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What is the Significance of the Study?

DiscoverPhDs

  • By DiscoverPhDs
  • August 25, 2020

Significance of the Study

  • what the significance of the study means,
  • why it’s important to include in your research work,
  • where you would include it in your paper, thesis or dissertation,
  • how you write one
  • and finally an example of a well written section about the significance of the study.

What does Significance of the Study mean?

The significance of the study is a written statement that explains why your research was needed. It’s a justification of the importance of your work and impact it has on your research field, it’s contribution to new knowledge and how others will benefit from it.

Why is the Significance of the Study important?

The significance of the study, also known as the rationale of the study, is important to convey to the reader why the research work was important. This may be an academic reviewer assessing your manuscript under peer-review, an examiner reading your PhD thesis, a funder reading your grant application or another research group reading your published journal paper. Your academic writing should make clear to the reader what the significance of the research that you performed was, the contribution you made and the benefits of it.

How do you write the Significance of the Study?

When writing this section, first think about where the gaps in knowledge are in your research field. What are the areas that are poorly understood with little or no previously published literature? Or what topics have others previously published on that still require further work. This is often referred to as the problem statement.

The introduction section within the significance of the study should include you writing the problem statement and explaining to the reader where the gap in literature is.

Then think about the significance of your research and thesis study from two perspectives: (1) what is the general contribution of your research on your field and (2) what specific contribution have you made to the knowledge and who does this benefit the most.

For example, the gap in knowledge may be that the benefits of dumbbell exercises for patients recovering from a broken arm are not fully understood. You may have performed a study investigating the impact of dumbbell training in patients with fractures versus those that did not perform dumbbell exercises and shown there to be a benefit in their use. The broad significance of the study would be the improvement in the understanding of effective physiotherapy methods. Your specific contribution has been to show a significant improvement in the rate of recovery in patients with broken arms when performing certain dumbbell exercise routines.

This statement should be no more than 500 words in length when written for a thesis. Within a research paper, the statement should be shorter and around 200 words at most.

Significance of the Study: An example

Building on the above hypothetical academic study, the following is an example of a full statement of the significance of the study for you to consider when writing your own. Keep in mind though that there’s no single way of writing the perfect significance statement and it may well depend on the subject area and the study content.

Here’s another example to help demonstrate how a significance of the study can also be applied to non-technical fields:

The significance of this research lies in its potential to inform clinical practices and patient counseling. By understanding the psychological outcomes associated with non-surgical facial aesthetics, practitioners can better guide their patients in making informed decisions about their treatment plans. Additionally, this study contributes to the body of academic knowledge by providing empirical evidence on the effects of these cosmetic procedures, which have been largely anecdotal up to this point.

The statement of the significance of the study is used by students and researchers in academic writing to convey the importance of the research performed; this section is written at the end of the introduction and should describe the specific contribution made and who it benefits.

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How To Write Significance of the Study (With Examples) 

How To Write Significance of the Study (With Examples) 

Whether you’re writing a research paper or thesis, a portion called Significance of the Study ensures your readers understand the impact of your work. Learn how to effectively write this vital part of your research paper or thesis through our detailed steps, guidelines, and examples.

Related: How to Write a Concept Paper for Academic Research

Table of Contents

What is the significance of the study.

The Significance of the Study presents the importance of your research. It allows you to prove the study’s impact on your field of research, the new knowledge it contributes, and the people who will benefit from it.

Related: How To Write Scope and Delimitation of a Research Paper (With Examples)

Where Should I Put the Significance of the Study?

The Significance of the Study is part of the first chapter or the Introduction. It comes after the research’s rationale, problem statement, and hypothesis.

Related: How to Make Conceptual Framework (with Examples and Templates)

Why Should I Include the Significance of the Study?

The purpose of the Significance of the Study is to give you space to explain to your readers how exactly your research will be contributing to the literature of the field you are studying 1 . It’s where you explain why your research is worth conducting and its significance to the community, the people, and various institutions.

How To Write Significance of the Study: 5 Steps

Below are the steps and guidelines for writing your research’s Significance of the Study.

1. Use Your Research Problem as a Starting Point

Your problem statement can provide clues to your research study’s outcome and who will benefit from it 2 .

Ask yourself, “How will the answers to my research problem be beneficial?”. In this manner, you will know how valuable it is to conduct your study. 

Let’s say your research problem is “What is the level of effectiveness of the lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) in lowering the blood glucose level of Swiss mice (Mus musculus)?”

Discovering a positive correlation between the use of lemongrass and lower blood glucose level may lead to the following results:

  • Increased public understanding of the plant’s medical properties;
  • Higher appreciation of the importance of lemongrass  by the community;
  • Adoption of lemongrass tea as a cheap, readily available, and natural remedy to lower their blood glucose level.

Once you’ve zeroed in on the general benefits of your study, it’s time to break it down into specific beneficiaries.

2. State How Your Research Will Contribute to the Existing Literature in the Field

Think of the things that were not explored by previous studies. Then, write how your research tackles those unexplored areas. Through this, you can convince your readers that you are studying something new and adding value to the field.

3. Explain How Your Research Will Benefit Society

In this part, tell how your research will impact society. Think of how the results of your study will change something in your community. 

For example, in the study about using lemongrass tea to lower blood glucose levels, you may indicate that through your research, the community will realize the significance of lemongrass and other herbal plants. As a result, the community will be encouraged to promote the cultivation and use of medicinal plants.

4. Mention the Specific Persons or Institutions Who Will Benefit From Your Study

Using the same example above, you may indicate that this research’s results will benefit those seeking an alternative supplement to prevent high blood glucose levels.

5. Indicate How Your Study May Help Future Studies in the Field

You must also specifically indicate how your research will be part of the literature of your field and how it will benefit future researchers. In our example above, you may indicate that through the data and analysis your research will provide, future researchers may explore other capabilities of herbal plants in preventing different diseases.

Tips and Warnings

  • Think ahead . By visualizing your study in its complete form, it will be easier for you to connect the dots and identify the beneficiaries of your research.
  • Write concisely. Make it straightforward, clear, and easy to understand so that the readers will appreciate the benefits of your research. Avoid making it too long and wordy.
  • Go from general to specific . Like an inverted pyramid, you start from above by discussing the general contribution of your study and become more specific as you go along. For instance, if your research is about the effect of remote learning setup on the mental health of college students of a specific university , you may start by discussing the benefits of the research to society, to the educational institution, to the learning facilitators, and finally, to the students.
  • Seek help . For example, you may ask your research adviser for insights on how your research may contribute to the existing literature. If you ask the right questions, your research adviser can point you in the right direction.
  • Revise, revise, revise. Be ready to apply necessary changes to your research on the fly. Unexpected things require adaptability, whether it’s the respondents or variables involved in your study. There’s always room for improvement, so never assume your work is done until you have reached the finish line.

Significance of the Study Examples

This section presents examples of the Significance of the Study using the steps and guidelines presented above.

Example 1: STEM-Related Research

Research Topic: Level of Effectiveness of the Lemongrass ( Cymbopogon citratus ) Tea in Lowering the Blood Glucose Level of Swiss Mice ( Mus musculus ).

Significance of the Study .

This research will provide new insights into the medicinal benefit of lemongrass ( Cymbopogon citratus ), specifically on its hypoglycemic ability.

Through this research, the community will further realize promoting medicinal plants, especially lemongrass, as a preventive measure against various diseases. People and medical institutions may also consider lemongrass tea as an alternative supplement against hyperglycemia. 

Moreover, the analysis presented in this study will convey valuable information for future research exploring the medicinal benefits of lemongrass and other medicinal plants.  

Example 2: Business and Management-Related Research

Research Topic: A Comparative Analysis of Traditional and Social Media Marketing of Small Clothing Enterprises.

Significance of the Study:

By comparing the two marketing strategies presented by this research, there will be an expansion on the current understanding of the firms on these marketing strategies in terms of cost, acceptability, and sustainability. This study presents these marketing strategies for small clothing enterprises, giving them insights into which method is more appropriate and valuable for them. 

Specifically, this research will benefit start-up clothing enterprises in deciding which marketing strategy they should employ. Long-time clothing enterprises may also consider the result of this research to review their current marketing strategy.

Furthermore, a detailed presentation on the comparison of the marketing strategies involved in this research may serve as a tool for further studies to innovate the current method employed in the clothing Industry.

Example 3: Social Science -Related Research.

Research Topic:  Divide Et Impera : An Overview of How the Divide-and-Conquer Strategy Prevailed on Philippine Political History.

Significance of the Study :

Through the comprehensive exploration of this study on Philippine political history, the influence of the Divide et Impera, or political decentralization, on the political discernment across the history of the Philippines will be unraveled, emphasized, and scrutinized. Moreover, this research will elucidate how this principle prevailed until the current political theatre of the Philippines.

In this regard, this study will give awareness to society on how this principle might affect the current political context. Moreover, through the analysis made by this study, political entities and institutions will have a new approach to how to deal with this principle by learning about its influence in the past.

In addition, the overview presented in this research will push for new paradigms, which will be helpful for future discussion of the Divide et Impera principle and may lead to a more in-depth analysis.

Example 4: Humanities-Related Research

Research Topic: Effectiveness of Meditation on Reducing the Anxiety Levels of College Students.

Significance of the Study: 

This research will provide new perspectives in approaching anxiety issues of college students through meditation. 

Specifically, this research will benefit the following:

 Community – this study spreads awareness on recognizing anxiety as a mental health concern and how meditation can be a valuable approach to alleviating it.

Academic Institutions and Administrators – through this research, educational institutions and administrators may promote programs and advocacies regarding meditation to help students deal with their anxiety issues.

Mental health advocates – the result of this research will provide valuable information for the advocates to further their campaign on spreading awareness on dealing with various mental health issues, including anxiety, and how to stop stigmatizing those with mental health disorders.

Parents – this research may convince parents to consider programs involving meditation that may help the students deal with their anxiety issues.

Students will benefit directly from this research as its findings may encourage them to consider meditation to lower anxiety levels.

Future researchers – this study covers information involving meditation as an approach to reducing anxiety levels. Thus, the result of this study can be used for future discussions on the capabilities of meditation in alleviating other mental health concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. what is the difference between the significance of the study and the rationale of the study.

Both aim to justify the conduct of the research. However, the Significance of the Study focuses on the specific benefits of your research in the field, society, and various people and institutions. On the other hand, the Rationale of the Study gives context on why the researcher initiated the conduct of the study.

Let’s take the research about the Effectiveness of Meditation in Reducing Anxiety Levels of College Students as an example. Suppose you are writing about the Significance of the Study. In that case, you must explain how your research will help society, the academic institution, and students deal with anxiety issues through meditation. Meanwhile, for the Rationale of the Study, you may state that due to the prevalence of anxiety attacks among college students, you’ve decided to make it the focal point of your research work.

2. What is the difference between Justification and the Significance of the Study?

In Justification, you express the logical reasoning behind the conduct of the study. On the other hand, the Significance of the Study aims to present to your readers the specific benefits your research will contribute to the field you are studying, community, people, and institutions.

Suppose again that your research is about the Effectiveness of Meditation in Reducing the Anxiety Levels of College Students. Suppose you are writing the Significance of the Study. In that case, you may state that your research will provide new insights and evidence regarding meditation’s ability to reduce college students’ anxiety levels. Meanwhile, you may note in the Justification that studies are saying how people used meditation in dealing with their mental health concerns. You may also indicate how meditation is a feasible approach to managing anxiety using the analysis presented by previous literature.

