What is research, and are you ready for it?
Research projects vary enormously in complexity, nature and design. What counts as research?
Whether you’re tinkering with a new recipe, deciding on the next book you’ll buy or experimenting to improve your personal running time, you’re undertaking research. The reality is we all generate new knowledge and engage in informal research, on a daily basis.
Think about when and how you have used the following skills and abilities to gather and analyse information about a problem in your life before drawing a conclusion:
- intuition or hunches
- logic, reasoning and common sense
- observational abilities
- trial and error
- questioning or interviewing skills.
Some research is more structured and formal than others
Let’s say you’re researching one of the following questions:
- What herbs or other plants will flourish on my balcony?
- Where should I invest my money?
- What is the best mountain bike for me?
- Is coffee giving me headaches?
The answer to each of these questions need only satisfy you. If, however, you aim to convince others to do something (whether it is to change policy or behaviour, give you a good mark or get published), you’ll need to convince your audience that what you’re claiming is justified by the evidence and credible. To achieve this, a formal research approach is required.
What is formal research?
Formal research, also known as applied research, is the focus of this course. It involves methodical and systematic inquiry to build a new or deeper understanding of the world. Your work cannot be based on unqualified opinion. It must stand up to the scrutiny of others. For example, your lecturer, work colleagues or community will want to know how you gathered your data, what assumptions you made when you analysed it and how you arrived at your conclusions. In other words, before your research is accepted, the rigour of your work will be examined closely.
Your examiners will ask:
- How believable are these research findings? Can I trust them?
- How can I be sure the researchers didn’t falsify these claims or coerce participants to respond in a particular way?
- Are the data collection methods appropriate to the problem being solved?
- What biases, prejudices or conflicts of interest might have swayed the way information was collected or interpreted?
The integrity of your research will be rigorously questioned. Your defence relies on you knowing about and adhering closely to practices and conventions accepted worldwide in the research community.
So, what are the requirements to become a good researcher?
In a letter to his biographer, dated 11 March 1952, Albert Einstein insisted he had no special talents, only a passionately curious nature.
As discussed, you already have many of the basic skills required for research, and each of us has been testing our own theories before we could even walk. Be ready to read, take notes and ask questions. Curiosity, perseverance, self-awareness and an ability to remain open to new ideas and ways of thinking will serve you well.
The rest involves learning and following established processes and requirements to ensure the integrity of your formal research project each step of the way. Your work needs to stand up under fire, and this is where this course comes in.
American folklorist Zora Neale Hurston said ‘Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.’ Everyone has done research at some time in their lives, perhaps without realising it.
In the comments section,
- tell us if there was anything you were fascinated by in your childhood. What did you want to know more about when you were younger?
- share a time you discovered something interesting in your adult life. It may be related to people, animals, nature, technology, science or something else.
Hurston, Z. N. (1997). Dust tracks on a road. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
© Deakin University and Griffith University