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The Impossibility of a Perfect Research

Updated on May 23, 2013
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Lee is a freelance researcher and writer for six years. She is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Management


The best thing that a man could ever do is strive for perfection since perfection in itself is unattainable. Plato best describes this concept on his Allegory of the Cave. In his metaphor, Plato described the men who are confined in a dark cave to which the only light source was the one coming from a bonfire. The flickering fire casts shadows and forms in the cave wall and it was through these shadows that the cave men perceived their reality (Plato, “The Allegory of the Cave”). In a sense, most people remained in the comforts of the cave and the few who ventured out attained some sort of enlightenment; but absolute enlightenment is something that cannot be achieved for a person cannot know everything in the world. The same principle applies to doing research. With so many layers and interrelations of variables, it is hopeless to do a perfect research.

As I reflected on my own sets of research done during college, I have highlighted two variables that are constantly present and make my research imperfect. One is the imperfection of the researcher. As social, rational, free willed thinking beings, people tend to be biased towards their life perspective, academic influence, social backgrounds, and other factors that are unique to that individual. In my case, because the sets of research I have been conducting during college are towards human subjects and their culture, I was prone towards putting a part of myself in interpreting my data. For instance, I did a qualitative field research to document the cultural changes of the indigenous people towards globalization in terms of religious rights and rituals in the Cordillera region that on my part could best be described using an etic perspective. Etic perspective in a nutshell is an outsider’s point-of-view in interpreting, describing, and analyzing accounts of a community or culture (Lett, “Emic/ Etic Distinctions”). Despite my best effort to remain objective, there are certain human factors such as my interpretation of the religious ritual and its social and economic implications that might not be deemed accurate by the indigenous people involved. Also, the school of thought or anthropological perspective to which I anchored my assessment might not be holistic enough to express all of the factors regarding the religious rituals and its effect on the community. That is, I failed to include the psychological and philosophical basis of the ritual and focused only on its social and economic effects which cultural anthropologist Marvin Harris disregards on his cultural assessment.

The other means by which perfect research is unattainable is that it is impossible to cover all variables. Even if the research topic is streamlined down to a very specific subject, there are interrelated variables that cannot be separated or have to be held constant to access their impact. This is especially true to quantitative research that makes use of statistical data and mathematical computations wherein generalizations are deduced based on random sampling or through a given condition. For my thesis, I studied the cultural transformation of the Ilongots (Indigenous head-hunting people found in the mountains of Nueva Viscaya, Philippines) on the advent of Christianity. To determine their permissibility towards the Christian missionary and their teachings, I had to get respondents to my survey and interpret their answers based on pre-approved statistical parameters. Despite the scientific methodology I rigidly followed, the research is still imperfect because I am only basing my assumptions through the answers of a handful of Ilongots to which I would base my generalizations. Furthermore, social variables are narrowed down towards religion only and I failed to analyze other social factors that could have resulted in their response to a new religion.

Despite the hopelessness of achieving a perfect research, I was not discouraged, or nobody for that matter should be discouraged from pursuing perfection. After all, answers to inquiries cannot be found on one research alone but would be found hidden on multiple research that could be connected together to form a much wider perspective of the topic. Moreover, because we are gifted with the capacity to think rationally, all we can do is to minimize imperfections through a research that is objective, impartial, and devoid of personal emotions as much as possible. If we take away ourselves from the research in such a way that we have taken every possible precaution to assess all angles, then we can truly claim that the research was in pursuit of excellence, of striving for perfection.


Lett, James. Emic/Etic Distinctions. N.d. Web. 11 June 2010.

Plato. The Allegory of the Cave. The Republic Book 7. Greek Philosophy. 06 June 1999. Web. 11 June 2010.


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