order these observations. (p. 242)

As research into a problem proceeds with researchers posing it in differ-

ent ways, the problem ideally (as Dewey implied) unfolds to reveal new
dimensions that facilitate the problem’s solution. The variety of available
research methods is a key element in this process in that it provides
researchers with a multifaceted empirical view of the phenomena and of
the theories in question. This enables researchers to formulate problems in
a manner that does greater justice both to the complexity of social phe-
nomena and to the complex implications of our theories. For example,
Chapter 1 demonstrated how the variety of methods now employed to
measure crime led to a more discriminating conceptualization of the
phenomenon of criminal deviance. And Chapter 2 illustrated how the
employment of multiple methods allows researches to consider more
fully a theory’s empirical implications.
However, employing a variety of methods also complicates the process
of problem formulation because different types of research methods very
often provide conflicting answers to the same research questions. For
example, Deutscher (1966) found the problem of attitude versus action to
be complicated by the fact that experimental studies generally reported
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greater consistency between subjects’ words and deeds than did observational
field studies. When such methodologically linked contradictions appear
in the course of a problem’s development, the suspicion is that they may
derive from theoretically irrelevant characteristics of the different meth-
ods employed rather than from the substantive complexity of the prob-
lem. Inconsistent findings require reformulations of research problems.
When these inconsistencies reflect unanticipated substantive complexity,
then concepts and propositions must be recast to take account of that
complexity. But although more complicated theories are sometimes neces-
sary to achieve theoretical realism, simplicity is preferable. And if, in fact,
contradictory research findings are attributable to methodological influ-
ences and can be shown to be consistent with existing theories, once those
influences have been taken into account, so much the better.
The substance of social life is certainly diverse enough to generate
inconsistent findings, but the methods of social research are also diverse.
Only by analyzing the methods employed to obtain research findings can
it be determined which source of inconsistency any given set of findings
reflects. For example, Hovland (1959) observed that textbooks summariz-
ing the effects of communication on opinion-change in the 1950s often
reported substantive contradictions in research findings without regard to
differences in methodology, despite the fact that stronger effects were gen-
erally found in experiments than in surveys. However, Hovland found
that upon closer inspection these apparent contradictions might be explained
in terms of the idiosyncrasies of these two different types of methods and
might not require new theoretical explanations. In sum, although the
exclusive use of a single type of research method can oversimplify research
problems, the use of different types of research methods, without system-
atic comparisons of their results and an understanding of possible method-
ological influences, can make problems appear to be more complex—or
complex in different ways—than they really are.

Research Questions Stemming from Multimethod Research

Multimethod research can help in sorting out substantive and method-
ological issues. But not even this approach can provide totally method-
free results. No research style can do that; what we know is always shaped
in part by how we came to know it. Multimethod studies may be expected,
therefore, to spawn as well as to aid in answering research questions. A
major problem is how to proceed with inquiry once it has been discovered
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Formulating Research Problems 49

that two or more methods’ findings diverge. As we said in Chapter 1,

convergent results from different methods increase confidence in each
method, but contradictory results call for reanalysis of the methods, both
in relation to one another and in relation to the original research problem.
(We shall see in Chapters 6 and 7 that under some circumstances conver-
gent findings also raise questions, but it is best to examine one source of
problems at a time.)
When contrasting different methods’ results, there are two general
classes of potential research questions that emerge in particular. The first
is whether quite different styles of research really study the same phe-
nomenon in anything but name. The second is whether different variants
of the same research style will yield the same results. Let us consider the
types of potential research problems that emerge from multimethod
research in connection with these two issues.
In Chapter 1, we saw that crime data from official statistics and from
criminal victimization surveys might measure quite different aspects of
criminal deviance. Hindelang, Hirschi, and Weis (1979) have considered
still another survey method of measuring crime (the self-report method),
which has also often been found to give results different from those
obtained with official statistics. They find that many of the apparent dis-
crepancies may stem from a failure to recognize that these two methods
may tap quite different domains of crime (trivial versus major crimes),
which may have quite different social correlates.
The self-report method of measuring crime, most commonly used to
measure juvenile delinquency, calls upon respondents to report their own
offenses rather than offenses committed against them, as in criminal vic-
timization surveys. The method is essentially a technique for estimating
delinquency in nondelinquent populations; that is, among juveniles not
officially labeled as deviant by arrest or conviction. It provides data to
study possible correlates of self-reported delinquent behavior, irrespec-
tive of whether or not that behavior was previously identified in official
data sources, which are often suspected of measuring official action more
nearly than deviance. With self-report data it is possible to estimate how
(if at all) social factors such as gender, race, or social class are related to
delinquent behavior, when the possibly contaminating influences of offi-
cial detection and recording practices are eliminated.
Self-report studies, like criminal victimization surveys, were intended
to resolve the crime-measurement problem. But the result was quite differ-
ent. Instead of confirming the findings of earlier methods, the self-report
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studies often produced divergent findings. For example, Tittle, Villemez,

and Smith (1978) report that in 35 studies of the relationship between social
class and crime, those studies conducted before 1964 (using self-report
data) consistently show no relationship, while those using official data
show a negative relationship; and that in studies done after 1964 no rela-
tionship between class and crime was found in either type of study. These
findings led Tittle et al. (1978) to conclude that the often assumed relation-
ship between social class and crime was a myth, probably based upon the
tendency for police data to overreport the crimes of lower class offenders.
However, Hindelang et al. (1979) argue that the discrepancies between
the two types of studies may themselves be an illusion, largely reflect-
ing the tendency for self-report measures to include many more minor
offenses than do measures of delinquency based upon official statistics—
trivial offenses that may in principle be chargeable but in fact are “almost
by definition outside the domain of behavior that elicits official attention”
(p. 996). Their argument underscores the point, made earlier with respect
to uncoordinated single-method studies, that methodological diversity
may create an impression of contradiction and inconsistency where none
exists. But their argument suggests a second equally important point:
Special care must also be taken in designing multimethod investigations
to ensure that convergence between different methods’ findings will be
evident if it is present, not masked by incomparable data.
To bolster confidence that convergent findings are not the result of
the methods’ shared biases, the multimethod strategy calls for methods
whose weaknesses differ. But to make convergence as evident and as
likely as possible, the multimethod strategy also calls for methods whose
strengths coincide in relation to the research problem. If methods fail to
complement one another, then divergent findings have problematic sig-
nificance, as Hindelang et al. (1979) suggest in the case of self-report
studies. “Regardless of how often it is said that self-reports measure
primarily trivial offenses . . . it is easy to forget that they do. Self-report
offenses are routinely treated as equivalent to official offenses in com-
paring correlates of delinquency. . . . When the results using the two cri-
teria are inconsistent, it seems to follow that one or both measurement
procedures is faulty. An alternative interpretation remains: it may be
simply inappropriate to compare the correlates of trivial and serious
offenses” (p. 997). They conclude that “explicit attention to seriousness
and content issues across methods must precede comparisons of their
results” (p. 1010).
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Formulating Research Problems 51

