The word research came from middle French recerche, from recercher to go about seeking, from Old French recerchier, from re- + cerchier, sercher to search. The traditional pronunciation in British English puts the stress on the second syllable, -search. In US English the stress is reversed and comes on the re-. The US pronunciation is becoming more common in British English and, while some traditionalists view it as incorrect, it is now generally accepted as a standard variant of British English.
Research is investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws.
It also denotes a systematic, formal, rigorous and precise process employed to gain solutions to problems or to discover and interpret new facts and relationships.
There are four types of research: quantitative research, qualitative research, pragmatic research and advocacy research. Qualitative and quantitative research methods are most commonly used in academic research. Qualitative research is typically used in the social sciences to study human behavior, culture and society. On the other hand, quantitative research typically involves the use of numbers and statistical information. This type of research is used in quantitative disciplines, such as economics and mathematics.
Pragmatic research methods are used to conduct interdisciplinary research. Instead of sticking to the guidelines of a certain method, a researcher uses several methods to gather and analyze data.
Advocacy research also combines different research methods. However, advocacy research is different because it is designed with the intention of responding to the needs of marginalized groups.
The knowledge base of social work is the accumulated theoretical work and empirical work that we use to benefit our clients. Research and knowledge development in our profession are a vast enterprise concerned with physical, mental and economic health; individual, family and community welfare; interests of diverse groups in society; thinking about problems, defining them and identifying effective means for ameliorating them. Knowledge production, its use and dissemination of new knowledge are the major activities of the social sciences research. The researchers, professional experts, consultants, generally conduct policy research for the government, donor agencies, and policy institutions. Knowledge generated by various disciplines of social sciences that are used for developments and social welfare policies of the countries to solve the problems in the societies.
The modes of dissemination of this knowledge are equally diverse and include traditional textual outlets such as books and articles; relational outlets such as informal conversations with colleagues, formal consultations, continuing education workshops and seminars; and, increasingly, electronic outlets such as Internet sites, electronic journals and conferences.
In conventional social science research, knowledge-generation is the key purpose. The control over the process of knowledge production and its use and dissemination often reinforces amongst the have-nots the feelings of powerlessness, ignorance and self blame. We can look at the critique of the conventional research paradigm in the following four categories.
Critique 1: There is a wide gap between available knowledge and its utilization. This lack of utilization of generated knowledge leads to research that cannot be used to improve our social, economic, and political systems. For instance, survey research is not conducive to subsequent action. Research alienates respondents, or at best treats them as sources of raw information. The abilities of people to investigate their own realities are likewise not stimulated or developed. Further, influenced by the research paradigm of natural sciences, social science research also assumes that there is one truth about social phenomena. It is difficult to present a realistic representation of any social phenomenon by believing in one truth.
Critique 2: Many social scientists assume that their research is neutral. Under the guise of achieving objectivity, rigor is maintained by the researcher’s control over the focus and methods of inquiry. However, survey and interview questions, consciously or otherwise, reflect the researcher’s own values and ideology. Professional researchers know all and they control the entire process of research. Therefore, respondents often experience survey research as alienating, dominating, or oppressive in character. The attempt to achieve objectivity by maintaining a strict separation between the researcher and the subjects is also problematic. Firstly, researchers share essential humanity with their subjects; they are, therefore, subject to same laws that they are attempting to understand. Secondly, the sheer presence of another person has impact over the research ‘subject’, or the people under study. Therefore, despite researchers’ best efforts to be objective, controlled social reality is always a distortion.
Critique 3: The rationalist critique questions excessive reliance on thinking, observing and conceptualizing as main modes of knowing and researching. The researchers tend to oversimplify social reality. The overemphasis on thinking and conceptualization in the conventional research paradigm intends to reduce subjectivity, but as a result, the feeling and acting processes have been largely neglected. When compiled in clear data sets, charts and graphs, the information gathered through conventional survey research masks the complexity, the richness, and the contradictions inherent to human experience. The conventional research methods are not consistent with the principles of adult education, which is rooted in an especially strong concern for social justice and equality. These principles include: programs should be based on adult needs; adults are more able to articulate their learning needs than children; although adults’ ways of learning change with age, the phrase ‘too old to learn’ is a fallacy; adults often work out quite complex learning strategies to achieve desired goals on their own. The conventional research paradigm only supports two of the four types of adult learning processes: reflective observation and abstract conceptualization.
Critique 4: The development of modern institutions of knowledge production has delegitimized people’s own knowledge- the popular knowledge. Trained and exclusive experts and their institutions have become sole pursuers of knowledge. By conducting research to evolve new insights and theories, they subtly yet
powerfully regulate the modern knowledge industry. Papers, books, journals, seminars and conferences as the only legitimate modes of dissemination of knowledge, systematically deprive the ordinary from
participating in the process of knowledge production and distribution. As most research findings are
communicated in written form, it is researchers, journal editors, and publishers who essentially control the outcome of research. Those who assist the research process as respondents or subjects, that is, those who are researched, have no control over the research and its outcome.
In spite of the above critiques, it is important to remember that numbers or statistics in and of themselves are not the key problem. In fact, mostly they are useful as quantitative statistics summarize social information in a form that is convenient and can be readily transferred and disseminated. Accurate statistics around poverty levels, or illiteracy rates, for example, are important information for people to gather knowledge about their own communities.