Module 9 : Introduction to Research

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Module 9 : Introduction to Research





Institute of Lifelong Learning


University of Leicester




12 November, 2009


Unit 1: Introduction to Research

1. What is research?

This module considers the role, purpose, structure and process of research.  It aims to answer the following questions:

  • What is research?

  • Why do research?

  • What types of research are there?

  • What ethical considerations are there when conducting research?

  • How might research findings be used?

2. Research is a sign of intelligence

Intelligence can be defined as the adaptation of an environment to suit needs, which is why humans can be acknowledged as the most 'intelligent' of species. 

Humans observe, identify, plan and then effect change.  Humans have social gain through information as well as resource sharing.

As apart from any other species, humans have complex language structures and the written word to share information from one person to another.  Literate societies with well structured, permanent means of communicating information have immense evolutionary advantage.

3. We research everyday

Humans are 'intuitive' scientists ....always asking questions and testing theories about themselves, others, events, the environment and the world around them.

Research is asking a question and finding out the answer…..

  • It is looking into something.

  • It is looking for something.

  • It is comparing and contrasting things. 

  • It is finding out more information…it is counting things …making enquiries…being curious…finding out what people think…finding out what people do….finding out what works.... finding out what doesn’t work…finding out what people want…

What research have you conducted recently?

  • What decisions have you made about your day?

  • What decisions have you made today?

  • What influenced your decision to take this course?

  • How do you prepare and write assignments?

  • How do you decide how to provide the best quality of service for your service users?

We all engage in or do social research as we act on the basis and results of our own research and theorising, therefore, what we think affects the way we behave….

4. What do we research?

What do we research?

We research people and their behaviour, opinions, attitudes, trends and patterns, also politics, animals, health and illness.  Research can be conducted either informally for our own benefit, through asking questions, watching, counting or reading and formally, for medical or academic purposes, as a marketing strategy, to inform and influence politics and policy.

Research may be carried out in our own lives, through the media, in our place of work, with our friends and family or through reading past research.

Our views – personal, social, community and worldwide and our own identities are socially constructed through our own theorising.

5. What does research tell us?

Research gives us information about:

  • Thoughts and opinions

  • Attitudes

  • Habits

  • Culture

  • Norms

  • Scientific facts

  • Medical information

What do we do with research?

  • Have it as interesting fact

  • Use it to make decisions

  • Use it to persuade influence others

  • Use it to affect change

  • Use it to change behaviour

  • Use it to better use…medical …improve customer care...write better funding applications....monitor and evaluate our provision....

We research in order to understand society and social processes, as well as to test and or create theories in order that we are better able to inform about social action and potentially ‘improve’ social conditions.

6. Knowledge, Interpretation and dissemination

Research involves gaining knowledge, interpreting data and disseminating the findings.

Gathering data from direct and indirect sources:

  • observations

  • questionnaires

  • interviews

  • experiments

  • other research

Processing data for interpretation numerically and or verbally:

  • statistics

  • themes or perspectives

Dissemination of findings

  • written reports

  • presentations

  • seminars

  • supply to media

7. When we conduct research, it should be...

  • Systematic

  • Non-discriminatory

  • Open to criticism

  • Independent and free from and direct and or indirect censorship

8. Research Theory

Research is approached in a variety of ways…in its methods, analysis and presentation…which may be influenced by the theoretical approach the researcher takes.

The appendix of “Research theory” offers a brief introduction to some of the theoretical positions as well as some links which you can use to research further.

9. Conclusion

All academic subjects require research to reach conclusions and establish theories, or simply to find out more about a particular situation or phenomenon.

This module aims to give you the opportunity to learn more about research methods and data in both an academic context, for when you are researching for assignments as well as a professional context in order to give you a better understanding of the role and uses of research within the voluntary and community sector.

10. Working Practice Exercise

Consider a working practice within your workplace. 

  1. How has this working practice developed? 

  2. What research was done and evidence collated that contributed to the decision being made that this way is the best way?

Appendix – Research Theory

Research Theory

There are several theoretical positions, to include:

Positivists and empirism

Both positivists and empirisists believe it is possible to gather information about the social world and classify it in a way that makes sense. Auguste Comte, a positivist, believed that scientific knowledge about society could be gathered and understood, as in the natural sciences, in order to improve human experience and the running of society. Emile Durkheim, took a similar approach to his sociological understanding or research and society. Durkeim's 'Suicide' (read the attached link for more information is used as a model of positivist research. The following links provide further reading regarding the positivist and empiricist approaches.