Dunaway, Cullen, Burton, and Evans (2000) have done more research
specifically designed to help clarify these issues. They conducted a self-
report mail survey of the general population aged 18 and over living in an
urban area in the Midwest, inquiring about serious crimes (including vio-
lence) as well as lesser offenses. Their study thus focused on adults rather
than juveniles and a fuller range of offenses than covered in earlier studies
of juvenile delinquency. They describe their effort as follows: “The goal of
the current study has been to add an additional piece to solving the class-
crime puzzle. In particular, we offer the conclusions that among the
general adult population social class appears to be weakly related to
involvement in self-reported criminality, but that evidence exists to sug-
gest that that this relationship is specified by race and type of crime (vio-
lence)” (p. 611). However, they recognize that no single study such as
theirs will resolve the empirical issues. And they urge that in “the under
researched area of adult crime, we may need carefully designed, sus-
tained research on class that uses multiple methods across diverse sam-
ples” (p. 611). But they suggest also that the current state of the research,
unresolved as many issues may be, presents a theoretical problem that
needs to be addressed: “those researchers wishing to construct class-
based theories of crime must confront why class position, even if related
to serious crime, is only modestly implicated in the causation of less seri-
ous offenses” (p. 620).
Brannon, Cyphers, Hesse, Hesselbart, Keane, Schuman, Viccaro, and
Wright (1973) pick up the problem of “attitude versus action” as it stood
in the early 1970s. They note that most studies at that time had reported
either negative or mixed relationships between what people say and do.
But they also note that these studies had not “concentrated on the valid-
ity of typical survey questions in general populations.” They carefully
observe that although this failure does not invalidate the evidence from
the earlier studies, it does leave us “uncertain of their implications for the
validity of standard cross-section attitude surveys” (p. 625). Their remedy
was to pose their questions about substance and method jointly and to
design a multimethod study in which a typical attitude question on the
important social policy issue of “open housing” was embedded in a larger
survey. The survey was then followed three months later by a field experi-
ment designed to test respondents’ willingness to act in a manner consis-
tent with their earlier expressed attitudes. Brannon et al. (1973) report an
overall high level of consistency between the survey responses and the
later experimental findings. However, they conclude not simply that
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“attitudes and actions are consistent” but rather they use their findings as
the basis for stating three hypotheses to explain why in this instance atti-
tudes and actions were found to coincide.
The study by Brannon et al. (1973), like Hindelang et al. (1979), in addi-
tion to illustrating how to develop specific multimethod research ques-
tions, illustrates an important general point about multimethod research.
Generic labels for research methods, such as those that we introduced in
Chapter 2, conceal a great deal of species variation among the actual
research techniques that compose the style designated by each label
(fieldwork, survey research, etc.). For example, a survey may refer either
to a questionnaire study of a convenient sample of college students con-
ducted by a faculty member in a college classroom or to an interview
study conducted by a team of paid interviewers in the households of a
cross-sectional sample of a city’s population. (Similarly, Campbell and
Stanley [1963] have demonstrated the variety of “experiments.”) Broad
classifications of methods are useful for purposes of general discussion,
and they are important to the analysis of research when they designate
groups of techniques that are thought to have common strengths and
weaknesses. But if the labels are used without regard for the underlying
variations in techniques, they can easily lead to mistaken inferences. In all
cases, it is an empirical question whether the findings from a given form
of a method correlate well or poorly with a given form of another method.

The Role of Theory in Problem Formulation

Theory plays a dual role in research. On the one hand, new theories solve
research problems by accounting for unexplained phenomena and by
superseding questionable older theories. On the other hand, existing
theory guides researchers in formulating research problems. In determin-
ing whether and in what respects a phenomenon or a theory is problem-
atic, researchers consider the context of accumulated theoretical as well
as empirical knowledge. And only those phenomena and theories that
appear to be problematic when viewed in that context are then studied.
Ideally, at least, formulating problems in this manner ensures the orderly
advance of knowledge because new research is aimed at solving problems
left unsolved in past work rather than being aimed at either totally new or
theoretically irrelevant problems.
The guiding role of theory in problem formulation is obvious in verifi-
cational studies. But while less obvious, it is equally important in exploratory
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Formulating Research Problems 53

research. To a large degree, preexisting theories define both the territory

to be explored in the search for problems, and the nature of the new facts
one hopes to discover. Of course, opinions differ about how explicit the
theoretical background of exploratory research should be. Some recom-
mend spelling it out in nearly as much detail as in verificational research,
stating exactly what existing theory leads you to expect and why. Others
object to granting existing theory such a directive role and prefer instead
to work with general theoretical orientations that sensitize the investiga-
tor to important but less precise categories of data. Closure in either the
definition of concepts or the statement of hypotheses is avoided in favor
of more open “sensitizing concepts” and the “suspension of expecta-
tions.” In the first view, new problems and hypotheses emerge from the
confrontation between old theories and new data, much as in verification.
In the second view, new problems and hypotheses emerge from the con-
frontation between the data and a theoretically oriented and sensitized

