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Introduction to Research

By PJ Nyanjui Kenya Institute of Education

Chapter Objectives

This chapter presents the reader with a very broad introduction to the subject of research. Although general in approach, the chapter deliberately gives prominence to educational research. The following areas are covered:

  • The meaning of research
  • Purpose of research
  • The distinction between educational research and other kinds of research
  • The scientific method of inquiry
  • Characteristics of scientific research
  • Classification of research according to type of data involved, purpose of the research or the type of analysis.
  • The history of man’s quest for knowledge
  • The research process

Meaning of Research

The term ‘research’ has been viewed with mystique by many people. It is seen to be the preserve of academicians and professional elite. In most people’s minds, the word ‘research’ conjures up the image of a scholar, laboratory work, university or other ‘academic’ setting. But research is simply the process of asking questions and answering them by survey or experiment in an organized way. It should not be confined to academicians alone. Every thinking person has the capacity and should do research. The fundamental requirement for research is an enquiring mind in order to recognize that there are questions that need answers. The quest for knowledge then is the basic idea behind research.

The acquisition of knowledge is a continuous process from birth; an individual exploring the environment and asking questions. Information is provided by parents, associates and teachers. It is supplemented by books, magazines, newspaper, journals and the media. As an individual’s knowledge increases, questions become more complex and answers are sought from experts, reference books and specialized journals. Research is the examination of these limits of knowledge; assessing what is known up to that point, defining unanswered questions and devising ways of answering them in an organized and meaningful way.

Research has been defined differently by different people. It is perhaps best understood through a clear description of its key characteristics. A few definitions are presented below followed by the key characteristics. Research is a systematic, formal, rigorous and precise process employed to gain solutions to problems or to discover and interpret new facts and relationships. (Waltz and Bausell, 1981). Research is the process of looking for a specific answer to a specific question in an organized, objective, reliable way. (Payton, 1979).

Research is systematic, controlled, empirical and critical investigation of hypothetical propositions about the presumed relations among natural phenomena. (Kerlinger, 1973). Research is the pursuit of truth with the help of study, observation, comparison and experiment; the search for knowledge through objective and systematic method of finding solutions to a problem (Kothari, 2006).

When these definitions are consolidated, it can be said that research is the systematic activity directed towards objectively investigating specific problems in order to discover the relationships between and among variables. It seeks to answer specific questions.

Purpose of Research

Research in whatever field of inquiry has four purposes, i.e. describing, explaining and predicting phenomena and ultimately controlling events.

Describing and explaining

This is the attempt to understand the world we live in. Research is concerned with acquiring knowledge, establishing facts and developing new methods. The way this understanding is shown is through the theories developed and their efficacy at explaining the world in which we live.


In research, predictions are usually stated as hypotheses, i.e. clear unambiguous statements which can be subjected to scientific verification or refutation. When the hypotheses are accepted or rejected, we are able to make generalizations or theories concerning various situations. We are able to say that given these conditions then this is likely to happen.


This follows from our knowledge and the successful verification of hypotheses. Control represents the way in which research can be applied to real problems and situations, thus helping us to shape our environment. When we understand the relationship between variables we are able to control our environment to suit our interests. This can be exemplified by research to find effective ways to deal with indiscipline in schools. Once identified, the effective strategies can be employed to reduce the incidence of indiscipline in schools and thus improve achievement. People do research for different reasons. In doing a particular research, a researcher may be motivated by one or more of the following among others reasons:

  • to fulfill an academic requirement for example as partial fulfillment for the award of a doctorate degree.
  • in an effort to solve practical problems of the society; for example to find a teaching approach that yields best performance in a given subject among students.
  • for enjoyment; some people enjoy the intellectual challenge of creative work
  • delegation by some authority; a researcher may be called upon to study a specified phenomenon by some higher authority. For example, the minister of education can commission a group to carry out research to find out why and how examination irregularities occur and what can be done to reduce their incidence.
  • to generate new theories, confirm existing ones or disapprove them.
  • to be informed; to contribute to the existing body of knowledge. This is mainly triggered by curiosity about a subject.

The increasingly complex nature of our society has focused attention on the use of research in solving operational problems. Research as an aid to policy and planning has gained importance, both in government and business. Research provides the basis for nearly all government policies in our economic system. In this context, research becomes a tool for policy decision making.

