Research Types

Research Types

Research Types Jonathan Poland

Research is the process of systematically seeking and interpreting knowledge through inquiry, observation, experimentation, and analysis. It is a way of discovering and understanding new ideas, solving problems, and making informed decisions. Research can take many forms, including scientific experiments, surveys, interviews, and observations, and it often involves the collection and analysis of data in order to draw conclusions and make informed decisions. Whether in academia, industry, or another setting, research is an important tool for advancing knowledge, solving problems, and making informed decisions. The following are common types of research.

Information Gathering

All research requires an information gathering phase whereby you seek out information that is relevant to an inquiry, problem or decision. In many cases, research ends here as you find the answers you are seeking. For example, in order to develop a business case for a new non-alcoholic beer product a marketing analyst researches whether or not non-alcoholic beer improves athletic performance. The analyst finds several studies that provide ample data that can be referenced by the business case.

Data Analysis

The process of inspecting, cleansing, transforming, and modeling data with the goal of discovering useful information. For example, an electric car company that analyzes traffic patterns to determine optimal locations for charging stations.

Information Analysis

Developing interpretations of information. For example, a competitive analysis that attempts to formulate the strategy of a competitor based on their public statements and disclosures.

Basic Research

Basic research is the development of new foundational knowledge without regard to its applications. For example, a project to detect and measure the gravitational waves from supermassive black holes.

Applied Research

Applied research aims to solve a practical problem. For example, medical research that investigates a potential treatment for a disease.

Supporting a Theory

Seeking evidence for a hypothesis. For example, a hypothesis that a particular person can tell if milk or tea was added to a cup first by taste. This can be tested with a double blinded controlled experiment that asks the person to identify which cups had tea added first by tasting each cup. This is a well known experiment known as the Lady Tasting Tea devised by Ronald Fisher in 1935 that confirmed the claim of fellow scientist Muriel Bristol that she could taste whether milk or tea had been added first to a cup.

Refuting a Theory

An attempt to refute a theory that has been previously confirmed with data. It is not enough for a scientific theory to be confirmed by an experiment. A theory can be provisionally accepted based on data that supports it. It is then up to the scientific community to refute the theory. A theory that is confirmed by multiple studies and multiple attempts at refutation may be strongly accepted. In some cases, strongly accepted theories are eventually refuted.

Original Research

Research that seeks to answer unknowns. For example, an analysis of the chemical composition of a rare plant that is previously unstudied.

Secondary Research

Secondary research involves the collection, analysis and interpretation of existing research. For example, a review that looks at the results of hundreds of studies regarding an environmental issue to summarize findings and interpret the state of knowledge about the problem.

Exploratory Research

Research that seeks to provide direction to future research as opposed to completely solving a problem. This is typically fast and inexpensive and may rely on limited data. For example, a study that identifies three approaches that may increase the yield per acre of organic peaches. Such a study may point to several unknowns that represent direction for future research.

Qualitative Research

Research that is based on human observation and analysis as opposed to measurement. For example, market research based on ladder interviews that explore customer experiences with a product to generate a list of customer pain points. This may be more insightful than a survey that generates data but is less exploratory and in-depth.

Constructive Research

Research that designs a solution to a practical problem. For example, engineering research that proposes a novel way to store power generated by solar panels. This solution is then compared to existing methods to evaluate factors such as cost, efficiency and environmental impact. This is a common type of research in applied sciences.

Controlled Experiments

Experiments that occur in an environment such as a lab that allow an experiment to be fully controlled. For example, a test of the efficacy of an disinfectant that controls all dependent variables such as nutrients, temperature, humidity and light that may influence the growth of microorganisms.

Field Experiments

Experiments that occur in the real world. A field experiment may be controlled including being double-blinded and randomized. However, a field experiment often doesn’t control all dependent variables. For example, a clinical trial of a new vaccine that doesn’t control for factors such as lifestyle and diet.

Natural Experiment

A natural experiment is a real world situation that resembles an experiment without any control by researchers. For example, a population of people with similar lifestyles and diets where 30% of people are heavy coffee drinkers, 30% are light coffee drinkers and 40% don’t regularly consume coffee. Data regarding the health outcomes for this population might be used to investigate the health effects of coffee.

Observational Study

Research whereby researchers exert no control over conditions. This includes natural experiments and non-experimental research based on observation of the real world. For example, an observational study may simply capture data about a population such as an estimate for the number of people who self-identify as snowboarders by state.

Longitudinal Study

Research that observes or applies an experiment to same population over time. For example, a study that observes veterans of a war over a period of 30 years to look at data in areas such as health, employment and quality of life. Longitudinal studies can be short term or long term, experimental or observational.

Cohort Study

A longitudinal study based on a cohort, a group of people who share a characteristic of interest. For example, a study that looks at 50 year outcomes of people who graduated from a prestigious university in a five year period.

Retrospective Cohort Study

A study based on historical data for a cohort. For example, a study that identifies a cohort of people who have a particular disease at a point in time and then looks at historical air quality data for the areas where these people historically resided.

Case-control Study

Research that selects groups based on outcomes to look at the factors that may have contributed to those outcomes. For example, comparing the students who did and didn’t drop out of a particular university.

Case Study

A detailed analysis of a single example. For example, an analysis of the life of an individual who lives to an unusually old age to identify any factors that may have contributed to this longevity. This is typically exploratory research that points to possible areas of study.

Cross-sectional Study

Research that captures information about a population at a point in time. For example, the current average family income in a city.

Research & Development

Research aimed a producing a new product or service. For example, research that investigates new lightweight materials for possible incorporation into the design of baseball bats.

Feasibility Study

Research that seeks to validate a method, design or practice. For example, an aircraft manufacturer that investigates the feasibility of converting airports to support large double-deck aircraft.

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