Decentralized Theorizing and Cumulative Knowledge

In contrast with an earlier time, when Glaser and Strauss (1967) criti-
cized the overemphasis on verification in social research, many social
scientists now do their own theorizing in the course of their research,
rather than testing others’ theories. As Freese (1972) has suggested with
respect to sociology, there is now widespread acceptance of two premises
“(1) sociological investigations should consist of constructing and testing
theories; and (2) theory construction is not the exclusive province of an
intellectual elite, but is the proper responsibility of each sociologist when
he defines some social phenomenon as problematic” (p. 473).
If individual researchers are to be their own theoreticians, however,
then each must also accept some responsibility for synthesis; otherwise,
we risk inundation by idiosyncratic theories that may be firmly grounded
in their authors’ research but that are of problematic significance in the
larger scheme of things. Verificational research, which by its very nature
draws upon and feeds back into a larger body of knowledge, is the con-
ventional way in which researchers in the past assumed this responsibil-
ity. However, today we need models of synthetic problem formulation for
researchers who want instead to generate theories. We, therefore, con-
clude this chapter with two such models, paradigmatic pragmatism and
mixing metaphors, which take into account both the role of theory and the
role of method in defining research problems.
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Paradigmatic Pragmatism
It has become increasingly clear that research methods cannot be
assumed a priori to be neutral or atheoretical tools. For example, Walton
(1966) demonstrated that the different theories of community power held
by political scientists and sociologists might well be a consequence of the
fact that researchers in these two disciplines have characteristically stud-
ied community power with different types of methods. And Perrucci and
Pilisuk (1970) have further shown that the method employed to study
community power may not only determine which theory one accepts but
may also determine which theories one can formulate and test.
More generally, Ritzer (1980) has posited systematic links between
theoretical styles (or paradigms) and research styles (or methods):

Those who accept the social facts paradigm tend to use questionnaires
and/or interviews when they do empirical research. . . . Those who accept
the social definition paradigm tend to use the observation method in their
research. . . . The choice of methods is, of course, made necessary by the
nature of the social definition paradigm. . . . All of the methods discussed in
this book could be used by the social behaviorist . . . [but] . . . the behaviorist
almost invariably uses the experimental method. (pp. 67, 125, 177–178)

However, Platt (1996) in her historical study of sociological methods

has cautioned against assuming tight connections between general theo-
retical orientations and particular types of method. She concludes that
“the link between theory and method has been a loose one. It does not fol-
low that it is insignificant, or equally loose in all cases, but it is clear that
we need to look elsewhere to explain both the origins of particular meth-
ods and the choice of method made in particular projects” (p. 123).
To the extent that theoretical styles and research styles are systemati-
cally linked, it may be expected that researchers will pose problems that
are compatible with their own particular theoretical orientations and with
the methods linked to those orientations, and will ignore problems that
are either theoretically or methodologically incompatible. Specific theories
and methods may be associated for at least two reasons. First, certain
methods may be better suited for gathering data on specific types or
classes of variables, and these variables may in turn suggest certain types
or classes of theoretical concepts and propositions more readily than
others. Second, certain theories may contain concepts and propositions
that imply types or classes of variables that in turn recommend
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Formulating Research Problems 55

certain methods as being more appropriate than others. Both of these

reasons imply that the form in which research problems are initially
posed may be shaped by methodological or theoretical commitments, but
neither implies any necessary linkage between or limitation by singular
methods and singular theories.
And it is also to be expected that researchers working in different theo-
retical and methodological styles will frequently disagree about the relative
importance of particular research problems and even as to whether particu-
lar phenomena or theories are problematic. For example, survey researchers
who assume a “common understanding” about questionnaire items are
often criticized by phenomenologists (e.g., Cicourel, 1962) who regard such
understandings as highly problematic. And human ecologists and demog-
raphers who study the relationships between resources and population
characteristics are criticized by conflict theorists for ignoring concepts and
variables pertaining to political power and governmental structures.
Such debates will and should continue until the issues are resolved.
However, the pragmatism of employing multiple research methods to
study the same general problem by posing different specific questions has
some pragmatic implications for social theory. Rather than being wedded
to a particular theoretical style, its pet problems and questions, and its
most compatible method, one might instead combine methods that would
encourage or even require the integration of different theoretical perspec-
tives to interpret the data. If hypotheses and variables that have been
previously isolated each within their own theoretical systems are instead
empirically interrelated in the same study, then conceptual linkages
between different theoretical systems are more likely to follow.
Sandole’s (1999) multimethod and multiparadigm study using simula-
tion-generated, archival, and survey data to investigate violent ethnic
conflicts in the post cold war era provides a good example of research that
tries “to achieve not only the ‘normal science’ type . . . of additive cumula-
tion , whereby one refines and expands what one already knows, but the
potentially ‘extraordinary science ‘ type of additive cumulation . . . whereby
one goes beyond what one already knows, perhaps shifting or combining
paradigms in the process”( p. 192).

Mixing Metaphors to Generate Research Problems

“A stitch in time gathers no moss” may make little sense as a homily,
but if one struggled to make sense of it, then a new meaning or insight
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might be generated from two common sayings. Mixed metaphors,

