On Research

In cleanout out some files, I found a document containing the “working definition” of research the I presented to a group of science teachers who were refreshing the roles of lab activities, science fairs, and similar activities in their school. Although written in 2014, it still seems accurate:

This working definition assumes:

  • Research seeks to answer a question. Simply writing a paper on “a topic” may be a good method of providing initial experience with sources of data, it is not research. One who “looks up” answers to trivia-like questions, or who seeks “facts” or reminders of how to complete procedures is also not researching.
  • Research requires multiple data sources. For some research questions, the data exist and the researcher must find it, analyze it, and draw conclusions. For other research questions, the data do not exist and he or she must design methods for collecting it.
  • All research proceeds from earlier research. Even the most sophisticated researchers seek to fill in the gaps in existing knowledge, thus they begin each research project with a visit to the library to examine the information available there.