In general, research is the organized and systematic method of finding answers to questions. It is systematic because it is a process divided into clear steps that lead to conclusions. Research is organized because there is a structure or planned method to reach the conclusion. It only succeeds if we find answers, whether we like them or not. Research for development focuses on relevant, useful, and important questions. If there are no questions, there can be no line of inquiry.

Example of Research Questions

For government, business, institutions, workers, organizations and society at large to function efficiently and effectively, it is important that the decisions they make are based on valid and reliable information and comprehensive analysis. The search for this information is called the research process. There may be a set of tests (previous research, studies, etc.) that can be used. If there is not, it is necessary to investigate.

For example, the Department of Health, when planning an HIV and AIDS prevention program, may have to ask itself some of the following questions before agreeing and implementing the program. The Department of Health may have a set of tests to help you find the answers to some of these questions, while others may require investigation.

Questions that could be investigated are:

Which are the most vulnerable groups and areas of greatest transmission? In this case, the Ministry of Health may rely on the annual prenatal survey (existing body of evidence) to answer these questions.

What are the most effective ways to change sexual behavior among different vulnerable groups? There may be little or no information available here. The Ministry of Health would have to find answers to these questions through research.

Once it is decided that an investigation is necessary, the Department of Health must decide on the research methods and process that will be used to answer the questions.

How Research is Used

As stated above, the main goal of the research is to find answers to the questions. Research allows us to find the right solutions to the key problems of our communities, since:

Providing data to help us analyze the problem

Testing the viability and impact of programs; and

Find better solutions to challenges.

Research can play an important role in getting support for a program or cause.

Reasons to Conduct an Investigation

You can confirm what was already taken for granted.

Often people have strong beliefs on certain issues, but when they have to argue their arguments they lack reliable information to support their beliefs. Research helps to clarify and reinforce beliefs, especially in the face of opposition and doubts from others. Although research can confirm your views, it is important for the researcher to maintain an open and unbiased attitude even when the results do not confirm your opinions.

It can give content to your opinions and arguments.

Research produces concrete facts that can support your arguments and beliefs and provides new information. It often throws up other facts that you weren’t aware of that help reinforce, or even change, your arguments and beliefs. These facts facilitate programme planning and ensure the effectiveness of interventions. It can show you what is most likely to address your problem successfully. In addition, research can provide you with key information that allows you to develop clear strategies.

It can provide you with anecdotes and examples that you can use.

In addition to providing statistics, research gives you real-life experiences that are more compelling than statistics organized into graphs and tables. For example, some parts of a research report on poverty in a rural community may deal with real case studies that will have a big impact on readers.

It allows to present cost-benefit arguments.

Often people are convinced that a program or project justifies spending large amounts of money. Research can confirm whether this is correct or suggest other ways to spend the money.

Research Lines

A line of research includes a certain series of published articles on the same topic. The minimum number of items is not defined; however, 10 is usually considered a reasonable number.

Publications may have one or more authors who are part of the same graduate program. In some research centers, extensive series of studies have been developed on a specific topic and their own lines of research have been created.

These researchers typically participate in graduate programs within academic departments. It should be noted that projects of this nature can rarely be developed by individuals. Students are supervised by the research leader and the studies they conduct are like pieces of a big puzzle. When these pieces are combined, they can lead to solid conclusions. Therefore, a line of research may be the idea of a researcher, but it is always the result of the effort of a team.

A line of research can take several years to consolidate and involve a large group of researchers. In turn, it allows the development of future independent lines of research. This new research, whether a consequence of previous studies conducted in graduate programs or of new development by the researcher, is always more challenging at first.

Example of Research Lines

As mentioned above, a line of research should address a specific topic. For example, studies on abdominal wall and abdominoplasty cannot be considered a line of research, as they are broad and varied topics. However, a topic such as the “Evaluation of the mechanical properties of the musculoaponeurotic plane of the abdominal wall” can be considered a line of research. This line may include the study of the techniques used to correct the musculoaponeurotic plane and their effects on fascia tension.