crossovers of theories, or applications of a theory developed in one sub-
field to another may provoke new questions, provide useful insights, and
suggest new ways of looking at phenomena. Becker’s (1963) work on
deviance, for example, can be seen as an application of Mead’s (1934) con-
cepts and propositions of identity formation in social psychological devel-
opment to the area of deviance, as can his application of Hughes’ (1960)
research on work and occupations to the development of concepts and
propositions on “deviant careers.” “Night as Frontier” (Melbin, 1978),
“Neighborhoods as Fashion,” and “Cities as Organisms” are but a few
obvious examples of analyses based on the conscious use of metaphorical
thinking. Theories of stratification also contain metaphorical concepts
related to the physics and chemistry of geology (such as strata, crystalliza-
tion, and permeable and semipermeable boundaries). And the economist
Lester Thurow (1996) has borrowed the geological concept of plate tecton-
ics and combined it with the evolutionary biology concept of punctuated
equilibrium to explore the future of capitalism: “Today the world is in a
state of punctuated equilibrium—which is being caused by the simultane-
ous movement of five economic plates. In the end a new game with new
rules requiring new strategies will emerge. Some of today’s players will
adapt and learn how to win in the new game. They will be those who
understand the movement of the economic tectonic plates. They will
become the top-of-the-food-chain, ‘fittest’ individuals, business firms, or
nations. Historically, they will come to be seen as the economic equivalent
of mammals” (p. 8). Early social scientists, of course, also drew heavily
on biological or anthropomorphic metaphors—for example, the work of
Spencer (1898) and Durkheim (1897/1951). The early Chicago School of
Sociology likewise drew heavily upon biological metaphors, especially in
its human ecological theories of cities.
The systematic use of metaphorical thinking is closely related to argu-
ment by analogy. Analogous thinking requires seeing similarities among
disparate entities and asking whether what is known to be true about the
one may be generalized to the other. Posing metaphorical questions is
not simply a word game, but enters centrally into the social scientist’s
paradigmatic view of the world, of what is problematic about that world,
and of how to conduct empirical research to understand those problems.
According to Kuhn (1970), “puzzle solving” is a characteristic of normal
science. Rather than employing explicit rules that define problems and
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Formulating Research Problems 57

their solutions, scientists work by example, analogy, or metaphor, applying

exemplars from one situation to another:

The resultant ability to see a variety of situations as like each other . . .

is, I think, the main thing a student acquires by doing exemplary
problems . . . After he has completed a certain number, which may vary from
one individual to the next, he views the situations that confront him as a
scientist in the same gestalt as other members of his specialists’ group. (p. 189)

The legitimacy of the use of exemplars or analogies is ultimately based

upon the community of practicing scientists accepting such models. For
example, biological analogies have been widely accepted within sociol-
ogy, whereas models from physics have not. Social physics was offered by
St. Simon as an alternative label to sociology as a name for the discipline,
but only a few analogies from physics are to be found in research. One
such is Samuel Stouffer’s (1940) gravity model (inverse square law) that
relates the amount of geographical mobility between cities to the distance
between them.
New metaphors and new concepts suggest new variables and new
methods—new questions and new data to answer them. As in the parable
of the blind men and the elephant, the metaphor used to describe a phe-
nomenon (it is like a snake said the man holding the trunk, like a tree said
the one holding a leg, etc.) depends partially upon the aspect of reality
one happens to get hold of. But metaphorical depiction of reality is also
determined by the method of observation one uses. Hearing an elephant,
one might liken it to a trumpeter swan; or tasting a juicy, rare elephant
steak, one might liken it to a cow. In short, metaphors are often (some say
always) used to define reality, and metaphors are in part measurement
and method specific. Mixing metaphors can suggest new questions
requiring new methods, and mixing methods can generate new questions
leading to new metaphors.
Formulating a Research Question

All research begins with a question derived from a general topic that piques your interest,
often through general reading, topical discussion, lectures, family experiences, etc. In
many cases the general topic is set by your Instructor.

Generally, the question should be:

1. Relevant.

The question should have some bearing on the topic and remain within the limits
that were set beforehand.

2. Interesting.

Choose a topic that interests and stimulates you otherwise searching could
become tedious.

3. Focused and specific.

The question should not be too broad or vague. You can however begin with a
broad question and then narrow it down to be more specific. You can narrow the
question down by:
- a particular aspect, e.g., economic, psychological
- a particular time period
- a particular event e.g., 9/11, rape, divorce
- a geographical area
- gender
- age group

The result should be a question for which there are two or more possible answers.
The following examples illustrate how to narrow broad topics to create focused
research questions.

Broad topic Narrowed topic Focused topic Research Question

Is there an association
Women’s Women and between cigarette
→ → smokers and →
health cancer smoking and breast
breast cancer
cancer risk?
Computer game How does violence in
Computer Computer game
→ → violence and → computer games affect
games violence
children children?
Eating Teenagers and Teen peer What role, if any, does
→ → →
disorders eating disorders pressure and peer pressure play in the
bulimia development of bulimia
among teens?

4. Researchable.

You should get a feel for what materials will be available to you. Know what the
Library has to offer in the way of books and standard reference sources,
indexes/databases, and services to acquire resources that are not in-house.

Sometimes your question seems doable at first but when you begin your research,
it turns out not to be the case. Because most often you are doing a literature search
for the results of previous research (as opposed to original research), it is
recommended that you do a preliminary search to test if you can get enough
material, and then, if necessary, revise your question.



Before examining types of research designs it is important to be clear

about the role and purpose of research design. We need to understand
what research design is and what it is not. We need to know where
design ®ts into the whole research process from framing a question to
®nally analysing and reporting data. This is the purpose of this chapter.

Description and explanation

Social researchers ask two fundamental types of research questions:

1 What is going on (descriptive research)?

2 Why is it going on (explanatory research)?

Descriptive research
Although some people dismiss descriptive research as `mere descrip-
tion', good description is fundamental to the research enterprise and it
has added immeasurably to our knowledge of the shape and nature of
our society. Descriptive research encompasses much government spon-
sored research including the population census, the collection of a wide
range of social indicators and economic information such as household
expenditure patterns, time use studies, employment and crime statistics
and the like.
Descriptions can be concrete or abstract. A relatively concrete descrip-
tion might describe the ethnic mix of a community, the changing age
pro®le of a population or the gender mix of a workplace. Alternatively

the description might ask more abstract questions such as `Is the level of
social inequality increasing or declining?', `How secular is society?' or
`How much poverty is there in this community?'
Accurate descriptions of the level of unemployment or poverty have
historically played a key role in social policy reforms (Marsh, 1982). By
demonstrating the existence of social problems, competent description
can challenge accepted assumptions about the way things are and can
provoke action.
Good description provokes the `why' questions of explanatory
research. If we detect greater social polarization over the last 20 years
(i.e. the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer) we are
forced to ask `Why is this happening?' But before asking `why?' we must
be sure about the fact and dimensions of the phenomenon of increasing
polarization. It is all very well to develop elaborate theories as to why
society might be more polarized now than in the recent past, but if the
basic premise is wrong (i.e. society is not becoming more polarized) then
attempts to explain a non-existent phenomenon are silly.
Of course description can degenerate to mindless fact gathering or
what C.W. Mills (1959) called `abstracted empiricism'. There are plenty
of examples of unfocused surveys and case studies that report trivial
information and fail to provoke any `why' questions or provide any basis
for generalization. However, this is a function of inconsequential
descriptions rather than an indictment of descriptive research itself.

