Chapter 1: Introduction to Research Methods

1.1 What are Research Methods?

In this chapter we begin our journey into research methods. We start by describing and differentiating basic approaches from applied approaches to research. Chapter one clarifies key concepts and terms that will be used in this textbook, and begins to answer the fundamental question of “what is research?” We conclude this chapter by examining where research ideas come from.

Research methods defined

Research methods comprise a systematic process of inquiry applied in such a manner as to learn something about our social world (Saylor Academy, 2012). The key message in the preceding statement is that undertaking research is a systematic process, i.e. there is a system, or a right way, to do research. How to do research correctly is one of the most important things you can and should learn if you plan to undertake a research project. However, beyond your need or desire to undertake a research project, doing research correctly also relates to every profession you may choose or have chosen to enter. In fact, you already do research in your everyday life. Just think about how many times on a weekly basis you undertake a Google search. Our collective use of Google to search for answers is one of the reasons why Google is such a successful company. Asking questions, trying to figure out what is going on, and/or why things happen in the way they do, is a part of being human (Palys and Atchison, 2014).


So if you already do research, why are you taking a course on research methods? Well, as much as we intuitively research things all the time, there are some more formal ways of collecting and sharing knowledge. Ultimately, research, in the formal sense, is really about engagement and thinking critically about the world around us. For example ‘what psychological characteristics and factors that have been attributed to an increased probability of survival during an active crisis (Photo 1.1)? Applied research can make a contribution by shaping social life; e.g., a researcher may undertake a study that helps policy makers change an existing policy or create a new one. The research is applied to help shape social life.


Basic research can also make a contribution to sociological theories or knowledge without having a specific application as a goal, e.g., a researcher may undertake a study that modifies an existing theory related to post-traumatic stress disorder. It is important to note, however, that even basic research may ultimately be used for some applied purpose. Similarly, while applied research might not turn out to be applicable to the particular real-world social problem the researcher was trying to solve, it might better theoretical understanding of some phenomenon.



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