Research and the Research Process
Research and the Research Process
ENGA14 Finnish Institutions Research Paper (Hopkins)

Research: (1) Diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover facts or principles.
(2) A studious inquiry or examination, especially a critical investigation . . . having as its aim the discovery of new facts
and their correct interpretation, the revision of accepted conclusions, theories, or laws in the light of new discovered facts,
or the practical application of such conclusions, theories or laws.

(Definitions by Dr. Robert V. Williams, College of Library and Information Science, U.South Carolina)

What is Research?

The chief responsibility of a university is to produce and disseminate new knowledge. New knowledge is created through research. Research is based on primary and secondary sources, often together with original data collected via research "instruments" (surveys, interviews, questionnaires, "focus groups," etc.) to produce new knowledge on a particular topic.

In addition to primary sources and original instruments, secondary sources are used to provide an overview of existing published knowledge on a topic, and possible current debates about the topic. The background provided by secondary sources provides a contextual background and establishes how the new knowledge described in a paper differs from what is already known.

Research may be categorized as either Basic or Applied:

  • Basic research looks at causes, effects, and the nature of things
  • Applied research trys to find answers and solutions to specific problems.
All research focuses on "solving problems" — at minimum, as it concerns FIN-1, answering the defined research question(s). Otherwise, research addresses the perceived "problem" of missing or inadequate information on a particular topic. Research might be further categorized as follows:
  • Research as description
  • Research as understanding trends and operations
  • Research as explanation
The emphasis and methodology of research may differ between different fields and disciplines, particularly between the Sciences and the Humanities. However, most fields share the following concerns:
  • Discovering the relevant "facts" of an event, issue, procedure, or problem;
  • Reviewing and evaluating contrasting explanations for the topic being researched, especially explanations which may differ from what the current research has concluded;
  • Reviewing the consensus (or lack of it) of the research findings among researchers;
  • Disseminating the findings and conclusions for critical review.
Research is most often published (in academic or professional journals, in online archives, or as a "monograph") as a research "paper," though it may also be presented orally (at least initially) as a conference address, or even in "poster" format at a scholarly conference. When published as a "full research paper" it will usually include the following components.

Components of a Full Research Paper

Traditional, print-format "full research papers" usually include the following components, which represent the different stages of the research process. (The names and descriptions of these components may differ slightly from one academic discipline or paper "style" to another.)

[NB: The ENGA14 paper, as with other FAST program research papers, is not a "full" research paper in the traditional sense, nor will it be published in print format (although the expectation is that it will be published in an online archive). Therefore the format expected for the ENGA14 papers is abbreviated from the more extensive research paper description given below. [See also the IMRAD file, as well as how the required elements of a research article have been defined by the Scandinavian Journal of Management, and how these in turn differ from the Journal of Business Research.]

  1. Title page

  2. Abstract (one paragraph or one page, as/if needed)

  3. Introduction, or Problem Statement, or Problem Identification: what exactly is being researched and why; what the relevance or importance is; what questions will be addressed, and an overview of what conclusions will be drawn.

  4. Background and Review of Existing Literature, including definitions of special terminology used in the paper

  5. Research Methodology: What is Being Studied, and How: In this section the purpose and research questions or hypotheses are re-stated, and the exact nature of what is being researched and how (population and sampling) is defined, along with what instrumentation was used (copies of instruments should be included in Appendices). Also in this section are details on the procedure and time frame of the research, the analysis plan, the validity and reliability of the data used, the author's assumptions which are based on the research, and possible limitations to these assumptions, or other conclusions.

  6. Data Collection: This presents the raw data collected via the research methodology described above.

  7. Findings (Results and Analysis of Your Data): A discussion of what you did and discovered, including why and how you feel it is significant.

  8. Conclusions: A summary of the nature and application of the "new knowledge" represented in your paper. Also included here are possible contraindications of your conclusions, along with proposed further research based on your findings (and the possible contraindications).

  9. Discussion of 'Limitations': This section is increasingly a part of research articles published in academic journals. It is a separate section of the paper which describes real or potential faults with the methodology, research material, or other factors that could have influenced the research findings.

  10. Notes (if needed — usually they are . . . )

  11. Works Cited, plus a review (where relevant) of related materials which were not cited

  12. Appendices (if needed), for example to present research instruments which were employed (questionnaires, surveys, statistical data, etc.)

The Research Process

The research process is the step-by-step procedure of developing one's research — and research paper. However, one can seldom progress in a step-by-step fashion as such. Writing a research paper frequently requires continuous, and sometimes extensive, re-evaluation and revision of both one's topic and the way it is presented.

