Scientific Research: The Process
Have you ever wondered if opposites really attract? Or if the way you write your name on resume would affect your employment? Or how to get more allowance without your parents noticing? We all have some questions to answer because we are curious and want to make the world a better place to live. But the real question is, how to answer those questions? We can ask our parents, which they may not take it seriously so you would not bother them again, or find out ourselves in library (do people still go there?), from internet, or by scientific research. Particularly, scientific research provides primary information and empirical evidence, and the process that summarized by Andy Field (2009) will be presented here, and the questions can be answered…with science (putting on safety goggles)1.
All interesting questions start with observations. It can be from what we see or hear directly, or what people have done in the past, like the studies we learned from lecture. We can take note all those interesting phenomena we observed to study it later2. It may seem obvious, but the question from the observation should be clear, because how we are going to conduct a study if we do not even know the question? The question should not be too broad so there is a focus (trust me, I learned that in the hard way), and should not be too narrow to get enough information and apply it practically. Then we generate a theory, which is the explanation to describe and predict the phenomena. One of the ways to identify theories is asking “Why”, e.g. Why do we think there is a relationship? Why do we believe there will be a difference? The theories can be from past research with formal or informal names, e.g. social identity theory, classical conditioning, Oh’s theory (Coming soon!), or generated from logical reasoning with past research as back up. Because quantitative research is a deductive process, we first form an objective and testable hypothesis from the theory, that is the prediction in our research, and test it with data.
We collect and analyze data as evidence to test the hypothesis. The process is quite straightforward, but some work still requires. Although I would like to spend a chapter (maybe even a book) just to talk about data collection and analysis, I will keep it simple here. We first identify the variables of interest, and quantify them, i.e. putting number to them. We must be sure we are studying the right thing, with the right measurement, based on the construct and theory. If survey design is conducted to study the relationship among variables, we need to know how to recruit people and what scale to use. If we want to determine the causal relationship through experimental design, we have to control and manipulate variables. Like all scientific research, we aim to describe and make sense of data to figure out the pattern, and we analyze them by statistical analysis. Fortunately, humans are smart and lazy, the analysis can be done with computer and statistical software instead of memorizing all those formulas (Lucky for us!).
After that, we interpret the results based on the theory. If we did the research well and the result matches the theory, then congratulation, the theory is supported by science. But if it does not, we may need to modify the theory, or even reject it, and discuss why we got such a result. Next, we have to answer the basic question in research: We got the result, so what? What does that mean? How people can use it? It is interesting to get the answer, but we still need to talk about the implication, and convince people how the research contribute to the knowledge to this day, and how people can use the findings to make their life better.
Finally, we got the answer, but we are not done. After one question is answered, more questions show up. For example, after finding that caffeine has an effect on memory, people want to know more, e.g. is it related to a certain chemical in the body? If so, what is it? Does it only affect a certain people, like different occupations or personality? Does the ingredient, e.g. creamer or sugar, play a role in the relationship? Research is a progressive process with no end, because people never satisfy with what they have known. You may need to do research as school work, but try not to do it just for the sake of grade. Instead, try to conduct the research to satisfy curiosity, and contribute to the knowledge, maybe this way you would not think it is that bad.
- You should take note that the process discussed here is mainly about quantitative research, and qualitative research is quite different.
- Whenever I observe or think of anything interesting, I will note it down in my phone, so I can do the research about it. You can try to do that too.
References and Further Readings:
Cherry, K. (n.d.). What is a theory? Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/tindex/f/theory.htm
Cherry, K. (n.d.). Introduction to research methods. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/researchmethods/ss/expdesintro_2.htm
Field, A. (2009). Discovering statistics using SPSS. London: SAGE Publications
Jordan Oh (Veng Thang) is a 3rd year psychology student in HELP. He studied and has the experience in Education (Teaching Chinese as Second Language), and now is a member of Peer Mentors and PAL (Peer Assisted Learning) tutor in quantitative research and cognitive psychology. His interest is in soft science like statistics and psychology, especially about how people acquire knowledge and anxiety issue in academic setting, that’s why he loves the course. Also, he is gay.