Research – definition of research

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Research – definition of research

This article ‘Research – definition of research’ aims to provide the readers with comprehensive insights into several issues concerning research. Research is a process of discovering new knowledge to enrich the advancement of society. Companies from different industries spend billions of dollars on it every year. Szmigiera (2021) reports that the top three companies in the world in terms of research spending are Amazon, Alphabet, and Volkswagen.

Definition of research (What is research?)

‘Research is a systematic process of discovery and advancement of human knowledge’ (Gratton & Jones, 2009, p.4). According to Theodorson and Theodorson (1969) research refers to any honest attempt to study a problem systematically or to add to man’s knowledge of a problem.

According to Saunders et al. (2007) research is something that people undertake to find out things in a systematic way, thereby increasing their knowledge.

Characteristics of research

Based on the definitions above, there are several characteristics of research that researchers should acquaint themselves with as follows:

* Research is a systematic (stage by stage) process. An appropriate process must be followed in order to conduct a study.

* Research is usually conducted to study a problem.

* Researchers conduct an in-depth and critical analysis of all data that they have collected to ensure that there is no error in the interpretation.

* Research is based on observation or direct experience by the researchers.

* Research is objective, unbiased, and logical.

Saunders et al. (2007) state that there are three key characteristics of research as follows:

1. Data are collected systematically.

2. Data are interpreted systematically.

3. There is a clear purpose: to find things out.

Research problems

Research can be conducted based on any problem the researcher is interested in. For example, a company lost its market share in the last few years. The company losing its market share is a problem which a researcher may be interested in to investigate to find out the potential reasons. However, research must have some significance to generate interest for wider audience.

How to choose a research problem?

In colleges and universities, dissertation supervisors (research supervisors) guide and help student researchers choose a research problem. According to the University of Southern California (2021) supervisors may do so in three different ways as follows:

1. They may provide researchers with a general topic from which they need to identify and study a particular aspect.

2. They may provide a list of possible research topics and the researchers need to select a topic from that list.

3. They may simply leave it to the researchers to select a topic to carry out the study (with their approval though!)

Research topics

Research topics need to be interesting and relevant to the academic and professional fields of the researcher. How will the research benefit the society? How will it benefit the researcher academically and professionally? Is there a clear purpose? Answers to these questions should help the researchers identify a good research topic. The following is a list of some topics:

* An analysis of the impact of lockdowns on small businesses in California.

* An analysis of the impact of Brexit on small businesses in London.

* An investigation into the challenges of engaging students in online learning.

* Evaluating the impact of working from home.

* Exploring potential impacts of income inequality on anti-social behaviour in New York.

Why research?

There may be many reasons for research. For example, it can help the researcher investigate some existing situation or problem (Hussey and Hussey, 1997). Fundamentally, research is to provide solutions to a problem. The results of research may include but not limited to new knowledge, and better insights into a problem which is otherwise would not have been possible.

Types of research

Research has different types. For example, primary research, secondary research, exploratory research, descriptive research, explanatory research, predictive research, quantitative research and qualitative research. Discussion on all these types of research is beyond the scope of this article. Therefore, this article provides more information on primary and secondary research only.

Primary research

Primary research is also called field research. According to Gratton & Jones (2009) primary research refers to research that has involved the collection of original data specific to a particular research project, for example through using research methods such as questionnaires or interviews.

Secondary research

Secondary research is also called desk research. In this type of research, the researcher will not collect any primary data and will rely on existing sources of data. Marketing research reports, census, company websites, news reports, magazine articles are some of the sources of secondary data. Secondary research is usually carried out at home or library with the help of both the Internet and printed materials.

In a nutshell, research is very important and may sometimes be complex from both conceptual and practical perspectives. Therefore, a researcher must understand important research issues such as research process, research methods, research approach, and research design before embarking upon a research journey.

We hope the article ‘Research – definition of research’ has been helpful for you to explore the issues such as the definition of research, characteristics of research, and types of research. You may also like reading Qualitative vs quantitative research. Other relevant articles for you are:

Differences between deductive and inductive approaches to research

Advantages and disadvantages of convenience sampling

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Last update: 08 April 2021


Gratton, C. & Jones, I. (2009) Research Methods for Sports Studies, 2nd edition, London: Routledge

Saunders, M., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2007) Research Methods for Business Students, 4th edition, UK: Pearson Education Limited

Szmigiera, M. (2021) Ranking of the 20 companies with the highest spending on research and development in 2018, available at: (accessed 08 April 2021)

University of Southern California (2021) Organizing your social sciences research paper, available at: (accessed 08 April 2021)

Author: M Rahman

M Rahman writes extensively online with an emphasis on business management, marketing, and tourism. He is a lecturer in Management and Marketing. He holds an MSc in Tourism & Hospitality from the University of Sunderland. Also, graduated from Leeds Metropolitan University with a BA in Business & Management Studies and completed a DTLLS (Diploma in Teaching in the Life-Long Learning Sector) from London South Bank University.