Research is a human activity based on intellectual investigation and aimed at discovering, interpreting, and revising human knowledge on different aspects of the world. Research can use the scientific method, but need not do so.
Scientific research relies on the application of the scientific method, a harnessing of curiosity. This research provides scientific information and theories for the explanation of the nature and the properties of humans. It makes practical applications possible. Scientific research is funded by public authorities, by charitable organisations and by private groups, including many companies. Scientific research can be subdivided into different classifications.
Historical research is embodied in the historical method.
The term research is also used to describe an entire collection of information about a particular subject.
Basic research (also called fundamental or pure research) has as its primary objective the advancement of knowledge and the theoretical understanding of the relations among variables (see statistics). It is exploratory and often driven by the researcher’s curiosity, interest, or intuition. It is conducted without any practical end in mind, although it may have unexpected results pointing to practical applications. The terms “basic” or “fundamental” indicate that, through theory generation, basic research provides the foundation for further, sometimes applied research. As there is no guarantee of short-term practical gain, researchers may find it difficult to obtain funding for basic research. Research is a subset of invention.
Examples of questions asked in basic research:
- Does string theory provide physics with a grand unification theory?
- Which aspects of genomes explain organismal complexity?
- Is it possible to prove or disprove Goldbach's conjecture? (i.e. that every even integer greater than 2 can be written as the sum of two, not necessarily distinct primes)
Traditionally, basic research was considered as an activity that preceded applied research, which in turn preceded development into practical applications. Recently, these distinctions have become much less clear-cut, and it is sometimes the case that all stages will intermix. This is particularly the case in fields such as biotechnology and electronics, where fundamental discoveries may be made alongside work intended to develop new products, and in areas where public and private sector partners collaborate in order to develop greater insight into key areas of interest. For this reason, some now prefer the term frontier research.
Generally, research is understood to follow a certain structural process. Though step order may vary depending on the subject matter and researcher, the following steps are usually part of most formal research, both basic and applied:
A common misunderstanding is that by this method a hypothesis can be proven. Generally a hypothesis is used to make predictions that can be tested by observing the outcome of an experiment. If the outcome is inconsistent with the hypothesis, then the hypothesis is rejected. However, if the outcome is consistent with the hypothesis, the experiment is said to support the hypothesis. This careful language is used because researchers recognize that alternative hypotheses may also be consistent with the observations. In this sense, a hypothesis can never be proven, but rather only supported by surviving rounds of scientific testing and, eventually, becoming widely thought of as true (or better, predictive), but this is not the same as it having been proven.
A useful hypothesis allows prediction and within the accuracy of observation of the time, the prediction will be verified. As the accuracy of observation improves with time, the hypothesis may no longer provide an accurate prediction. In this case a new hypothesis will arise to challenge the old, and to the extent that the new hypothesis makes more accurate predictions than the old, the new will supplant it.
The historical method comprises the techniques and guidelines by which historians use historical sources and other evidence to research and then to write history. There are various history guidelines commonly used by historians in their work, under the headings of external criticism, internal criticism, and synthesis. This includes higher criticism and textual criticism. Though items may vary depending on the subject matter and researcher, the following concepts are usually part of most formal historical research:
- Identification of origin date
- Evidence of localization
- Recognition of authorship
- Analysis of data
- Identification of integrity
- Attribution of credibility
The goal of the research process is to produce new knowledge, which takes three main forms (although, as previously discussed, the boundaries between them may be fuzzy):
- Exploratory research, which structures and identifies new problems
- Constructive research, which develops solutions to a problem
- Empirical research, which tests the feasibility of a solution using empirical evidence
Research can also fall into two distinct types:
Research methods used by scholars include:
Research is often conducted using the hourglass model. The hourglass model starts with a broad spectrum for research, focusing in on the required information through the methodology of the project (like the neck of the hourglass), then expands the research in the form of discussion and results.
Academic publishing describes a system that is necessary in order for academic scholars to peer review the work and make it available for a wider audience. The 'system', which is probably disorganised enough not to merit the title, varies widely by field, and is also always changing, if often slowly. Most academic work is published in journal article or book form. In publishing, STM publishing is an abbreviation for academic publications in science, technology, and medicine.
Most established academic fields have their own journals and other outlets for publication, though many academic journals are somewhat interdisciplinary, and publish work from several distinct fields or subfields. The kinds of publications that are accepted as contributions of knowledge or research vary greatly between fields.
Academic publishing is undergoing major changes, emerging from the transition from the print to the electronic format. Business models are different in the electronic environment. Since about the early 1990s, licensing of electronic resources, particularly journals, has been very common. Presently, a major trend, particularly with respect to scholarly journals, is open access. There are two main forms of open access: open access publishing, in which the articles or the whole journal is freely available from the time of publication, and self-archiving, where the author makes a copy of their own work freely available on the web.
Most funding for scientific research comes from two major sources, corporations (through research and development departments) and government (primarily through universities and in some cases through military contractors). Many senior researchers (such as group leaders) spend more than a trivial amount of their time applying for grants for research funds. These grants are necessary not only for researchers to carry out their research, but also as a source of merit. Some faculty positions require that the holder has received grants from certain institutions, such as the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Government-sponsored grants (e.g. from the NIH, the National Health Service in Britain or any of the European research councils) generally have a high status.
The word research derives from the French recherche, from rechercher, to search closely where "chercher" means "to search" (see French language); its literal meaning is 'to investigate thoroughly'.
- Structure of Research, Trochim, W.M.K, (2006). Research Methods Knowledge Base.
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