3. How should I start my research’s Significance of the Study section?

– This research will contribute… – The findings of this research… – This study aims to… – This study will provide… – Through the analysis presented in this study… – This study will benefit…

Moreover, you may start the Significance of the Study by elaborating on the contribution of your research in the field you are studying.

4. What is the difference between the Purpose of the Study and the Significance of the Study?

The Purpose of the Study focuses on why your research was conducted, while the Significance of the Study tells how the results of your research will benefit anyone.

Suppose your research is about the Effectiveness of Lemongrass Tea in Lowering the Blood Glucose Level of Swiss Mice . You may include in your Significance of the Study that the research results will provide new information and analysis on the medical ability of lemongrass to solve hyperglycemia. Meanwhile, you may include in your Purpose of the Study that your research wants to provide a cheaper and natural way to lower blood glucose levels since commercial supplements are expensive.

5. What is the Significance of the Study in Tagalog?

In Filipino research, the Significance of the Study is referred to as Kahalagahan ng Pag-aaral.

  • Draft your Significance of the Study. Retrieved 18 April 2021, from http://dissertationedd.usc.edu/draft-your-significance-of-the-study.html
  • Regoniel, P. (2015). Two Tips on How to Write the Significance of the Study. Retrieved 18 April 2021, from https://simplyeducate.me/2015/02/09/significance-of-the-study/

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in Career and Education , Juander How

Last Updated May 6, 2023 10:29 AM

what is importance of the study in research

Jewel Kyle Fabula

Jewel Kyle Fabula is a Bachelor of Science in Economics student at the University of the Philippines Diliman. His passion for learning mathematics developed as he competed in some mathematics competitions during his Junior High School years. He loves cats, playing video games, and listening to music.

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What is the Significance of a Study? Examples and Guide

Significance of a study graphic, showing a female scientist reading a book

If you’re reading this post you’re probably wondering: what is the significance of a study?

No matter where you’re at with a piece of research, it is a good idea to think about the potential significance of your work. And sometimes you’ll have to explicitly write a statement of significance in your papers, it addition to it forming part of your thesis.

In this post I’ll cover what the significance of a study is, how to measure it, how to describe it with examples and add in some of my own experiences having now worked in research for over nine years.

If you’re reading this because you’re writing up your first paper, welcome! You may also like my how-to guide for all aspects of writing your first research paper .

Looking for guidance on writing the statement of significance for a paper or thesis? Click here to skip straight to that section.

What is the Significance of a Study?

For research papers, theses or dissertations it’s common to explicitly write a section describing the significance of the study. We’ll come onto what to include in that section in just a moment.

However the significance of a study can actually refer to several different things.

Graphic showing the broadening significance of a study going from your study, the wider research field, business opportunities through to society as a whole.

Working our way from the most technical to the broadest, depending on the context, the significance of a study may refer to:

  • Within your study: Statistical significance. Can we trust the findings?
  • Wider research field: Research significance. How does your study progress the field?
  • Commercial / economic significance: Could there be business opportunities for your findings?
  • Societal significance: What impact could your study have on the wider society.
  • And probably other domain-specific significance!

We’ll shortly cover each of them in turn, including how they’re measured and some examples for each type of study significance.

But first, let’s touch on why you should consider the significance of your research at an early stage.

Why Care About the Significance of a Study?

No matter what is motivating you to carry out your research, it is sensible to think about the potential significance of your work. In the broadest sense this asks, how does the study contribute to the world?

After all, for many people research is only worth doing if it will result in some expected significance. For the vast majority of us our studies won’t be significant enough to reach the evening news, but most studies will help to enhance knowledge in a particular field and when research has at least some significance it makes for a far more fulfilling longterm pursuit.

Furthermore, a lot of us are carrying out research funded by the public. It therefore makes sense to keep an eye on what benefits the work could bring to the wider community.

Often in research you’ll come to a crossroads where you must decide which path of research to pursue. Thinking about the potential benefits of a strand of research can be useful for deciding how to spend your time, money and resources.

It’s worth noting though, that not all research activities have to work towards obvious significance. This is especially true while you’re a PhD student, where you’re figuring out what you enjoy and may simply be looking for an opportunity to learn a new skill.

However, if you’re trying to decide between two potential projects, it can be useful to weigh up the potential significance of each.

Let’s now dive into the different types of significance, starting with research significance.

Research Significance

What is the research significance of a study.

Unless someone specifies which type of significance they’re referring to, it is fair to assume that they want to know about the research significance of your study.

Research significance describes how your work has contributed to the field, how it could inform future studies and progress research.

Where should I write about my study’s significance in my thesis?

Typically you should write about your study’s significance in the Introduction and Conclusions sections of your thesis.

It’s important to mention it in the Introduction so that the relevance of your work and the potential impact and benefits it could have on the field are immediately apparent. Explaining why your work matters will help to engage readers (and examiners!) early on.

It’s also a good idea to detail the study’s significance in your Conclusions section. This adds weight to your findings and helps explain what your study contributes to the field.

On occasion you may also choose to include a brief description in your Abstract.

What is expected when submitting an article to a journal

It is common for journals to request a statement of significance, although this can sometimes be called other things such as:

  • Impact statement
  • Significance statement
  • Advances in knowledge section

Here is one such example of what is expected:

Impact Statement:  An Impact Statement is required for all submissions.  Your impact statement will be evaluated by the Editor-in-Chief, Global Editors, and appropriate Associate Editor. For your manuscript to receive full review, the editors must be convinced that it is an important advance in for the field. The Impact Statement is not a restating of the abstract. It should address the following: Why is the work submitted important to the field? How does the work submitted advance the field? What new information does this work impart to the field? How does this new information impact the field? Experimental Biology and Medicine journal, author guidelines

Typically the impact statement will be shorter than the Abstract, around 150 words.

Defining the study’s significance is helpful not just for the impact statement (if the journal asks for one) but also for building a more compelling argument throughout your submission. For instance, usually you’ll start the Discussion section of a paper by highlighting the research significance of your work. You’ll also include a short description in your Abstract too.

How to describe the research significance of a study, with examples

Whether you’re writing a thesis or a journal article, the approach to writing about the significance of a study are broadly the same.

I’d therefore suggest using the questions above as a starting point to base your statements on.

  • Why is the work submitted important to the field?
  • How does the work submitted advance the field?
  • What new information does this work impart to the field?
  • How does this new information impact the field?

Answer those questions and you’ll have a much clearer idea of the research significance of your work.

When describing it, try to clearly state what is novel about your study’s contribution to the literature. Then go on to discuss what impact it could have on progressing the field along with recommendations for future work.

Potential sentence starters

If you’re not sure where to start, why not set a 10 minute timer and have a go at trying to finish a few of the following sentences. Not sure on what to put? Have a chat to your supervisor or lab mates and they may be able to suggest some ideas.

  • This study is important to the field because…
  • These findings advance the field by…
  • Our results highlight the importance of…
  • Our discoveries impact the field by…

Now you’ve had a go let’s have a look at some real life examples.

Statement of significance examples

A statement of significance / impact:

Impact Statement This review highlights the historical development of the concept of “ideal protein” that began in the 1950s and 1980s for poultry and swine diets, respectively, and the major conceptual deficiencies of the long-standing concept of “ideal protein” in animal nutrition based on recent advances in amino acid (AA) metabolism and functions. Nutritionists should move beyond the “ideal protein” concept to consider optimum ratios and amounts of all proteinogenic AAs in animal foods and, in the case of carnivores, also taurine. This will help formulate effective low-protein diets for livestock, poultry, and fish, while sustaining global animal production. Because they are not only species of agricultural importance, but also useful models to study the biology and diseases of humans as well as companion (e.g. dogs and cats), zoo, and extinct animals in the world, our work applies to a more general readership than the nutritionists and producers of farm animals. Wu G, Li P. The “ideal protein” concept is not ideal in animal nutrition.  Experimental Biology and Medicine . 2022;247(13):1191-1201. doi: 10.1177/15353702221082658

And the same type of section but this time called “Advances in knowledge”:

Advances in knowledge: According to the MY-RADs criteria, size measurements of focal lesions in MRI are now of relevance for response assessment in patients with monoclonal plasma cell disorders. Size changes of 1 or 2 mm are frequently observed due to uncertainty of the measurement only, while the actual focal lesion has not undergone any biological change. Size changes of at least 6 mm or more in  T 1  weighted or  T 2  weighted short tau inversion recovery sequences occur in only 5% or less of cases when the focal lesion has not undergone any biological change. Wennmann M, Grözinger M, Weru V, et al. Test-retest, inter- and intra-rater reproducibility of size measurements of focal bone marrow lesions in MRI in patients with multiple myeloma [published online ahead of print, 2023 Apr 12].  Br J Radiol . 2023;20220745. doi: 10.1259/bjr.20220745

Other examples of research significance

Moving beyond the formal statement of significance, here is how you can describe research significance more broadly within your paper.

Describing research impact in an Abstract of a paper:

Three-dimensional visualisation and quantification of the chondrocyte population within articular cartilage can be achieved across a field of view of several millimetres using laboratory-based micro-CT. The ability to map chondrocytes in 3D opens possibilities for research in fields from skeletal development through to medical device design and treatment of cartilage degeneration. Conclusions section of the abstract in my first paper .

In the Discussion section of a paper:

We report for the utility of a standard laboratory micro-CT scanner to visualise and quantify features of the chondrocyte population within intact articular cartilage in 3D. This study represents a complimentary addition to the growing body of evidence supporting the non-destructive imaging of the constituents of articular cartilage. This offers researchers the opportunity to image chondrocyte distributions in 3D without specialised synchrotron equipment, enabling investigations such as chondrocyte morphology across grades of cartilage damage, 3D strain mapping techniques such as digital volume correlation to evaluate mechanical properties  in situ , and models for 3D finite element analysis  in silico  simulations. This enables an objective quantification of chondrocyte distribution and morphology in three dimensions allowing greater insight for investigations into studies of cartilage development, degeneration and repair. One such application of our method, is as a means to provide a 3D pattern in the cartilage which, when combined with digital volume correlation, could determine 3D strain gradient measurements enabling potential treatment and repair of cartilage degeneration. Moreover, the method proposed here will allow evaluation of cartilage implanted with tissue engineered scaffolds designed to promote chondral repair, providing valuable insight into the induced regenerative process. The Discussion section of the paper is laced with references to research significance.

How is longer term research significance measured?

Looking beyond writing impact statements within papers, sometimes you’ll want to quantify the long term research significance of your work. For instance when applying for jobs.

The most obvious measure of a study’s long term research significance is the number of citations it receives from future publications. The thinking is that a study which receives more citations will have had more research impact, and therefore significance , than a study which received less citations. Citations can give a broad indication of how useful the work is to other researchers but citations aren’t really a good measure of significance.

Bear in mind that us researchers can be lazy folks and sometimes are simply looking to cite the first paper which backs up one of our claims. You can find studies which receive a lot of citations simply for packaging up the obvious in a form which can be easily found and referenced, for instance by having a catchy or optimised title.

