An Introduction to the Scientific Method: Research Methods, Design and Critique
by William E Hamilton@Iman Fiqrie, CPLP, MBA
This article on research critique is timely in the wake of fake news and reporting. Its purpose then, is about understanding the mechanics and intent of critiquing research, e.g., statements, news and specifically, articles. There are many follow-on purposes as a result of understanding research critique. By research, in a scholarly context, this typically means scientific research. By developing the tools necessary to systematically critique research, one also gains a keen understanding and ability of how to conduct and write research in the scientific method as well.
The Scientific Method Revealed
This is about the second time the author has referred to scientific research or scientific method—what is it, what does it have to do with critiquing research, and how does it help one write better research? According to Roper, Renn, & Biddix (2018), “…[t]he goal of research is to hypothesize and test theory with the overall goal of discovering truth and affirming knowledge. This is accomplished through empirical measurement using the scientific method” (Chapter 3). The goal is truth and affirming knowledge, failing this—it’s not the scientific method and should be noted as such! Which brings us back to the critique—a systematic method and process for ascertaining whether or not an article, paper, study, or statement is truth or affirming knowledge. This is an important point, if that’s not the goal—then it should be acknowledged and revealed as such with vigor; using a methodical guide or process such as research critique helps one reveal the truth, affirm knowledge, and also write better.
What is One Actually Critiquing?
The question then becomes, what is one critiquing? We are critiquing at once the result of a research design put together as a result of a research method. Said another way, the research design is one important part of the research method. So, the scientific methods uses a research method which itself is comprised of a research design(s). This is what we are critiquing, how well has this been done.
A research design is qualitative, quantitative, or mixed (both qualitative and quantitative). The research method (perspective, type, design, and method) for executing the design(s) encompasses a researcher’s perspective or one’s views, assumptions and/or world view (which informs choice of design); and therefore, influences the particulars and type of design and choices (qualitative, quantitative, or mixed design). This in turn facilitates the attributes of that design choice, e.g., basic qualitative design, case study design, grounded theory design, phenomenology design, or narrative design for a qualitative design or experimental, non experimental, and quasi-experimental design for quantitative designs or combination thereof for mixed design(s). Finally, the method of research encompassing data collection and treatment, itself constrained by the previous choices as to document analysis, location, individual or group interviewing for a qualitative study; and—descriptive and inferential statistics, assessing relationships among variables and predictions with reference to the general population. This last point, with reference to the general population entails probability sampling and skilled empirical and control group techniques, e.g., those that impact internal and external validity—the truth. Refer for example, the Solomon Four Group technique and its impact on validity.
The Researcher Must Provide Enough Rigor to Under Gird the Truth and Affirm Knowledge
What one does in critiquing research, is to ascertain whether the researcher has not only provided enough rigor to under gird the truth and affirm knowledge as to the problem statement or question(s). That the information provided was done using the scientific method. Has the researcher maintained both internal and external validity (truth, rigor and trustworthiness) through a continual process that under girds validity throughout the entire process from research methodology to research design, findings, conclusions and recommendations. It starts with the executive summary or abstract for the scientific method, then the introduction, statement of the problem, review of the literature, aim of the research, sampling procedure(s), ethical considerations, operational definitions (to have the same definitions for terms used), methodology for design, data collection, and instruments, analysis of results, findings, conclusions and recommendations.
Primarily This Article on Critique is About Truths, Methods, Perspective and Purpose
While the groundwork has been laid for research method and design—primarily, this article is about critiquing, however, one must know what to critique—thus the reason for laying out the framework of the scientific method.
The Author’s Own Personal Arsenal of the Tools of the Scientific Method
The author uses several studies to critique the different design types and methods, recall qualitative, quantitative, and mixed; Ryan, Coughlan, & Cronin (2007) and Klopper (2008); Coughlan, Cronin, & Ryan (2007); and Johnson & Onwuegbuzie (2004) respectively. To gain the 10,000-foot view, Roper, Renn, & Biddix (2018) is well recommended. As a matter of fact, one might do well to start here at Roper et al. (2018) to get on solid ground with one’s own perspective, views, assumptions and/or world view before critiquing others—sort of like getting one’s own house in order before critiquing others!
The Abstract as a Measure of Truth and Affirming Knowledge
For example, the abstract, it should be all of 150 – 250 words that speaks to purpose, method, sampling, findings, conclusions and recommendations. Here is the start of the very important process that undergirds and underpins truth and affirmation of knowledge; sets up both internal and external validity by telling one the research purpose whereby one can then follow if the research method is thus aligned with its design, scientific method, i.e., the gold standard using empirical and random methods for data collection and group participation. It is here that much of the story is told as to truth and the hunt for that truth begins in earnest. Where are the research methods, design(s), attributes, and methods for undergirding the truth and validity for which it proports? It is either there, or it is not. The critique’s job is to report these facts both methodically and systematically.
In truth, we have only scratched the surface here on the scientific method, however, it is hoped that the instruments of the scientific method, truth and affirmation of knowledge are no longer some great mystery, although not fully explored yet—its direction is clearly before us. Whether the researcher is a constructivist, postpositivist, or pragmatist is instructive as this will inform his or her research method, design and subsequent outcomes; inevitably possibly interjecting some form of bias, small or otherwise. For example, a view that all design should be quantitative could leave out avenues to better understanding a phenomenon using a qualitative design that underpins theories and concepts and also underpins the overall design choice of the quantitative design, i.e., a mixed design. So, perspective matters as does the process of critique as it points out such missed opportunities, the truth, affirmation of knowledge, and is itself a guardian of the scientific method.
Coughlan, M., Cronin, P., & Ryan, F. (2007). Step by step guide to critiquing research. Part 1: quantitative research. British Journal of Nursing, 16(11), 658-63.
Johnson, R. B., & Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2004). Mixed methods research: A research paradigm whose time has come. Educational Researcher, 33(7), 14-26.
Klopper, H. (2008). The qualitative research proposal. Curationis, 31(4), 62-72.
Roper, L. D., Renn, K. A., & Biddix, P. (2018). Research methods and applications for student affairs. Retrieved from O’Reilly Safari Books Online
Ryan, F., Coughlan, M., & Cronin, P. (2007). Step by step guide to critiquing research. art 2: Qualitative research. British Journal of Nursing, 16(12), 738-44.