Skip to main content

An overview of the research process

There are many introductions to the research process available in the research skills literature. Several of these create more confusion than clarity and perhaps a certain amount of confusion is part and parcel of the process. Personal preference is also a factor. The reading below has been selected because it is a deliberate attempt to scaffold learning about research. It is lucidly written and designed to offer a provisional framework for understanding rather than to prescribe eternal truths.

Core reading provided in the module pack

Chapter 1 entitled Introduction: the research process in Crotty (1998)
Michael Crotty identifies 4 interlinked elements in the research process.
1/ Epistemology: the theory of knowledge embedded in the theoretical perspective e.g. objectivism or constructionism.
2/ Theoretical perspective: the philosophical stance informing the methodology e.g. postivism or interpretivism.
3/ Methodology: the strategy or plan of action, e.g. survey or case study, lying behind the choice and use of data collection methods.
4/ Methods: the methods, techniques or procedures used to collect and analyse data related to the research question(s) e.g. participant observation or document analysis.

Simply put, Crotty defines objectivism as the view that reality exists separately from consciousness. He defines constructionism as the view that reality is not discovered but constructed. To the objectivist, subject and object are separate, whereas to the constructionist, subject and object are combined. He states that positivism is the belief that careful research can attain objective truth, and interpretivism is the belief that research explores and constructs culturally derived and historically situated interpretations of the social world.

Next steps
It is worth considering in detail Crotty's 4 interlinked and nested elements (epistemology, theoretical perspective, methodology and methods). This can be reflected in the language used in the initial literature review. Put simply, in the literature review, if you state that Smith (2009) proved X or Jones (2008) established Y then this might suggest a more positivist approach. If you write that Smith (2009) claimed X or Jones (2008) argued Y then this can indicate a more interpretivist approach. With research aims and questions, words like prove or test can indicate positivism. Words like explore or describe can indicate interpretivism.

Crotty draws a distinction between methodology and methods e.g. a case study methodology could involve a range of data collection methods including interviews and documents. It is worth considering these points in relation to the research proposal. Also see the section on Research methods later.

Optional extension activities
Chapter 2 in Blaikie (2007) for another take.