Likewise, research activity varies wildly between fields. Therefore a certain study may have had a big impact on a particular field but receive a modest number of citations, simply because not many other researchers are working in the field.

Nevertheless, citations are a standard measure of significance and for better or worse it remains impressive for someone to be the first author of a publication receiving lots of citations.

Other measures for the research significance of a study include:

  • Accolades: best paper awards at conferences, thesis awards, “most downloaded” titles for articles, press coverage.
  • How much follow-on research the study creates. For instance, part of my PhD involved a novel material initially developed by another PhD student in the lab. That PhD student’s research had unlocked lots of potential new studies and now lots of people in the group were using the same material and developing it for different applications. The initial study may not receive a high number of citations yet long term it generated a lot of research activity.

That covers research significance, but you’ll often want to consider other types of significance for your study and we’ll cover those next.

Statistical Significance

What is the statistical significance of a study.

Often as part of a study you’ll carry out statistical tests and then state the statistical significance of your findings: think p-values eg <0.05. It is useful to describe the outcome of these tests within your report or paper, to give a measure of statistical significance.

Effectively you are trying to show whether the performance of your innovation is actually better than a control or baseline and not just chance. Statistical significance deserves a whole other post so I won’t go into a huge amount of depth here.

Things that make publication in  The BMJ  impossible or unlikely Internal validity/robustness of the study • It had insufficient statistical power, making interpretation difficult; • Lack of statistical power; The British Medical Journal’s guide for authors

Calculating statistical significance isn’t always necessary (or valid) for a study, such as if you have a very small number of samples, but it is a very common requirement for scientific articles.

Writing a journal article? Check the journal’s guide for authors to see what they expect. Generally if you have approximately five or more samples or replicates it makes sense to start thinking about statistical tests. Speak to your supervisor and lab mates for advice, and look at other published articles in your field.

How is statistical significance measured?

Statistical significance is quantified using p-values . Depending on your study design you’ll choose different statistical tests to compute the p-value.

A p-value of 0.05 is a common threshold value. The 0.05 means that there is a 1/20 chance that the difference in performance you’re reporting is just down to random chance.

  • p-values above 0.05 mean that the result isn’t statistically significant enough to be trusted: it is too likely that the effect you’re showing is just luck.
  • p-values less than or equal to 0.05 mean that the result is statistically significant. In other words: unlikely to just be chance, which is usually considered a good outcome.

Low p-values (eg p = 0.001) mean that it is highly unlikely to be random chance (1/1000 in the case of p = 0.001), therefore more statistically significant.

It is important to clarify that, although low p-values mean that your findings are statistically significant, it doesn’t automatically mean that the result is scientifically important. More on that in the next section on research significance.

How to describe the statistical significance of your study, with examples

In the first paper from my PhD I ran some statistical tests to see if different staining techniques (basically dyes) increased how well you could see cells in cow tissue using micro-CT scanning (a 3D imaging technique).

In your methods section you should mention the statistical tests you conducted and then in the results you will have statements such as:

Between mediums for the two scan protocols C/N [contrast to noise ratio] was greater for EtOH than the PBS in both scanning methods (both  p  < 0.0001) with mean differences of 1.243 (95% CI [confidence interval] 0.709 to 1.778) for absorption contrast and 6.231 (95% CI 5.772 to 6.690) for propagation contrast. … Two repeat propagation scans were taken of samples from the PTA-stained groups. No difference in mean C/N was found with either medium: PBS had a mean difference of 0.058 ( p  = 0.852, 95% CI -0.560 to 0.676), EtOH had a mean difference of 1.183 ( p  = 0.112, 95% CI 0.281 to 2.648). From the Results section of my first paper, available here . Square brackets added for this post to aid clarity.

From this text the reader can infer from the first paragraph that there was a statistically significant difference in using EtOH compared to PBS (really small p-value of <0.0001). However, from the second paragraph, the difference between two repeat scans was statistically insignificant for both PBS (p = 0.852) and EtOH (p = 0.112).

By conducting these statistical tests you have then earned your right to make bold statements, such as these from the discussion section:

Propagation phase-contrast increases the contrast of individual chondrocytes [cartilage cells] compared to using absorption contrast. From the Discussion section from the same paper.

Without statistical tests you have no evidence that your results are not just down to random chance.

Beyond describing the statistical significance of a study in the main body text of your work, you can also show it in your figures.

In figures such as bar charts you’ll often see asterisks to represent statistical significance, and “n.s.” to show differences between groups which are not statistically significant. Here is one such figure, with some subplots, from the same paper:

Figure from a paper showing the statistical significance of a study using asterisks

In this example an asterisk (*) between two bars represents p < 0.05. Two asterisks (**) represents p < 0.001 and three asterisks (***) represents p < 0.0001. This should always be stated in the caption of your figure since the values that each asterisk refers to can vary.

Now that we know if a study is showing statistically and research significance, let’s zoom out a little and consider the potential for commercial significance.

Commercial and Industrial Significance

What are commercial and industrial significance.

Moving beyond significance in relation to academia, your research may also have commercial or economic significance.

Simply put:

  • Commercial significance: could the research be commercialised as a product or service? Perhaps the underlying technology described in your study could be licensed to a company or you could even start your own business using it.
  • Industrial significance: more widely than just providing a product which could be sold, does your research provide insights which may affect a whole industry? Such as: revealing insights or issues with current practices, performance gains you don’t want to commercialise (e.g. solar power efficiency), providing suggested frameworks or improvements which could be employed industry-wide.

I’ve grouped these two together because there can certainly be overlap. For instance, perhaps your new technology could be commercialised whilst providing wider improvements for the whole industry.

Commercial and industrial significance are not relevant to most studies, so only write about it if you and your supervisor can think of reasonable routes to your work having an impact in these ways.

How are commercial and industrial significance measured?

Unlike statistical and research significances, the measures of commercial and industrial significance can be much more broad.

Here are some potential measures of significance:

Commercial significance:

  • How much value does your technology bring to potential customers or users?
  • How big is the potential market and how much revenue could the product potentially generate?
  • Is the intellectual property protectable? i.e. patentable, or if not could the novelty be protected with trade secrets: if so publish your method with caution!
  • If commercialised, could the product bring employment to a geographical area?

Industrial significance:

What impact could it have on the industry? For instance if you’re revealing an issue with something, such as unintended negative consequences of a drug , what does that mean for the industry and the public? This could be:

  • Reduced overhead costs
  • Better safety
  • Faster production methods
  • Improved scaleability

How to describe the commercial and industrial significance of a study, with examples

Commercial significance.

If your technology could be commercially viable, and you’ve got an interest in commercialising it yourself, it is likely that you and your university may not want to immediately publish the study in a journal.

You’ll probably want to consider routes to exploiting the technology and your university may have a “technology transfer” team to help researchers navigate the various options.

However, if instead of publishing a paper you’re submitting a thesis or dissertation then it can be useful to highlight the commercial significance of your work. In this instance you could include statements of commercial significance such as:

The measurement technology described in this study provides state of the art performance and could enable the development of low cost devices for aerospace applications. An example of commercial significance I invented for this post

Industrial significance

First, think about the industrial sectors who could benefit from the developments described in your study.

For example if you’re working to improve battery efficiency it is easy to think of how it could lead to performance gains for certain industries, like personal electronics or electric vehicles. In these instances you can describe the industrial significance relatively easily, based off your findings.

For example:

By utilising abundant materials in the described battery fabrication process we provide a framework for battery manufacturers to reduce dependence on rare earth components. Again, an invented example

For other technologies there may well be industrial applications but they are less immediately obvious and applicable. In these scenarios the best you can do is to simply reframe your research significance statement in terms of potential commercial applications in a broad way.

As a reminder: not all studies should address industrial significance, so don’t try to invent applications just for the sake of it!

Societal Significance

What is the societal significance of a study.

The most broad category of significance is the societal impact which could stem from it.

If you’re working in an applied field it may be quite easy to see a route for your research to impact society. For others, the route to societal significance may be less immediate or clear.

Studies can help with big issues facing society such as:

  • Medical applications : vaccines, surgical implants, drugs, improving patient safety. For instance this medical device and drug combination I worked on which has a very direct route to societal significance.
  • Political significance : Your research may provide insights which could contribute towards potential changes in policy or better understanding of issues facing society.
  • Public health : for instance COVID-19 transmission and related decisions.
  • Climate change : mitigation such as more efficient solar panels and lower cost battery solutions, and studying required adaptation efforts and technologies. Also, better understanding around related societal issues, for instance this study on the effects of temperature on hate speech.

How is societal significance measured?

Societal significance at a high level can be quantified by the size of its potential societal effect. Just like a lab risk assessment, you can think of it in terms of probability (or how many people it could help) and impact magnitude.

Societal impact = How many people it could help x the magnitude of the impact

Think about how widely applicable the findings are: for instance does it affect only certain people? Then think about the potential size of the impact: what kind of difference could it make to those people?

Between these two metrics you can get a pretty good overview of the potential societal significance of your research study.

How to describe the societal significance of a study, with examples

Quite often the broad societal significance of your study is what you’re setting the scene for in your Introduction. In addition to describing the existing literature, it is common to for the study’s motivation to touch on its wider impact for society.

For those of us working in healthcare research it is usually pretty easy to see a path towards societal significance.

Our CLOUT model has state-of-the-art performance in mortality prediction, surpassing other competitive NN models and a logistic regression model … Our results show that the risk factors identified by the CLOUT model agree with physicians’ assessment, suggesting that CLOUT could be used in real-world clinicalsettings. Our results strongly support that CLOUT may be a useful tool to generate clinical prediction models, especially among hospitalized and critically ill patient populations. Learning Latent Space Representations to Predict Patient Outcomes: Model Development and Validation

In other domains the societal significance may either take longer or be more indirect, meaning that it can be more difficult to describe the societal impact.

Even so, here are some examples I’ve found from studies in non-healthcare domains:

We examined food waste as an initial investigation and test of this methodology, and there is clear potential for the examination of not only other policy texts related to food waste (e.g., liability protection, tax incentives, etc.; Broad Leib et al., 2020) but related to sustainable fishing (Worm et al., 2006) and energy use (Hawken, 2017). These other areas are of obvious relevance to climate change… AI-Based Text Analysis for Evaluating Food Waste Policies
The continued development of state-of-the art NLP tools tailored to climate policy will allow climate researchers and policy makers to extract meaningful information from this growing body of text, to monitor trends over time and administrative units, and to identify potential policy improvements. BERT Classification of Paris Agreement Climate Action Plans

Top Tips For Identifying & Writing About the Significance of Your Study

  • Writing a thesis? Describe the significance of your study in the Introduction and the Conclusion .
  • Submitting a paper? Read the journal’s guidelines. If you’re writing a statement of significance for a journal, make sure you read any guidance they give for what they’re expecting.
  • Take a step back from your research and consider your study’s main contributions.
  • Read previously published studies in your field . Use this for inspiration and ideas on how to describe the significance of your own study
  • Discuss the study with your supervisor and potential co-authors or collaborators and brainstorm potential types of significance for it.

Now you’ve finished reading up on the significance of a study you may also like my how-to guide for all aspects of writing your first research paper .

Writing an academic journal paper

I hope that you’ve learned something useful from this article about the significance of a study. If you have any more research-related questions let me know, I’m here to help.