Explanatory research

Explanatory research focuses on why questions. For example, it is one

thing to describe the crime rate in a country, to examine trends over time
or to compare the rates in different countries. It is quite a different thing
to develop explanations about why the crime rate is as high as it is, why
some types of crime are increasing or why the rate is higher in some
countries than in others.
The way in which researchers develop research designs is funda-
mentally affected by whether the research question is descriptive or
explanatory. It affects what information is collected. For example, if we
want to explain why some people are more likely to be apprehended and
convicted of crimes we need to have hunches about why this is so. We
may have many possibly incompatible hunches and will need to collect
information that enables us to see which hunches work best empirically.
Answering the `why' questions involves developing causal explana-
tions. Causal explanations argue that phenomenon Y (e.g. income level)
is affected by factor X (e.g. gender). Some causal explanations will be
simple while others will be more complex. For example, we might argue
that there is a direct effect of gender on income (i.e. simple gender
discrimination) (Figure 1.1a). We might argue for a causal chain, such as
that gender affects choice of ®eld of training which in turn affects

a) Direct causal relationship


b) Indirect causal relationship: a causal chain

Field of Promotion Income

Gender Occupation
training opportunities level

c) A more complex causal model of direct and indirect causal links

Field of
training Occupation

Part time or full

Child-care time work

Figure 1.1 Three types of causal relationships

occupational options, which are linked to opportunities for promotion,

which in turn affect income level (Figure 1.1b). Or we could posit a more
complex model involving a number of interrelated causal chains (Figure

Prediction, correlation and causation

People often confuse correlation with causation. Simply because one

event follows another, or two factors co-vary, does not mean that one
causes the other. The link between two events may be coincidental rather
than causal.
There is a correlation between the number of ®re engines at a ®re and
the amount of damage caused by the ®re (the more ®re engines the more
damage). Is it therefore reasonable to conclude that the number of ®re
engines causes the amount of damage? Clearly the number of ®re
engines and the amount of damage will both be due to some third factor
± such as the seriousness of the ®re.
Similarly, as the divorce rate changed over the twentieth century the
crime rate increased a few years later. But this does not mean that
divorce causes crime. Rather than divorce causing crime, divorce and
crime rates might both be due to other social processes such as secular-
ization, greater individualism or poverty.

Students at fee paying private schools typically perform better in their

®nal year of schooling than those at government funded schools. But this
need not be because private schools produce better performance. It may
be that attending a private school and better ®nal-year performance are
both the outcome of some other cause (see later discussion).
Confusing causation with correlation also confuses prediction with
causation and prediction with explanation. Where two events or charac-
teristics are correlated we can predict one from the other. Knowing the
type of school attended improves our capacity to predict academic
achievement. But this does not mean that the school type affects aca-
demic achievement. Predicting performance on the basis of school type
does not tell us why private school students do better. Good prediction does
not depend on causal relationships. Nor does the ability to predict accurately
demonstrate anything about causality.
Recognizing that causation is more than correlation highlights a
problem. While we can observe correlation we cannot observe cause. We
have to infer cause. These inferences however are `necessarily fallible . . .
[they] are only indirectly linked to observables' (Cook and Campbell,
1979: 10). Because our inferences are fallible we must minimize the
chances of incorrectly saying that a relationship is causal when in fact it
is not. One of the fundamental purposes of research design in explanatory
research is to avoid invalid inferences.

Deterministic and probabilistic concepts of causation

There are two ways of thinking about causes: deterministically and

probabilistically. The smoker who denies that tobacco causes cancer
because he smokes heavily but has not contracted cancer illustrates
deterministic causation. Probabilistic causation is illustrated by health
authorities who point to the increased chances of cancer among smokers.
Deterministic causation is where variable X is said to cause Y if, and
only if, X invariably produces Y. That is, when X is present then Y will
`necessarily, inevitably and infallibly' occur (Cook and Campbell, 1979:
14). This approach seeks to establish causal laws such as: whenever water
is heated to 100 ¾C it always boils.
In reality laws are never this simple. They will always specify par-
ticular conditions under which that law operates. Indeed a great deal of
scienti®c investigation involves specifying the conditions under which
particular laws operate. Thus, we might say that at sea level heating pure
water to 100 ¾C will always cause water to boil.
Alternatively, the law might be stated in the form of `other things
being equal' then X will always produce Y. A deterministic version of the
relationship between race and income level would say that other things
being equal (age, education, personality, experience etc.) then a white
person will [always] earn a higher income than a black person. That is,
race (X) causes income level (Y).

Stated like this the notion of deterministic causation in the social

sciences sounds odd. It is hard to conceive of a characteristic or event
that will invariably result in a given outcome even if a fairly tight set of
conditions is speci®ed. The complexity of human social behaviour and the
subjective, meaningful and voluntaristic components of human behaviour
mean that it will never be possible to arrive at causal statements of the
type `If X, and A and B, then Y will always follow.'
Most causal thinking in the social sciences is probabilistic rather than
deterministic (Suppes, 1970). That is, we work at the level that a given
factor increases (or decreases) the probability of a particular outcome, for
example: being female increases the probability of working part time;
race affects the probability of having a high status job.
We can improve probabilistic explanations by specifying conditions
under which X is less likely and more likely to affect Y. But we will never
achieve complete or deterministic explanations. Human behaviour is
both willed and caused: there is a double-sided character to human social
behaviour. People construct their social world and there are creative
aspects to human action but this freedom and agency will always be
constrained by the structures within which people live. Because behav-
iour is not simply determined we cannot achieve deterministic explana-
tions. However, because behaviour is constrained we can achieve
probabilistic explanations. We can say that a given factor will increase
the likelihood of a given outcome but there will never be certainty about
Despite the probabilistic nature of causal statements in the social
sciences, much popular, ideological and political discourse translates
these into deterministic statements. Findings about the causal effects of
class, gender or ethnicity, for example, are often read as if these factors
invariably and completely produce particular outcomes. One could be
forgiven for thinking that social science has demonstrated that gender
completely and invariably determines position in society, roles in
families, values and ways of relating to other people.