It is often necessary to revise an initial research plan. You may need to add new material, delete extraneous material, or even change the topic completely, depending on what is discovered during your research. You may find that your topic is too broad and needs to be narrowed, or that sufficient information resources may not be available (e.g. the topic is too narrow, and needs to be expanded or changed). Sometimes what you learn may not support the thesis with which you began.

The research process involves identifying, locating, assessing, analyzing, and then developing and expressing your ideas. These are the same skills that will be needed in the post-university "real world" when you produce reports, proposals, or othe research for your employer. All of these activities will be based on primary and secondary sources from which recommendations or plans are formulated.

Identifying Your Research 'Problem' — the 'What' and 'Why'

For most researchers, identifying exactly what they are researching, and why, is the most difficult part of the entire process. It is not enough just to be interested in a subject and want to write about it. For a research paper, there has to be a particular reason why you are writing about it, a particular perspective you are taking, a particular aspect you will be covering, and a particular conclusion you will be drawing.

Compare, for example, the following (as discussed in class):

  • The paper on The History, Art and Architecture of Tampere Cathedral (Valtonen, 2004), where a simple research question was posed and addressed;
  • The paper on Donald Duck Comics as a Finnish Institution (Eskelinen, 2008), where questions were identified, a background was given, a research instrument (webform survey) was employed, and conclusions derived from the source material and independent research option were reached;
  • The paper [previously covered in class] on Tove Jansson and the Moomin Business (Räihä, 2005), where a face-to-face 'survey' with fixed questions and illustrations was used to explore what a group of children knew about Jansson and the Moomins;
To date, most ENGA14 papers have described various Finnish historical, cultural, linguistic or other "institutional" phenomena. These may be legitimately considered "research papers" in the sense that they are academically-supervised papers which explicate specific topics, with formal citation of primary and secondary sources and a prescribed, accepted scholarly register of expression and organization. They provide a new form of information on their topics. This information is disseminated widely through publication in the "archives" of the course website.

Such papers are a type of "Action Research": exploratory, descriptive research of a topic which enables further, more specific actions or research to be undertaken on the topic in a more informed manner. By describing the broad parameters of a given topic, these papers help subsequent scholars identify specific questions (= research "problems") that may be researched further. Whereas many "action research" papers are often based largely on secondary sources and usually do not involve original research, subsequent papers would rely more on primary sources and also involve original research.

Examples of "action research" papers which through their general explication of a subject, largely via secondary sources, identify specific topics for original research followup include:

(Original research is also "action research" in the sense that it will always prompt new research topics. A simple example is the question raised almost in passing in Räihä's discussion on whether children at the age of the target group were really able to understand the concept of nationality. This is a potential research question future students might explore.)

In short, most past FIN-1 papers have given good descriptive foundations — as any good research paper should do — but have not gone further (which was not required under the terms of the 'old' study curriculum). The new curriculum offers additional credit for students to do original research to clarify some of the questions that the descriptive part of their paper will raise (with the expectation that most students will include original research in their papers). Thus new knowledge will be created and disseminated.

Theory in the Research Process

Advanced academic research is based on applying existing theory or a working hypothesis (often as the basis for deducing new theory) to a research problem. Yet what can "theory" include, and is it required for the FIN-1 paper?

At its simplest, a "theory" is simply a hypothesis (idea) which has been validated by testing, usually in a form similar to if condition X prevails, then result Y will occur. A theory can be original and relatively simple; it need not be a Universal Truth derived from Aristotle. Could the thought that "Swedish-speaking Finns get better service at Stockmann's in Helsinki" be a "theory"? Possibly. But it would more easily be thought of as one potential research question under the theory that there is a relationship between customer service and cultural stereotyping (involving not only language, but gender, race, age, height, weight, hair color, nationality, etc.). In other words, "if all other factors are equal, and one customer is Swedish-speaking and the other Finnish-speaking, would the quality of service be greater or lesser depending on the language spoken" [if X prevails, would Y then occur]?

If such questions were tested and found to be true, this could result in a "theory" on the human variables of customer service in multilingual, multicultural institutions, markets or communities.

Variations on this "theory" would then be repeatedly tested in order to arrive at a formulation that would be generally valid, together with an identification of factors that might cause it not to be valid.

Using Theory in the FIN-1 Paper

There are two primary functions of theory in the research paper:
  1. To guide one's research. Theories help identify what the problem is, what the concepts or variables are, and what the results should be;

  2. To reveal new insights into a topic, especially when using theories from quite different disciplines to show new analogies and ways of interpreting your topic, as discussed further in class.

The FIN-1 paper does not require students to use a "theory." However, they certainly may do so. Papers may employ theories from Translation Studies, the student's minor subject(s), or elsewhere. Students may also propose and test their own theories.

NB: Be aware that if a theory is used, the paper will be longer, since the paper must explicate both the 'institutional' topic addressed and the theory used, before describing how the paper relates one to the other. If the theory used is not 'original', the paper must also give examples of how it has been previously employed, particularly examples which would be similar to how the theory has been applied in the student's paper.