Research is equally important for social sciences in studying social relationships and in seeking answers to various social problems. It is concerned both with knowledge for its own sake and for what it can contribute to practical concerns. Research in the social sciences then is increasingly being looked to for practical guidance in solving immediate problems of human relations.

Historical Perspectives

Man is the unique product of his creation and evolution. In contrast to other forms of animal life, his more highly developed nervous system has enabled him to develop sounds and symbols that make possible the communication and recording of questions, observations, experiences and ideas. Man’s greater curiosity has led him to speculate about the operation of the universe and other forces beyond his control. Over the years he begun to develop what seemed to be plausible explanations.

First there was the attribution of the forces of nature to the working of supernatural powers. Whatever could not be rationally explained with the existing body of knowledge was attributed to the supernatural powers; that the gods at their whims manipulated the sun, stars, wind, rain, lightning etc. Then there was the medicine man or the priest who claimed special channels of communication with the gods. They claimed religious authority and were consulted on the unknown phenomena. Their explanations were in terms of mysticism and the authority of priesthood.This system of explaining the unknown became rooted for centuries. Gradually, man began to observe that the forces of nature were not as capricious as he had been led to believe. He begun to observe an orderliness in the universe; certain cause-effect relationships. He observed that under certain conditions, events could be predicted with reasonable accuracy. However, these explanations were often rejected if they seemed to conflict with the dogma of religious authority. Curious people who raised questions were often punished and even put to death when they persisted on alternative explanations. The reliance on empirical evidence or personal experience challenged the sanctity of vested authority and represented an important step in the direction of scientific inquiry. Initially the pragmatic observations were unsystematic and limited by the lack of an objective method.

The first systematic approach to reasoning, attributed to Aristotle and the Greeks, was the deductive method. This system of reasoning established a logical relationship between a major premise, minor premise and a conclusion. The major premise is seen as a self-evident assumption, previously established by a metaphysical truth or dogma concerning a relationship. The minor premise is a specific case related to the major premise. The logical relationship between the two premises leads to an inescapable conclusion. Such logical arguments in which one proposition (the conclusion) is inferred from two others (the premises) came to be known as syllogisms.

A typical Aristotelian categorical syllogism follows:

  • Major premise: All men are mortal
  • Minor premise: Socrates is a man
  • Conclusion: Socrates is mortal (Best, 1970)

Deductive reasoning moves from general assumption to the specific. Although this was an important step in the development of modern problem solving, it was not fruitful at arriving at new truths. Another shortcoming was that the major premise was sometimes false or incomplete; based on old dogmas and unreliable authority and thus leading to error.

Centuries later, Francis Bacon advocated the application of direct observation of phenomena, arriving at conclusions or generalizations through the evidence of many individual observations. This came to be known as inductive reasoning. It advocated a system of reasoning that used specific observations to form logical generalizations or conclusions. But the inductive method alone did not provide a completely satisfactory system for the solution of problems. Random collection of individual observations without a unifying concept or focus merely confused investigations and therefore rarely led to a generalization or theory.

The deductive and inductive methods were fully integrated in the work of Charles Darwin in the 19th century. In his approach, a hypothesis provided a focus for the investigation. According to Darwin, the major premise of the older deductive method was gradually replaced by an assumption or hypothesis which was subsequently tested by the collection and logical analysis of data. This integrated method is now recognized as the scientific approach which is the basis of modern research.

Scientific Method in Research

The scientific method is the result of recognizing that personal and cultural beliefs influence both our perceptions and our interpretations of natural phenomena. Through the use of standard procedures and criteria, it is possible to minimize those influences when developing a theory. The term scientific method denotes the principles that guide scientific research and experimentation, and the philosophical bases of those principles.

The scientific method of inquiry is characterized by the following convictions:

  • that the process must be objective to reduce bias in methods and interpretation of results.
  • that the process should be systematic in that it ought to involve certain standard procedures.
  • enquiry should be conducted through a process of systematic observation that can be verified by experience (empiricism).
  • There should be careful recording, documenting, archival and sharing of all data and methodology (full disclosure) to make it available for scrutiny by other researchers, thereby allowing them to verify results by attempting to reproduce them.