The data obtained can become a new line of research, such as the composition of the extracellular matrix of this plane or the effect of certain muscle corrections on intra-abdominal pressure. In turn, the increase in intra-abdominal pressure is related to thromboembolic events, increased venous stasis, etc. The branches arise from the main line, similar to that of a tree.

A line of research may end when the research team has no interest in further studying a particular topic or when the group’s efforts are directed to other areas of greater interest. In fact, a particular topic brings with it endless questions; therefore, a line of research does not end due to the lack of new objectives.

The main objective of a line of research is to give an orientation to the scientific knowledge generated by the researcher, thus contributing to the development of the specialty. Various areas are becoming more specialized, and more and more detailed studies are needed to support and drive this development. Being at the forefront of professional and scientific development in the different areas guarantees that we continue to be the main reference for the patient and for the evolution of the specialty.

How do we research?

As we have already said, research is a systematic and organized process. It’s about collecting information that answers a question. Throughout this process, the researcher has to ensure that the information is collected systematically and accurately.

The information collected should be collated using other sources and references, even when the researcher is convinced that the information already obtained provides a good answer to the question asked.

Below are the guidelines and steps of a general research process, regardless of the type or method of research being conducted.

Step 1: Identify and define the topic or question

What’s the point?

Why is it necessary to investigate this topic?

What do we want to find out?

What information/proof already exists?

This step helps identify the problem or issue that requires investigation. For example, South Africa has a high incidence of road deaths. Research already carried out shows that every year about 10,000 people die in traffic accidents. Now we need to find out what the causes and impact of the high incidence of road deaths are. We have to know what other facts and evidence already exist in order to be able to rely on them.

The Problem in Current Affairs

It is common for a research problem, even one assigned by your professor, to interest you because it relates to a current topic in the news or reflects something you have experienced very recently. Choosing a research problem that relates to current affairs is a great way to stay involved in the topic while writing because it’s happening now and a definitive result hasn’t been produced yet. However, you may experience a number of problems if your topic focuses on a very recent issue or event, including:

It can be difficult to find academic sources and, consequently, their study can be considered less rigorous and valid for not citing research studies that offer an in-depth analysis of the subject.

Examining a very recent event or topic may force you to draw on historical precedent to frame the research problem effectively. However, as a consequence, the academic sources that support his work end up being more about historical precedents than about the current research problem.

The consequences or outcomes of a current event or problem have not yet been determined and therefore any conclusions or recommendations presented in the work may lose relevance as events unfold.

A current problem or event is rarely a static unit of analysis; it is rather a moving target. Therefore, it can be difficult to focus on a specific research problem related to the topic you have chosen to investigate, as its relevance or importance may decrease over time due to unforeseen circumstances, while, at the same time, new and significant topics may arise instead.

Step 2: Decide the direction by identifying an approach and refining the question

What will be the objective and focus of the research?

What questions need to be answered?

In this step we set the goals and objectives of the research. For example, the aim of the research may be to “assess the social and economic impact of road accidents on the South African population”. The aim of the research may provide a title for it, for example, “The causes of road accidents and the social and economic impact on the South African population”.

A clear purpose will facilitate the development of research objectives, for example:

Investigate the causes of accidents in South Africa.

To determine which geographical areas of South Africa have the highest number of road traffic deaths.

Measure the social impact of road accidents on the South African population.

Measure the economic impact of road accidents in South Africa.

Formulate recommendations derived from the study to interested groups.

Goals will help you decide which questions need answering. For example

“What are the three most common causes of traffic accidents?”

Step 3: Organize the work plan to answer the questions

What kind of information is needed to answer the questions? Where will you find (sources)?

What would be the best research methods?

Who is best suited to conduct this research?

What are the tasks and who will do what?

When do I have to finish the job?

This step involves the organization of the work and the choice of methods that will be used to carry out the research. A specification must be drawn up explaining the work required. It is normally handed over to the researcher, who must prepare a proposal on how he will conduct the research. A ToR usually has the following sections: background, research objectives, methodology to be used, resources to be used (people, money for travel, etc.) and deadlines for completing the project (broken down into phases, for example, when the fieldwork will be completed, when the report will be written).

