Research Methods STA630
CLASSIFICATION OF RESEARCH
Research comes in many shapes and sizes. Before a researcher begins to conduct a study, he or she
must decide on a specific type of research. Good researchers understand the advantages and
disadvantages of each type, although most end up specializing in one.
For classification of research we shall look from four dimensions:
1. The purpose of doing research;
2. The intended uses of research;
3. How it treats time i.e. the time dimension in research; and
4. The research (data collection) techniques used in it.
The four dimensions reinforce each other; that is, a purpose tends to go with certain techniques and
particular uses. Few studies are pure types, but the dimensions simplify the complexity of conducting
1. Purpose of Doing Research
If we ask someone why he or she is conducting a study, we might get a range of responses: "My boss
told me to do"; "It was a class assignment"; "I was curious." There are almost as many reasons to do
research as there are researches. Yet the purposes of research may be organized into three groups based
on what the researcher is trying to accomplish explore a new topic, describe a social phenomenon, or
explain why something occurs. Studies may have multiple purposes (e.g. both to explore and to
describe) but one purpose usually dominates.
a. Exploratory/Formulative Research
You may be exploring a new topic or issue in order to learn about it. If the issue was new or the
researcher has written little on it, you began at the beginning. This is called exploratory research. The
researcher's goal is to formulate more precise questions that future research can answer. Exploratory
research may be the first stage in a sequence of studies. A researcher may need to know enough to
design and execute a second, more systematic and extensive study.
Initial research conducted to clarify the nature of the problem. When a researcher has a limited
amount of experience with or knowledge about a research issue, exploratory research is useful
preliminary step that helps ensure that a more rigorous, more conclusive future study will not begin with
an inadequate understanding of the nature of the management problem. The findings discovered
through exploratory research would the researchers to emphasize learning more about the particulars of
the findings in subsequent conclusive studies.
Exploratory research rarely yields definitive answers. It addresses the "what" question: "what is this
social activity really about?" It is difficult to conduct because there are few guidelines to follow.
Specifically there could be a number of goals of exploratory research.
Goals of Exploratory Research:
Become familiar with the basic facts, setting, and concerns;
Develop well grounded picture of the situation;
Develop tentative theories, generate new ideas, conjectures, or hypotheses;
Determine the feasibility of conducting the study;
Formulate questions and refine issues for more systematic inquiry; and
Develop techniques and a sense of direction for future research.
For exploratory research, the researcher may use different sources for getting information like (1)
experience surveys, (2) secondary data analysis, (3) case studies, and (4) pilot studies.
Research Methods STA630
As part of the experience survey the researcher tries to contact individuals who are knowledgeable about
a particular research problem. This constitutes an informal experience survey.
Another economical and quick source of background information is secondary data analysis. It is
preliminary review of data collected for another purpose to clarify issues in the early stages of a
The purpose of case study is to obtain information from one or a few situations that are similar to the
researcher's problem situation. A researcher interested in doing a nationwide survey among union
workers, may first look at a few local unions to identify the nature of any problems or topics that should
A pilot study implies that some aspect of the research is done on a small scale. For this purpose focus
group discussions could be carried out.
b. Descriptive Research
Descriptive research presents a picture of the specific details of a situation, social setting, or
relationship. The major purpose of descriptive research, as the term implies, is to describe
characteristics of a population or phenomenon. Descriptive research seeks to determine the answers to
who, what, when, where, and how questions. Labor Force Surveys, Population Census, and Educational
Census are examples of such research.
Descriptive study offers to the researcher a profile or description of relevant aspects of the phenomena
of interest. Look at the class in research methods and try to give its profile the characteristics of the
students. When we start to look at the relationship of the variables, then it may help in diagnosis
Goals of Descriptive Research
Describe the situation in terms of its characteristics i.e. provide an accurate profile of a group;
Give a verbal or numerical picture (%) of the situation;
Present background information;
Create a set of categories or classify the information;
Clarify sequence, set of stages; and
Focus on `who,' `what,' `when,' `where,' and `how' but not why?
