People have been doing research formally or informally since the beginning of time. We are always trying to figure out how to do this or why something is the way that it is. In this post, we will look at different ways to view and or conduct research. These perspectives are empirical, theoretical, and analytical.
Perhaps the most common form or approach to doing research is the empirical approach. This approach involves observing reality and developing hypotheses and theories based on what was observed. This is an inductive approach to doing research because the researcher starts with their observations to make a theory. In other words, you start with examples and abstract them to theories.
An example of this is found in the work of Charles Darwin and evolution. Darwin collected a lot of examples and observations of birds during his travels. Based on what he saw he inferred that animals evolved over time. This was his conclusion based on his interpretation of the data. Later, other researchers tried to further bolster Darwin’s theory by finding mathematical support for his claims.
The order in which empirical research is conducted is as follows…
- Identify the phenomenon
- Collect data
- Abstraction/model development
You can see that hypotheses and theory are derived from data which is similar to qualitative research. However, steps 4 and 5 are were the equation developing and or statistical tools are used. As such the empirical view of research is valuable when there is a large amount of data available and can include many variables, which is again often common for quantitative methods.
To summarize this, empirical research is focused on what happened, which is one way in which scientific laws are derived.
The theoretical perspective is essentially the same process as empirical but moving in the opposite direction. For theorists, the will start with what they think about the phenomenon and how things should be. This approach starts with a general principle and then the researcher goes and looks for evidence that supports their general principle. Another way of stating this is that the theoretical approach is deductive in nature.
A classic example of this is Einstein’s theory of relativity. Apparently, he deduced this theory through logic and left it to others to determine if the theory was correct. To put it simply, he knew without knowing, if this makes sense. In this approach, the steps are as follows
- model abstraction
- data collection
You collect data to confirm the hypotheses. Common statistical tools can include simulations or any other method that is suitable in situations in which there is little data available. The caveat is that the data must match the phenomenon to have meaning. For example, if I am trying to understand some sort of phenomenon about women I cannot collect data from as this does not match the phenomenon.
In general, theoretical research is focused on why something happens which is the goal of most theories, explaining why.
Analytical research is probably the hardest to explain and understand. Essentially, analytical research is trying to understand how people develop their empirical or theoretical research. How did Darwin make this collection or how did Einstein develop his ideas.
In other words, analytical research is commonly used to judge the research of others. Examples of this can be people who spend a lot of time criticizing the works of others. An analytical approach is looking for the strengths and weaknesses of various research. Therefore, this approach is focused on how research is done and can use tools both from empirical and theoretical research.
The point here was to explain different views om conducting research. The goal was not to state that one is superior to the other. Rather, the goal was to show how different tools can be used in different ways