Step 4: Collecting information to help answer the question

This step involves the collection of information. This may require fieldwork. The example of research on “The causes of road accidents and the social and economic impact on the South African population” is huge and difficult and will require many resources. For example, 80,000 field workers were employed to conduct the 2001 census. In this case, the field workers were called surveyors.

Other investigations can be carried out on a much smaller scale and may include a team of 5 to 10 people and the amount of resources needed would be less.

Design flaws to avoid

The research design establishes the decision-making processes, the conceptual structure of the research, and the methods of analysis used to address the core research problem of your study. Spending time developing a thorough research design helps organize ideas, set study boundaries, maximize the reliability of results, and avoid misleading or incomplete conclusions. Therefore, if any aspect of the research design is flawed or underdeveloped, the quality and reliability of the final results, as well as the overall value of the study, will be reduced.

In no particular order, here are some common problems to avoid when designing a research study.

Lack of specificity

Do not describe aspects of the research with overly broad generalities. Avoid using vague qualifiers, such as “extremely,” “very,” “totally,” “completely,” etc. It is important that you design a study that describes the research process in clear and concise terms. Otherwise, the reader will not be able to be sure of what he intends to do.

Ill-defined research problem

The starting point for most new research in the social sciences is to formulate an approach to the problem and begin the process of crafting questions that address it. The work should explicitly outline and delimit the problem and state what is intended to be investigated, as this will determine the research design to be [la identificación del problema de investigación siempre precede a la elección del diseño] used.

Lack of theoretical framework

The theoretical framework represents the conceptual basis of its study. Therefore, your research design should include an explicit set of hypotheses, basic postulates, or logically derived assumptions that can be tested in relation to the research problem.


The research design should include a clear answer to the question “So what?” Be sure to clearly articulate why your study is important and how it contributes to the broader body of literature on the topic under investigation.

Relationship between previous research and its study

Don’t just give a summary description of previous research. Your literature review should include an explicit statement linking the results of previous research to the research you are going to conduct. This can be done, for example, by identifying the basic pain points of previous studies and how their study helps fill this knowledge gap.

Contribution to the field

In placing your study in the context of previous research, don’t just point out that there is a gap; clearly describe how your study contributes to, or possibly challenges, existing hypotheses or conclusions.


It refers to the design of a narrow scope, geographical area, sampling or method of analysis that restricts its ability to create meaningful results and, by extension, to obtain results that are relevant and possibly transferable to the understanding of phenomena in other environments.

Objectives, hypotheses or questions

The research design must include one or more questions or hypotheses that are intended to be answered about the research problem on which the study is based. They must be clearly articulated and closely linked to the overall objectives of the work. Although there is no rule about the number of questions or hypotheses associated with a research problem, most studies in the social sciences address between one and five key questions.

Poor methodological approach

The design should include a well-developed and transparent plan on how data is intended to be collected or generated and how it will be analyzed. Ensure that the method used to gather information for analysis is in line with the research topic and the underlying research questions to be addressed.

Proximity sampling

It refers to the use of a sample that is not based on the purposes of its study, but is based on the proximity of a particular group of subjects. Units of analysis, whether people, places, events or things, should not be based solely on ease of access and convenience.

Techniques or instruments

Clearly describe the techniques [e.g., semi-structured interviews] or instruments [e.g., a questionnaire] used to collect data. The research design should indicate how the technique or instrument will provide reasonably reliable data to answer the questions associated with the research problem.

Statistical processing

In quantitative studies, you need to give a full description of how you will organize the raw data for analysis. In most cases, this involves describing the data through measures of core trends such as mean, median, and fashion that help the researcher explain how the data is concentrated and thus lead to meaningful interpretations of the key trends or patterns found within the data.


The research usually contains jargon and specialized language that the reader is presumably familiar with. However, excessive use of technical or pseudo-technical terminology should be avoided. Vocabulary problems can also refer to the use of popular terms, clichés, or culture-specific language that is inappropriate for academic writing.

Ethical dilemmas

In the methods section of qualitative research studies, your design should document how you intend to minimize the risk to participants [also known as “respondents”, “human subjects”] during the data collection stages and, at the same time, be able to adequately address the research problem. Failure to do so may lead the reader to question the validity and objectivity of the entire study.