A great deal of social research is descriptive. Descriptive researchers use most data gathering
techniques surveys, field research, and content analysis
c. Explanatory Research
When we encounter an issue that is already known and have a description of it, we might begin to
wonder why things are the way they are. The desire to know "why," to explain, is the purpose of
explanatory research. It builds on exploratory and descriptive research and goes on to identify the
reasons for something that occurs. Explanatory research looks for causes and reasons. For example, a
descriptive research may discover that 10 percent of the parents abuse their children, whereas the
explanatory researcher is more interested in learning why parents abuse their children.
Goals of Explanatory Research
Explain things not just reporting. Why? Elaborate and enrich a theory's explanation.
Determine which of several explanations is best.
Determine the accuracy of the theory; test a theory's predictions or principle.
Advance knowledge about underlying process.
Build and elaborate a theory; elaborate and enrich a theory's predictions or principle.
Extend a theory or principle to new areas, new issues, new topics:
Provide evidence to support or refute an explanation or prediction.
Research Methods STA630
8. Test a theory's predictions or principles
2. The Uses of Research
Some researchers focus on using research to advance general knowledge, whereas others use it to solve
specific problems. Those who seek an understanding of the fundamental nature of social reality are
engaged in basic research (also called academic research or pure research or fundamental research).
Applied researchers, by contrast, primarily want to apply and tailor knowledge to address a specific
practical issue. They want to answer a policy question or solve a pressing social and economic problem.
a. Basic Research
Basic research advances fundamental knowledge about the human world. It focuses on refuting or
supporting theories that explain how this world operates, what makes things happen, why social
relations are a certain way, and why society changes. Basic research is the source of most new scientific
ideas and ways of thinking about the world. It can be exploratory, descriptive, or explanatory; however,
explanatory research is the most common.
Basic research generates new ideas, principles and theories, which may not be immediately utilized;
though are the foundations of modern progress and development in different fields. Today's computers
could not exist without the pure research in mathematics conducted over a century ago, for which there
was no known practical application at that time.
Police officers trying to prevent delinquency or counselors of youthful offenders may see little relevance
to basic research on the question, "Why does deviant behavior occur?" Basic research rarely helps
practitioners directly with their everyday concerns. Nevertheless, it stimulates new ways of thinking
about deviance that have the potential to revolutionize and dramatically improve how practitioners deal
with a problem.
A new idea or fundamental knowledge is not generated only by basic research. Applied research, too,
can build new knowledge. Nonetheless, basic research is essential for nourishing the expansion of
knowledge. Researchers at the center of the scientific community conduct most of the basic research.
b. Applied Research
Applied researchers try to solve specific policy problems or help practitioners accomplish tasks. Theory
is less central to them than seeking a solution on a specific problem for a limited setting. Applied
research is frequently a descriptive research, and its main strength is its immediate practical use.
Applied research is conducted when decision must be made about a specific real-life problem. Applied
research encompasses those studies undertaken to answer questions about specific problems or to make
decisions about a particular course of action or policy. For example, an organization contemplating a
paperless office and a networking system for the company's personal computers may conduct research
to learn the amount of time its employees spend at personal computers in an average week.
c. Basic and Applied Research Compared
The procedures and techniques utilized by basic and applied researchers do not differ substantially.
Both employ the scientific method to answer the questions at hand.
The scientific community is the primary consumer of basic research. The consumers of applied research
findings are practitioners such as teachers, counselors, and caseworkers, or decision makers such as
managers, committees, and officials. Often, someone other than the researcher who conducted the study
uses the results of applied research. This means that applied researchers have an obligation to translate
findings from scientific technical language into the language of decision makers or practitioners.
The results of applied research are less likely to enter the public domain in publications. Results may be
available only to a small number of decision makers or practitioners, who decide whether or how to put
the research results into practice and who may or may not use the results.
Applied and basic researchers adopt different orientations toward research methodology. Basic
researchers emphasize high standards and try to conduct near-perfect research. Applied researchers
Research Methods STA630
make more trade-offs. They may compromise scientific rigor to get quick, usable results. Compromise
is no excuse for sloppy research, however. Applied researchers squeeze research into the constraints of
an applied setting and balance rigor against practical needs. Such balancing requires an in-depth
knowledge of research and an awareness of the consequences of compromising standards.
d. Types of Applied Research
Practitioners use several types of applied research. Some of the major ones are:
i) Action research: The applied research that treats knowledge as a form of power and abolishes the line
between research and social action. Those who are being studied participate in the research process;
research incorporates ordinary or popular knowledge; research focuses on power with a goal of
empowerment; research seeks to raise consciousness or increase awareness; and research is tied directly
to political action.