Theory testing and theory construction

Attempts to answer the `why' questions in social science are theories.

These theories vary in their complexity (how many variables and links),
abstraction and scope. To understand the role of theory in empirical
research it is useful to distinguish between two different styles of
research: theory testing and theory building (Figure 1.2).

Theory building
Theory building is a process in which research begins with observations
and uses inductive reasoning to derive a theory from these observations.

Theory building approach

Empirical Start Obs 1 Obs 2 Obs 3 Obs 4

level here

Inductive reasoning

Theory testing approach

Conceptual-abstract Start Theory
level here
Deductive reasoning

level Obs 1 Obs 2 Obs 3 Obs 4

Figure 1.2 Theory building and theory testing approaches to research

These theories attempt to make sense of observations. Because the theory

is produced after observations are made it is often called post factum
theory (Merton, 1968) or ex post facto theorizing.
This form of theory building entails asking whether the observation is
a particular case of a more general factor, or how the observation ®ts into a
pattern or a story. For example, Durkheim observed that the suicide rate
was higher among Protestants than Catholics. But is religious af®liation a
particular case of something more general? Of what more general
phenomenon might it be an indicator? Are there other observations that
shed light on this? He also observed that men were more suicidal than
women, urban dwellers more than rural dwellers and the socially mobile
more than the socially stable. He argued that the common factor behind
all these observations was that those groups who were most suicidal
were also less well socially integrated and experienced greater ambiguity
about how to behave and what is right and wrong. He theorized that one
of the explanations for suicidal behaviour was a sense of normlessness ±
a disconnectedness of individuals from their social world. Of course,
there may have been other ways of accounting for these observations but
at least Durkheim's explanation was consistent with the facts.

Theory testing

In contrast, a theory testing approach begins with a theory and uses

theory to guide which observations to make: it moves from the general
to the particular. The observations should provide a test of the worth
of the theory. Using deductive reasoning to derive a set of propositions
from the theory does this. We need to develop these propositions so that

Parents divorced?

No Yes

Low (a) (b)

Parental conflict
High (c) (d)

Figure 1.3 The relationship between divorce and parental conflict

if the theory is true then certain things should follow in the real world. We
then assess whether these predictions are correct. If they are correct the
theory is supported. If they do not hold up then the theory needs to be
either rejected or modi®ed.
For example, we may wish to test the theory that it is not divorce itself
that affects the wellbeing of children but the level of con¯ict between
parents. To test this idea we can make predictions about the wellbeing of
children under different family conditions. For the simple theory that it
is parental con¯ict rather than divorce that affects a child's wellbeing
there are four basic `conditions' (see Figure 1.3). For each `condition' the
theory would make different predictions about the level of children's
wellbeing that we can examine.
If the theory that it is parental con¯ict rather than parental divorce is
correct the following propositions should be supported:

· Proposition 1: children in situations (a) and (b) would be equally well

off That is, where parental con¯ict is low, children with divorced
parents will do just as well as those whose parents are married.
· Proposition 2: children in situations (c) and (d ) should be equally poorly
off That is, children in con¯ictual couple families will do just as
badly as children in post-divorce families where parents sustain high
· Proposition 3: children in situation (c) will do worse than those in situation
(a) That is, those with married parents in high con¯ict will do
worse than those who have married parents who are not in con¯ict.
· Proposition 4: children in situation (d ) will do worse than those in situation
(b) That is, those with divorced parents in high con¯ict will do
worse than those who have divorced parents who are not in con¯ict.
· Proposition 5: children in situation (b) will do better than those in situation
(c) That is, children with divorced parents who are not in con¯ict
will do better than those with married parents who are in con¯ict.
· Proposition 6: children in situation (a) will do better than those in situation
(d ) That is, children with married parents who are not in con¯ict
will do better than those with divorced parents who are in con¯ict.

Starting point of
theory testing


Inference Deduction

Implications for Propositions

Analyse Develop measures,

data sample etc.

Collect data

Starting point of
theory building

Figure 1.4 The logic of the research process

No single proposition would provide a compelling test of the original

theory. Indeed, taken on its own proposition 3, for example, would
reveal nothing about the impact of divorce. However, taken as a pack-
age, the set of propositions provides a stronger test of the theory than any
single proposition.
Although theory testing and theory building are often presented as
alternative modes of research they should be part of one ongoing process
(Figure 1.4). Typically, theory building will produce a plausible account
or explanation of a set of observations. However, such explanations are
frequently just one of a number of possible explanations that ®t the data.
While plausible they are not necessarily compelling. They require
systematic testing where data are collected to speci®cally evaluate how
well the explanation holds when subjected to a range of crucial tests.

What is research design?

How is the term `research design' to be used in this book? An analogy

might help. When constructing a building there is no point ordering
materials or setting critical dates for completion of project stages until we
know what sort of building is being constructed. The ®rst decision is
whether we need a high rise of®ce building, a factory for manufacturing
machinery, a school, a residential home or an apartment block. Until this
is done we cannot sketch a plan, obtain permits, work out a work
schedule or order materials.

Similarly, social research needs a design or a structure before data

collection or analysis can commence. A research design is not just a work
plan. A work plan details what has to be done to complete the project but
the work plan will ¯ow from the project's research design. The function of
a research design is to ensure that the evidence obtained enables us to answer the
initial question as unambiguously as possible. Obtaining relevant evidence
entails specifying the type of evidence needed to answer the research
question, to test a theory, to evaluate a programme or to accurately
describe some phenomenon. In other words, when designing research
we need to ask: given this research question (or theory), what type of
evidence is needed to answer the question (or test the theory) in a
convincing way?
Research design `deals with a logical problem and not a logistical
problem' (Yin, 1989: 29). Before a builder or architect can develop a work
plan or order materials they must ®rst establish the type of building
required, its uses and the needs of the occupants. The work plan ¯ows
from this. Similarly, in social research the issues of sampling, method of
data collection (e.g. questionnaire, observation, document analysis),
design of questions are all subsidiary to the matter of `What evidence do
I need to collect?'
Too often researchers design questionnaires or begin interviewing far
too early ± before thinking through what information they require to
answer their research questions. Without attending to these research
design matters at the beginning, the conclusions drawn will normally be
weak and unconvincing and fail to answer the research question.

