Definitions of Research

Definitions of Research

Concept of Research

Research is a term you are probably familiar with. In other words, this is probably not your first time of hearing or coming across the term “research”. For instance, you are aware that those in the academic community (universities, polytechnics, monotechnics and colleges of education) regularly engage in one form of research or the other.

You are also probably aware that there are several research institutions in Nigeria like the National Institute of Social Economic Research (NISER) Ibadan, Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research, Lagos, and National Vertinary Research Institute, Jos, among many others that were established by the Federal Government to engage in various forms of research.

You may also be aware that in most multinational corporations, they have what is known as Research and Development (R&D) departments whose major responsibility is research and product development. Since you are aware of some, if not all of these facts, the question therefore arises: what is research?

Some students were asked the above question and some of the responses obtained include the following:

“Research is what we do when our lecturers give us assignments.”

“Research is part of what we do in our final year to earn our degrees.”

“Research is the thing we do when we want to find something out.”

While the above responses do indeed possess some utility as we shall later on explain, they are nevertheless over simplification of the concept of research. Accordingly, they cannot be accepted as valid definitions of research.

It is generally agreed scholars that the term “research” has its etymological derivation from the French word “recherché” which means “to investigate thoroughly” or “to go about seeking”. The term itself is derived from another old French word “recerchier” from the compound word “re” + “cerchier” which means to search really hard. In other words, it means to investigate thoroughly; to search for knowledge again and again.

In the English language, the word research is composed of two syllables; re and search. While re is a prefix meaning again, anew or over again, search is a verb which means to examine closely and carefully, to test and try, or to probe. Therefore, research means to search for knowledge again and again. Some synonyms for research are inquiry, investigation and study.

The quest for knowledge is probably an innate attribute of man. Having found himself in a complex world full of puzzles and problems it is only natural for man to seek for knowledge about the complex world in which he lives. Obviously, man needs knowledge about the world around him so that he can live a meaningful life on planet Earth. This is where research comes in


Definitions of research

In the broadest sense of the word, research includes any gathering of data, information and facts for the advancement of knowledge (Shuttleworth, 2008). Similarly, research in common parlance refers to a search for knowledge on the investigation of a particular topic using a variety of reliable, scholarly resources.

Some other people consider it as a movement from the known to the unknown; a voyage of discovery. Human beings possess the vital instinct of inquisitiveness for when the unknown confronts them, they wonder and their inquisitiveness makes them probe and attain full and better understanding of the unknown. This inquisitiveness is the mother of all knowledge and the method which man employs for obtaining the knowledge of whatever is the unknown, can be referred to as research.

The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary 7th Edition (2005) defines research as “a careful study of a subject, especially in order to discover new facts or information about it”. Although the discovery of new facts is the ultimate aims of most research endeavours, some are undertaken to prove whether the outcomes of a previous research are valid or not.


The Chambers Dictionary 11th Edition (2009) defines research as “careful search; investigation; systematic investigation towards increasing the sum of knowledge”.

Similarly, the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines research as “a studious inquiry or examination; investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws”.

Having examined some broad and dictionary definitions, we now turn to some more scholarly, technical or academic definitions of research. These definitions capture the essence of scientific research more than the previous ones.

According to Crosswell (2008) “research is a process of steps used to collect and analyze information to increase our understanding of a topic or issue.” The important thing about this definition is that if emphasizes the fact that scientific research is conducted in stages. In other words, it is a step-by-step process.

Shuttleworth (2008) asserts that, “the strict definition of scientific research is performing a methodological study in order to prove a hypothesis or answer a specific (research) question”. He further explains that finding a definitive answer to a problem is the central goal of most scientific research.

The Demilicious blog (2013) defines research as the scientific investigation of phenomena which includes collection, analysis, interpretation and presentation of facts that lines an individual’s speculation with reality. This definition is very useful in that if captures the essence of what is done in social science research.

To Kerlinger and Lee (2000:14), “scientific research is systematic, controlled and critical investigation of hypothetical propositions about the presumed relations among natural phenomenal”. Although, this is a very useful definition of research, it should be pointed out that much of the research conducted in the Humanities and Social Sciences have little or nothing to do with natural phenomena.

Osuala (2005:1) defines research as “the process of arriving at dependable solutions to problems through the planned and systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of data.” He further adds that research is oriented towards the discovery of the relationship that exist among the phenomena of the world in which we live.

