Online Guide to Writing and Research

Chapter 4: The Research Process

The Nature of Research

The research process is, for many of us, just the way we do things. We research the best buys in cars and appliances; we research book reviews before book shopping; we research the best schools for our children and ourselves; and we probably perform some kind of research in our jobs. Our search for information may lead us to interview friends or other knowledgeable people; read articles in magazines, journals, or newspapers; listen to the radio; search an encyclopedia on CD-ROM, and even explore the Internet and World Wide Web for information. We use our local public libraries and our school libraries.

Research can be a way of life; it is the basis for many of the important decisions in our lives. Without it, we are deluged with information, subjected to the claims of advertisers, or influenced by hearsay in making sense of the world around us. This informal, experiential research helps us decipher the information flood we encounter daily.

Formal academic research differs from experiential research and may be more investigative in nature. For example, it may require us to learn about an area where we have little knowledge or inclination to learn. It may be library-oriented or field-oriented, depending on the nature of the research.

Academic research, like the everyday research we do, is associated with curiosity and intellectual discovery. The writing associated with academic research is demanding and challenging, with a methodology and discipline all its own. Although many of the concepts and processes of research are generic, academic research is discipline-specific and demands a more rigorous methodology. This chapter presents the methodology of academic research, many of the generic processes of research writing, and suggestions for applying the concepts to various disciplines. The chapter ends with a brief look at the structure of a research paper.