Successful research and its three most important characteristics

In this article, I offer a couple of thoughts on what I believe to be the three most significant aspects of the successful research. I talk briefly about the definition of research first, then concentrate on describing the main characteristics and their importance.

Definition of Research

Merriam-Webster, the publisher of dictionaries established in 1828, defines the three major aspects of research as “1. careful or diligent search; 2. studious inquiry or examination; 3. the collecting of information about a particular subject.” (Merriam-webster.com, 2018).

While the Merriam-Webster’s definition covers the main aspects of research, in my view it fails to mention its primary goal, which is to systematically contribute to the growth of general knowledge. Neither it is successful in conveying the message of relevance, creativity, and originality, which are the key characterizations and integral parts of research.

The Basic vs. Applied Research

The two types of research typically defined in the scholarly literature are:

  • Basic Research – the primary purpose of basic research (also ‘pure research’) is to expand the knowledge through theoretical work or experiments, without necessarily offering an application for the newly acquired knowledge.
  • Applied Research – the goal of applied research is to find the solution to an existing problem and that way also a practical value for the research itself. The Frascati Manual 2015 of Guidelines for Collecting and Reporting Data on Research, offers a well-rounded definition of applied research: “creative and systematic work undertaken to increase the stock of knowledge, …, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications.” (OECD, 2015).

While the basic and applied research, both aim to create a new knowledge, the main difference between the two is that the basic research is not concerned with the overall practical applicability, whereas the objective of applied research is to utilize the new knowledge in a useful and defined manner.

Aspects of Research

In my opinion, the following are the three most important aspects of research, namely, the originality, relevance, and creation of new knowledge.

Originality

To come up with an original idea requires certain imagination, resourcefulness, and ingenuity, which is frequently tied to creativity. So, in my view, when it comes to research, the originality and creativity are one and the same. However, I don’t think that originality necessarily means to always come up with a completely new topic or area of research which is in no way connected to existing studies. As a matter of fact, in my view, the Latin metaphor ‘nanos gigantum humeris insidentes’ (‘standing on the shoulders of giants’) is a great reminder to all researchers, that we are often creative thanks to all of the academics and scholars that came before us. In that sense, I love the following quote: “Originality is a core value in creativity studies, but this does not justify ignoring relevant research that was done previously. Good research is integrated into the larger field, citing what came before.” (Runco and Jaeger, 2012).

In my view, the term ‘original’ is almost always somewhat misrepresented as the piece of work that is so authentic and genuine, that is cannot be built on top of some other body of work. Oxford Living Dictionary describes the following terms:

– ‘original‘ – “Not dependent on other people’s ideas; inventive or novel.” (Oxford Dictionaries – Original, 2018).

Here I must strongly disagree because by developing or continuing to work on a previous original work of other researchers we also generate new and valid research that should also be considered as an original contribution to an existing body of knowledge.

– ‘originality‘ – as “The ability to think independently and creatively.“(Oxford Dictionaries – Originality, 2018).

Even in here I think that Oxford Dictionary is not precisely correct (at least from the research perspective), because, often most of the research submitted today is not a single-handedly created body of work. Much of the studies and research published today is created in a teamwork setting or it is a body of work that builds on previous knowledge of others. The good indicator of the trend is the citations themselves. I think it would be virtually not possible to find any work that doesn’t cite any previous authors. So while the researcher clearly needs to be creative, I don’t think that individually researchers need to poses a skill to work or think autonomously.

That said, in my view, both of the definitions are somewhat distorting the nature of the term, primarily when examined from a research context and point of view. We all recognize the quote “Standing on the shoulders of giants”. However, I think one of the most beautiful quotes from the literature is the quote by Umberto Eco’s who spins the above famous words in a new direction and in such way builds on top of them. The following is the quote from Umberto Eco’s novel ‘The Name of the Rose’, where he states: “We are dwarfs, but dwarfs who stand on the shoulders of those giants, and small though we are, we sometimes manage to see farther on the horizon than they.” (Nadin, 2008). This quote suggests that, while we could be considered dwarfs for creating a knowledge based on work of other authors (giants) who came before us, but sometimes we can be so successful by extending the previous work, that we become giants ourselves.

