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Introduction to Basic Research Concepts – Nasir Baba 2008

Meaning of Research

1. In the simplest term, research is a process of investigating solutions to problems. Although

there are varied definitions of research, fundamental to all definitions one may come across is
what has been stated above: all researches seek solutions to problems through a process of
systematic investigation.

2. This definition is obvious even from an analysis of the term “research” itself. It is a
combination of two other terms i.e. re and search. Search means to investigate, look into or
find out. All researches investigate or find out something. ‘Re’ is a prefix which implies a
repetitive or continuous action as in repeat, rewind, remedial, remind, etc. Its implication to
the research concept is that research is a process carried out in interrelated steps. Combining
the two terms gives you research i.e. the process of investigating solutions to problems.

3. The definition given in (2) above, raises a fundamental question i.e. investigating what? Or
what is the substance of the investigation? The answer to this question is: investigating
solutions to problems. Hence, research is the process of investigating solutions to a problem.

4. Having settled on this, another matter the definition given above (3) raises is: what is the
manner of this investigation? How is it carried out? In answering this we may submit the
definition given by Osuala (2001) i.e. research is the process of arriving at dependable
solutions to problems through the planned and systematic collection, analysis and
interpretation of data.

5. The portion underlined in the above definition is the distinctive aspect of this definition; it
describes the procedures through which research is conducted.

Characteristics of Research

The ability of research to find solutions to problems depends on its ability to generate valid
knowledge through well established processes. Each of the definitions examined above has
emphasised the systematic nature of research investigations. The use of such terms as systematic,
organised, controlled, empirical, and objective (or unbiased) simply indicate that research is scientific
i.e. it closely follows the methods of science. Gay’s (1981, p.6) definition of research as “the formal,
systematic application of the scientific method to the study of problems” makes the connection
between research and science obvious. Research therefore possesses the following characteristics
(Best & Kahn, 1989; Trochim, 2002), many of which emphasise its scientific orientation.

i. It addresses problems: research like most scientific investigations is motivated by

the existence of problems.
ii. It is systematic: this means that research is carefully ordered in well-defined steps
that are obvious to all. The procedures used in the investigation should be so well
defined to make them amenable to verification by others.
iii. It is empirical: Research relies on objective observations of reality i.e. whatever
notions the researcher has about any phenomenon or situation must be tested or
compared against observations of true reality.
iv. It is Controlled: this means that “…research observations are tightly disciplined”
(Kerlinger, 1975, p.11). In other words, all activities or possible outcomes in the
research are accounted for in such a way that they are not affected by anything the
researcher is not interested in.
v. It is probabilistic: it is based on probabilities i.e. nothing is certain or absolute in
research. Every finding or assertion is subject to change or total rejection in the
light of new evidence.
vi. It is theoretical: it is concerned with developing, exploring or testing the theories
or ideas we have about the world.
Introduction to Basic Research Concepts – Nasir Baba 2008

vii. It is nomothetic: it is interested in the general case rather than the individual. Even
when a research studies the individual, it would want to generalise to more than
the individual. This is particularly the case with behavioural researches.
viii. Research involves collecting fresh data (first hand or primary data) or using old
data for new purposes.
ix. Research is carefully recorded and reported: every step or procedure that a
researcher takes in the conduct of a research has to be documented because these
documentations of procedures and results provide the evidence that researchers
need to support the conclusions they reach. Similarly when the research is
completed it must be reported i.e. made widely available and accessible to
members of the scientific or educational community for public scrutiny.

Best and Kahn, (1989). Research in education. New Delhi: Prentice Hall.
Gay, L. R. (1981). Educational research: competencies for analysis and application.
Second Edition. Columbus: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company.
Kerlinger, F. (1975). Foundations of behavioural research. New York: Holt, Rhinehart
and Winston.
Osuala, E. C. (2001). Introduction to research methods. 3rd Edition. Onitsha: Africana
Fep Publishers.
Trochim, W. M. K., (2002). Research method knowledge base. Retrieved on 12th August
2004 from