Introduction to Research


Jack R. Fraenkel and Norman E. Wallen

Part 1

Introduction to Research


The Nature of Research

Some Examples of Educational Concerns

–  A high school principal in San Francisco wants to improve the morale of her faculty.

–  An elementary school counselor in Boise wishes he could get more students to open up to him about their worries and problems.

–  A physical education teacher in Tulsa wonders if ability in one sport correlates with ability in other sports.

Each of the above examples, although fictional, represents a typical sort of question or concern facing many of us in education today.

Why Research Is of Value

The scientific method provides us with another way of obtaining information—information that is as accurate and reliable as we can get. Let us compare it, therefore, with some of the other ways of knowing.

Ways of Knowing

SENSORY EXPERIENCE: Sensory knowledge is undependable; it is also incomplete. The data we take in through our sense do not account for all of what we seem to feel is the range of human knowing. To obtain reliable knowledge, we cannot rely on our senses alone but must check what we think we know with other sources.

AGREEMENT WITH OTHERS: One such source is the opinions of others. Not only can we share our sensations with others, we can also check on the accuracy and authenticity of these sensations. There is great advantage to checking with others about whether they see or hear what we do. It can help us throw away what is untrue and manage our lives more intelligently by focusing on what is true.

EXPERT OPINION: There are particular individuals we should consult—expert in their field, people who know a great deal about what we are interested in finding out. All any expert can do is give us an opinion based on what he or she knows, and no matter how much this is, it is never all there is to know.

LOGIC: We also know things logically. Our intellect—our capability to reason things out—allows us to use sensory data to develop a new kind of knowledge.

THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD: The general order of the scientific method is as follows:

  • Identifying a problem or question
  • Clarifying the problems
  • Determining the information needed and how to obtain it
  • Organizing the information
  • Interpreting the results

Types of Research

EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH: Experimental research is the most conclusive of scientific methods. Because the researcher actually establishes different treatments and then studies their effects, results from this type of research are likely to lead to the most clear-cut interpretations.

CORRELATIONAL RESEARCH: Correlational research is done to determine relationships among two or more variables and to explore their implications for cause and effect. This type of research can help us make more intelligent predictions. One would undertake this type of research to look for and describe relationships that may exist among naturally occurring phenomena, without trying in any way to change these phenomena.

CAUSAL-COMPARATIVE RESEARCH: Causal-comparative research intended to determine the cause for or the consequences of differences between groups of people. Interpretations of causal-comparative research are limited, therefore, because the researcher cannot say conclusively whether a particular factor is a cause or a result of the behavior(s) observed. Causal-comparative studies are of value in identifying possible causes of observed variations in the behavior patterns of students.

SURVEY RESEARCH: Survey research obtains data to determine specific characteristics of a group. The difficulties involved in survey research are: (1) ensuring that the questions are clear and not misleading, (2) getting respondents to answer questions thoughtfully and honestly, and (3) getting a sufficient number of the questionnaires completed and returned to enable making meaningful analysis. The big advantage of survey research is that it has the potential to provide us with a lot of information obtained from quite a large sample of individuals.

ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH: The emphasis in this type of research is on documenting or portraying the everyday experiences of individuals by observing and interviewing them and relevant others.

HISTORICAL RESEARCH: In this type of research, some aspect of the past is studied, either by reading documents of the period or by interviewing individuals who lived during the time. The researcher then attempt to reconstruct as accurately as possible what happened during that time and to explain why it did.

ACTION RESEARCH: Action research differs from all the preceding methodologies. Action researchers (teachers or other education professionals) focus on getting information that will enable them to change condition in a particular situation in which they are personally involved. Commonly used terms in action research are participants or stakeholders, reflecting an intent to involve them directly in the research process as part of “the research team.”

General Research Types

Descriptive Studies describe a given state of affairs as fully and carefully as possible. In educational research, the most common descriptive methodology is the survey, as when researchers summarize the characteristics of individuals or groups or physical environments. Examples of descriptive studies in education include identifying the achievements of various groups of students; describing the behaviors of teachers, administrators, or counselors; describing the attitudes of parents; and describing the physical capabilities of schools. The description of phenomena is the starting point for all research endeavors.

Associational Research: Research that investigates relationships is often referred to as associational research. Correlational and causal-comparative methodologies are the principal examples of associational research. As useful as associational studies are, they too are ultimately unsatisfying because they do not permit researchers to “do something” to influence or change outcomes.

Intervention Studies: In intervention studies, a particular method or treatment is expected to influence one or more outcomes. Intervention studies can also contribute to general knowledge by confirming theoretical predictions. The primary methodology used in intervention research is the experiment.


In the simplest sense, quantitative data deal primarily with numbers, whereas qualitative data primarily involve words. Quantitative and qualitative method differ in their assumptions about the purpose of research itself, methods utilized by researchers, kinds of studies undertaken, the role of the researcher, and the degree to which generalization is possible.

Critical Analysis of Research

Critical analysis of research raises basic questions about the assumptions and implications of educational research.

A Brief Overview of the Research Process

Almost all research plans include, for example, a problem statement, a hypothesis, definitions, a literature review, a sample of subjects, tests or other measuring instruments, a description of procedures to be followed, including a time schedule, and a description of intended data analyses.


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  1. December 28, 2011 at 3:39 pm

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