To gain access to my content library you can subscribe below for free:

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2.1 Why Is Research Important?

Learning objectives.

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain how scientific research addresses questions about behavior
  • Discuss how scientific research guides public policy
  • Appreciate how scientific research can be important in making personal decisions

Scientific research is a critical tool for successfully navigating our complex world. Without it, we would be forced to rely solely on intuition, other people’s authority, and blind luck. While many of us feel confident in our abilities to decipher and interact with the world around us, history is filled with examples of how very wrong we can be when we fail to recognize the need for evidence in supporting claims. At various times in history, we would have been certain that the sun revolved around a flat earth, that the earth’s continents did not move, and that mental illness was caused by possession ( Figure 2.2 ). It is through systematic scientific research that we divest ourselves of our preconceived notions and superstitions and gain an objective understanding of ourselves and our world.

The goal of all scientists is to better understand the world around them. Psychologists focus their attention on understanding behavior, as well as the cognitive (mental) and physiological (body) processes that underlie behavior. In contrast to other methods that people use to understand the behavior of others, such as intuition and personal experience, the hallmark of scientific research is that there is evidence to support a claim. Scientific knowledge is empirical : It is grounded in objective, tangible evidence that can be observed time and time again, regardless of who is observing.

While behavior is observable, the mind is not. If someone is crying, we can see behavior. However, the reason for the behavior is more difficult to determine. Is the person crying due to being sad, in pain, or happy? Sometimes we can learn the reason for someone’s behavior by simply asking a question, like “Why are you crying?” However, there are situations in which an individual is either uncomfortable or unwilling to answer the question honestly, or is incapable of answering. For example, infants would not be able to explain why they are crying. In such circumstances, the psychologist must be creative in finding ways to better understand behavior. This chapter explores how scientific knowledge is generated, and how important that knowledge is in forming decisions in our personal lives and in the public domain.

Use of Research Information

Trying to determine which theories are and are not accepted by the scientific community can be difficult, especially in an area of research as broad as psychology. More than ever before, we have an incredible amount of information at our fingertips, and a simple internet search on any given research topic might result in a number of contradictory studies. In these cases, we are witnessing the scientific community going through the process of reaching a consensus, and it could be quite some time before a consensus emerges. For example, the explosion in our use of technology has led researchers to question whether this ultimately helps or hinders us. The use and implementation of technology in educational settings has become widespread over the last few decades. Researchers are coming to different conclusions regarding the use of technology. To illustrate this point, a study investigating a smartphone app targeting surgery residents (graduate students in surgery training) found that the use of this app can increase student engagement and raise test scores (Shaw & Tan, 2015). Conversely, another study found that the use of technology in undergraduate student populations had negative impacts on sleep, communication, and time management skills (Massimini & Peterson, 2009). Until sufficient amounts of research have been conducted, there will be no clear consensus on the effects that technology has on a student's acquisition of knowledge, study skills, and mental health.

In the meantime, we should strive to think critically about the information we encounter by exercising a degree of healthy skepticism. When someone makes a claim, we should examine the claim from a number of different perspectives: what is the expertise of the person making the claim, what might they gain if the claim is valid, does the claim seem justified given the evidence, and what do other researchers think of the claim? This is especially important when we consider how much information in advertising campaigns and on the internet claims to be based on “scientific evidence” when in actuality it is a belief or perspective of just a few individuals trying to sell a product or draw attention to their perspectives.

We should be informed consumers of the information made available to us because decisions based on this information have significant consequences. One such consequence can be seen in politics and public policy. Imagine that you have been elected as the governor of your state. One of your responsibilities is to manage the state budget and determine how to best spend your constituents’ tax dollars. As the new governor, you need to decide whether to continue funding early intervention programs. These programs are designed to help children who come from low-income backgrounds, have special needs, or face other disadvantages. These programs may involve providing a wide variety of services to maximize the children's development and position them for optimal levels of success in school and later in life (Blann, 2005). While such programs sound appealing, you would want to be sure that they also proved effective before investing additional money in these programs. Fortunately, psychologists and other scientists have conducted vast amounts of research on such programs and, in general, the programs are found to be effective (Neil & Christensen, 2009; Peters-Scheffer, Didden, Korzilius, & Sturmey, 2011). While not all programs are equally effective, and the short-term effects of many such programs are more pronounced, there is reason to believe that many of these programs produce long-term benefits for participants (Barnett, 2011). If you are committed to being a good steward of taxpayer money, you would want to look at research. Which programs are most effective? What characteristics of these programs make them effective? Which programs promote the best outcomes? After examining the research, you would be best equipped to make decisions about which programs to fund.

Link to Learning

Watch this video about early childhood program effectiveness to learn how scientists evaluate effectiveness and how best to invest money into programs that are most effective.

Ultimately, it is not just politicians who can benefit from using research in guiding their decisions. We all might look to research from time to time when making decisions in our lives. Imagine that your sister, Maria, expresses concern about her two-year-old child, Umberto. Umberto does not speak as much or as clearly as the other children in his daycare or others in the family. Umberto's pediatrician undertakes some screening and recommends an evaluation by a speech pathologist, but does not refer Maria to any other specialists. Maria is concerned that Umberto's speech delays are signs of a developmental disorder, but Umberto's pediatrician does not; she sees indications of differences in Umberto's jaw and facial muscles. Hearing this, you do some internet searches, but you are overwhelmed by the breadth of information and the wide array of sources. You see blog posts, top-ten lists, advertisements from healthcare providers, and recommendations from several advocacy organizations. Why are there so many sites? Which are based in research, and which are not?

In the end, research is what makes the difference between facts and opinions. Facts are observable realities, and opinions are personal judgments, conclusions, or attitudes that may or may not be accurate. In the scientific community, facts can be established only using evidence collected through empirical research.

NOTABLE RESEARCHERS

Psychological research has a long history involving important figures from diverse backgrounds. While the introductory chapter discussed several researchers who made significant contributions to the discipline, there are many more individuals who deserve attention in considering how psychology has advanced as a science through their work ( Figure 2.3 ). For instance, Margaret Floy Washburn (1871–1939) was the first woman to earn a PhD in psychology. Her research focused on animal behavior and cognition (Margaret Floy Washburn, PhD, n.d.). Mary Whiton Calkins (1863–1930) was a preeminent first-generation American psychologist who opposed the behaviorist movement, conducted significant research into memory, and established one of the earliest experimental psychology labs in the United States (Mary Whiton Calkins, n.d.).

Francis Sumner (1895–1954) was the first African American to receive a PhD in psychology in 1920. His dissertation focused on issues related to psychoanalysis. Sumner also had research interests in racial bias and educational justice. Sumner was one of the founders of Howard University’s department of psychology, and because of his accomplishments, he is sometimes referred to as the “Father of Black Psychology.” Thirteen years later, Inez Beverly Prosser (1895–1934) became the first African American woman to receive a PhD in psychology. Prosser’s research highlighted issues related to education in segregated versus integrated schools, and ultimately, her work was very influential in the hallmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional (Ethnicity and Health in America Series: Featured Psychologists, n.d.).

Although the establishment of psychology’s scientific roots occurred first in Europe and the United States, it did not take much time until researchers from around the world began to establish their own laboratories and research programs. For example, some of the first experimental psychology laboratories in South America were founded by Horatio Piñero (1869–1919) at two institutions in Buenos Aires, Argentina (Godoy & Brussino, 2010). In India, Gunamudian David Boaz (1908–1965) and Narendra Nath Sen Gupta (1889–1944) established the first independent departments of psychology at the University of Madras and the University of Calcutta, respectively. These developments provided an opportunity for Indian researchers to make important contributions to the field (Gunamudian David Boaz, n.d.; Narendra Nath Sen Gupta, n.d.).

When the American Psychological Association (APA) was first founded in 1892, all of the members were White males (Women and Minorities in Psychology, n.d.). However, by 1905, Mary Whiton Calkins was elected as the first female president of the APA, and by 1946, nearly one-quarter of American psychologists were female. Psychology became a popular degree option for students enrolled in the nation’s historically Black higher education institutions, increasing the number of Black Americans who went on to become psychologists. Given demographic shifts occurring in the United States and increased access to higher educational opportunities among historically underrepresented populations, there is reason to hope that the diversity of the field will increasingly match the larger population, and that the research contributions made by the psychologists of the future will better serve people of all backgrounds (Women and Minorities in Psychology, n.d.).

The Process of Scientific Research

Scientific knowledge is advanced through a process known as the scientific method . Basically, ideas (in the form of theories and hypotheses) are tested against the real world (in the form of empirical observations), and those empirical observations lead to more ideas that are tested against the real world, and so on. In this sense, the scientific process is circular. The types of reasoning within the circle are called deductive and inductive. In deductive reasoning , ideas are tested in the real world; in inductive reasoning , real-world observations lead to new ideas ( Figure 2.4 ). These processes are inseparable, like inhaling and exhaling, but different research approaches place different emphasis on the deductive and inductive aspects.

In the scientific context, deductive reasoning begins with a generalization—one hypothesis—that is then used to reach logical conclusions about the real world. If the hypothesis is correct, then the logical conclusions reached through deductive reasoning should also be correct. A deductive reasoning argument might go something like this: All living things require energy to survive (this would be your hypothesis). Ducks are living things. Therefore, ducks require energy to survive (logical conclusion). In this example, the hypothesis is correct; therefore, the conclusion is correct as well. Sometimes, however, an incorrect hypothesis may lead to a logical but incorrect conclusion. Consider this argument: all ducks are born with the ability to see. Quackers is a duck. Therefore, Quackers was born with the ability to see. Scientists use deductive reasoning to empirically test their hypotheses. Returning to the example of the ducks, researchers might design a study to test the hypothesis that if all living things require energy to survive, then ducks will be found to require energy to survive.

Deductive reasoning starts with a generalization that is tested against real-world observations; however, inductive reasoning moves in the opposite direction. Inductive reasoning uses empirical observations to construct broad generalizations. Unlike deductive reasoning, conclusions drawn from inductive reasoning may or may not be correct, regardless of the observations on which they are based. For instance, you may notice that your favorite fruits—apples, bananas, and oranges—all grow on trees; therefore, you assume that all fruit must grow on trees. This would be an example of inductive reasoning, and, clearly, the existence of strawberries, blueberries, and kiwi demonstrate that this generalization is not correct despite it being based on a number of direct observations. Scientists use inductive reasoning to formulate theories, which in turn generate hypotheses that are tested with deductive reasoning. In the end, science involves both deductive and inductive processes.

For example, case studies, which you will read about in the next section, are heavily weighted on the side of empirical observations. Thus, case studies are closely associated with inductive processes as researchers gather massive amounts of observations and seek interesting patterns (new ideas) in the data. Experimental research, on the other hand, puts great emphasis on deductive reasoning.

We’ve stated that theories and hypotheses are ideas, but what sort of ideas are they, exactly? A theory is a well-developed set of ideas that propose an explanation for observed phenomena. Theories are repeatedly checked against the world, but they tend to be too complex to be tested all at once; instead, researchers create hypotheses to test specific aspects of a theory.

A hypothesis is a testable prediction about how the world will behave if our idea is correct, and it is often worded as an if-then statement (e.g., if I study all night, I will get a passing grade on the test). The hypothesis is extremely important because it bridges the gap between the realm of ideas and the real world. As specific hypotheses are tested, theories are modified and refined to reflect and incorporate the result of these tests Figure 2.5 .

