Scholarly research is a process and not a destination. There are many topics pertinent to the social and behavioral sciences, especially involving scholarly research. Dealing with people and the issues that influences them involves more than solid measurements. Research is no longer confined to the laboratory, though even in social and behavioral research quantitative study is needed.
In discussing elements of research it is important to acknowledge the popular methods of research. The same elements usually apply to both main methods of research, though due to their inherent differences the elements may vary. The traditional quantitative approach is more concrete and measurable. It is often what you think of in terms of classic scientific study. In response to increased interest in the social sciences, qualitative research was born. Qualitative research involves a more natural setting and possesses an exploratory nature. Sometimes it is beneficial to use elements of both methods, often called the mixed methods approach.
Communication and contribution are topics that are very important to scholarly research in the social sciences. While research is an invaluable part of a study it can be lost if it is not communicated effectively. An audience must be able to recognize with ease the points that are being conveyed. "Research is complete only when the results are shared with the scientific community" (APA, 2001).
In addition to communication, contribution is key. Expanding the scope of knowledge is the cornerstone of scholarly research and writing. "Just as each investigator benefits from the publication process, so the body of scientific literature depends for its vitality on the active participation of individual investigators. Authors of individual scientific articles contribute most to the literature when they communicate clearly and concisely" (APA, 2001).
The writing and reporting of information is only a piece of the puzzle. It is just as important to be aware of where the research is coming from and to have an idea of where it is going. Using scholarly references and becoming familiar with the field that's being studied will help in finding a place in a preferred field. "The writing process initially requires a thorough review and evaluation of previous work in the literature, which helps acquaint one with the field as a whole and establishes whether one's idea is truly new and significant" (APA, 2001).
Some suggestions in determining the significance of a proposed study are as follows (Creswell, 2003):
* Who is the intended audience?
* What is the importance of this problem or study?
* Will this study improve policy, practice, and/or add to scholarly research and literature in the field?
Knowing who is being communicated to will help to communicate more effectively and determine what's expected. Becoming acquainted with the problem by knowing its past, present, and future implications can help better determine the impact the study may have and how to communicate it to the audience. "Familiarity with the literature allows an individual investigator to avoid needlessly repeating work that has been done before, to build on existing work, and in turn to contribute something new. A literature built of meticulously prepared, carefully reviewed contributions thus fosters the growth of a field" (APA, 2001).
With so much emphasis on building on the work of others it's no wonder that integrity is another crucial component in performing scholarly research. Becoming familiar with APA format and referencing is important in showing where you are coming from and in frame working where you are going. Learning to use scholarly references is a key aspect of research inquiry. Avoiding plagiarism is a way to show respect to those on whom you're building your own work.
"There are basic ethical principles that underlie all scholarly writing. The long-standing ethical principles are designed to achieve two goals" (APA, 2001):
1. to ensure the accuracy of scientific and scholarly knowledge, and
2. to protect intellectual property rights
In research, the researcher is not always the sole contributor. "Authorship encompasses not only those who do the actual writing but also those who have made substantial scientific contributions to a study" (APA, 2001). It is important to establish authorship early to avoid confusion and hard feelings.
Validity is another factor that is important regardless of which type of research is pursued, though the standards may vary accordingly. Establishing validity determines whether one can draw meaningful and useful inferences from scores on the instruments chosen (Creswell, 2003). This is the view of validity that also originated and is most pertinent to quantitative studies. There are threats to validity, particularly concerning quantitative studies, that include (Creswell, 2003):
1. Content-Do the items measure the content they were intended to measure?
2. Predictive or concurrent-Do scores predict a criterion measure? Do results correlate with other results?
3. Construct-Do items measure hypothetical constructs or concepts?
Though validity is normally associated with quantitative studies, qualitative studies are not exempt, though the implications vary. "Validity does not carry the same connotations as it does in quantitative research, nor is it a companion of reliability (examining stability or consistency of responses) or generalizability (the external validity of applying results to new settings, people, or samples" (Creswell, 2003).
While validity is important to examine in qualitative, as well as in quantitative research, these different research methods warrant different standards of validity. "One view is that it is important that equal research should be judged against criteria appropriate to that approach. In other words, qualitative research should not be evaluated in terms of the canons of validity that have evolved for the assessment of quantitative research, since those have different epistemological priorities and commitments" (Richardson, 2002). In qualitative studies, which are more subjective than quantitative, validity is more concerned with trustworthiness, authenticity and credibility (Creswell, 2003).
The types of validity in social research as listed under socialresearchmethods.net include (Trochim, 2006):
1. Conclusion validity asks if there's a relationship between the program and the observed outcome
2. Internal validity asks if there's a relationship between the program and the outcome we saw, is it a causal relationship
3. Construct validity asks if there's a relationship between how you operationalized the concepts with this study to the actual causal relationship I'm trying to study
4. External validity refers to our ability to generalize the results of our study to other settings
Since validity adheres to a different standard in qualitative research, it doesn't carry as much of the negative connotations. "Validity...is seen as a strength of qualitative research, but it is used to suggest determining whether the findings are accurate from the standpoint of the researcher, the participant, or the readers" (Creswell, 2003). In quantitative research validity is more of a necessity and lack of validity can be detrimental to a study. In qualitative research validity can be seen more as an attribute because of its subjective nature. "The strength of qualitative research (for Miles and Huberman) is thus its move towards a greater realism (and hence validity), but counterbalanced against this are the attendant dangers of poor reliability" (Richardson, 2002).
