Research refers to a systematic investigation carried out to discover new knowledge, expand existing knowledge, solve practical problems, and develop new products, apps, and services. This article explores why different research communities have different ideas about what research is and how to conduct it. Learn about the different epistemological assumptions that undergird informal, qualitative, quantitative, textual, and mixed research methods.

What is Research?

Research may refer to

  1. a body of knowledge on a topic
    • When professionals talk about research, they typically are referencing peer-reviewed research on a particular topic.
      • For most researchers, the first step in any research project involves strategic searching to learn what the current and best research, theory, and scholarship is on a topic.
  2. the act of creating new knowledge
  3. a method for creating new products, applications, and services

Key Words: Research Community; Research Methodology; Research Methods; Epistemology

Why Does Research Matter?

Overall, research is essential for advancing knowledge, solving problems, informing decision-making, fostering innovation, and promoting critical thinking. It plays a crucial role in shaping the world we live in and the future we create.

  1. Advancing knowledge:
    • Research allows us to better understand the world around us, from the fundamental workings of the universe to the intricacies of human behavior. By conducting research, scholars can uncover new information, develop new theories and models, and identify gaps in existing knowledge that need to be filled. This knowledge can help students and teachers to better understand the world around them and develop new solutions to the problems facing society.
  2. Solving problems:
    • Research helps us identify and solve problems. It can help us find ways to improve our health, protect the environment, reduce poverty, and develop new technologies.
  3. Informing decision-making:
    • Research provides important information that can inform policy decisions, business strategies, and individual choices. By studying trends, analyzing data, and conducting experiments, researchers can help us make better-informed decisions.
  4. Fostering innovation:
    • Research often leads to new technologies, products, and services. By pushing the boundaries of what is currently possible, researchers can inspire and fuel innovation.
  5. Promoting critical thinking:
    • Research teaches us to question assumptions, evaluate evidence, and think critically. These skills are important for students to develop because they enable them to become more informed and engaged citizens, able to make more informed decisions and contribute to society in meaningful ways.
  6. Enhancing career opportunities:
    • Research experience can be an asset in many career fields, including academia, business, government, and nonprofit organizations. By conducting research as an undergraduate student, students can develop valuable skills and experience that can help them to succeed in their future careers.

Types of Research

Empirical research involves observing and measuring phenomena in the real world Photo Credit Moxley

The choice of research methods depends on the epistemological assumptions of the researchers and the practices of a particular methodological community, the research question, the type of data needed, and the resources available.

Applied ResearchThe method is conducted to solve a particular problem for specific situation. Investigators engage in services, applications, and products can we create?
Basic ResearchThe method is conducted to advance knowledge and theory without consideration for commercial gain or practical application. In basic research, investigators strive to understand the most fundamental questions, “who are we? how did we get here? what should we do next?
Case Study ResearchThis method involves in-depth exploration of a particular case or phenomenon.
Content AnalysisThis method involves analyzing written, visual, or audio material to identify patterns and themes.
Correlational ResearchThis examines the relationship between two or more variables without manipulating them.
Customer Discovery ResearchThis research method used to develop commercial services, products, and applications.
Descriptive ResearchThis type of research aims to describe a phenomenon or situation, usually without attempting to establish cause-and-effect relationships.
Empirical Research MethodsThis method relies on observation and experimentation. Investigators observe and conduct experiments in systematic ways. Examples: qualitativequantitativemixed research methods
Ethnographic ResearchThis method involves studying a culture or group of people in their natural environment.
Experimental ResearchThis method involves manipulating variables to determine cause-and-effect relationships between them.
Exploratory ResearchThis type of research is used when little is known about a topic, and the goal is to gain a preliminary understanding of it.
Informal Research MethodsThis method gathers data/information/evidence anecdotally or based on convenience, is directed by an investigator’s hunches and curiosity rather than a methodological community’s expectations and conventions., is unplanned, unstructured, and intuitive.
Quasi-experimental ResearchThis method is similar to experimental research, but it lacks random assignment of participants to conditions.
Survey ResearchThis method involves collecting data from a sample of participants through questionnaires or interviews.
Textual Research MethodsThis method focuses on the discourse practices who scholars who engage in textual hermeneutics — interpretation & criticism. Examples:
Linguistic Analysis; Literary Criticism; Rhetorical Analysis
Usability and User Experience Research“Usability is the art of making sure that any kind of communication deliverable (e.g. a website, a handbook, a user guide, etc.) is intuitive, easy-to-use , and helps users achieve their goals. Usability is part of the broader discipline known as User Experience Design (or UX), which encompasses all aspects of the look, feel, and information contained in a communication deliverable” (Getto 2019).
<a href=httpswordpress 791598 2945919cloudwaysappscomsectionresearchresearch methodsempirical research primary research scientific research class=broken link rel=nofollow>Empirical research<a> comes in all shapes and sizes Without science who could imagine that something as small as coronavirus could create a worldwide pandemic Photo Source First Death 2020

