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Understanding the Core Principles of Research

This article will help you understand the core principles of research by outlining each of the six stages of the scientific method
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
Let’s think about the core principles that should underpin all research: research objectives, systematic processes, and a desire to add something new or distinctive.
This means looking at where our current ideas about research came from, how these are often associated with the scientific method, and some of the problems associated with the notion of research paradigms.
Socrates, the Greek philosopher, is attributed with the phrase ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. He was referring particularly to the need for moral self-examination, but the sentiment is still relevant for our discussion of the core principles of research. This is because all research should start with a natural inquisitiveness, a desire to examine something and so a clear research objective.
For your research, the principle here is that you should begin by reflecting on issues in your current organisation (or one that you are familiar with). These issues might relate to obvious problems with, for example, staff engagement, product development or failure to adhere to accounting procedures. Alternatively, you might have been involved in a project at work in the recent past and you want to evaluate its impact across the business, or perhaps there is a significant strategic change due to begin and you want to learn more about how it will alter working practices. Any of these issues might be things that you have observed in your role and you may even have some suspicions about their causes, but you should have some desire to find out more and have a clear objective in mind.
It is also worth noting that research objectives do not have to be taken from current business issues – you could also take an existing piece of research and seek to replicate this in your organisation, or you might be asked by a senior manager to assess how similar organisations approach a particular activity. However you come to a decision about the topic of your research, you will need a clear objective.

Organising your research

A second core principle of research is that you approach the whole process in a systematic manner. This is derived from something called the ‘scientific method’. The aim of the scientific method is to ensure that the researcher is honest and open about the way the research has been conducted meaning that, in theory, it is possible for someone else to replicate the same process in a different context. Typically, the scientific method is divided into six stages – and importantly these stages can map onto the different sections (or chapters) of your dissertation. These are described briefly here:
  1. Define purpose – As we have explained, all research based around the scientific method should have a stated purpose or objective. This is the driving force of the process because if you don’t have a clear idea of what you are trying to do, your whole project will lack focus and clarity. This should be explained in the introductory chapter of your dissertation
  2. Construct a hypothesis or research questions – A hypothesis is an idea or a proposition that the researcher puts forward based on their reading of the research literature. Not all research uses hypotheses in a traditional manner, but it is important to break down the research objective into key statements or research questions that can be reviewed or tested. In the scientific method, hypotheses should be based on what we already know and so it is vital that these are consistent with an understanding of relevant research or theories that already exist in this area. As a result, the hypotheses are traditionally incorporated in the second chapter of the dissertation, often entitled the literature review.
  3. Test the hypothesis and collect data – All research should have a systematic plan to gather information or data that can be used to answer the research questions or test the hypotheses. This is sometimes referred to as the methodology and it should contain a detailed description of the type of research conducted, how this was organised and who it involved. For example, it should detail how many survey responses were received or how many interviews were conducted. This information forms a methodology chapter in the final dissertation.
  4. Analyse data – The scientific method requires the researcher to subject the information they have collected to systematic analysis and to present this in a formal manner. It is essential to be able to show how the data has been used by the researcher. You may have heard the phrase ‘the data speaks for itself’ and you may be tempted just to list what you have found. However, this does not follow the scientific method and so you must spend time thinking about what it means and how it relates to the hypotheses or research questions. Data cannot speak for itself and so it is the role of the researcher to do this but to explain how they have undertaken the analysis.
  5. Draw conclusion – The scientific method is intended to advance our knowledge and understanding and so it is critical that you draw the analysis together to draw a conclusion and show what your research contributes. This may include a development to our wider insight into the topic, but it can also include how your organisation might benefit from what you have found. This is included in your final chapter of the dissertation.
  6. Communicate results – The final part of the scientific method assumes that you should report your findings even if they are not what you expected or even if you have not been able to support your hypotheses. The dissertation as a whole reflects this need to present and communicate your results, but you may also think about how you can do this to senior colleagues in your organisation.
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0

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