Phenomenologists 'reject' quantitative or statistical research, as it believes that research cannot produce a causal explanation of human behaviour. They believe that all humans make sense of the world by imposing their own, unique and individual meanings and classifications on it, which make up social reality, which, therefore, can only be subjective and measured accordingly. The following links provide you with the opportunity to explore this approach further.



Grounded Theory

Grounded Theory originated with Glaser and Strauss who did research on the interactions between health care professionals and dying patients. This approach goes beyond the phenomenology approach because it produces new knowledge which is used to develop new theories about a phenomenon, therefore, this methodology is based on the collection and analysis of data about a phenomenon. An example of grounded theory is the theory of the stages of the grief process – denial, anger, acceptance and resolution – this is not a new phenomenon, but a theory that acknowledges and describes this experience – we now use this. We now use this knowledge of the grief process, which was derived from the grounded theory, to understand and help people through the grief process. The data collection techniques used to develop grounded theory includes:

  • Interviews

  • Observations

  • The following information helps to make important contributions

  • Literature reviews

  • Relevant documentary analysis

New theory develops as the researcher recognises new ideas and themes that emerge from what people have said and/or from events which have been observed. The researcher will review the raw data which will inform patterns. Hypotheses about the relationship between various ideas or categories are then tested out and constructs are formed which lead to new understandings and concepts – therefore, the theory is ‘grounded’ in the data.


Ethnomethodology, an American sociological perspective, applies the phenomenological perspective on the study of society, therefore they go beyond what classifications and meanings individuals give to social facts and look at how groups and society add respond to meaning and classification. Read the attached link which offers further information about the ethnomethodology.


Symbolic interactionism

Symbolic interactionists do not believe that any form of statistical data can be used to give an insight into human behaviour. Symbolic interactionists believe that all individuals understand and experience their own life and world according to their own 'self-concept', which is constantly altering as a result of their social interactions. Symbolic interactionists attempt to research the role of 'labelling' on individuals, and associate labels with opinions, attitudes and behaviours, for example, does labelling in schools as successful or unsuccessful affect ones self-concept which affects behaviour, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy?


Interpretivists advocate qualitative research over quantitative research methods, as they believe that the basis of sociology is to interpret social action, which can only be understood by understanding the meanings and motives on which it is based through qualitative methods such as interview and observation. The link below takes a further look into this approach.


Critical social science, which favours qualitative methods and takes the view that research should be used to make positive changes within society, as it views society as oppressive and wishes to use research to liberate groups from oppression.
There are three main approaches feminist research takes. The first is the attack on 'malestream' research, which feminists identify as any previous research conducted by men. This research is deemed to be sexist with patriarchal principles and it is argued that it is therefore subjective and therefore biased. The development and use of feminist research methods, for example, those used by Ann Oakley (1981) in 'Subject Women' reject traditional, scientific methods and take on a more relaxed and open approach in order to gain a better understanding of social reality. And, finally, the feminist approach claims that feminist research, particularly in research regarding women and their experiences in the social world, can be better understood through a feminist approach.
Post modernists do not believe that any form of research can be regarded as impartial and sees the role of research as a tool in which to examine the social world and to deconstruct or take apart existing explanations of society. Postmodernists believe that no approach is better than another and that research is essentially subjective.

Unit 2 Research and the Voluntary and Community Sector
1. Research and the Voluntary and Community Sector

The Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) continually researches...from formal monitoring and evaluations or surveys used to influence policy to informal chats with service users that assist in affecting change, to influencing best practice and responding to need.

This unit looks at the various ways in which the VCS uses research in its day to day work, in order to influence its own in-house policies and procedures, influencing its strategic plan and its standpoint in the sector as a whole.

2. Some uses for research in the voluntary and community sector

Some of the uses for research in the VCS include:

  • market research

  • meeting and responding to need

  • funding

  • monitoring

  • evaluation

  • lobbying (to include the use of research to bring about change)

  • regeneration

  • quality assurance

  • Customer Care (Complaint, Acknowledge, Recover, Evolve)

  • Sustainability

The following links to documents on the web offer examples of how research may be used in monitoring and evaluating services.  Pay particular attention at this stage to its points on how research influences the monitoring and evaluation process of a project.



3. Research and the VCS

The individuals making up the VCS also benefit from research:

  • better informed

  • understand my job and those around me better

  • find and evaluate good practices

  • see ways for making job easier and myself more effective

  • greater self confidence

  • feeling in more control through deeper and better knowledge

  • acquiring new skills of analysis and appraisal

  • generating strategies based on reasoned arguments to implement as needed rather than react in crisis

  • improve forward planning

  • professional development

4. Research and its Influence of Third Sector Policy

The above link to, 'Bridging the Gap?  Research and its Influence on Third Sector Policy', is the speech Justin Davis Smith, Chief Executive of Volunteering England delivered to the September 2008 Researching the Voluntary Sector Conference.