Design versus method

Research design is different from the method by which data are

collected. Many research methods texts confuse research designs with
methods. It is not uncommon to see research design treated as a mode of
data collection rather than as a logical structure of the inquiry. But there
is nothing intrinsic about any research design that requires a particular
method of data collection. Although cross-sectional surveys are fre-
quently equated with questionnaires and case studies are often equated
with participant observation (e.g. Whyte's Street Corner Society, 1943),
data for any design can be collected with any data collection method
(Figure 1.5). How the data are collected is irrelevant to the logic of the
Failing to distinguish between design and method leads to poor
evaluation of designs. Equating cross-sectional designs with question-
naires, or case studies with participant observation, means that the
designs are often evaluated against the strengths and weaknesses of the
method rather than their ability to draw relatively unambiguous conclu-
sions or to select between rival plausible hypotheses.

Design Longitudinal Cross-sectional

Experiment Case study
type design design

Questionnaire Questionnaire Questionnaire Questionnaire

Method Interview Interview Interview Interview

of data (structured or (structured or (structured or (structured or
collection loosely loosely loosely loosely
structured) structured) structured) structured)

Observation Observation Observation Observation

Analysis of Analysis of Analysis of Analysis of

documents documents documents documents

Unobtrusive Unobtrusive Unobtrusive Unobtrusive

methods methods methods methods

Figure 1.5 Relationship between research design and particular data collection

Quantitative and qualitative research

Similarly, designs are often equated with qualitative and quantitative

research methods. Social surveys and experiments are frequently viewed
as prime examples of quantitative research and are evaluated against the
strengths and weaknesses of statistical, quantitative research methods
and analysis. Case studies, on the other hand, are often seen as prime
examples of qualitative research ± which adopts an interpretive approach
to data, studies `things' within their context and considers the subjective
meanings that people bring to their situation.
It is erroneous to equate a particular research design with either
quantitative or qualitative methods. Yin (1993), a respected authority on
case study design, has stressed the irrelevance of the quantitative/
qualitative distinction for case studies. He points out that:

a point of confusion . . . has been the unfortunate linking between the case
study method and certain types of data collection ± for example those focusing
on qualitative methods, ethnography, or participant observation. People have
thought that the case study method required them to embrace these data
collection methods . . . On the contrary, the method does not imply any
particular form of data collection ± which can be qualitative or quantitative.
(1993: 32)

Similarly, Marsh (1982) argues that quantitative surveys can provide

information and explanations that are `adequate at the level of meaning'.
While recognizing that survey research has not always been good at
tapping the subjective dimension of behaviour, she argues that:

Making sense of social action . . . is . . . hard and surveys have not traditionally
been very good at it. The earliest survey researchers started a tradition . . . of
bringing the meaning from outside, either by making use of the researcher's
stock of plausible explanations . . . or by bringing it from subsidiary in-depth
interviews sprinkling quotes . . . liberally on the raw correlations derived from
the survey. Survey research became much more exciting . . . when it began
including meaningful dimensions in the study design. [This has been done in]
two ways, ®rstly [by] asking the actor either for her reasons directly, or to
supply information about the central values in her life around which we may
assume she is orienting her life. [This] involves collecting a suf®ciently
complete picture of the context in which an actor ®nds herself that a team of
outsiders may read off the meaningful dimensions. (1982: 123±4)

Adopting a sceptical approach to explanations

The need for research design stems from a sceptical approach to research
and a view that scienti®c knowledge must always be provisional. The
purpose of research design is to reduce the ambiguity of much research
We can always ®nd some evidence consistent with almost any theory.
However, we should be sceptical of the evidence, and rather than
seeking evidence that is consistent with our theory we should seek
evidence that provides a compelling test of the theory.
There are two related strategies for doing this: eliminating rival
explanations of the evidence and deliberately seeking evidence that
could disprove the theory.

Plausible rival hypotheses

A fundamental strategy of social research involves evaluating `plausible
rival hypotheses'. We need to examine and evaluate alternative ways of
explaining a particular phenomenon. This applies regardless of whether
the data are quantitative or qualitative; regardless of the particular
research design (experimental, cross-sectional, longitudinal or case

Causal relationship

School type

Alternative explanation: selectivity on child’s initial ability

School type
Child’s ability


Alternative explanation: family resources

Facilities in
Parental home for study Academic
resources achievement
School type

Alternative explanation: educational values

valuation of
Parental education Academic
valuation of achievement
School type

Figure 1.6 Causal and non-causal explanations of the relationship between

school type and academic achievement

study); and regardless of the method of data collection (e.g. observation,

questionnaire). Our mindset needs to anticipate alternative ways of
interpreting ®ndings and to regard any interpretation of these ®ndings
as provisional ± subject to further testing.
The idea of evaluating plausible rival hypotheses can be illustrated
using the example of the correlation between type of school attended and
academic achievement. Many parents accept the causal proposition that
attendance at fee paying private schools improves a child's academic
performance (Figure 1.6). Schools themselves promote the same notion
by prominently advertising their pass rates and comparing them with
those of other schools or with national averages. By implication they
propose a causal connection: `Send your child to our school and they will
pass (or get grades to gain entry into prestigious institutions, courses).'
The data they provide are consistent with their proposition that these
schools produce better results.

