The research Process Essay

This essay has a total of 3361 words and 13 pages.

The research Process

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 which tries to discover
objective facts which are then used to construct a theory whose conclusions hold
regardless of the person considering the theory; the theory is external and objective to
human interpretation. This approach to research has obvious advantages, namely its
objectivity. It cannot be considered bias or subverted due to the theorisers own
predispositions or opinions and it should therefore be true of itself; it is not subject
to change as it merely categorises a factual state and it provides definitive answers from
its research as opposed to just more questions or debatable theories. It does however have
a number of disadvantages. It is arguable that the scientific method has no place in
political theory as much of it is based in abstract theorising which cannot be objectively
proved one way or the other and as such would be dismissed as irrelevant by the scientific
methods (which is clearly wrong). Further, unlike in the natural sciences, the scientific
method tends to be only descriptive of political science and does not in fact advance it
in any way, rather it merely attempts to describe the state it is presently in (for
example, it would not predict who will win the next election, but it would say who won the
last one). Therefore, the scientific method is best used if we wish the results of our
research to return as objective facts, empirically provable and repeatable. Whilst this
does not necessarily have a major place in political sociology, it is useful in
interpreting quantifiable results that are not statistical in nature.

In addition to the scientific method, we have the similar Logical method. The logical
method is based in reasoning and is "the process of inference by which knowledge,
especially scientific knowledge, is attained" )Wolf, 1930, pg 15 - 16. The logical method
of the research process is effectively the process of formulating and proving a hypothesis
based on reasoning and evidence. T. H. Huxley writes "those that refuse to go beyond fact
rarely get as far as fact…Almost every great step [ in the development of scientific
thought] has been made by the anticipation of nature, that is, by the invention of
hypothesis which, though verifiable, often had very little foundation to start with".
Effectively, the logical method of research differs from the scientific methods in one
very important way, it is inductive rather than deductive. The logical method seeks to
hypothesise and theorise about how it believes things are and then seeks evidence to
support its theories, the scientific method seeks evidence in order to make its
hypothesis. Obviously, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages to this kind of
approach to research as well. The logical method allows us to make theoretical leaps that
we otherwise would not make using the scientific method. As Huxley states, often our
logically determined hypothesis may be just as provable at the end as we would expect of
the scientific method however, it requires the initial hypothesis that only the logical
method would be willing to formulate. The logical method still however suffers from
similar disadvantages of the scientific method; whilst it begins to distance itself from
the largely descriptive nature of the scientific method, it still relies heavily on
empirically provable fact, something that many political theories (due to their
philosophical nature) will never be able to provide. Therefore, the logical method is best
used in an investigative manner, when we propose a theory within social science and then
go about trying to prove it. Examples of such research methods could be Marx's work
regarding historical social revolution. He hypothesised that eventually as society revolts
against an oppressive system to create a fair distribution of the means of production,
something that is supported by historical evidence.

In addition to the above methods, there is also the case method to be considered. The case
method is much more intuitive in its approach placing primary emphasis on social setting
and context; to discover information about a given subject or field, we should attempt to
research and understand the context within which it occurs. "Case study methods emphasises
the total situation of combination of factors, the description of the process of sequence
of events in which behaviour occurs, the study of individual behaviour in its total
setting and the analysis and comparison of cases leading to formulation of hypotheses"
(Shaw, 1927, Pg149). In other words, this approach to research suggests that before we can
understand why something is occurring, we first need to research and understand the
context within which it takes place. Frederic Le Play, in his attempt to explain the
phenomena of cyclical fluctuations in the economic and social prosperity of people,
focuses largely on the social and societal structures of those peoples, such as family
structures, trade unions, level of employment etc. All of these combine to create a
context which in turn combine to effect a given result with regards to economic and social
prosperity. Effectively, if we research the context, we should be able to predict the
social and economic prosperity of a people without actually measuring it. This approach is
somewhat different from the scientific approach in that whilst it draw conclusions based
on observable evidence, those conclusions are merely probable outcomes and not actually
factual in nature. The cases-study method turn the logical approach completely around and
forms a hypothesis based on observable evidence. There are a number of advantages and
disadvantages to this approach as well. Whilst this approach does allow for a greater
level of interpretation and also has practical application as a societal indicator or
predictor, it is not as absolute in its results as the scientific or logical research
methods and thus its conclusions can be disputed. Whilst any new information ascertaining
from the scientific or logical methods of research can by their very definition constitute
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