Study limitations

All studies have limitations. Your research design should anticipate and explain the reasons why these limitations exist and clearly describe the scope of the missing data. It is important to include a statement about the impact these limitations can have on the validity of your results and how it helped improve the importance of these limitations.

Stage 5: Organize the information collected and discard what is not necessary

This phase consists of organizing and analyzing the information collected in the previous step. Analyzing means doing calculations, such as adding up the different answers to get a complete picture of the situation. For example, after the analysis it may turn out that 70% of the interviewees have driven above the speed limit of 120 km / h.

The analysis can be done in the form of tables, graphs, percentages, etc. Similarities may arise. For example, the incidence of road deaths may be higher during rainy days. Patterns can also arise. For example, the incidence of driving under the influence of alcohol is highest during weekends and at the end of the month, when people get paid.

The importance of good academic writing

The accepted form of academic writing in the social sciences can vary considerably depending on the methodological framework and the target audience. However, most university-level research papers require careful attention to the following stylistic elements:

The overview

Unlike fiction or journalistic writing, the overall structure of academic writing is formal and logical. It must have cohesion and possess a logically organized flow of ideas; this means that the various parts are connected to form a unified whole. There should be narrative links between sentences and paragraphs so that the reader can follow your argument. The introduction should include a description of how the rest of the work is organized and all sources are duly cited throughout the work.


The general tone refers to the attitude that is conveyed in a writing. Throughout his work, it is important that he presents the arguments of others fairly and with an appropriate narrative tone. When you present a position or argument with which you disagree, describe this argument accurately and without loaded or biased language. In academic writing, the author is expected to investigate the research problem from an authoritative point of view. Therefore, you should state the strengths of your arguments with confidence, using neutral, non-confrontational, non-derogatory language.


Diction refers to the choice of words to be used. It is important to be aware of the words that are used because words that have almost the same denotation [definición del diccionario] can have very different connotations. [significados implícitos] This is especially true in academic writing, as words and terminology can develop a nuanced meaning that describes a particular idea, concept, or phenomenon derived from the epistemological culture of that discipline [e.g., the concept of rational choice in political science]. Therefore, use specific words [no generales] that convey a specific meaning. If you can’t do it without confusing the reader, you’ll need to explain what you mean in the context of how that word or phrase is used within a discipline.


Research into social science problems is often complex and multidimensional. Therefore, it is important that you use unambiguous language. Well-structured paragraphs and clear thematic phrases allow the reader to follow your line of thinking without difficulty. Your language should be concise, formal, and accurately express what you want to say. Do not use vague expressions that are not specific or precise enough so that the reader can deduce the exact meaning [“they”, “we”, “the people”, “the organization”, etc.], abbreviations such as ‘i.e.’ [“in other words”], ‘e.g.’ [“for example”], or ‘a.k.a.’ [“also known as”], and the use of non-specific determining words [“super”, “very”, “incredible”, “huge”, etc.].


Academics rely on the precision of words and language to set the narrative tone of their work, and therefore punctuation marks are used very deliberately. For example, exclamation points are rarely used to express a raised tone because it may seem unsophisticated or overly exaggerated. Hyphens should be limited to inserting an explanatory comment into a sentence, while hyphens should be limited to connecting prefixes to words [e.g., multidisciplinary] or forming compound sentences [e.g., commander-in-chief].

Finally, understand that semicolons represent a pause longer than a comma, but shorter than a period in a sentence. In general, there are four grammatical uses of the semicolon: when a second clause expands or explains the first; to describe a sequence of actions or different aspects of the same topic; placed before clauses beginning with “however”, “therefore”, “still” and “for example”; and, to mark a series of phrases or clauses that contain commas. If you’re not sure when to use the semicolons, [y la mayoría de las veces no son necesarios para una correcta puntuación] rewrite using shorter sentences or review the paragraph.

Academic conventions

Citing sources in the body of work and providing a list of references in the form of footnotes or endnotes is a very important aspect of academic writing. It is essential to always recognize the source of the ideas, research results, data, paraphrases or quoted texts that have been used in the work as a defense against accusations of plagiarism.