Research can also be defined as a structured enquiry that utilized acceptable scientific methodology to solve problems and create new knowledge that is generally applicable.

Another acceptable definition of research is the systematic method consisting of enunciating the problem, formulating a hypothesis or research question, collecting the facts or data, analyzing the facts and reaching certain conclusions either in the form of solution(s) towards the concerned problem or in certain generalizations for some theoretical formulation.

Research can also be defined as an endeavour to discover answers to intellectual and practical problems through the application of scientific method.  With the above definitions, it is obvious that we have examined the concept of research from various perspectives and can make some comments, elaboration or explanations.

Research is an original contribution to the existing stock of knowledge making for its advancement. It is the search for knowledge through objective and systematic method of finding solution to a problem. It is also the systematic approach concerning generalization and the formulation of a theory.

Research is knowledge that can be explained or verified through some procedure. For one to engage in any research, the expected outcome of that research must be important otherwise there will be no need for the research. Consequently, all research activities start from problems that require solutions. This may sometime originate from an idea, a puzzle or simple the wish to explore our knowledge about simple issue, phenomena, situations or societies.

Most research endeavours started with problems which were puzzles. A puzzle is not just a lack of understanding but a gap in our understanding of a phenomenon, issue or situation. (Des Wilson, Esiri and Onwubere, 2008).

Research is devoted to finding conditions under which a certain phenomenon occurs and the conditions under which it does not occur in what might appear to be similar circumstances.

According to Ajala (1996:1), the research attitude presumes that the first look and every later look may be prone to error so we must look again and again differently and thoroughly each time.

Research also minimizes the role of chance in knowledge acquisition and scientific investigation. Research also allows for accumulation of knowledge and make improvement without discarding old but valid knowledge in favour of new facts.

Purpose of research

The major purpose of research is to discover answers to questions through the application of scientific procedures. Furthermore, the aim is to find out the truth which is hidden and which has not been discovered.

Though each research work has its own specific objective, Kotham (2009), states that research objectives fall into a number of the following broad groupings:

  1. To contribute to knowledge in a given discipline, issue, situation or provide practical solutions to problems.
  2. To gain familiarity with a phenomenon or to achieve new insights into it

iii. To portray accurately the characteristics of a particular individual, situation or a group

  1. To determine the frequency with which something occurs or which it is associated with something else
  2. To test a hypothesis of a casual relationship between variables

In addition to the above, Collis and Hussey (2003) add the following objectives of research:

  1. Review or synthesize existing situations or problems.
  2. Investigate existing situations or problems.

iii. Provide solutions to problems.

  1. Explore or analyze more general issues.
  2. Construct or create new procedures or systems.
  3. Explain new phenomenon.

vii. Generate new knowledge.


References/Further Reading


Ajala, O.V. (1996) Scholarly writing guide for researchers. Ibadan: MayBest publishers 15

Collis, J and Hussey, R. (2003) Business research: A practical guide for undergraduate and postgraduate students. (2nd edition) Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Crosswell, J.W. (2008) Educational research: Planning, conducting and evaluative quantitative and qualitative research (2nd edition) Upper-Saddle Rower N.J: Prentice Hall

Des Wilson, Esiri, M and Onwubere, C.H. (2008) JLS 714: Communication research. Lagos: National Open University of Nigeria

Kerlinger, F.N. and Lee, B.H. (2000) Foundations of behavioural research. New York: Harcourt College Publishers.

Osuala, E.C. (2005) Introduction to research methodology. Onitsha: Africana First Publishers

Onabajo, O (2011) Foundations of communication research Lagos: Sibon Books Ltd.

Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary 7th edition (2005) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Severin, W.J. and Tankard, J.W. (2001).Communication theories, origins, methods and uses in mass media (5th edition). New York: Longman

The Chambers Dictionary 11th edition (2009) Edinburgh: Chambers Harrup Publishers Ltd

Internet Sources

Domilicious Blog (2013) Meaning and characteristics of research. Accessed at on April 4, 2013

Helmenstine, A.M. (2013) Theory definition. Accessed at on April 3, 2013

Indiana State University (2013) Characteristics of research. Accessed at on April 2, 2013

Kotham, C.R. (2009) Research Methodology: methods and techniques. Accessed at on April 3, 2013.

Shuttleworth, M (2008) Definition of research. Accessed at http:.// on April 2, 2013

Merriam Webster Online Dictionary. Accessed at Research Methodology. Accessed at www.hmgwaliarpdfresearch on March 29, 2013

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