Epistemology and Research Communities

Investigators across academic disciplines — the humanities, social sciences, sciences, and the arts — share some common methods and values. For instance, in both workplace writing and academic writing, investigators are careful

Yet it is also important to note that different research communities also develop unique approaches to exploring and solving problems in their knowledge domains. Research communities develop different ways of conducting research because they face different problems and because they may have different epistemological assumptions about what knowledge is and how to measure it. For example, if a researcher believes that knowledge can only be gained through observation and empirical evidence, they may choose to use quantitative research methods such as experiments or surveys. Conversely, if a researcher believes that knowledge can also be gained through subjective experience and interpretation, they may choose to use qualitative research methods such as case study, ethnography or participant observation

While there are many nuanced definitions of epistemology, scholars have identified three major epistemological perspectives that inform the works of three research communities

  1. The Scholars – aka Scholarship
  2. The Positivists – aka Positivism
  3. The Postpositivists – aka Postpositivism
overfiew of figure 2
Figure 1 Illustration of Knowledge Making Ideologies and Methodological Communities

Research & Mindset

Researchers are curious about the world. They embrace openness, a growth mindset, and collaboration. They undertake research projects in order to review existing knowledge and generate original knowledge claims about the topic, thesis, research question they are investigating. Research finds evidence.

Research Ethics

Researchers and consumers of research are wise to view research claims and research plans from an ethical perspective. Given human nature — such as the tendency to look for confirming evidence and ignore disconfirming evidence and to allow emotions to cloud reasoning — it’s foolhardy to disregard critical literacy practices when consuming the research of others.

Ethics are important to undergraduate students as researchers because ethics provide a framework for conducting research that is responsible, respectful, and accountable:

  1. Protecting participants:
  2. Ensuring integrity:
    • Ethics ensure that research is conducted with integrity and honesty. This means that data is collected and analyzed accurately, and that findings are reported truthfully and transparently.
  3. Ethos:
    • Ethics help to build trust between researchers and the public. When research is conducted ethically, participants and the wider community are more likely to trust the findings and the researchers themselves.
  4. Developing professional skills:
    • Adhering to ethical standards in research can help students to develop important professional skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication. These skills can be useful in a wide range of career fields, including academia, healthcare, and government.
  5. Professionalism:
    • Ethical research is a professional obligation. By conducting research ethically, students are fulfilling their obligations to the wider research community.

Research as an Iterative, Recursive, Chaotic Process

Research is commonly depicted on websites and textbooks on research methods as systematic work (see, e.g., Wikipedia’s Research page).

Depicting research as systematic work is certainly valid, especially in natural and social science research. For instance, scientists in the lab working with a virus like COVID-19 or Ebola aren’t going to play around. Their professionalism and safety is tied to rigorously following research protocols.

That said, it’s an oversimplification to suggest research processes are invariably systematic. Discoveries have emerged from basic research that have been wildly popular and useful real-world applications. (See, for example, 24 Unintended Scientific Discoveries — the video below). Scientists may begin researching hypothesis A but rewrite that hypothesis multiple times until they find hypothesis Z — something that explains the data. Then they go back and repackage their investigation, following ethical standards, for a wider audience.

Ultimately, because research is such an iterative process, the thesis or hypothesis a researcher began with may not be the one the researcher ends up with. The takeaway here is that research is a learning process. Research efforts can lead to unpredictable applications and insights. Research finds evidence.

Ultimately, research is about curiosity and openness. The question that initiates a research effort may morph into other questions as researchers

Research Methods

Research results—knowledge claims-—are important. But, how researchers claim to know what they know—their research methods and research methodology—are equally important.

Information Literacy

During the early stages of a writing project, you can identify research questions worth asking by engaging in Information Literacy practices.

Using Evidence

Learn to summarize, paraphrase, and cite sources. Weave others’ ideas and words into your texts in ways that support your thesis/research questioninformationrhetorical stance.

Organizational Note
Research could be organized at Writing Commons under Information Literacy After all, research as inquiry, as articulated by the ACRL, addresses how research is produced.

However, we have chosen to present research as a major heading at Writing Commons and not subsume it under Information Literacy because Information Literacy is more commonly associated with being a critical consumer of textual research whereas research is associated with the efforts of people to develop original knowledge claims and personal insights.

Information Literacy is focused on getting and vetting information whereas research is focused on producing new knowledge claims and developing new products and services.


First Death From COVID-19 Reported | coronavirus. (2020, March 22). CoronaVirusUtah.Gov.

Getto, G. (2019, August 7). Usability and User Experience Research. Writing Commons.

Hale, J. (2018). Understanding research methodology 5: Applied and basic research, PsychCentral.

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