To see how this process works, let’s consider a specific theory and a hypothesis that might be generated from that theory. As you’ll learn in a later chapter, the James-Lange theory of emotion asserts that emotional experience relies on the physiological arousal associated with the emotional state. If you walked out of your home and discovered a very aggressive snake waiting on your doorstep, your heart would begin to race and your stomach churn. According to the James-Lange theory, these physiological changes would result in your feeling of fear. A hypothesis that could be derived from this theory might be that a person who is unaware of the physiological arousal that the sight of the snake elicits will not feel fear.

A scientific hypothesis is also falsifiable , or capable of being shown to be incorrect. Recall from the introductory chapter that Sigmund Freud had lots of interesting ideas to explain various human behaviors ( Figure 2.6 ). However, a major criticism of Freud’s theories is that many of his ideas are not falsifiable; for example, it is impossible to imagine empirical observations that would disprove the existence of the id, the ego, and the superego—the three elements of personality described in Freud’s theories. Despite this, Freud’s theories are widely taught in introductory psychology texts because of their historical significance for personality psychology and psychotherapy, and these remain the root of all modern forms of therapy.

In contrast, the James-Lange theory does generate falsifiable hypotheses, such as the one described above. Some individuals who suffer significant injuries to their spinal columns are unable to feel the bodily changes that often accompany emotional experiences. Therefore, we could test the hypothesis by determining how emotional experiences differ between individuals who have the ability to detect these changes in their physiological arousal and those who do not. In fact, this research has been conducted and while the emotional experiences of people deprived of an awareness of their physiological arousal may be less intense, they still experience emotion (Chwalisz, Diener, & Gallagher, 1988).

Scientific research’s dependence on falsifiability allows for great confidence in the information that it produces. Typically, by the time information is accepted by the scientific community, it has been tested repeatedly.

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The significance of a study is its importance . It refers to the contribution(s) to and impact of the study on a research field. The significance also signals who benefits from the research findings and how.

Purpose of writing the significance of a study

A study’s significance should spark the interest of the reader. Researchers will be able to appreciate your work better when they understand the relevance and its (potential) impact. Peer reviewers also assess the significance of the work, which will influence the decision made (acceptance/rejection) on the manuscript. 

Sections in which the significance of the study is written

Introduction.

In the Introduction of your paper, the significance appears where you talk about the potential importance and impact of the study. It should flow naturally from the problem , aims and objectives, and rationale .

The significance is described in more detail in the concluding paragraph(s) of the Discussion or the dedicated Conclusions section. Here, you put the findings into perspective and outline the contributions of the findings in terms of implications and applications.

The significance may or may not appear in the abstract . When it does, it is written in the concluding lines of the abstract.

Significance vs. other introductory elements of your paper

In the Introduction…

  • The problem statement outlines the concern that needs to be addressed.
  • The research aim describes the purpose of the study.
  • The objectives indicate how that aim will be achieved.
  • The rationale explains why you are performing the study.
  • The significance tells the reader how the findings affect the topic/broad field. In other words, the significance is about how much the findings matter.

How to write the significance of the study

A good significance statement may be written in different ways. The approach to writing it also depends on the study area. In the arts and humanities , the significance statement might be longer and more descriptive. In applied sciences , it might be more direct.

a. Suggested sequence for writing the significance statement

  • Think of the gaps your study is setting out to address.
  • Look at your research from general and specific angles in terms of its (potential) contribution .
  • Once you have these points ready, start writing them, connecting them to your study as a whole.

b. Some ways to begin your statement(s) of significance

Here are some opening lines to build on:

  • The particular significance of this study lies in the… 
  • We argue that this study moves the field forward because…
  • This study makes some important contributions to…
  • Our findings deepen the current understanding about…

c. Don’ts of writing a significance statement

  • Don’t make it too long .
  • Don’t repeat any information that has been presented in other sections.
  • Don’t overstate or exaggerat e the importance; it should match your actual findings.

Example of significance of a study

Note the significance statements highlighted in the following fictional study.

Significance in the Introduction

The effects of Miyawaki forests on local biodiversity in urban housing complexes remain poorly understood. No formal studies on negative impacts on insect activity, populations or diversity have been undertaken thus far. In this study, we compared the effects that Miyawaki forests in urban dwellings have on local pollinator activity. The findings of this study will help improve the design of this afforestation technique in a way that balances local fauna, particularly pollinators, which are highly sensitive to microclimatic changes.

Significance in the Conclusion

[…] The findings provide valuable insights for guiding and informing Miyawaki afforestation in urban dwellings. We demonstrate that urban planning and landscaping policies need to consider potential declines.

A study’s significance usually appears at the end of the Introduction and in the Conclusion to describe the importance of the research findings. A strong and clear significance statement will pique the interest of readers, as well as that of relevant stakeholders.

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Doing Research: A New Researcher’s Guide pp 1–15 Cite as

What Is Research, and Why Do People Do It?

  • James Hiebert 6 ,
  • Jinfa Cai 7 ,
  • Stephen Hwang 7 ,
  • Anne K Morris 6 &
  • Charles Hohensee 6  
  • Open Access
  • First Online: 03 December 2022

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Part of the book series: Research in Mathematics Education ((RME))

Abstractspiepr Abs1

Every day people do research as they gather information to learn about something of interest. In the scientific world, however, research means something different than simply gathering information. Scientific research is characterized by its careful planning and observing, by its relentless efforts to understand and explain, and by its commitment to learn from everyone else seriously engaged in research. We call this kind of research scientific inquiry and define it as “formulating, testing, and revising hypotheses.” By “hypotheses” we do not mean the hypotheses you encounter in statistics courses. We mean predictions about what you expect to find and rationales for why you made these predictions. Throughout this and the remaining chapters we make clear that the process of scientific inquiry applies to all kinds of research studies and data, both qualitative and quantitative.

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Part I. What Is Research?

Have you ever studied something carefully because you wanted to know more about it? Maybe you wanted to know more about your grandmother’s life when she was younger so you asked her to tell you stories from her childhood, or maybe you wanted to know more about a fertilizer you were about to use in your garden so you read the ingredients on the package and looked them up online. According to the dictionary definition, you were doing research.

Recall your high school assignments asking you to “research” a topic. The assignment likely included consulting a variety of sources that discussed the topic, perhaps including some “original” sources. Often, the teacher referred to your product as a “research paper.”

Were you conducting research when you interviewed your grandmother or wrote high school papers reviewing a particular topic? Our view is that you were engaged in part of the research process, but only a small part. In this book, we reserve the word “research” for what it means in the scientific world, that is, for scientific research or, more pointedly, for scientific inquiry .

Exercise 1.1

Before you read any further, write a definition of what you think scientific inquiry is. Keep it short—Two to three sentences. You will periodically update this definition as you read this chapter and the remainder of the book.

This book is about scientific inquiry—what it is and how to do it. For starters, scientific inquiry is a process, a particular way of finding out about something that involves a number of phases. Each phase of the process constitutes one aspect of scientific inquiry. You are doing scientific inquiry as you engage in each phase, but you have not done scientific inquiry until you complete the full process. Each phase is necessary but not sufficient.

In this chapter, we set the stage by defining scientific inquiry—describing what it is and what it is not—and by discussing what it is good for and why people do it. The remaining chapters build directly on the ideas presented in this chapter.

A first thing to know is that scientific inquiry is not all or nothing. “Scientificness” is a continuum. Inquiries can be more scientific or less scientific. What makes an inquiry more scientific? You might be surprised there is no universally agreed upon answer to this question. None of the descriptors we know of are sufficient by themselves to define scientific inquiry. But all of them give you a way of thinking about some aspects of the process of scientific inquiry. Each one gives you different insights.

An image of the book's description with the words like research, science, and inquiry and what the word research meant in the scientific world.

Exercise 1.2

As you read about each descriptor below, think about what would make an inquiry more or less scientific. If you think a descriptor is important, use it to revise your definition of scientific inquiry.

Creating an Image of Scientific Inquiry

We will present three descriptors of scientific inquiry. Each provides a different perspective and emphasizes a different aspect of scientific inquiry. We will draw on all three descriptors to compose our definition of scientific inquiry.

Descriptor 1. Experience Carefully Planned in Advance

Sir Ronald Fisher, often called the father of modern statistical design, once referred to research as “experience carefully planned in advance” (1935, p. 8). He said that humans are always learning from experience, from interacting with the world around them. Usually, this learning is haphazard rather than the result of a deliberate process carried out over an extended period of time. Research, Fisher said, was learning from experience, but experience carefully planned in advance.

This phrase can be fully appreciated by looking at each word. The fact that scientific inquiry is based on experience means that it is based on interacting with the world. These interactions could be thought of as the stuff of scientific inquiry. In addition, it is not just any experience that counts. The experience must be carefully planned . The interactions with the world must be conducted with an explicit, describable purpose, and steps must be taken to make the intended learning as likely as possible. This planning is an integral part of scientific inquiry; it is not just a preparation phase. It is one of the things that distinguishes scientific inquiry from many everyday learning experiences. Finally, these steps must be taken beforehand and the purpose of the inquiry must be articulated in advance of the experience. Clearly, scientific inquiry does not happen by accident, by just stumbling into something. Stumbling into something unexpected and interesting can happen while engaged in scientific inquiry, but learning does not depend on it and serendipity does not make the inquiry scientific.

Descriptor 2. Observing Something and Trying to Explain Why It Is the Way It Is

When we were writing this chapter and googled “scientific inquiry,” the first entry was: “Scientific inquiry refers to the diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world and propose explanations based on the evidence derived from their work.” The emphasis is on studying, or observing, and then explaining . This descriptor takes the image of scientific inquiry beyond carefully planned experience and includes explaining what was experienced.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “explain” means “(a) to make known, (b) to make plain or understandable, (c) to give the reason or cause of, and (d) to show the logical development or relations of” (Merriam-Webster, n.d. ). We will use all these definitions. Taken together, they suggest that to explain an observation means to understand it by finding reasons (or causes) for why it is as it is. In this sense of scientific inquiry, the following are synonyms: explaining why, understanding why, and reasoning about causes and effects. Our image of scientific inquiry now includes planning, observing, and explaining why.

An image represents the observation required in the scientific inquiry including planning and explaining.

We need to add a final note about this descriptor. We have phrased it in a way that suggests “observing something” means you are observing something in real time—observing the way things are or the way things are changing. This is often true. But, observing could mean observing data that already have been collected, maybe by someone else making the original observations (e.g., secondary analysis of NAEP data or analysis of existing video recordings of classroom instruction). We will address secondary analyses more fully in Chap. 4 . For now, what is important is that the process requires explaining why the data look like they do.

We must note that for us, the term “data” is not limited to numerical or quantitative data such as test scores. Data can also take many nonquantitative forms, including written survey responses, interview transcripts, journal entries, video recordings of students, teachers, and classrooms, text messages, and so forth.

An image represents the data explanation as it is not limited and takes numerous non-quantitative forms including an interview, journal entries, etc.

Exercise 1.3

What are the implications of the statement that just “observing” is not enough to count as scientific inquiry? Does this mean that a detailed description of a phenomenon is not scientific inquiry?

