Research, most frequently, is a qualitative or quantitative data gathering process through interviews, questionnaires or other relevant approaches. While such primary data gathering is a crucial part of many research projects, a lot more is implicated, and it is really proper to thoroughly reflect on data gathering as part of a bigger process that includes some vital steps before, during and after data collection. This assignment introduces the steps of the ‘research process’, it demonstrates the features within the process, and the linkages between its elements. It is particularly relevant to have an understanding of the research process elements before commencing information and data collection so that ideas of the research’s big picture are coherently determined. The purpose of this assignment is therefore to identify and explain the main steps of the research process.
Since life is a complex phenomenon, and the world in which we live is not in effect perfect, every individual person has his or her own worldview perspective. This is recognised because current major societal worldviews are informed by both social and scientific systems. These worldviews develop over a lifetime and are diffused over generations through social interactions, education, traditional and religious beliefs, etc. (Hedlund-de Witt, 2013; Thabane, 2014). In order to understand what is happening in the world, many individuals and/or scholars plan to undertake a research to answer a question or a problem to be solved to bring beneficial change to their lifestyles. To do this they contemplate about the type of data and the methods to be used to collect that data and information with a view to again knowledge. According to Saunders, Lewis, and Thornhill, (2009) research philosophy, a term that describes a system of beliefs and assumptions about the development of knowledge underpins a research p.124. Epistemology is the philosophical realm that concerns the type and basis of knowledge. Scheffler (1978) posed a very salient primary question, “what is knowledge?” Besides this question four other related questions were identified and among them was the question, “How is knowledge generated and acquired?” The response to this question provides a narrative of procedures by which knowledge is gained. In other words, once a topic has been conceived to be explored, a process is considered about how to examine the issue at hand (Gray, 2013). The methods selected will however rely on how one considers about the type of the problem and the approach to take so that the results are reliable. More often scholars want to discover how the idea of critical sense is considered in education, and how its development can be theorised (Alhadeff-Jones, 2013).
The research process
The research process presented in the sections below is a generalised plan of conducting research. The process nonetheless is hardly as direct as will be presented; it is very iterative, as one will advance repeatedly back and forth between the research elements, or sometimes combine research elements, particularly if conducting social studies. The research process that is identified consists of eight elements (Box 1).
Table 1: Steps in the research process
Step 1 Identification of topic of study
Step 2 Literature review
Step 3 Development of theoretical and conceptual frameworks
Step 4 Illumination of research questions and hypotheses
Step 5 Selection of research design
Step 6 Identification and selection of data collection methods
Step 7 Data analysis
Step 8 Conclusion, recommendation and identification of future direction
The steps in Box 1 are not separate, they are discrete steps, but are essentially part of the overarching research process. It is recognised that for some practical approaches the order of the research steps may be different; for instance, an interpretive research project may involve frequent combination of literature review and data collection. Whereas a grounded research will normally involve initial data collection before theoretical and conceptual frameworks have been fully developed. Below is a brief outline presentation of the research process.
Step 1. Identification of topic of study
Topic selection for research is perhaps the step that will take up most of the research time, as concerted effort is required developing research questions and formulating objectives. This is a crucial step as an ill-chosen topic or questions will inadvertently lead to irrelevant research findings, so it is valuable to spend more time to deal with this step prudently.
Step 2. Literature review
The next step in the process is a literature review. This steps basically involves reading, assessing and isolating relevant information from prevailing literature on the topic to evaluate knowledge status in the area of study. This step is commonly conducted together with development of theoretical and conceptual frameworks (Step 3 of the research process). Reading extensively may inform other useful issues, like whether comparable research has already been conducted, show the results could be expected, or offer accounts of theoretical frameworks and previous methodologies adopted by other researchers conducting similar research.
Step 3. Development of theoretical and conceptual frameworks
As noted in Step 2, developing and perfecting theoretical and conceptual frameworks continues in this step. This step is frequently overlooked in favour of data collection. It is, nevertheless, a necessary part of the research process, and is imperative to identify potential problems before they occur. This step describes the fundamental theoretical strategy to adopt to support the research, for instance social learning theory. The conceptual framework outlines and establishes the ideas central within the research.
Step 4. Illumination of the research questions and hypotheses
It is acknowledged that Steps 1, 2 and 3 are cyclic in nature. For instance: the research questions that are formulated may frequently be rejected due to lack of satisfactory focus of the problem; the conceptual framework may have detected problems perhaps in defining and/or measuring suitable concepts; there may be too many moderating or intervening variables; and the research may be impossible due to factors like lack of facilities or financial resources etc. Once relevant, focused research questions and hypotheses have been developed, the rest of the research process depends upon answering that specific question. Thus, reputation of clearly formulating focused questions and a set of research objectives cannot be overemphasised.
Step 5. Selection of research design
Soon after the focused research question has been determined, these two important questions need to be considered: (1) What type of data should be collected to address the research question? and What is the best approach to collect the requisite data and information? The researcher may therefore consider the following specific questions:
• What overall research design should be used? For instance, should cross-sectional, experimental or longitudinal design be used?
• Should only primary data be collected or is secondary data also important to be used at this point in the research study?
• What are the best tools to collect the primary data? Interviews, questionnaires, etc.?
• Who must take part in the research study, and how can they be accessed?
• What procedures can be adopted in data collection to guarantee reliability and validity?
Step 6. Identification and selection of data collection methods
Once the factors identified in Steps 4 and 5 are addressed, then a clear idea of what data to collect, and how to collect it emerges. Then one has to think about which methodology to select, and which approach to use within the methodology.
Step 7. Data analysis and discussion of the findings
Step 7 provides the way data collected in Step 6 should be analysed to find responses to the research question earlier formulated. It is very vital that data analysis, must at all times, be linked to the research objectives. Data analysis should provide answers to the research questions or hypotheses. In the discussion of the findings, reference should also be made back to the literature reviewed in Step 2. The reflection should be on the questions: How do the findings contribute to the discipline literature? How are findings supported by the literature? If not, what are explainable reasons to the contrary? Generally, a common error is discussing the results without referring to the literature that was reviewed in Step 2 during conceptual framework development.
Step 8. Conclusion, recommendation and identification of future direction
At the time of drawing conclusions, recommendations and future direction of the research study, reference should be made to the focused research question. The response to the research questions should be unambiguously explained. This step I where an evaluation of how successful the research objectives have been achieved and focus the research strengths and its weaknesses. Recommendations for further research are to be made here to direct those researchers who wish to continue with the investigations.
In summary, it can be said that research is not about data and information collection, indeed these activities are very important activities, they are however simply part of the bigger wider picture of the research process. As presented, the research process follows eight steps: identification of study topic, literature review, theoretical and conceptual frameworks development, illumination of research questions and hypotheses, selection of research design, identification and selection of data collection data methods, data analysis and discussion of the findings, and drawing conclusions. Finally, relating the investigation to the research process permits development and responses to the research questions in a logical and systematic way.