But these data are not compelling. There are at least three other ways
of accounting for this correlation without accepting the causal link
between school type and achievement (Figure 1.6). There is the selectivity
explanation: the more able students may be sent to fee paying private
schools in the ®rst place. There is the family resources explanation: parents
who can afford to send their children to fee paying private schools can
also afford other help (e.g. books, private tutoring, quiet study space,
computers). It is this help rather than the type of school that produces the
better performance of private school students. Finally, there is the family
values explanation: parents who value education most are prepared to
send their children to fee paying private schools and it is this family
emphasis on education, not the schools themselves, that produces the
better academic performance. All these explanations are equally con-
sistent with the observation that private school students do better than
government school students. Without collecting further evidence we
cannot choose between these explanations and therefore must remain
open minded about which one makes most empirical sense.
There might also be methodological explanations for the ®nding that
private school students perform better academically. These methodolo-
gical issues might undermine any argument that a causal connection
exists. Are the results due to questionable ways of measuring achieve-
ment? From what range and number of schools were the data obtained?
On how many cases are the conclusions based? Could the pattern simply
be a function of chance? These are all possible alternative explanations
for the ®nding that private school students perform better.
Good research design will anticipate competing explanations before
collecting data so that relevant information for evaluating the relative
merits of these competing explanations is obtained. In this example of
schools and academic achievement, thinking about alternative plausible
hypotheses beforehand would lead us to ®nd out about the parents'
®nancial resources, the study resources available in the home, the
parents' and child's attitudes about education and the child's academic
abilities before entering the school.

The fallacy of af®rming the consequent Although evidence may be con-

sistent with an initial proposition it might be equally consistent with a
range of alternative propositions. Too often people do not even think of
the alternative hypotheses and simply conclude that since the evidence is
consistent with their theory then the theory is true. This form of
reasoning commits the logical fallacy of af®rming the consequent. This form
of reasoning has the following logical structure:

· If A is true then B should follow.

· We observe B.
· Therefore A is true.

If we apply this logic to the type of school and achievement proposition,

the logical structure of the school type and achievement argument
becomes clearer.

Initial proposition:

· Private schools produce better students than do government schools.

The test:

· If A then B If private schools produce better students (A) then their

students should get better ®nal marks than those from government
funded schools (B).
· B is true Private school students do achieve better ®nal marks than
government school students (observe B).
· Therefore A is true Therefore private schools do produce better
students (A is true).

But as I have already argued, the better performance of private school

students might also re¯ect the effect of other factors. The problem here is
that any number of explanations may be correct and the evidence does
not help rule out many of these. For the social scientist this level of
indeterminacy is quite unsatisfactory. In effect we are only in a position
to say:

· If A [or C, or D, or E, or F, or . . .] then B.
· We observe B.
· Therefore A [or C, or D, or E, or F, or . . .] is true.
Although explanation (A) is still in the running because it is consistent
with the observations, we cannot say that it is the most plausible
explanation. We need to test our proposition more thoroughly by
evaluating the worth of the alternative propositions.

Falsi®cation: looking for evidence to disprove the theory

As well as evaluating and eliminating alternative explanations we
should rigorously evaluate our own theories. Rather than asking `What
evidence would constitute support for the theory?', ask `What evidence
would convince me that the theory is wrong?' It is not dif®cult to ®nd
evidence consistent with a theory. It is much tougher for a theory to
survive the test of people trying to disprove it.
Unfortunately some theories are closed systems in which any evidence
can be interpreted as support for the theory. Such theories are said to be
non-falsi®able. Many religions or belief systems can become closed
systems whereby all evidence can be accommodated by the theory and

nothing will change the mind of the true believer. Exchange theory
(Homans, 1961; Blau, 1964) is largely non-falsi®able. It assumes that we
always maximize our gains and avoid costs. But we can see almost
anything as a gain. Great sacri®ces to care for a disabled relative can be
interpreted as a gain (satisfaction of helping) rather than a loss (income,
time for self etc.). We need to frame our propositions and de®ne our
terms in such a way that they are capable of being disproven.

The provisional nature of support for theories

Even where the theory is corroborated and has survived attempts to

disprove it, the theory remains provisional:

falsi®cationism stresses the ambiguity of con®rmation . . . corroboration gives

only the comfort that the theory has been tested and survived the test, that
even after the most impressive corroborations of predictions it has only
achieved the status of `not yet discon®rmed'. This . . . is far from the status of
`being true'. (Cook and Campbell, 1979: 20)

There always may be an unthought-of explanation. We cannot anticipate

or evaluate every possible explanation. The more alternative explana-
tions that have been eliminated and the more we have tried to disprove
our theory, the more con®dence we will have in it, but we should avoid
thinking that it is proven.
However we can disprove a theory. The logic of this is:

· If theory A is true then B should follow.

· B does not follow.
· Therefore A is not true.

So long as B is a valid test of A the absence of B should make us reject or

revise the theory. In reality, we would not reject a theory simply because
a single fact or observation does not ®t. Before rejecting a plausible
theory we would require multiple discon®rmations using different
measures, different samples and different methods of data collection and
In summary, we should adopt a sceptical approach to explanations.
We should anticipate rival interpretations and collect data to enable the
winnowing out of the weaker explanations and the identi®cation of
which alternative theories make most empirical sense. We also need to
ask what data would challenge the explanation and collect data to
evaluate the theory from this more demanding perspective.


This chapter has outlined the purpose of research design in both descrip-
tive and explanatory research. In explanatory research the purpose is
to develop and evaluate causal theories. The probabilistic nature of
causation in social sciences, as opposed to deterministic causation, was
Research design is not related to any particular method of collecting
data or any particular type of data. Any research design can, in principle,
use any type of data collection method and can use either quantitative or
qualitative data. Research design refers to the structure of an enquiry: it is
a logical matter rather than a logistical one.
It has been argued that the central role of research design is to
minimize the chance of drawing incorrect causal inferences from data.
Design is a logical task undertaken to ensure that the evidence collected
enables us to answer questions or to test theories as unambiguously as
possible. When designing research it is essential that we identify the type
of evidence required to answer the research question in a convincing
way. This means that we must not simply collect evidence that is con-
sistent with a particular theory or explanation. Research needs to be
structured in such a way that the evidence also bears on alternative rival
explanations and enables us to identify which of the competing explana-
tions is most compelling empirically. It also means that we must not
simply look for evidence that supports our favourite theory: we should
also look for evidence that has the potential to disprove our preferred