Find sources that define research in education that differ with our position, that say description alone, without explanation, counts as scientific research. Identify the precise points where the opinions differ. What are the best arguments for each of the positions? Which do you prefer? Why?

Descriptor 3. Updating Everyone’s Thinking in Response to More and Better Information

This descriptor focuses on a third aspect of scientific inquiry: updating and advancing the field’s understanding of phenomena that are investigated. This descriptor foregrounds a powerful characteristic of scientific inquiry: the reliability (or trustworthiness) of what is learned and the ultimate inevitability of this learning to advance human understanding of phenomena. Humans might choose not to learn from scientific inquiry, but history suggests that scientific inquiry always has the potential to advance understanding and that, eventually, humans take advantage of these new understandings.

Before exploring these bold claims a bit further, note that this descriptor uses “information” in the same way the previous two descriptors used “experience” and “observations.” These are the stuff of scientific inquiry and we will use them often, sometimes interchangeably. Frequently, we will use the term “data” to stand for all these terms.

An overriding goal of scientific inquiry is for everyone to learn from what one scientist does. Much of this book is about the methods you need to use so others have faith in what you report and can learn the same things you learned. This aspect of scientific inquiry has many implications.

One implication is that scientific inquiry is not a private practice. It is a public practice available for others to see and learn from. Notice how different this is from everyday learning. When you happen to learn something from your everyday experience, often only you gain from the experience. The fact that research is a public practice means it is also a social one. It is best conducted by interacting with others along the way: soliciting feedback at each phase, taking opportunities to present work-in-progress, and benefitting from the advice of others.

A second implication is that you, as the researcher, must be committed to sharing what you are doing and what you are learning in an open and transparent way. This allows all phases of your work to be scrutinized and critiqued. This is what gives your work credibility. The reliability or trustworthiness of your findings depends on your colleagues recognizing that you have used all appropriate methods to maximize the chances that your claims are justified by the data.

A third implication of viewing scientific inquiry as a collective enterprise is the reverse of the second—you must be committed to receiving comments from others. You must treat your colleagues as fair and honest critics even though it might sometimes feel otherwise. You must appreciate their job, which is to remain skeptical while scrutinizing what you have done in considerable detail. To provide the best help to you, they must remain skeptical about your conclusions (when, for example, the data are difficult for them to interpret) until you offer a convincing logical argument based on the information you share. A rather harsh but good-to-remember statement of the role of your friendly critics was voiced by Karl Popper, a well-known twentieth century philosopher of science: “. . . if you are interested in the problem which I tried to solve by my tentative assertion, you may help me by criticizing it as severely as you can” (Popper, 1968, p. 27).

A final implication of this third descriptor is that, as someone engaged in scientific inquiry, you have no choice but to update your thinking when the data support a different conclusion. This applies to your own data as well as to those of others. When data clearly point to a specific claim, even one that is quite different than you expected, you must reconsider your position. If the outcome is replicated multiple times, you need to adjust your thinking accordingly. Scientific inquiry does not let you pick and choose which data to believe; it mandates that everyone update their thinking when the data warrant an update.

Doing Scientific Inquiry

We define scientific inquiry in an operational sense—what does it mean to do scientific inquiry? What kind of process would satisfy all three descriptors: carefully planning an experience in advance; observing and trying to explain what you see; and, contributing to updating everyone’s thinking about an important phenomenon?

We define scientific inquiry as formulating , testing , and revising hypotheses about phenomena of interest.

Of course, we are not the only ones who define it in this way. The definition for the scientific method posted by the editors of Britannica is: “a researcher develops a hypothesis, tests it through various means, and then modifies the hypothesis on the basis of the outcome of the tests and experiments” (Britannica, n.d. ).

An image represents the scientific inquiry definition given by the editors of Britannica and also defines the hypothesis on the basis of the experiments.

Notice how defining scientific inquiry this way satisfies each of the descriptors. “Carefully planning an experience in advance” is exactly what happens when formulating a hypothesis about a phenomenon of interest and thinking about how to test it. “ Observing a phenomenon” occurs when testing a hypothesis, and “ explaining ” what is found is required when revising a hypothesis based on the data. Finally, “updating everyone’s thinking” comes from comparing publicly the original with the revised hypothesis.

Doing scientific inquiry, as we have defined it, underscores the value of accumulating knowledge rather than generating random bits of knowledge. Formulating, testing, and revising hypotheses is an ongoing process, with each revised hypothesis begging for another test, whether by the same researcher or by new researchers. The editors of Britannica signaled this cyclic process by adding the following phrase to their definition of the scientific method: “The modified hypothesis is then retested, further modified, and tested again.” Scientific inquiry creates a process that encourages each study to build on the studies that have gone before. Through collective engagement in this process of building study on top of study, the scientific community works together to update its thinking.

Before exploring more fully the meaning of “formulating, testing, and revising hypotheses,” we need to acknowledge that this is not the only way researchers define research. Some researchers prefer a less formal definition, one that includes more serendipity, less planning, less explanation. You might have come across more open definitions such as “research is finding out about something.” We prefer the tighter hypothesis formulation, testing, and revision definition because we believe it provides a single, coherent map for conducting research that addresses many of the thorny problems educational researchers encounter. We believe it is the most useful orientation toward research and the most helpful to learn as a beginning researcher.

A final clarification of our definition is that it applies equally to qualitative and quantitative research. This is a familiar distinction in education that has generated much discussion. You might think our definition favors quantitative methods over qualitative methods because the language of hypothesis formulation and testing is often associated with quantitative methods. In fact, we do not favor one method over another. In Chap. 4 , we will illustrate how our definition fits research using a range of quantitative and qualitative methods.

Exercise 1.4

Look for ways to extend what the field knows in an area that has already received attention by other researchers. Specifically, you can search for a program of research carried out by more experienced researchers that has some revised hypotheses that remain untested. Identify a revised hypothesis that you might like to test.

Unpacking the Terms Formulating, Testing, and Revising Hypotheses

To get a full sense of the definition of scientific inquiry we will use throughout this book, it is helpful to spend a little time with each of the key terms.

We first want to make clear that we use the term “hypothesis” as it is defined in most dictionaries and as it used in many scientific fields rather than as it is usually defined in educational statistics courses. By “hypothesis,” we do not mean a null hypothesis that is accepted or rejected by statistical analysis. Rather, we use “hypothesis” in the sense conveyed by the following definitions: “An idea or explanation for something that is based on known facts but has not yet been proved” (Cambridge University Press, n.d. ), and “An unproved theory, proposition, or supposition, tentatively accepted to explain certain facts and to provide a basis for further investigation or argument” (Agnes & Guralnik, 2008 ).

We distinguish two parts to “hypotheses.” Hypotheses consist of predictions and rationales . Predictions are statements about what you expect to find when you inquire about something. Rationales are explanations for why you made the predictions you did, why you believe your predictions are correct. So, for us “formulating hypotheses” means making explicit predictions and developing rationales for the predictions.

“Testing hypotheses” means making observations that allow you to assess in what ways your predictions were correct and in what ways they were incorrect. In education research, it is rarely useful to think of your predictions as either right or wrong. Because of the complexity of most issues you will investigate, most predictions will be right in some ways and wrong in others.

By studying the observations you make (data you collect) to test your hypotheses, you can revise your hypotheses to better align with the observations. This means revising your predictions plus revising your rationales to justify your adjusted predictions. Even though you might not run another test, formulating revised hypotheses is an essential part of conducting a research study. Comparing your original and revised hypotheses informs everyone of what you learned by conducting your study. In addition, a revised hypothesis sets the stage for you or someone else to extend your study and accumulate more knowledge of the phenomenon.

We should note that not everyone makes a clear distinction between predictions and rationales as two aspects of hypotheses. In fact, common, non-scientific uses of the word “hypothesis” may limit it to only a prediction or only an explanation (or rationale). We choose to explicitly include both prediction and rationale in our definition of hypothesis, not because we assert this should be the universal definition, but because we want to foreground the importance of both parts acting in concert. Using “hypothesis” to represent both prediction and rationale could hide the two aspects, but we make them explicit because they provide different kinds of information. It is usually easier to make predictions than develop rationales because predictions can be guesses, hunches, or gut feelings about which you have little confidence. Developing a compelling rationale requires careful thought plus reading what other researchers have found plus talking with your colleagues. Often, while you are developing your rationale you will find good reasons to change your predictions. Developing good rationales is the engine that drives scientific inquiry. Rationales are essentially descriptions of how much you know about the phenomenon you are studying. Throughout this guide, we will elaborate on how developing good rationales drives scientific inquiry. For now, we simply note that it can sharpen your predictions and help you to interpret your data as you test your hypotheses.

An image represents the rationale and the prediction for the scientific inquiry and different types of information provided by the terms.

Hypotheses in education research take a variety of forms or types. This is because there are a variety of phenomena that can be investigated. Investigating educational phenomena is sometimes best done using qualitative methods, sometimes using quantitative methods, and most often using mixed methods (e.g., Hay, 2016 ; Weis et al. 2019a ; Weisner, 2005 ). This means that, given our definition, hypotheses are equally applicable to qualitative and quantitative investigations.

Hypotheses take different forms when they are used to investigate different kinds of phenomena. Two very different activities in education could be labeled conducting experiments and descriptions. In an experiment, a hypothesis makes a prediction about anticipated changes, say the changes that occur when a treatment or intervention is applied. You might investigate how students’ thinking changes during a particular kind of instruction.

A second type of hypothesis, relevant for descriptive research, makes a prediction about what you will find when you investigate and describe the nature of a situation. The goal is to understand a situation as it exists rather than to understand a change from one situation to another. In this case, your prediction is what you expect to observe. Your rationale is the set of reasons for making this prediction; it is your current explanation for why the situation will look like it does.

You will probably read, if you have not already, that some researchers say you do not need a prediction to conduct a descriptive study. We will discuss this point of view in Chap. 2 . For now, we simply claim that scientific inquiry, as we have defined it, applies to all kinds of research studies. Descriptive studies, like others, not only benefit from formulating, testing, and revising hypotheses, but also need hypothesis formulating, testing, and revising.

One reason we define research as formulating, testing, and revising hypotheses is that if you think of research in this way you are less likely to go wrong. It is a useful guide for the entire process, as we will describe in detail in the chapters ahead. For example, as you build the rationale for your predictions, you are constructing the theoretical framework for your study (Chap. 3 ). As you work out the methods you will use to test your hypothesis, every decision you make will be based on asking, “Will this help me formulate or test or revise my hypothesis?” (Chap. 4 ). As you interpret the results of testing your predictions, you will compare them to what you predicted and examine the differences, focusing on how you must revise your hypotheses (Chap. 5 ). By anchoring the process to formulating, testing, and revising hypotheses, you will make smart decisions that yield a coherent and well-designed study.

Exercise 1.5

Compare the concept of formulating, testing, and revising hypotheses with the descriptions of scientific inquiry contained in Scientific Research in Education (NRC, 2002 ). How are they similar or different?

Exercise 1.6

Provide an example to illustrate and emphasize the differences between everyday learning/thinking and scientific inquiry.

Learning from Doing Scientific Inquiry

We noted earlier that a measure of what you have learned by conducting a research study is found in the differences between your original hypothesis and your revised hypothesis based on the data you collected to test your hypothesis. We will elaborate this statement in later chapters, but we preview our argument here.

