If you are doing more than writing an essay that relies on sources, then you can benefit from understanding why there are different research methods. Learn more about how academic and professional researchers employ diverse research methods. Understand the philosophical assumptions that inform researchers in different disciplines.
Academic disciplines—for example, mathematics, psychology, physics, engineering, or business—have different ways of conducting and evaluating research. An anthropologist’s account of kinship patterns in a tribe of Native Americans bears almost no resemblance to a cognitive psychologist’s investigation of sensory responses to light stimuli. Even within a particular academic discipline, researchers may disagree over what makes good research. Different researchers employ different research methodologies because they have opposing, sometimes contradictory ideas, about what constitutes a valid knowledge claim. Not only do people disagree about appropriate methods of research, but their ideas may change over time. Conceptions about knowledge, available technologies, and research practices influence each other and change constantly. For example, capturing gorillas and studying them in cages might have been considered good research in the 1920s. The work of later researchers like Dian Fossey, however, demonstrated how animals might be better understood in their natural environment. Today, research based on observations of wild animals in captivity would gain little support or interest.