The speech provides an overview of the history of research and the VCS, its role, impact and potential on third sector policy.

5. The ESRC

The ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) is an independent research organisation which funds research into social and economic issues.  Research funded by the ESRC has impacted on public policy and the work of the private, public and third sectors.

The link below provides further information about the role of the ESRC and how it serves to help third sector organisations.

6. ESRC Third Sector Engagement Strategy

For a more developed understanding of how the ESRC proposes to work with the third sector, read the following document which provides an overview of its engagement strategy.

7. Research and the VCS

The following links report the findings of some government led and sponsored research into the third sector and provide you with an overview of the plethora of areas in which they research and the ways in which findings are used.

8. NCVO Research

The NCVO conducts and facilitates research within the VCS and support voluntary and community organisations through research findings.  The attached link offers you the opportunity to research further into some of the findings of research supported by the NCVO.

9. What can research do for you?

E-tivity- What can research do for you?

   Task:  Reflect on the work you undertake within the Voluntary and Community Sector.  Identify an area of research that could be conducted that would benefit your work.  Consider its value and explain its needs and how you would go about making use of its findings.

   Post your thoughts onto a discussion board.

   Respond:  Review the responses of your course colleagues and respond to at least one other posting.

   Length:  Please try to fit your responses within a two to three paragraph limit.

   Completion date for this e-tivity is… [add deadline]

Unit 3 Primary and Secondary Sources

1. Primary and Secondary Sources and Triangulation

Researchers need to consider the sources on which to base and confirm their research and findings.  They have a choice between primary data and secondary sources and the use of both, which is termed triangulation, or dual methodology.

Primary data is the data collected by the researcher themselves, i.e.

  • interview

  • observation

  • action research

  • case studies

  • life histories

  • questionnaires

  • ethnographic research

  • longitudinal studies

Secondary sources are data that already exists

  • Previous research

  • Official statistics

  • Mass media products

  • Diaries

  • Letters

  • Government reports

  • Web information

  • Historical data and information

2. Primary Research

When choosing and developing primary research, one must consider the most appropriate method, to include its reliability, validity and practicality.

There are many debates over what is and is not reliable within research.  Within the natural sciences, data are seen to be reliable, as they can be tested by different researchers at different times to find out the same or similar information. 

Researching society and the people, systems and institutions that make up society does not offer the same guarantee for the same standard of reliability, however, when choosing which research method, one can go about being as reliable as possible - in the methods one chooses, being as objective as possible and applying and demonstrating rigorous collection and analysis methods and systems.

3. Primary Research

The validity of data refers to the truth that it tells about the subject or phenomenon being studied…a valid statement provides a true measurement, description and / or explanation of what it is claiming to measure or describe. 

It is possible for data to be reliable without being valid.

Bryman in Social Research Methods (2001) identifies four types of validity:

  1. measurement validity or construct validity:  whether a measure being used really measures what it claims … i.e. do statistics regarding church attendance really measure the strength of religious beliefs?

  2. internal validity:  refers to causality and whether a conclusion of the research or theory developed is a true reflection of the causes…i.e. is it a true cause that being unemployed causes crime or are there other explanations?

  3. external validity:  considers whether the results of a particular piece of research can be generalised to other groups – i.e. if one form of community development approach works in London, will it necessarily have the same impact in Leeds?

  4. ecological validity:  considers whether ‘…social scientific findings are appropriate to people’s everyday natural setting’ (Bryman, 2001) – i.e. if a situation is being observed in a false setting, how may that influence people’s behaviour?

Respondent validity also needs to be considered… i.e may question the validity of a questionnaire about people’s happiness if they have just had an argument.

Both qualitative and quantitative methods need to consider their approaches and the validity of their methods and findings.

The practicalities of the research needs to be carefully considered when developing the research design, for instance:

Primary research sources will be discussed in units five and six.

4. Secondary Research

Secondary sources consist of data that has already been produced and can be contemporary or historical, qualitative or quantitative.

Secondary sources include

  • Documents

  • Letters

  • Diaries

  • Autobiographies

  • Referencing other forms of research and using quotes

The benefits of the use of secondary sources include:

  • Save time and money

  • May provide information and access to historical data

  • May be used to prove or disprove an argument or theory

  • May be used to offer general background information

  • Can be used to set the scene of the research and its findings

  • May be useful for putting the research into context

Researchers must always carefully consider the reliability and validity of secondary sources.

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