The role and importance of research

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The Role and Importance of Research

What you'll Learn about in this Chapter:

• Who does research and why

• How research is defined and what some of its purposes are

• What a model of scientific inquiry is and how it guides research activities

• Some of the things that research is and some of the things that it isn't

• What researchers do and how they do it

• The characteristics of good research

• How a method of scientific inquiry guides research activity

• The different types of research methods and examples of each

Say Hello to Research!

Walk down the hall in any building on your campus where social and behavioral science professors have their offices in such departments as psychology, education, nursing, sociology, and human development. Do you see any bearded, disheveled, white-coated men wearing rumpled pants and smoking pipes, hunched over their computers and mumbling to themselves? How about disheveled, white-coated women wearing rumpled skirts, smoking pipes, hunched over their computers, and mumbling to themselves?
Researchers hard at work? No. Stereotypes of what scientists look like and do? Yes. What you are more likely to see in the halls of your classroom building or in your adviser's office are men and women of all ages who are hard at work. They are committed to finding the answer to just another piece of the great puzzle that helps us understand human behavior a little better than the previous generation of scientists.

Like everyone else, these people go to work in the morning, but unlike many others, these researchers have a passion for understanding what they study and for coming as close as possible to finding the "truth." Although these truths can be elusive and sometimes even unobtainable, researchers work toward discovering them for the satisfaction of answering important questions and then using this new information to help others. Early intervention programs, treatments of psychopathology, new curricula, conflict resolution techniques, effective drug treatment programs, and even changes in policy and law have resulted from evidence collected by researchers. Although not always perfect, each little bit of evidence gained from a new study or a new idea for a study contributes to a vast legacy of knowledge for the next generation of researchers such as yourself.
You may already know and appreciate something about the world of research. The purpose of this book is to provide you with the tools you need to do even more, such as

Today, more than ever, decisions are evidence based, and what these researchers do is collect evidence that serves as a basis for informed decisions.

• develop an understanding of the research process.

• prepare yourself to conduct research of your own.

• learn how to judge the quality of research.

• learn how to read, search through, and summarize other research.

• learn the value of research activities conducted online.

• reveal the mysteries of basic statistics and show you how easily they can be used.

• measure the behaviors, traits, or attributes that interest you.

• collect the type of data that relate to your area of interest.

• use a leading statistical package (SPSS) to analyze data.

• design research studies that answer the question that you want answered.

• write the type of research proposal (and a research report) that puts you in control- one that shows you have command of the content of the research as well as the way in which the research should be done.
Sound ambitious? A bit terrifying? Exciting? Maybe those and more, but boring is one thing this research endeavor is not. This statement is especially true when you consider that the work you might be doing in this class, as well as the research proposal that you might write, could hold the key to expanding our knowledge and understanding of human behavior and, indirectly, eventually helping others.

So here you are, beginning what is probably your first course in the area of research methods and wondering about everything from what researchers do to what your topic will be for your thesis. Relax. Thousands of students have been here before you and almost all of them have left with a working knowledge of what research is, how it is done, and what distinguishes a good research project from one that is doomed. Hold on and let's go. This trip will be exciting.

What Research Is and What It Isn't

Perhaps it is best to begin by looking at what researchers really do. To do so, why not look at some of the best? Here are some researchers, the awards they have won, and the focus of their work. All of these people started out in a class just like the one you are in, reading a book similar to the one you are reading. Their interest in research and a particular issue continued to grow until it became their life's work.

Research is, among other things, an intensive activity that is based on the work of others and generates new ideas to pursue and questions to answer.

The following awards were given in 2009 by the American Psychological Association in recognition of outstanding work.
Susan E. Carey from the psychology department at Harvard University was honored for her contributions to the field of cognitive development and developmental psychology. The work that she did early in her career focused on understanding how children learn language, and she coined the term "fast mapping" for how children can learn the meaning of a new word with very little experience with that word.

Nancy E. Adler from the University of California won the Distinguished Scientific Award for the Applications of Psychology for her work in health. Her early research focused on the health behaviors in adolescence, and she explained the incredibly interesting question of why individuals engage in health-damaging behaviors and how their understanding of risk affects their choices.

Finally, one of several Distinguished Scientific Awards for Early Career Contributions to Psychology went to Jennifer A. Richeson from Northwestern University for her work on stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, and inter-group conflict. This focus examined the experiences and behaviors both of members of devalued groups and of members of dominant groups.

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) also gives out awards that recognize important contributions.

The 2009 E. F. Lindquist award was given to Wim J. van der Linden for his contributions to the field of testing and measurement, including optimal test design and adaptive testing. The award is named after E. F. Lindquist, who was a founder of The American College Testing Program, and is given for outstanding applied or theoretical research in the field of testing and measurement.
AERA has an extensive award program including the Distinguished Contributions to Gender Equity in Education Research Award, given to Sandra Harding from the University of California-Los Angeles in recognition of her research that helps to advance public understanding of gender and/or sexuality in the education community.