Equally important is that the academic convention of citing sources allows readers to identify the resources you have used to write your work, so that they can independently verify and evaluate the quality of the results and conclusions based on your literature review. Other examples of academic conventions to be followed are the proper use of titles and subtitles, the correct writing of acronyms when they are first used in the text, the avoidance of jargon or colloquial language, the avoidance of emotive language or unsubstantiated statements, the avoidance of contractions, and the use of first- and second-person pronouns only when necessary.

Evidence-based reasoning

In the works it is usually asked that one’s own point of view on the research problem be expressed. However, what is valued in academic writing is that opinions are based on evidence-based reasoning. This refers to possessing a clear understanding of the body of relevant knowledge and academic debates that exist within, and often outside, your discipline in relation to the subject. You must back up your opinion with evidence from academic [i.e., peer-reviewed] sources.

It must also be an objective position presented as a logical argument. The quality of the evidence you cite will determine the strength of your argument. The aim is to convince the reader of the validity of their opinion through well-documented, coherent and logically structured writing. This is especially important when proposing solutions to problems or recommending lines of action.

Working thesis

Academic writing is “thesis-oriented,” meaning that the starting point is a particular perspective, idea, or position applied to the chosen research topic, such as establishing, proving, or disproving solutions to the research questions posed for the topic. Keep in mind that an approach to the problem without the research questions does not meet the conditions of an academic writing, since the simple identification of the research problem does not establish for the reader how it will contribute to solving the problem, what aspects he believes are most critical, nor does it suggest a method to collect data that allows a better understanding of the problem.

Complexity and higher-order thinking

Academic writing addresses complex issues that require higher-order thinking skills applied to understanding the research problem [e.g., critical, reflective, logical, and creative thinking, as opposed to, e.g., descriptive or prescriptive thinking]. Higher-order thinking skills include cognitive processes that are used to understand, solve problems, and express concepts or that describe abstract ideas that cannot be easily represented, pointed at, or displayed with images.

Think of your writing this way: One of the most important attributes of a good teacher is the ability to explain complexity in an understandable way related to the topic being presented. This is also one of the main functions of academic writing: to examine and explain the meaning of complex ideas as clearly as possible. As a writer, you should adopt the role of a good teacher summarizing a lot of complex information in a well-organized synthesis of ideas, concepts, and recommendations that contribute to a better understanding of the research problem.

Step 6: Draw conclusions

This step consists of discussing the results and drawing conclusions.

The results are usually presented in the form of a table, graph, number or percentage. The discussion involves the use of words to describe the results. In the discussion section, the researcher presents his opinions based on the results of the research. The researcher then draws conclusions and can make recommendations based on the results.

In this case the conclusion may be that “road fatalities are mainly caused by drunk drivers, drunk pedestrians, vehicles unfit for circulation and bad driver behavior. The main economic impact is on the productive workforce due to the high mortality rate and the more than 100,000 economically active people who become disabled annually. The impact is most severe on the individual families affected. ”

Step 7: Writing a Research Report

Writing a report is important because it leaves a body of evidence that can be used by politicians, planners, community organizations, and future researchers. A report usually has six sections: introduction, literature review, methodology, research results, discussion, and conclusions and recommendations (for more information, see section 5 of this chapter).

Step 8: Reflection and evaluation of the work done

This step involves reflection to decide what actions are necessary and what steps need to be taken to use research effectively. This may include a plan to communicate the results to community members and decision-makers. Further research may also be necessary to answer the new questions raised by the research conducted.

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You may also be interested in: Curriculum

Bibliographic References

Denyer, David and David Tranfield. “Producing a Systematic Review.” In The Sage Handbook of Organizational Research Methods. David A. Buchanan and Alan Bryman, editors. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2009), pp. 671-689.

Foster, Margaret J. and Sarah T. Jewell, editors. Assembling the Pieces of a Systematic Review: A Guide for Librarians. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2017.

Gough, David, Sandy Oliver, James Thomas, editors. Introduction to Systematic Reviews. 2nd edition. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2017.

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How a Research is Conducted

How a research is conducted. Photo: Unsplash. Credits: Annie Spratt @anniespratt

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