Reliability in research is "the consistency of your measurement or the degree to which an instrument measures the same way each time it is used under the same condition with the same subjects" (Reliability and Validity). It is concerned with repeatability and consistency. Reliability is usually estimated in two ways (Reliability and Validity):
1. Test/Retest-test one and two should get the same result
2. Internal consistency-grouping questions that measure the same concept and run a correlation between the two
It is important when performing a study that the research is reliable. Others should be able to duplicate the study. This may be trickier with qualitative studies because they are subjective and more exploratory in nature and they don't yield the exact scientific data that can be easier to duplicate. In qualitative research the researcher is the instrument which can also pose a problem with reliability. The same questions can be asked and the same tests performed but it is hard to say how much of a role that inherent human nature will play. While it is more difficult to judge the reliability of a qualitative study, it is not impossible. Making the effort to maximize consistency during the process can pay off greatly in the end.
Delimitations and limitations are another area of scholarly research key to social research methods. "Delimitations and limitations are discussed to analyze possible threats to the study's validity and to acknowledge existing flaws to the research design" (Creswell, 2003). There are a bevy of broad topics relevant to research in the social and behavioral fields. By narrowing the topic your research efforts can be focused on one area more effectively. "Delimitations are restrictions/bounds that researchers impose prior to the inception of the study to narrow the scope of a study" (Creswell, 2003). This can also assure you better communication to the appropriate audience and more effective contributions to your field.
"In empirical research delimitations are used to describe the population to be studied and over which the results drawn from the study can be generalized. The delimitations of the research study should not simply be stated: reasons should also be given for them" (McGuire, 2004). It may seem that delimiting a study is more pertinent to quantitative study but it is possible, and can be very effective, in qualitative studies as well. In qualitative studies a study can be delimited by, for example, narrowing the range of literature or the time-frame that will be directly addressed in order to make the research study more focused and manageable (McGuire, 2004). There is a great deal of research and literature to draw upon so in narrowing a topic it may be more limiting in terms of available information but the information will be more focused and useful to the study.
Limitations in research are quite different from delimitations, though they are sometimes confused. "Limitations differ from delimitations in that the former are not controlled by the researcher, whereas the latter are" (McGuire, 2004). Limitations are acknowledged as potential weaknesses to a study and are usually documented in the research. It is important to be aware of possible limitations to a study, even if they aren't documented.
Ethics is another vital element to consider in any scholarly research. It is important to gain the trust of participants, particularly in qualitative research. "This requires on the part of the interviewer openness or personal responsiveness, an engagement and a striving for intimacy" (Richardson, 2002). This is especially useful when seeking personal information and for when problems occur to have developed a rapport with the subject. With depth and frequency comes increased trust. "If you wish to be trusted, then presumably you need to give considerably of yourself and appear trusting to the other person" (Richardson, 2002).
The issue of trust can also be enhanced by "assurance of confidentiality" (Richardson, 2002). Other issues that can add to mistrust in participating in research is fear of being ostracized by peers, the level of intrusion into their lives, intellectual and emotional demands, and time (Richardson, 2002). It is important to maintain an ethical balance in working with others. There's an "uneasy balance that can exist between giving participants an opportunity to access and name their world and deciding to intervene in the process" (Richardson, 2002). This is a limiting factor in research with others, particularly of a qualitative nature. It is difficult to remain entirely neutral to the cause as the well being of anyone else involved must be considered. It is also important though to not shape any research as a result of intervening or changing direction for the best interest of a participant.
Many topics are pertinent to research inquiry in the social and behavioral sciences. The method of research that's utilized may determine which topics are more relevant to the chosen study. Clear and concise communication is important regardless of the chosen method. If the audience is lost then the research is as well. Integrity is another key aspect of scholarly research inquiry. In dealing with others it is important to be represented professionally and to treat others, whether contributors or participants, with the utmost respect. All of the other aspects discussed work to add more depth to a research study. Continuously developing and improving these skills adds depth to research and makes for a more effective contribution to the chosen field. The greater attention paid, the greater the payoff in the end.
American Psychological Association. (2001). Publication Manual (5th ed.).
Creswell, J.W. (2003). Research Design (2nd ed.). California: Sage Publications. Washington, DC.
McGuire, John P. (2004). Thesis Dissertation Proposal Guidelines. Retrieved 11/30/08 from www.newschool.edu/uploadedfiles/nssr/student_services/academic_affairs/phd_handbook.
Reliability and Validity: What's the Difference? Retrieved 11/17/08 from http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/tutorial/colosi/1colosi2.htm.
Richardson, J.T.E. (2002). Handbook of qualitative research methods. Massachusetts: Blackwell.
Trochim, William M.K. Ethics in Research (2006). Retrieved 11/30/08 from http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/ethics.php.