Defining research

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What is Research? Research is defined in various ways, simply because research means different things to different people.

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  • What does research mean for you?
  • Why are you taking this course?
  • Have you conducted any research projects before?
  • What is the purpose of research?

Think about what research means for you and compare your ideas with the different definitions presented below.

We start with a general definition from Wikipedia.

Wikipedia svg logo-en.svg  Research
Research can be defined as the search for knowledge or as any systematic investigation to establish facts. The primary purpose for applied research (as opposed to basic research) is discovering, interpreting, and the development of methods and systems for the advancement of human knowledge on a wide variety of scientific matters of our world and the universe. Research can use the scientific method, but need not do so.

This extract is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. It uses material from the article "Research", retrieved 11 September 2010.

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  • The New Zealand Qualifications Authority defines research as "an intellectually controlled investigation which leads to advances in knowledge through the discovery and codification of new information or the development of further understanding about existing information and practice." (Comment.gif: Need to insert a citation reference here. --Wayne Mackintosh 04:43, 11 September 2010 (UTC))
  • Systematic investigative process employed to increase or revise current knowledge by discovering new facts. It is divided into two general categories: (1) Basic research is inquiry aimed at increasing scientific knowledge, and (2) Applied research is effort aimed at using basic research for solving problems or developing new processes, products, or techniques[1].

Collis and Hussey (2003)[2] summarise the purpose of research as follows:

  • to review and synthesise existing knowledge
  • to investigate some existing situation or problem
  • to provide solutions to a problem
  • to explore and analyse more general issues
  • to construct or create a new procedure or system
  • to explain a new phenomenon
  • to generate new knowledge
  • a combination of any of the above.

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Identify the purpose of each research example you wrote down earlier.

It is important to be clear about what the purpose of the research you want to undertake is as this will determine how you go about it.

  1., available online at
  2. Collis, J.,& Hussey, R. (2003). Business research: A practical guide for undergraduate and postgraduate students. Basingstoke Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.