Characteristics of the Scientific Method

  1. It involves gathering new data or using existing data for a new purpose. It is not merely reproducing information such as would be produced by a student when asked to ‘research’ on a topic and write a paper.
  2. It is directed towards the solution of a problem. The ‘problem’ is the focus of the whole research process in that the entire design aims at how the problem can be solved or how the research question(s) can be answered.
  3. It relies on empirical evidence, i.e. on events or data that can be verified by observation. This distinguishes formal research from informal research whose findings and conclusions are based on popular belief, dogma, hearsay, hunches, guess work and other subjective methods that people resort to when seeking answers to questions.
  4. It is systematic in procedures of planning, collection of data, analysis and reporting. It follows clearly stipulated procedures. All these must be carefully recorded and described. Research ethics require that terms are defined, limiting factors stated, procedures described, references given and results reported faithfully. The report should also be availed for scrutiny by other interested researchers.
  5. It aims at generalizing findings to larger groups by discovering general principles that will be helpful in predicting future occurrences. This calls for careful sampling procedures to ensure that the sample is representative of the larger group.
  6. It requires careful and accurate observation and description.
  7. It is logical and objective; every possible step is taken to ensure validity of procedure, tools and conclusions. The researcher strives to eliminate personal feelings and bias. These could be intended or unintended. The emphasis is on testing rather than proving the hypothesis.
  8. Research findings are sometimes contrary to popular belief. That not withstanding, the researcher should always report findings as they are. At times this requires courage. Copernicus is the 16th century was condemned by the church authorities when he announced his conclusions concerning the nature of the solar system. His findings were counter to what was popularly believed at the time, Best (1970).

Similarly, the researcher may at times find him/herself under pressure from the research sponsor to report findings in a particular way. Courage is then required to report faithfully.

Basic Types of Research

Classification of research can be based on different considerations. Thus we can base our classification on the nature of the dominant data (qualitative or quantitative), the purpose of the research (applied or basic) or the type of analysis that will be carried out (descriptive or analytical). The attempt to classify research into these categories is somewhat misleading since most research has elements of all the categories. It should be said that it is only an aid to broad understanding of the different types of research rather than distinct categories.

Qualitative and quantitative research

Qualitative research deals with designs techniques and measure that do not produce discrete numerical data. It involves extensive narrative data in order to gains insights into phenomena. Data analysis includes the coding of the data and production of verbal synthesis (inductive process). Examples include historical research, ethnographic research, participant observational research and the case study. Quantitative research includes designs, techniques and measures that produce discrete numerical or quantifiable data. Data analysis is mainly statistical (deductive process).

It is characterized by:

  • causal-comparative
  • correlational
  • experimental
  • descriptive research

Basic and applied research

Basic research (also called fundamental or pure research) is mainly concerned with generalizations and the formulation of theory. It is driven by curiosity or interest in a subject. The main motivation is to expand man’s knowledge, not to create or invent something. Many scientists believe that basic research lays the foundation for the applied research that follows.

Applied research is designed to solve practical problems of the society. It can be argued that the goal of applied research is to improve the human condition. An example of applied research could be a study to find out how the school feeding programme has affected school enrolment rates in drought-prone districts.

Applied research is increasingly gaining favour as it is helps to address the problems facing the world today such as overpopulation, pollution, depletion of natural resources, drought, floods, declining moral standards and disease. Action research is a unique form of applied research. It is a reflective process of progressive problem solving. It is also called "practitioner research" because of the involvement of the actual practitioner in real life. Action implies that the practitioner is involved in the collection of data, analysis, and the interpretation of results. He or she is also involved in implementing results of the research and is thus well placed to judge the effectiveness of the interventions.

Descriptive and analytical research

Descriptive research attempts to determine, describe, or identify what is. It uses description, classification, measurement and comparison to describe a situation. The main characteristic is that the researcher has no control over the variables. He only reports the situation as it is at the time. The term ex-post facto is usually used for descriptive research studies in social sciences. The survey method is commonly used in descriptive research. Analytical research attempts to explain why and how. It usually concerns itself with cause–effect relationships among variables. The researcher attempts to analyze the situation and make critical evaluation.

