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About this book

This book offers advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students an accessible introduction to the foundations of research in the human sciences. It covers the tools, terminology and research perspectives that students need to know in order to engage in academic debate and successfully complete their long essays, dissertations and theses.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
The purpose of this volume is to introduce and discuss the foundations of research. The main aim is to equip students with some of the most important tools and terminology of research as well as with an understanding of these terms. If you command the basic vocabulary of generic research, you are far more likely to choose the correct theories, concepts or methods to use in your work. By grasping the core tools used in research, much of the mystery that can surround it begins to disappear.
Jonathan Grix

1. The Nature of Research

Abstract
The aim of this first chapter is to begin to familiarise you with the nature, tools and terminology of the research process. Central to my aims is the ‘demystification’ of research, be it a BSc or BA dissertation, an MSc, MA, MPhil, PhD or DPhil. The emphasis is on the foundations of research and many of the terms and much of the process will be applicable to all sustained research in the human sciences. The following advice will also be of interest to researchers who have to write lengthy dissertations or structured research reports. From time to time it will be necessary to address specific points relating to a higher degree, i.e. the PhD, as these are not relevant to advanced undergraduates or all postgraduate work. The majority of the points made, however, are fundamental to all research. This chapter also touches on the differences between undergraduate, postgraduate and especially PhD research.
Jonathan Grix

2. The ‘Nuts and Bolts’ of Research

Abstract
In this chapter I set out to ‘demystify’ the research process by introducing and explaining the generic meanings of the key tools and terms used in research across the human sciences. Naturally, I have been very selective in the choice of tools and terms included; however, most students will come across them in their studies. You should look upon them as the ‘scaffolding’ around which the language of research is built. Now, this may strike you as an exercise akin to watching paint dry, yet, as I highlighted in the previous chapter, if you learn the ‘language’ of research, you are far more likely to produce a clear and precise piece of work. The tools and terms discussed in this chapter are often understood wrongly, used indiscriminately and employed interchangeably. The result is confusion within disciplines and a lack of dialogue between disciplines.
Jonathan Grix

3. Getting Started in Research

Abstract
This chapter introduces the language of getting started in research. It does so by describing the process by which you can begin your research projects. There are various ways of deciding on a topic of study and this chapter will offer examples to help you focus your initial thoughts. The most common of these, the literature review, is given special attention, as everyone has heard of it, but not everyone knows exactly what it is for, and all dissertations or theses will have to engage with a body of existing scholarly work. By dissecting the literature review and looking closely at its constituent parts, the aim is to make clear its central purpose in research.
Jonathan Grix

4. The Building Blocks of Research

Abstract
Ontology and epistemology are to research what ‘footings’ are to a house: they form the foundations of the whole edifice. Now, according to many, there is no need for us to worry about such footings, as this is best left to philosophers and the like, who have time to dwell on the theories of being and knowledge. I take a different view. If we are to present clear, precise and logical work, and engage and debate with others’ work, then we need to know the core assumptions that underlie their work and inform their choice of research questions, methodology, methods and even sources. Furthermore, we need to realise that we can’t chop and change between ontologies and epistemologies as we see fit, because (1) many combinations are not logical; and (2) to paraphrase Marsh and Furlong (2002), your research foundations are a skin, not a sweater to be changed every day.
Jonathan Grix

5. Introducing the Key Research Paradigms

Abstract
This chapter provides a broad overview of the key tenets in the traditions of research and the key perspectives in core academic disciplines in the human sciences that derive directly from them. It is by no means exhaustive, but is limited to the main research paradigms and a selective discussion of central perspectives in the following disciplines: economics, political science, international relations, sociology and history.
Jonathan Grix

6. The Types and Uses of Theory in Research

Abstract
This chapter focuses on the concept of ‘theory’ in social research. My intention is to provide you with a discussion of the meaning and purpose of theory in social research and the variety of uses of theory you are likely to encounter. Understanding the meaning and purpose of theory is very important for undergraduates, necessary for postgraduates and crucial for those undertaking doctoral studies. As I have suggested, the human sciences today are characterised by a confused, misused and inconsistent lexicon of key terms and components of research, made worse by the lack of agreement and use across academic disciplines. The official name of this widespread problem is, according to Gerring (2001: 65), ‘homonymy’ (multiple meanings for the same term) and ‘synonymy’ (different terms with the same, or overlapping, meanings).
Jonathan Grix

7. Introducing Research Methods

Abstract
The language associated with research methods in the human sciences is the topic of this chapter. Instead of simply listing the types of methods that are available for you to use in your projects, the organising principle of this chapter is the so-called ‘quantitative-qualitative’ research dichotomy. So, this will be a recurring theme throughout, as I first offer a brief overview of both research strategies, adding a short summary of the most common criticisms and limitations of each. Then I turn to the dichotomy itself and pose the question of whether this is a false antithesis or not. As I shall be at pains to point out, I believe that the distinction between quantitative and qualitative research strategies is useful, but the methods associated with each, indeed, the logic of inference underlying both types of enquiry, may be the same, rendering the sharp distinction between them that is often made a false one (Landman 2000: 19; Silverman 2000: 11). Equally, both qualitative and quantitative research must be understood as umbrella terms, under which a wide and diverse range of ‘paradigms, approaches to data, and methods for the analysis of data’ are categorised (Punch 2000b: 139).
Jonathan Grix

8. Academic Standards, Plagiarism and Ethics in Research

Abstract
You may be forgiven for wondering why we need to discuss academic standards, plagiarism and ethics in a book about the foundations of research. Well, the first and most obvious reason is that students and scholars alike need to reflect on such crucial topics prior to undertaking their projects, as the answers to many of the questions they raise will determine how and what they research.
Jonathan Grix

9. Conclusion: Summary of Key Points

Abstract
This book has been about the foundations of research, the things that underpin the research process and the language in which research is conducted. I have attempted to give some order to the often confused discourse surrounding research. Although I have been selective in my choice of tools and terms, I have sought to cover those which you will most certainly need and come across in your projects. In addition, I have sought to introduce you to some of the core debates or dichotomies in the human sciences, in particular, qualitative vs. quantitative research; structure vs. agency and inductive vs. deductive research. My intention has been to familiarise you with these debates rather than to offer an exhaustive account of each. It is my contention that by being aware of these debates and having knowledge of the core tools and terms used in the research process, you are best placed to begin your own projects. I have throughout adopted a somewhat humanist ideal in so far as I believe in getting to the root(s) of a problem or concept in order to understand it more fully. This is, however, not just a linguistic exercise: the importance of understanding what constitutes our research foundations places us in a good position from which to adjudicate contending perspectives on social phenomena. As I have suggested, criticising qualitative or quantitative work without understanding the principles upon which it is based and the process by which it has reached its conclusions, is poor scholarship.
Jonathan Grix
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