Even before collecting data, scientific inquiry requires cycles of making a prediction, developing a rationale, refining your predictions, reading and studying more to strengthen your rationale, refining your predictions again, and so forth. And, even if you have run through several such cycles, you still will likely find that when you test your prediction you will be partly right and partly wrong. The results will support some parts of your predictions but not others, or the results will “kind of” support your predictions. A critical part of scientific inquiry is making sense of your results by interpreting them against your predictions. Carefully describing what aspects of your data supported your predictions, what aspects did not, and what data fell outside of any predictions is not an easy task, but you cannot learn from your study without doing this analysis.

An image represents the cycle of events that take place before making predictions, developing the rationale, and studying the prediction and rationale multiple times.

Analyzing the matches and mismatches between your predictions and your data allows you to formulate different rationales that would have accounted for more of the data. The best revised rationale is the one that accounts for the most data. Once you have revised your rationales, you can think about the predictions they best justify or explain. It is by comparing your original rationales to your new rationales that you can sort out what you learned from your study.

Suppose your study was an experiment. Maybe you were investigating the effects of a new instructional intervention on students’ learning. Your original rationale was your explanation for why the intervention would change the learning outcomes in a particular way. Your revised rationale explained why the changes that you observed occurred like they did and why your revised predictions are better. Maybe your original rationale focused on the potential of the activities if they were implemented in ideal ways and your revised rationale included the factors that are likely to affect how teachers implement them. By comparing the before and after rationales, you are describing what you learned—what you can explain now that you could not before. Another way of saying this is that you are describing how much more you understand now than before you conducted your study.

Revised predictions based on carefully planned and collected data usually exhibit some of the following features compared with the originals: more precision, more completeness, and broader scope. Revised rationales have more explanatory power and become more complete, more aligned with the new predictions, sharper, and overall more convincing.

Part II. Why Do Educators Do Research?

Doing scientific inquiry is a lot of work. Each phase of the process takes time, and you will often cycle back to improve earlier phases as you engage in later phases. Because of the significant effort required, you should make sure your study is worth it. So, from the beginning, you should think about the purpose of your study. Why do you want to do it? And, because research is a social practice, you should also think about whether the results of your study are likely to be important and significant to the education community.

If you are doing research in the way we have described—as scientific inquiry—then one purpose of your study is to understand , not just to describe or evaluate or report. As we noted earlier, when you formulate hypotheses, you are developing rationales that explain why things might be like they are. In our view, trying to understand and explain is what separates research from other kinds of activities, like evaluating or describing.

One reason understanding is so important is that it allows researchers to see how or why something works like it does. When you see how something works, you are better able to predict how it might work in other contexts, under other conditions. And, because conditions, or contextual factors, matter a lot in education, gaining insights into applying your findings to other contexts increases the contributions of your work and its importance to the broader education community.

Consequently, the purposes of research studies in education often include the more specific aim of identifying and understanding the conditions under which the phenomena being studied work like the observations suggest. A classic example of this kind of study in mathematics education was reported by William Brownell and Harold Moser in 1949 . They were trying to establish which method of subtracting whole numbers could be taught most effectively—the regrouping method or the equal additions method. However, they realized that effectiveness might depend on the conditions under which the methods were taught—“meaningfully” versus “mechanically.” So, they designed a study that crossed the two instructional approaches with the two different methods (regrouping and equal additions). Among other results, they found that these conditions did matter. The regrouping method was more effective under the meaningful condition than the mechanical condition, but the same was not true for the equal additions algorithm.

What do education researchers want to understand? In our view, the ultimate goal of education is to offer all students the best possible learning opportunities. So, we believe the ultimate purpose of scientific inquiry in education is to develop understanding that supports the improvement of learning opportunities for all students. We say “ultimate” because there are lots of issues that must be understood to improve learning opportunities for all students. Hypotheses about many aspects of education are connected, ultimately, to students’ learning. For example, formulating and testing a hypothesis that preservice teachers need to engage in particular kinds of activities in their coursework in order to teach particular topics well is, ultimately, connected to improving students’ learning opportunities. So is hypothesizing that school districts often devote relatively few resources to instructional leadership training or hypothesizing that positioning mathematics as a tool students can use to combat social injustice can help students see the relevance of mathematics to their lives.

We do not exclude the importance of research on educational issues more removed from improving students’ learning opportunities, but we do think the argument for their importance will be more difficult to make. If there is no way to imagine a connection between your hypothesis and improving learning opportunities for students, even a distant connection, we recommend you reconsider whether it is an important hypothesis within the education community.

Notice that we said the ultimate goal of education is to offer all students the best possible learning opportunities. For too long, educators have been satisfied with a goal of offering rich learning opportunities for lots of students, sometimes even for just the majority of students, but not necessarily for all students. Evaluations of success often are based on outcomes that show high averages. In other words, if many students have learned something, or even a smaller number have learned a lot, educators may have been satisfied. The problem is that there is usually a pattern in the groups of students who receive lower quality opportunities—students of color and students who live in poor areas, urban and rural. This is not acceptable. Consequently, we emphasize the premise that the purpose of education research is to offer rich learning opportunities to all students.

One way to make sure you will be able to convince others of the importance of your study is to consider investigating some aspect of teachers’ shared instructional problems. Historically, researchers in education have set their own research agendas, regardless of the problems teachers are facing in schools. It is increasingly recognized that teachers have had trouble applying to their own classrooms what researchers find. To address this problem, a researcher could partner with a teacher—better yet, a small group of teachers—and talk with them about instructional problems they all share. These discussions can create a rich pool of problems researchers can consider. If researchers pursued one of these problems (preferably alongside teachers), the connection to improving learning opportunities for all students could be direct and immediate. “Grounding a research question in instructional problems that are experienced across multiple teachers’ classrooms helps to ensure that the answer to the question will be of sufficient scope to be relevant and significant beyond the local context” (Cai et al., 2019b , p. 115).

As a beginning researcher, determining the relevance and importance of a research problem is especially challenging. We recommend talking with advisors, other experienced researchers, and peers to test the educational importance of possible research problems and topics of study. You will also learn much more about the issue of research importance when you read Chap. 5 .

Exercise 1.7

Identify a problem in education that is closely connected to improving learning opportunities and a problem that has a less close connection. For each problem, write a brief argument (like a logical sequence of if-then statements) that connects the problem to all students’ learning opportunities.

Part III. Conducting Research as a Practice of Failing Productively

Scientific inquiry involves formulating hypotheses about phenomena that are not fully understood—by you or anyone else. Even if you are able to inform your hypotheses with lots of knowledge that has already been accumulated, you are likely to find that your prediction is not entirely accurate. This is normal. Remember, scientific inquiry is a process of constantly updating your thinking. More and better information means revising your thinking, again, and again, and again. Because you never fully understand a complicated phenomenon and your hypotheses never produce completely accurate predictions, it is easy to believe you are somehow failing.

The trick is to fail upward, to fail to predict accurately in ways that inform your next hypothesis so you can make a better prediction. Some of the best-known researchers in education have been open and honest about the many times their predictions were wrong and, based on the results of their studies and those of others, they continuously updated their thinking and changed their hypotheses.

A striking example of publicly revising (actually reversing) hypotheses due to incorrect predictions is found in the work of Lee J. Cronbach, one of the most distinguished educational psychologists of the twentieth century. In 1955, Cronbach delivered his presidential address to the American Psychological Association. Titling it “Two Disciplines of Scientific Psychology,” Cronbach proposed a rapprochement between two research approaches—correlational studies that focused on individual differences and experimental studies that focused on instructional treatments controlling for individual differences. (We will examine different research approaches in Chap. 4 ). If these approaches could be brought together, reasoned Cronbach ( 1957 ), researchers could find interactions between individual characteristics and treatments (aptitude-treatment interactions or ATIs), fitting the best treatments to different individuals.

In 1975, after years of research by many researchers looking for ATIs, Cronbach acknowledged the evidence for simple, useful ATIs had not been found. Even when trying to find interactions between a few variables that could provide instructional guidance, the analysis, said Cronbach, creates “a hall of mirrors that extends to infinity, tormenting even the boldest investigators and defeating even ambitious designs” (Cronbach, 1975 , p. 119).

As he was reflecting back on his work, Cronbach ( 1986 ) recommended moving away from documenting instructional effects through statistical inference (an approach he had championed for much of his career) and toward approaches that probe the reasons for these effects, approaches that provide a “full account of events in a time, place, and context” (Cronbach, 1986 , p. 104). This is a remarkable change in hypotheses, a change based on data and made fully transparent. Cronbach understood the value of failing productively.

Closer to home, in a less dramatic example, one of us began a line of scientific inquiry into how to prepare elementary preservice teachers to teach early algebra. Teaching early algebra meant engaging elementary students in early forms of algebraic reasoning. Such reasoning should help them transition from arithmetic to algebra. To begin this line of inquiry, a set of activities for preservice teachers were developed. Even though the activities were based on well-supported hypotheses, they largely failed to engage preservice teachers as predicted because of unanticipated challenges the preservice teachers faced. To capitalize on this failure, follow-up studies were conducted, first to better understand elementary preservice teachers’ challenges with preparing to teach early algebra, and then to better support preservice teachers in navigating these challenges. In this example, the initial failure was a necessary step in the researchers’ scientific inquiry and furthered the researchers’ understanding of this issue.

We present another example of failing productively in Chap. 2 . That example emerges from recounting the history of a well-known research program in mathematics education.

Making mistakes is an inherent part of doing scientific research. Conducting a study is rarely a smooth path from beginning to end. We recommend that you keep the following things in mind as you begin a career of conducting research in education.

First, do not get discouraged when you make mistakes; do not fall into the trap of feeling like you are not capable of doing research because you make too many errors.

Second, learn from your mistakes. Do not ignore your mistakes or treat them as errors that you simply need to forget and move past. Mistakes are rich sites for learning—in research just as in other fields of study.

Third, by reflecting on your mistakes, you can learn to make better mistakes, mistakes that inform you about a productive next step. You will not be able to eliminate your mistakes, but you can set a goal of making better and better mistakes.

Exercise 1.8

How does scientific inquiry differ from everyday learning in giving you the tools to fail upward? You may find helpful perspectives on this question in other resources on science and scientific inquiry (e.g., Failure: Why Science is So Successful by Firestein, 2015).

Exercise 1.9

Use what you have learned in this chapter to write a new definition of scientific inquiry. Compare this definition with the one you wrote before reading this chapter. If you are reading this book as part of a course, compare your definition with your colleagues’ definitions. Develop a consensus definition with everyone in the course.

Part IV. Preview of Chap. 2

Now that you have a good idea of what research is, at least of what we believe research is, the next step is to think about how to actually begin doing research. This means how to begin formulating, testing, and revising hypotheses. As for all phases of scientific inquiry, there are lots of things to think about. Because it is critical to start well, we devote Chap. 2 to getting started with formulating hypotheses.

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Weis, L., Eisenhart, M., Duncan, G. J., Albro, E., Bueschel, A. C., Cobb, P., Eccles, J., Mendenhall, R., Moss, P., Penuel, W., Ream, R. K., Rumbaut, R. G., Sloane, F., Weisner, T. S., & Wilson, J. (2019a). Mixed methods for studies that address broad and enduring issues in education research. Teachers College Record, 121 , 100307.