Educational research

According to Gay (1981), the distinction between educational research and other types of research is the nature of the phenomena they study. Educational research encompasses many different studies all of which attempt to better understand and improve the learning and educational process. It is a rigorous and systematic attempt to define and investigate significant problems involved in teaching and learning in and outside the school and at various school systems, (Ali, 1990). Educational research concerns itself with both theoretical and policy and practice issues. It tries to understand these practical concerns, explain them and recommend best ways of dealing with them to maximize benefits of education. Nwana (2005), attempted to define the categories into which educational research can fall. He came up with the following categories:

  1. Psychological; e.g. learning theories, factors that affect learning, remembering and forgetting, motivation, maturation, growth and development etc.
  2. Philosophical e.g. worthiness of education, educational aims, moral judgements, methods of reasoning, meaning, nature and sources of knowledge etc.
  3. Evaluation e.g. continuous assessment, test instruments, examinations, item analysis, students’ report cards, curriculum evaluation etc.
  4. Curriculum content e.g. the choice of school subjects, factors affecting choice of curriculum content, curriculum organization, curriculum implementation etc.
  5. Methodological e.g. methods of teaching, teacher effectiveness, instructional resources, teaching practice, micro-teaching etc.
  6. Administrative e.g. school financing, discipline, school records, classroom management, leadership styles, recruitment and deployment of staff etc.
  7. Sociological e.g. school-community relations, teacher-pupil relations, interpersonal relations within the school, #lassroom behavior of students, students’ unrest, cultism etc.
  8. Historical e.g. history of institutions, progarmmes, places or persons of educational interest.

Importance of educational research

The role of research in informing policy decisions in Kenya has gained prominence in the recent past. This is evident in government policy documents such as Sessional Paper Number 1 of 2005, KESSP and Kenya Vision 2030. Educational research may be carried out by the scholar, the teacher trainee, practicing teacher, administrator, curriculum specialist, policy maker, or indeed anyone with a specific issue to resolve. The paramount significance of educational research is that it leads to improvement in teaching and learning situations. For instance when a study is done to establish the most effective strategies of teaching a given subject, there can be an improvement in achievement when teachers are encouraged to adopt the methods found to be effective.

Research requires a high level of alertness in planning, executing, observing, recording, and reporting. Educational research therefore develops in the researcher scientific attitudes of objectivity, curiosity and critical outlook. For the teacher trainee and practicing teacher it provides professional growth through a deeper understanding of pedagogical practices and psychology of learning. It also equips them with problem-solving and leadership skills. This is achieved through the rigours that go with the research process.

For the education planner such as curriculum designers and policy makers, educational research provides useful baseline data that can be used for planning purposes and policy decision making. For example, in the development or review of any curriculum, the content to be included has to be identified through a careful research process. This often involves a needs assessment survey to allow stakeholders to give their views. Document analyses have to be done such as on educational psychology books in order understand the psychology of learning. Current materials also have to be analyzed so as to know about current trends and information.

The Research Process

The research process consists of a number of closely related activities necessary to effectively carry out research. The activities overlap continuously and are not mutually exclusive events. They do not necessarily follow each other in any specific order. The order presented here is only a useful procedural guide of the research process. In the following section, a brief mention is given of what each stage in the research process entails. Detailed discussion of each stage will be presented in other sections.

  1. Identify and formulating the research problems
  2. Extensive literature review
  3. Developing the hypothesis, objectives or research questions
  4. Preparing the research design
  5. Determining the sample
  6. Collection of data
  7. Analysis and interpretation of data

Research Problem

Identifying and Formulating

This involves the identification of a general topic and formulating it into a specific research problem. It requires thorough understanding of the problem and rephrasing it in meaningful terms from an analytical point of view.

Types of Research Projects

  • those that relate to states of nature
  • those which relate to relationships between variables

In understanding the problem, it is helpful to discuss it with colleagues or experts in the field. It is also necessary to examine conceptual and empirical literature on the subject. After the literature review, the researcher is able to focus on the problem and phrase it in analytical or operational terms. The task of defining the research problem is of greatest importance in the entire research process. Being able to define the problem unambiguously helps the researcher in discriminating relevant data from irrelevant ones.

