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The Research Process


In general, all research follows these main steps:

Step 1 – Identify a question or problem.

The first step in the research process is to develop a research question.  This can be a problem that needs to be solved, or some piece of information that is missing about a particular topic.  Answering this question will be the focus of the research study.

Step 2 – Review the existing literature.

The researchers must now learn more about the topic they are investigating.  This not only provides important background information about the issue they are researching, but it also tells them what other studies have already been conducted, how they were designed, and what those studies found.  In research you often do not want to repeat old studies, but rather add something new to the field.

Step 3 – Clarify the problem.

Sometimes the original research question may be too broad to examine – in this step, the researcher can use the knowledge they gained from their literature review to narrow the focus of their study to something more manageable.  This involves more clearly defining the concepts being studied.

Step 4 – Develop the study plan.

This involves planning the specifics of a study protocol, such as who will participate; exactly what type of data will be collected; and how, when, and where the data will be gathered.

Step 5 – Ethics approval.

After a study protocol is developed, it must be submitted to a research ethics board.  All studies involving human subjects require approval by an ethics board, whose job it is to protect the safety of the study participants.  To learn about the specifics of ethics approval, please click here.

Step 6 – Funding applications.

Conducting research studies often requires funding.  Money is needed not only to support the work of the researchers and their teams involved in the study work, but also to pay for expensive equipment that might be required, and even to pay subjects who volunteer to participate.  Researchers submit their plans for research to various funding agencies, who may choose to provide funding for research they believe to be important or valuable.

Step 7 – Collecting data.

Once the study has been approved and funded, the actual collection of data can begin.  Depending on the plan of the research, data collection can include surveys, observations, interviews, or medical tests with participants.

Step 8 – Data analysis.

Once the data has been collected, it must be analysed in order to answer the original research question.  Just like there are many ways to design a research study, there are many ways to analyse the data afterwards.  The appropriate methods must be chosen in order to come up with a valid answer.

Step 9 – Final product.

Different sorts of products can result from a research study, depending on the original goals.  Often research papers are published about the results, so that other researchers in the field can learn from the study.  Sometimes the results can be used to influence policies and programs.    The important thing to remember is that research is a collaborative process – it is important that the knowledge is shared with others so that they can then build upon the results.