A research theory often evolves from an explication of "problems" which are determined by induction or deduction:

  • Induction: The process of deriving general principles from particular facts or instances; e.g. reasoning from specific to general;
  • Deduction: The process of reasoning in which a conclusion follows necessarily from the stated premises; inference by reasoning from the general to the specific.
Inductive and deductive reasoning are both fully acceptable research procedures. They lay the foundation for eventual "theory" which can be tested and validated via successive related research.

Questions to Consider When Determining a Research "Problem"

When examining a potential research topic, for instance when reviewing the different phenomena introduced in "action research" narratives and searching for an explanatory perspective, the following types of questions may be useful. They may help identify a "problem" to be researched, or a hypothesis to be applied to a problem.
  • "What is actually happening in this situation"?
  • "Would it still happen this way if ..."
  • "In this context, if X does this, would Y then ..."
  • "What causes X to react to Y in this way"
More concretely, when reviewing possible research "problems," your questions could include the following [points 1-3 would be preliminary to posing a theoretical approach, with points 6-8 required to 'test' the theory. Points 4-5 develop the working theory (or hypothesis) itself]:
  1. What bothers you about a particular "problem"? What information seems to be unclear, or incomplete, or missing, or improbable as stated?
  2. What are the essential concepts and issues relevant to the problem?
  3. Does the description or implementation of the problem vary? If so, how and why?
  4. Can you state a relationship between the variables of your problem?
  5. Can you hypothesize an answer?
  6. Can you collect primary and secondary data to test the hypothesis?
  7. Can you collect original data to further test the hypothesis?
  8. Is the problem you identify part of a larger problem?
For example, briefly, how do the above questions apply to the paper on Recycling in Finland (using only one of several possible good examples available online — and bearing in mind that the paper was written before the questions in this document were available)?

Taking the above questions in order as they apply to the paper:

  1. There seemed to be a problem with recycling in Finland. The Finnish population is highly educated and socially conscious. It has a well-developed respect for environmental concerns. Moreover, in recent years there has been extensive publicity on the importance of recycling. Despite this, it was apparent that many Finns did not recycle. Why? How does one explain this apparent contradiction?

  2. One question was whether Finns really knew as much about recycling as was assumed. If they did, was the problem then that they did not know what could be recycled? Or did they want to but not have easy access to recycling facilities? These plus several other questions related to the "problem" were easily identified.

  3. Was there a distinction between urban and provincial residents as to whether or how they recycled? Between apartment-dwellers and home-owners? Between different educational levels or occupations? Between older and younger Finns?

  4. There were several interesting relationships between the population variables. The recycling situations of those who lived in apartments and single-family houses were similar regardless of whether they lived in larger or smaller municipalities. However, their practices differed. Access to recycling facilities was problematic for many in both locations, but for different reasons. Knowledge about recycling was similar, but motivation to act on the knowledge varied, etc.

  5. The hypothesis was that the available information about recyling was either inadequate or ineffective, and that there were signficant practical differences between urban and rural residents. This hypothesis was tested and found to be generally true.

  6. Many primary and secondary sources were available, including books, pamphlets, legislation, interviews, etc.

  7. An original-research survey of sample audiences could be taken in both a large city and a small town to test the hypothesis.

  8. The information gained from Tampere and Kauhava would apply generally elsewhere in Finland. Moreover, recycling and environmental consciousness is not only a local or national issue, but a global problem. Knowledge gained from the material covered can also be applied on a larger scale.

Class Discussion Note

Theories or study models from other disciplines may often be surprisingly insightful in the analysis of quite different topics from those for which they were originally developed. Examples discussed briefly in class include:

  1. The application of Vladimir Propp's theory of folk-tale structure (1928), originally designed for the study of 'crisis and recovery' (among other plot elements) in fairy tales, to the 'crisis and recovery' of corporate decline and turnaround process in organizational studies.

    The unconscious deep-level mechanisms governing the corporate process, or indeed any process which includes crisis and recovery, could be described as a folk-tale-like structure in which Propp's theory may then be a useful tool when analyzing how organizations move from (1) initial strategic harmony to (2) disharmony [crisis], and eventually to (3) the construction of a new strategic harmony [recovery].

  2. The application of Jeremy Bentham's "panopticon" theory (see also the Wikipedia entry), widely used in the social sciences, especially as modified by Michel Foucault for prison control, to the study of control mechanisms in internet 'chat' communities, especially those which extensively use web cameras, thus resulting in an interactive 'visibility' of community members. Is the 'control' over what is appropriate to be revealed in such communities related to each member's continuous 'visibility' to the Moderator and other community members?

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Last Updated 10 September 2013