Extensive literature review

Review of literature is a systematic process that requires careful and perceptive reading and attention to detail. In the review of the literature, the researcher attempts to determine what others have learned about similar research problems. It is important in the following ways:

  • specifically limiting and identifying the research problem and possible hypothesis or research questions i.e. sharpening the focus of the research.
  • informing the researcher of what has already been done in the area. This helps to avoid exact duplication.

“If one had the literature and exercised enough patience and industry in reviewing available literature, it may well be that his problem has already been solved by someone somewhere some time ago and he will save himself the trouble.” Nwana (1982).

  • Providing insights into possible research designs and methods of conducting the research and interpreting the results.
  • Providing suggestions for possible modifications in the research to avoid unanticipated difficulties.

The library is the most likely physical location for the research literature. Within the library there is access to books, periodicals, technical reports and academic theses. Other sources are the Education Index and the Educational Resources information centre (ERIC). Computer-assisted searchers of literature have become very common today. They have the advantage of comprehensiveness and speed. They are also very cost-effective in terms of time and effort although access to some of the databases requires payment. Irrespective of the sources of the literature, ethics of research require that the source is acknowledged through a clear system of referencing.

Developing a working hypothesis

A hypothesis is a tentative assumption made in order to draw out and test its logical or empirical consequences. It provides a focal point for the research. It also affects the manner in which tests must be conducted in the analysis of data. Hypotheses are based on discussions, examination of records, and review of similar studies or personal investigations. Occasionally there may not be need to have a working hypothesis. This is the case especially in exploratory of formulative research which does not aim at testing a hypothesis. In such cases it is usual to work with specific objectives or research questions.

Preparing a Research Design

A research design is the conceptual framework within which the research will be conducted. Some scholars have called it the blue print of the research. The research design is meant to ensure efficiency of the research project. It ensures collection of relevant evidence with minimal expenditure of effort, time and money. The design used is dependent upon the purpose or objectives of the research. Research may be done for exploration, description, diagnosis or experimentation. Preparation of a research design is influenced by the following factors:

  • means of obtaining the information
  • skills of the research personnel
  • time available for the research
  • resources available to the researcher
  • size of the sample

The major types of research designs include the randomized or true experiment, quasi-experiment and non-experiment. A more detailed discussion of designs will be done at a later stage. For now it should suffice to say that the design is used to structure the research; to show how all the major parts of the research project - the samples or groups, measures, treatments, methods of assignment - work together to address the central research question.

Determining the sample

An inquiry in which the entire population under study is considered is referred to as a census inquiry. ‘Population’ here refers to all the members or items under consideration. Very often it is not possible to study the entire population due to considerations of cost, time, energy, volume of data etc. In such cases the researcher often resorts to sampling. A sample is that part of a population that is actually considered in a study. Effort should be made to ensure that the sample is not biased and is as representative of the population as possible. Sampling designs are used for this purpose. Samples can either be probability or non-probability samples.

Collecting the data

This is the stage where appropriate information for answering the research question is collected. The researcher should select the most appropriate methods of collecting data and the required data collection tools. This calls for consideration of the nature of the investigation, the respondents, objectives and scope of the inquiry, resources available, time and the desired degree of accuracy.

Analysis and interpretation of data

Analysis of data involves the application of raw data into categories through coding and tabulation. The unwieldy data is condensed into manageable categories for further analysis. The researcher attempts to classify the raw data into some purposeful and usable categories. In coding, the categories of data are transformed into symbols that may be tabulated and counted. Use of computers is helpful especially when dealing with large amounts of data. Analysis work after tabulation is usually based on computation of various statistical measures. Data entry and analysis software such as SPSS, EPI info, Excel and Access are helpful at this stage. In analysis, relationships or differences that support or conflict the original hypothesis are subjected to tests of significance to determine the validity with which conclusions can be made. If there are no hypotheses, the researcher seeks to explain the findings.

Preparation of the report

The scientific method of inquiry requires that the researcher should document all details about his study. This helps other researchers who might want to repeat similar studies to confirm the findings. The research report should be detailed enough to communicate all aspects of the investigation. Aspects to be covered should include a statement of the problem under investigation, methodology used, scope of the study and the limitations. The report should also communicate the findings, conclusions and the recommendations arrived at. All the elements in a research report should be presented in a logical sequence and broken down into readily identifiable sections.


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  13. RoK, Ministry of Planning and National Development, (2007). Kenya Vision 2030.
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