The researchers try to advance a cause or improve conditions by expanding public awareness.
They are explicitly political, not value neutral. Because the goal is to improve the conditions of research
participants, formal reports, articles, or books become secondary. Action researchers assume that
knowledge develops from experience, particularly the experience of social-political action. They also
assume that ordinary people can become aware of conditions and learn to take actions that can bring
ii) Impact Assessment Research: Its purpose is to estimate the likely consequences of a planned change.
Such an assessment is used for planning and making choices among alternative policies to make an
impact assessment of Basha Dam on the environment; to determine changes in housing if a major new
highway is built.
iii) Evaluation Research: It addresses the question, "Did it work?" The process of establishing value
judgment based on evidence about the achievement of the goals of a program. Evaluation research
measures the effectiveness of a program, policy, or way of doing something. "Did the program work?"
"Did it achieve its objectives?" Evaluation researchers use several research techniques (survey, field
Practitioners involved with a policy or program may conduct evaluation research for their own
information or at the request of outside decision makers, who sometime place limits on researchers by
setting boundaries on what can be studied and determining the outcome of interest.
Two types of evaluation research are formative and summative. Formative evaluation is built-in
monitoring or continuous feedback on a program used for program management. Summative evaluation
looks at final program outcomes. Both are usually necessary.
3. The Time Dimension in Research
Another dimension of research is the treatment of time. Some studies give us a snapshot of a single,
fixed time point and allow us to analyze it in detail. Other studies provide a moving picture that lets us
follow events, people, or sale of products over a period of time. In this way from the angle of time
research could be divided into two broad types:
a. Cross-Sectional Research. In cross-sectional research, researchers observe at one point in
time. Cross-sectional research is usually the simplest and least costly alternative. Its
disadvantage is that it cannot capture the change processes. Cross-sectional research can be
exploratory, descriptive, or explanatory, but it is most consistent with a descriptive approach to
b. Longitudinal Research. Researchers using longitudinal research examine features of people or
other units at more than one time. It is usually more complex and costly than cross-sectional
research but it is also more powerful, especially when researchers seek answers to questions
about change. There are three types of longitudinal research: time series, panel, and cohort.
Research Methods STA630
Time series research is longitudinal study in which the same type of information is
collected on a group of people or other units across multiple time periods. Researcher can
observe stability or change in the features of the units or can track conditions overtime.
One could track the characteristics of students registering in the course on Research
Methods over a period of four years i.e. the characteristics (Total, age characteristics,
gender distribution, subject distribution, and geographic distribution). Such an analysis
could tell us the trends in the characteristic over the four years.
The panel study is a powerful type of longitudinal research. In panel study, the researcher
observes exactly the same people, group, or organization across time periods. It is a
difficult to carry out such study. Tracking people over time is often difficult because some
people die or cannot be located. Nevertheless, the results of a well-designed panel study are
A cohort analysis is similar to the panel study, but rather than observing the exact same
people, a category of people who share a similar life experience in a specified time period is
studied. The focus is on the cohort, or category, not on specific individuals. Commonly
used cohorts include all people born in the same year (called birth cohorts), all people hired
at the same time, all people retire on one or two year time frame, and all people who
graduate in a given year. Unlike panel studies, researchers do not have to locate the exact
same people for cohort studies. The only need to identify those who experienced a common
4. Research (data collection) Techniques Used
Every researcher collects data using one or more techniques. The techniques may be grouped into two
categories: quantitative, collecting data in thee form of numbers, and qualitative, collecting data in the
form of words or pictures.
The main quantitative techniques are:
3. Content Analysis
4. Using Existing Statistics
The major qualitative techniques of research are:
1. Field Research
2. Case Study
3. Focus Group Discussion
Details about the quantitative and qualitative techniques of research shall be discussed later.
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