Research refers to the methods employed by researchers to create, test, and report knowledge claims. Research is driven by problem-solving, curiosity, and epistemology. Researchers engage in inquiry: they ask questions, make observations, interpret and refute textual claims, and reason to better understand the world and solve problems.
Researchers are curious about the world, and they undertake research projects in order
- to learn more about the knowledge claims of other researchers and
- to support claims they wish to make to advance an argument, practice, or theoretical position.
- to identify ways to make the world a better place.
Knowledge Claims—what researchers claim to know as a result of their research—are important. But, how the researchers can claim to know what they know—their research methodology—is equally important. Whether a researcher’s knowledge claims are considered valid depends to a great extent on whether they have selected an appropriate methodology for their rhetorical situation–that is, their audience, purpose, and topic.
Disciplinary Communities—for example, mathematics, psychology, physics, engineering, or business—have different methods 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, however, researchers sometimes have contradictory ideas about what constitutes appropriate data-gathering procedures, evidence or a valid knowledge claims:
- They may disagree about the importance and validity of past research studies
- They may disagree about how to gather data for a particular topic. Some researchers may prize interviews, others surveys, or others anthropological techniques that involve living with the subjects over time.
- They may disagree about how to interpret the data.
Not only do researchers sometimes disagree about appropriate methods of research, but their ideas may change over time. Researchers forage into other academic and professional fields to learn and adapt new methods. 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.
In summary, definitions of appropriate methodologies are defined by communities. Research Methods evolve in communal ways. Just as people with similar religious beliefs, political loyalties, or cultural practices can be said to make up a community—even though they have never met—those who share similar assumptions about how to develop and test knowledge claims can be said to represent a Disciplinary Community.