Relevance

When it comes to relevance in research, the term seems to be synonymous with applied research, because the same as applied research is concerned with applicability, for the research to be relevant it must be pertinent, applicable, useful and practicable, the words that are often associated with relevancy in general. Thus, the initial goal of all academics pursuing the applied research is to properly identify the relevant research topic, which requires the ability to critically determine research usefulness and applicability.

Creation of New Knowledge

We, humans, create a new knowledge on daily basis by acquiring the unknown information through their senses. This is how we create the knowledge that is new to us individually.

However, the creation of new knowledge in an academic context means to explore unknown, to go where no human successfully ventured before and in such way to grow the general knowledge of entire humankind. The newly researched knowledge can be then either applicable and practicable or pure in its context, but both types of research will require an ingenuity, ability to explore, investigate and resolve problems by applying existing or newly devised research methods and tools. That said, in my opinion, the researchers who discover the previously unknown information, are not so different from creators, inventors, and innovators in any other field because they are all bound by the creativity that underpins virtually all research.

 

Dawson’s View

I find that Christian Dawson’s book on Projects In Computing And Information Systems, 3rd Edition by Pearson Learning Solutions lists the similar aspects, suggesting the primary aspects to be those of:

  •  originality
  •  gain/contribution
  •  knowledge/understanding

Originality

If we look at the Dawson description of the ‘originality’, he essentially states that we can be original in two ways. “First, you can be original in the way you do things – for example, doing something someone has done before but using a different technique or approach. Second, you can be original by producing or developing something that has not been produced before.” (Dawson 2018, p.18).

When it comes to originality, Dawson also states that the originality leverages tools, methods, procedures, and techniques as means to explore unknown and unanticipated. This is somewhat similar to my own statement mentioned in the first discussion post, reflecting on originality and creativity: “We need the ingenuity, ability to explore, investigate problems and resolve them by applying existing or newly devised research methods and tools.”

Gain/Contribution

That said, Dawson views are using somewhat other terms when it comes to contribution to knowledge, which he calls: ‘Gain/Contribution’. I agree with his statement that ‘Gain’ is an “unfortunate term in the HEFCE definition because it does not allude to the fact that research should actually lead to a contribution to knowledge”. (Dawson 2018, p.19). I think the ‘Creation of New Knowledge’, is a more appropriate name for this important part of the research because the contribution to the world’s foundation of knowledge is likely the primary reason for the research.

Knowledge/Understanding

Dawson’s view of knowledge is dissected to a hierarchy made of the following parts:

  •  data
  •  information
  •  knowledge
  •  wisdom.

His view is more aligned with aforementioned relevance. However, I actually prefer Dawson view to that of mine, because it shows that body of knowledge is essentially a higher understanding of any particular subject, enabled by the information that represents data. The wisdom is the capability to implement the newly gained information in a useful manner.

Conclusion

Most of what Dawson says on the most important aspects is similar to views captured, albeit terms not always match, we both refer to the creation of new knowledge, relevance, and originality as the main aspects.

I’d like to close this section by one more quote from Dawson’s Projects In Computing And Information Systems, where he states: “Merely ‘turning the handle’ or doing what you are told does not lead to intellectual discovery and contributions to world thinking. Importantly, as a degree student, you are expected to think.” (Dawson 2018, p.4).

I believe that word: “Think” should be made more visible in all general definitions of research. Thinking truly encompasses the research almost like a glue that ties all aspects together.

 

 

References

Merriam-webster.com. (2018). Definition of RESEARCH. [online] Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/research [Accessed 24 Mar. 2018].

OECD. (2015), Frascati Manual 2015: Guidelines for Collecting and Reporting Data on Research and Experimental Development, The Measurement of Scientific, Technological and Innovation Activities, OECD Publishing, Paris. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264239012-en [Accessed 25 Mar. 2018].

Runco, M. A., & Jaeger, G. J. (2012). The standard definition of creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 24(1), 92-96.’

Dawson, CW (2015) Projects In Computing And Information Systems: A Student’s Guide, 3rd Edition, Pearson Learning Solutions, VitalBook file, viewed 26 March 2018.

Comments

comments