And, as with many other organizations, AERA also offers awards for researchers still early in their careers, such as the Early Career Award won by Michele Moses from the University of Colorado-Boulder and Nell Duke from Michigan State University.

What all these people have in common is that at one time or another during their professional careers, they were active participants in the process of doing research. Research is a process through which new knowledge is discovered. A theory, such as a theory of motivation, or development, or learning, for example, helps us to organize this new information into a coherent body, a set of related ideas that explain events that have occurred and predict events that may happen. Theories are an important part of science. It is at the ground-floor level, however, that the researcher works to get the ball rolling, adding a bit of new insight here and a new speculation there, until these factors come together to form a corpus of knowledge.

High-quality research is characterized by many different attributes, many of which tend to be related to one another and also tend to overlap. High-quality research

• is based on the work of others,

• can be replicated,

• is generalizable to other settings,

• is based on some logical rationale and tied to theory,

• is doable,

• generates new questions or is cyclical in nature,

• is incremental, and

• is an apolitical activity that should be undertaken for the betterment of society.

Let's take a closer look at each of these.

First, research is an activity based on the work of others. No, this does not mean that you copy the work of others (that's plagiarism), but you always look to the work that has already been done to provide a basis for the subject of your research and how you might conduct your own work. For example, if there have been 200 studies on gender differences in aggression, the results of those studies should not be ignored. You may not want to replicate any one of these studies, but you certainly should take methodologies that were used and the results into consideration when you plan your own research in that area.

A good example of this principle is the tremendous intellectual and scientific effort that went into the creation of the atomic bomb. Hundreds of top scientists from all over the world were organized at different locations in an intense and highly charged effort to combine their knowledge to create this horrible weapon. What was unique about this effort is that it was compressed in time; many people who would probably share each other's work in any case did so in days rather than months because of the military and political urgency of the times. What was discovered one day literally became the basis for the next day's experiments (see Richard Rhodes' Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, for the whole story).

Second, while we're talking about other studies, research is an activity that can be replicated. If someone conducts a research study that examines the relationship between problem-solving ability and musical talent, then the methods and procedures (and results) of the experiment should be replicable with other groups for two reasons. First, one of the hallmarks of any credible scientific finding is that it can be replicated. If you can spin gold from straw, you should be able to do it every time, right? How about using a new method to teach children to read? Or developing early intervention programs that produce similar results when repeated? Second, if the results of an experiment can be replicated, they can serve as a basis for further research in the same area.

Third, good research is generalizable to other settings. This means, for example, that if adolescent boys are found to be particularly susceptible to peer pressure in one setting, then the results would probably stand up (or be generalizable) in a different but related setting. Some research has limited generalizability because it is difficult to replicate the exact conditions under which the research was carried out, but the results of most research can lend at least something to another setting.

Fourth, research is based on some logical rationale and tied to theory. Research ideas do not stand alone merely as interesting questions. Instead, research activity provides answers to questions that help fill in pieces to what can be a large and complicated puzzle. No one could be expected to understand, through one grand research project, the entire process of intellectual development in children, or the reason why adolescents form cliques, or what actually happens during a midlife crisis. All these major areas of research need to be broken into smaller elements, and all these elements need to be tied together with a common theme, which more often than not is some underlying, guiding theory.

Fifth, and by all means, research is doable! Too often, especially for the young or inexperienced scientist (such as yourself), the challenge to come up with a feasible idea is so pressing that almost anything will do as a research topic. Professors sometimes see thesis statements from students such as, "The purpose of this research is to see if the use of drugs can be reduced through exposure to television commercials." This level of ambiguity and lack of a conceptual framework makes the statement almost useless and certainly not doable. Good research poses a question that can be answered, and then answers it in a timely fashion.

Sixth, research generates new questions or is cyclical in nature. Yes, what goes around comes around. The answers to today's research questions provide the foundation for research questions that will be asked tomorrow. You will learn more about this process later in this chapter when a method of scientific inquiry is described.

Seventh, research is incremental. No one scientist stands alone; instead, scientists stand on the shoulders of others. Contributions that are made usually take place in small, easily definable chunks. The first study ever done on the development of language did not answer all the questions about language acquisition, nor did the most recent study put the icing on the cake. Rather, all the studies in a particular area come together to produce a body of knowledge that is shared by different researchers and provides the basis for further research. The whole, or all the knowledge about a particular area, is more than the sum of the parts, because each new research advance not only informs us but it also helps us place other findings in a different, often fruitful perspective.

Reference no: EM13789129

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