The Research Process

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Processes of research by Jonathan Guy

In this essay I will outline the primary methods of conducting research, their advantages and disadvantages and will outline where they are best utilised. In addition to this, I will select certain methods of research that I believe will be applicable to my own dissertation and state why I will use those particular methods to conduct my own research.

The first question we should ask is what is research? John C. Merriam considers research as "a reaching out to bring together, organise and interpret what ever may be added to our store of knowledge…most truly exemplified when it involves the wider relationship of specific facts to the whole structure of knowledge". (C. Merriam, 1941, pg890) In other words, something should be considered research when it adds to what we already know, especially if it does so through adding facts to out structure of knowledge. Obviously, this is but one definition of research, there being much contention over what research actually is, or what should constitute research, however, as a simple definition, this should suffice. This being the cases, what is the purpose of research and what do we gain from it?

Wilson Gee writes in "The Research Spirit" that he believes the purpose of research is to advance the human cause, "it is not strange that the world appraises so highly the research spirit which has led it through the darkness of a past into the light of a present and will still guide it on beyond a golden dawn of a future" (Wilson Gee, 1915, pg 95-98). He believed the primary purpose of research itself was to search for the truth bringing to light new facts as well as reinterpreting old ones. Its purpose with regards to what we have gained from it is visible all around us. If the enlightened few has not proposed and conducted empirical research (people such as D. Hume, I. Kant, C. Darwin, I. Newton etc) of centuries past, if they had not begun "systematic studies of natural phenomena" from which man gained "not only insight into, but a great measure of control over, the physical universe, quite beyond the wildest dreams of the earliest pioneers in these fields" (Wilson Gee, 1950, Pg 179), it is arguable we would still be a religious driven, superstitious backwards people in a feudalist society, never advancing our search for knowledge, happy in our ignorance. To further state its importance, John C. Merriam writes "whatever it may have been considered in the past, research is no longer a plaything or a luxury. It is the fundamental requirement in the advance of civilisation" (Merriam, 1929, 56-57).

Whilst there seems little argument over whether we should conduct research or not, its importance being more than apparent, the question now becomes in what manner should we conduct research and what advantages do certain methods have over others. There are numerous ways of conducting research but the most prominent are the science and scientific methods, the logical methods, the case methods, the statistical methods, and the experimental methods each of which shall now be considered.

First we shall consider the scientific method. There is much debate as to whether social studies can be considered a science on the basis of how it conducts its research but any claims that it is a science are based more or less entirely on the scientific method and rational choice, characterised predominantly by its use of facts and empirical evidence to support its claims with in political "science". Karl Pearson states the scientific method as "The scientific method is marked by the following features: (a) careful and accurate classification of facts and observation of their correlation and sequence; (b) the discovery of scientific laws by aid of the creative imagination (c) self-criticism and the final touch-stone of the equal validity for all normally constituted minds" (Pearson, 1911, 6-78). In other words, the scientific method is one...
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