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Understanding Different Types of Research

Updated on April 5, 2012

Philosophy of Research

Philosophical research represents trends, considerations and ideas made by prior researchers. These researchers work extremely hard to represent reality as it relates to the world. Researchers from the past such as Aristotle, Dooley, Trochim, and Marx have laid the philosophical foundation for the research field. Empiricism, experiencing reality through senses and tested observations for truthfulness, is credited to Aristotle. Quantitative research methodology is related to empiricism because findings are tested for truthfulness through the use of data; however observations are not used in quantitative research (Lodico, Spaulding, & Voegtle, 2010). Positivism is also linked to testing for truthfulness. Objectivity in research and the importance of researchers looking past biases that may alter measurements supporting proposed theories, is credited to Dooley. Realism is also another key concept in research. Making assumptions and identify the relationships about objects in our natural world relates to positivism’s philosophy of research. Further, realism (scientific realism) has become a knowledge oriented approach which focuses on describing reality that would be agreed upon by most people (Lodico, 2010) and is also closely associated with quantitative studies. Similarly, social constructivism is also knowledge oriented; however it believes multiple realities are a part of reality which is historically and culturally constructed. Social constructivism, on the other hand, is based upon post-positivism and stands in stark contrast to positivism, which has roots in both positivism/empiricism.

There are many researchers whose beliefs are connected to empiricism, however Trochim and Marx avow that objectivity is considered next to impossible in research. Post-positivism is related to these two researchers in stating that mistakes can be made, and observations are infallible. Therefore the post-positivism methods take an active stance against empiricism which establishes testing observations for truthfulness as critical to research (Laureate Education, Inc., 2005a). Some other approaches, such as advocacy/libratory framework and pragmatism, have roots in philosophical studies.

Advocacy/libratory are associated with action oriented approaches. These believe reality is socially constructed, and influenced by social, political, and cultural inequalities (Lodico,, 2010). Quantitative and qualitative studies are associated with advocacy/libratory frameworks. In comparison, pragmatism poses an immediate solution to solving a problem. Pragmatism has foundational roots in American philosophies and also stresses what does and downs not work. Although there are similarities and differences present between frameworks, all have a ground assumption of the value in research, the role of participant and researchers, how or when the data is collected, how findings are reported, and maintaining objectivity in research (Laureate Education, 2005a).

The most difficult concept to maintain during research is objectivity because it provides the best possible, bias free, explanation of reality. According to Lodico (2010), objectivity is possible when the researcher has little opportunity to interact with participants using quantitative methods to test hypothesis using statistical tests. The goal of quantitative studies is to generalize results to larger populations, which is dissimilar to methods used in qualitative studies.

In general, all research is categorized as having either theoretical or conceptual frameworks. Theoretical frameworks typically focus on explaining phenomenon’s between ideas and variables, is connected to quantitative studies, and the relationships are casually articulated. Conceptual frameworks lead to development theory by bringing a set of loose ideas together and are connected to qualitative frameworks. The scientific method emerged from empiricism which established a process for researchers to use to better understand and enhance teaching and learning. Researchers use the process to assist in asking questions, developing hypotheses, designing experiments to test hypotheses, making observations, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting and reporting findings based on observation and experiences, and generating new questions for further investigation (Laureate Education, Inc. 2005a).

Core Concepts for Research Design

Questions are the driving force in research studies and they go through a development and refining process during the literature review. When addressing specific problems, questions are developed by researchers to solve that problem. The questions must be able to be researched through a systematic collection of data. Questions are accompanied by hypotheses. Hypotheses give tentative explanation that can be tested by collecting data (Lodico, et. Al, 2010). This information is generally listed in the introduction.

The purpose of the study describes why the researcher is conducting research. In most studies, the purpose can usually be found after the wording “the purpose of this study is.” the introduction is usually followed by the purpose.

The population and sample are discussed in the methods section. When differentiating between the sample and the population, the sample refers to the participants while the population is the larger group that the sample was taken from. Results from studies can often be used to draw conclusions about the larger group and is important for setting parameters based on sample and larger population (Lodico, 2010).

The literature review provides other resources to describe and critiques issues related to the research question. The purpose of a literature review is to establish your knowledge and understanding of the topic, provide an overview of past research studies, published articles, and documents related to the topics and may include published articles, records, documents related to the topic and empirical research (Lodico, 2010).

When conducting research, there are often two variables to consider: independent and dependent. Variables are defined as attributes, characteristics of a person, settings, and institutions, and achievement that can possibly affect the cause and effect relationships in data collection (Lodico, 2010). The independent variable refers to the differential treatment received by the experimental group, while the dependent variable refers to the change caused by the independent variable. A third variable is associated with research, extraneous variables. Extraneous variables are any variables outside of the independent variable that may affect the dependent variable (Lodico, 2010).

In the discussion section of the research, findings are reported. Results are analyzed, connected to literature, possible research initiatives are suggested, or limitations are acknowledged. Limitations are considered because of the criticism potential from other researchers and the possibility of advancing knowledge to create change.

Validity and reliability are also terms that are though of during research. Validity focuses on if an instrument truly measures what it is intended to measure. While reliability focuses on the consistency of the instrument. Reliability is determined if over time the same results are observed. External and internal validity are ideas associated with experimental research. External validity involves the results that are generalizable beyond the sample and some causes of external validity are treatment diffusion, reactive arrangements, and experimental effects selection treatment interaction (Laureate Education, 2005a). Internal validity refers to a change in the dependent variable cause by an experimental manipulation and some threats are mortality, history maturation, statistical regression, pre-testing of participants, instrumentation and differential selection of subjects.

Other Approaches to Research

Educators are beginning to realize the advantages of using mixed method approaches. A major advantage of using the mixed method approach is it provides an in depth look into what is being studies by utilizing both quantitative and qualitative data. Another advantage of mixed method designs is that it provides flexibility in how data is collected and because of this strength, presentation of findings are often thought to be more powerful and convincing (Laureate, 2005b). Some mixed methods approach utilized are exploratory, explanatory, and a triangulation design. Exploratory designs collects qualitative data first and quantitative data later. Explanatory designs collect quantitative data first and quantitative data later. The most complex method is the triangulation method because it collects both qualitative and quantitative data simultaneously to provide a comparison.

The focus of action research is to provide immediate action in a situation. Action research is mainly utilized by educators because information is gathered from schools, generally focusing on how the school operates, how the teachers teach and how the students learn (Lodico, 2010). Two forms of action research are critical action research and practical action research. Critical action research involves researchers working collaboratively with persons in groups to identify possible solutions. On the other hand, practical action research focuses on issues within ones’ own classroom. Action research is often considered a messy process which involves the researcher to such an extent that the potential for throwing ethics and objectivity to the wind is highly probable (Laureate Education, 2005b). Another approach used is program evaluation and it focuses on determining if a program if serving its purpose. Research is used to ensure growth by reflecting.


Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2005a). Collaborative Action Research. [Video Recording]. Los Angeles: Author.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2005b). What Makes a Good Program Evaluation Great? [Transcript]. Los Angeles: Author.

Lodico, M., Spaulding, D., & Voegtle, K. (2010). Methods in educational research: From theory to practice (Laureate Education, Inc., custom ed.). San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.


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