Conducting Research: Rhetoric vs. Reality

By Dr. Ishara Mahat

“Research is about asking right questions than finding the right answers”

When thinking about research, we often struggle with identifying the real issues and asking the right questions. More often than not, our research is inspired by the availability of research funds that widens or limits the scope of our research.  But we care less about the grounded issues that are most required to be explored, which can prove highly significant to the mass. In many cases, the research activities are undertaken at a superficial level that fulfills academic and professional needs; for instance, to accomplish a degree or to perform the tasks available for a research project that is funded by different funding agencies. Unfortunately, doing research without a profound attachment on the issues often goes astray because such action hardly goes into the depth of the reality, nor do they fulfill the basic purpose of doing research or have any development/policy implications. The outcomes of such research become by-products merely for the sake of doing research, which, in my view is nothing more than wasted potential. Nevertheless, it is easier said than done; we as researchers should not hesitate to focus on the “purpose” of doing research than an “accomplishment”.

1. Asking the right questions
Why did it wait for Newton, for example, to notice the apple falling down from the tree and became curious about the power/force behind the falling of this apple? Often we take things for granted that are happening in front of our eyes and fail to look for the things that are not familiar. We force ourselves to become a master on the issues that are neither to our interest, nor towards the reach of the majority. The point is: how do we ask the right questions?  It is our internal curiosity that pushes us to penetrate to the bottom of an issue so that we can become enlightened.

For instance, despite the critical needs to look at the social basis of maternal health issues in developing countries, researchers often focus on the rhetoric: inadequacy and inaccessibility of health services. They miss the root cause. The deep rooted socio-cultural realities that we observe in everyday life are often overlooked, which is unfortunate as these are critical for resolving maternal health problems. These include for instance, multiple social constraints on accessing available care from their families and communities and having access to, and being able to afford, transportation to the health-care facility.

2. Research Design: Developing a Research Framework
There are different methods involved in doing research. Two popular methods are inductive and deductive. In the inductive approach one starts from small observed facts and builds up a theory based on those facts. In the deductive approach one starts with a possible theory and from that deduces an hypothesis which can be tested against observed facts1.  Most academics are persuaded with the deductive method as their dispositions are very much oriented within the academic arenas.  They go through the extensive review of literatures and conceptualize the research framework with little experience on the ground. With a detail theoretical framework, they build the hypothesis, go into the field, collect information, analyze information and prepare a  summary that become supportive to their initial assertion. Under the inductive method, one comes up with questions that come from field observations. In this case theoretical assertions are made in order to support the questions and again hypothesis are built to test their validity that can be applied in general.  In both cases, selection of research area, selection of sample size and methods of sampling are very critical in order to obtain the information that are more representative of the population.

3. Research Tools and Techniques
Whether using inductive or deductive methods of research, it is critical to collect information using variety of tools and techniques. The qualitative and quantitative techniques are most often used as complementary to each other. The difference between the qualitative and quantitative approach is not simply the difference between multivariate statistics and in-depth interviews, between Likert scale questionnaires and open-ended questionnaires, or between surveys and case studies. The distinction between the two relates to the treatment of data rather than the research methods as such2. Qualitative research tends to be associated with detailed description of cases, events and people. On the other hand, quantitative research is associated with analysis using statistical procedures. Consequently, researchers should be cautious about their choices of approaches3.

In development research, the nature of research involves a detailed investigation on some social phenomenon, in which a mixed method of research can be more appropriate. A concept of triangulation of different methods of quantitative and qualitative data can be used for better results. Triangulation refers to a combination of strategies to study the same phenomenon4,5,6.

Quantitative methods in general involves a detailed household survey and interviews, while qualitative methods consist of different techniques of participatory rapid appraisal including focused group discussions, key informant interviews and participant observation. Using both quantitative and qualitative methods help to enrich the validity of research findings.

4. Research Ethics
In any kind of research, it is crucial to be considerate of research ethics, which determines the norms and criteria for undertaking the research activities in the field7.  For instance, people are interviewed, and consulted for sharing their views, opinions and ideas. They will often hesitate to express personal facts if their identity is not protected. So it is always essential to protect the anonymity of the information as well as of research participants. The information collected can not be used for other purposes than for research itself, while the research results may be shared with the related stakeholders: the participants, practitioners and the policy makers. It is also very critical to be considerate to the local norms and standards when conducting interviews and discussions. For instance, the interviewing area should be both private and convenient to the participants so they feel safe to express their ideas and opinions.

Overall, research is about asking the right questions; the questions that troubles us most and finding answers that are supported by the different methods and techniques. The validity of research findings depend upon the rigor of the methods applied for conducting the research.  A researcher must be enthusiastic and prepared for accommodating all the twists and turns that may take place during the process of research. Research outcomes should be shared and disseminated as widely as possible to the related stakeholders who will be in a position to use the new knowledge to make a healthier society.


  •  1Storey, D. and Scheyvens R. (2003) ‘Afterword’ in Scheyvens, R. and Storey, D. (Eds) Development Fieldwork: A Practical Guide Sage Publications, London Thousand Oaks, New Delhi 233-237
  • 2Denscombe, M. (1998) The Good Research Guide for Small Scale Research Projects, Open Univesity Press, Buckingham. Philadelphia
  • 3Neuman, L.W. (2007) Basics of Social Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, PEARSON, USA.
  • 4Creswell, J.W. (1998) Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Traditions, Sage Publications, Inc, USA.
  • 5Das, H.T. (1983) ‘Qualitative Research in Organizational Behaviour’, Journal of Management Studies, Vol. 20 No.3 pp 301-311
  • 6Denzin, N. K. (1978) The Research Act: A Theoretical Introduction to Sociological Methods  (2nd ed), McGraw-Hill, New York.
  • 7Palys, T. and Atchison C. (2007) ‘Ethics in Social Research’ in Palys, T. and Atchison C (Eds.) Research Decisions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives, Nelson Education Ltd.

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