Weisner, T. S. (Ed.). (2005). Discovering successful pathways in children’s development: Mixed methods in the study of childhood and family life . University of Chicago Press.

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Hiebert, J., Cai, J., Hwang, S., Morris, A.K., Hohensee, C. (2023). What Is Research, and Why Do People Do It?. In: Doing Research: A New Researcher’s Guide. Research in Mathematics Education. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-19078-0_1

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Six Reasons Why Research is Important

Importance of internet Research

Everyone conducts research in some form or another from a young age, whether news, books, or browsing the Internet. Internet users come across thoughts, ideas, or perspectives - the curiosity that drives the desire to explore. However, when research is essential to make practical decisions, the nature of the study alters - it all depends on its application and purpose. For instance, skilled research offered as a  research paper service  has a definite objective, and it is focused and organized. Professional research helps derive inferences and conclusions from solving problems. visit the HB tool services for the amazing research tools that will help to solve your problems regarding the research on any project.

What is the Importance of Research?

The primary goal of the research is to guide action, gather evidence for theories, and contribute to the growth of knowledge in data analysis. This article discusses the importance of research and the multiple reasons why it is beneficial to everyone, not just students and scientists.

On the other hand, research is important in business decision-making because it can assist in making better decisions when combined with their experience and intuition.

Reasons for the Importance of Research

  • Acquire Knowledge Effectively
  • Research helps in problem-solving
  • Provides the latest information
  • Builds credibility
  • Helps in business success
  • Discover and Seize opportunities

1-  Acquire Knowledge Efficiently through Research

The most apparent reason to conduct research is to understand more. Even if you think you know everything there is to know about a subject, there is always more to learn. Research helps you expand on any prior knowledge you have of the subject. The research process creates new opportunities for learning and progress.

2- Research Helps in Problem-solving

Problem-solving can be divided into several components, which require knowledge and analysis, for example,  identification of issues, cause identification,  identifying potential solutions, decision to take action, monitoring and evaluation of activity and outcomes.

You may just require additional knowledge to formulate an informed strategy and make an informed decision. When you know you've gathered reliable data, you'll be a lot more confident in your answer.

3- Research Provides the Latest Information

Research enables you to seek out the most up-to-date facts. There is always new knowledge and discoveries in various sectors, particularly scientific ones. Staying updated keeps you from falling behind and providing inaccurate or incomplete information. You'll be better prepared to discuss a topic and build on ideas if you have the most up-to-date information. With the help of tools and certifications such as CIRS , you may learn internet research skills quickly and easily. Internet research can provide instant, global access to information.

4- Research Builds Credibility

Research provides a solid basis for formulating thoughts and views. You can speak confidently about something you know to be true. It's much more difficult for someone to find flaws in your arguments after you've finished your tasks. In your study, you should prioritize the most reputable sources. Your research should focus on the most reliable sources. You won't be credible if your "research" comprises non-experts' opinions. People are more inclined to pay attention if your research is excellent.

5-  Research Helps in Business Success

R&D might also help you gain a competitive advantage. Finding ways to make things run more smoothly and differentiate a company's products from those of its competitors can help to increase a company's market worth.

6-  Research Discover and Seize Opportunities

People can maximize their potential and achieve their goals through various opportunities provided by research. These include getting jobs, scholarships, educational subsidies, projects, commercial collaboration, and budgeted travel. Research is essential for anyone looking for work or a change of environment. Unemployed people will have a better chance of finding potential employers through job advertisements or agencies. 

How to Improve Your Research Skills

Start with the big picture and work your way down.

It might be hard to figure out where to start when you start researching. There's nothing wrong with a simple internet search to get you started. Online resources like Google and Wikipedia are a great way to get a general idea of a subject, even though they aren't always correct. They usually give a basic overview with a short history and any important points.

Identify Reliable Source

Not every source is reliable, so it's critical that you can tell the difference between the good ones and the bad ones. To find a reliable source, use your analytical and critical thinking skills and ask yourself the following questions: Is this source consistent with other sources I've discovered? Is the author a subject matter expert? Is there a conflict of interest in the author's point of view on this topic?

Validate Information from Various Sources

Take in new information.

The purpose of research is to find answers to your questions, not back up what you already assume. Only looking for confirmation is a minimal way to research because it forces you to pick and choose what information you get and stops you from getting the most accurate picture of the subject. When you do research, keep an open mind to learn as much as possible.

Facilitates Learning Process

Learning new things and implementing them in daily life can be frustrating. Finding relevant and credible information requires specialized training and web search skills due to the sheer enormity of the Internet and the rapid growth of indexed web pages. On the other hand, short courses and Certifications like CIRS make the research process more accessible. CIRS Certification offers complete knowledge from beginner to expert level. You can become a Certified Professional Researcher and get a high-paying job, but you'll also be much more efficient and skilled at filtering out reliable data. You can learn more about becoming a Certified Professional Researcher.

Stay Organized

You'll see a lot of different material during the process of gathering data, from web pages to PDFs to videos. You must keep all of this information organized in some way so that you don't lose anything or forget to mention something properly. There are many ways to keep your research project organized, but here are a few of the most common:  Learning Management Software , Bookmarks in your browser, index cards, and a bibliography that you can add to as you go are all excellent tools for writing.

Make Use of the library's Resources

If you still have questions about researching, don't worry—even if you're not a student performing academic or course-related research, there are many resources available to assist you. Many high school and university libraries, in reality, provide resources not only for staff and students but also for the general public. Look for research guidelines or access to specific databases on the library's website. Association of Internet Research Specialists enjoys sharing informational content such as research-related articles , research papers , specialized search engines list compiled from various sources, and contributions from our members and in-house experts.

of Conducting Research

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What Is the Importance of Research? 5 Reasons Why Research is Critical

by Logan Bessant | Nov 16, 2021 | Science

What Is the Importance of Research? 5 Reasons Why Research is Critical

Most of us appreciate that research is a crucial part of medical advancement. But what exactly is the importance of research? In short, it is critical in the development of new medicines as well as ensuring that existing treatments are used to their full potential. 

Research can bridge knowledge gaps and change the way healthcare practitioners work by providing solutions to previously unknown questions.

In this post, we’ll discuss the importance of research and its impact on medical breakthroughs.  

The Importance Of Health Research

The purpose of studying is to gather information and evidence, inform actions, and contribute to the overall knowledge of a certain field. None of this is possible without research. 

Understanding how to conduct research and the importance of it may seem like a very simple idea to some, but in reality, it’s more than conducting a quick browser search and reading a few chapters in a textbook. 

No matter what career field you are in, there is always more to learn. Even for people who hold a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in their field of study, there is always some sort of unknown that can be researched. Delving into this unlocks the unknowns, letting you explore the world from different perspectives and fueling a deeper understanding of how the universe works.

To make things a little more specific, this concept can be clearly applied in any healthcare scenario. Health research has an incredibly high value to society as it provides important information about disease trends and risk factors, outcomes of treatments, patterns of care, and health care costs and use. All of these factors as well as many more are usually researched through a clinical trial. 

What Is The Importance Of Clinical Research?

Clinical trials are a type of research that provides information about a new test or treatment. They are usually carried out to find out what, or if, there are any effects of these procedures or drugs on the human body. 

All legitimate clinical trials are carefully designed, reviewed and completed, and need to be approved by professionals before they can begin. They also play a vital part in the advancement of medical research including:

  • Providing new and good information on which types of drugs are more effective.  
  • Bringing new treatments such as medicines, vaccines and devices into the field. 
  • Testing the safety and efficacy of a new drug before it is brought to market and used in clinical practice.
  • Giving the opportunity for more effective treatments to benefit millions of lives both now and in the future. 
  • Enhancing health, lengthening life, and reducing the burdens of illness and disability. 

This all plays back to clinical research as it opens doors to advancing prevention, as well as providing treatments and cures for diseases and disabilities. Clinical trial volunteer participants are essential to this progress which further supports the need for the importance of research to be well-known amongst healthcare professionals, students and the general public. 

The image shows a researchers hand holding a magnifying glass to signify the importance of research.

Five Reasons Why Research is Critical

Research is vital for almost everyone irrespective of their career field. From doctors to lawyers to students to scientists, research is the key to better work. 

  • Increases quality of life

 Research is the backbone of any major scientific or medical breakthrough. None of the advanced treatments or life-saving discoveries used to treat patients today would be available if it wasn’t for the detailed and intricate work carried out by scientists, doctors and healthcare professionals over the past decade. 

This improves quality of life because it can help us find out important facts connected to the researched subject. For example, universities across the globe are now studying a wide variety of things from how technology can help breed healthier livestock, to how dance can provide long-term benefits to people living with Parkinson’s. 

For both of these studies, quality of life is improved. Farmers can use technology to breed healthier livestock which in turn provides them with a better turnover, and people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease can find a way to reduce their symptoms and ease their stress. 

Research is a catalyst for solving the world’s most pressing issues. Even though the complexity of these issues evolves over time, they always provide a glimmer of hope to improving lives and making processes simpler. 

  • Builds up credibility 

People are willing to listen and trust someone with new information on one condition – it’s backed up. And that’s exactly where research comes in. Conducting studies on new and unfamiliar subjects, and achieving the desired or expected outcome, can help people accept the unknown.

However, this goes without saying that your research should be focused on the best sources. It is easy for people to poke holes in your findings if your studies have not been carried out correctly, or there is no reliable data to back them up. 

This way once you have done completed your research, you can speak with confidence about your findings within your field of study. 

  • Drives progress forward 

It is with thanks to scientific research that many diseases once thought incurable, now have treatments. For example, before the 1930s, anyone who contracted a bacterial infection had a high probability of death. There simply was no treatment for even the mildest of infections as, at the time, it was thought that nothing could kill bacteria in the gut.

When antibiotics were discovered and researched in 1928, it was considered one of the biggest breakthroughs in the medical field. This goes to show how much research drives progress forward, and how it is also responsible for the evolution of technology . 

Today vaccines, diagnoses and treatments can all be simplified with the progression of medical research, making us question just what research can achieve in the future. 

  • Engages curiosity 

The acts of searching for information and thinking critically serve as food for the brain, allowing our inherent creativity and logic to remain active. Aside from the fact that this curiosity plays such a huge part within research, it is also proven that exercising our minds can reduce anxiety and our chances of developing mental illnesses in the future. 

Without our natural thirst and our constant need to ask ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ many important theories would not have been put forward and life-changing discoveries would not have been made. The best part is that the research process itself rewards this curiosity. 

Research opens you up to different opinions and new ideas which can take a proposed question and turn into a real-life concept. It also builds discerning and analytical skills which are always beneficial in many career fields – not just scientific ones. 

  • Increases awareness 

The main goal of any research study is to increase awareness, whether it’s contemplating new concepts with peers from work or attracting the attention of the general public surrounding a certain issue. 

Around the globe, research is used to help raise awareness of issues like climate change, racial discrimination, and gender inequality. Without consistent and reliable studies to back up these issues, it would be hard to convenience people that there is a problem that needs to be solved in the first place. 

The problem is that social media has become a place where fake news spreads like a wildfire, and with so many incorrect facts out there it can be hard to know who to trust. Assessing the integrity of the news source and checking for similar news on legitimate media outlets can help prove right from wrong. 

This can pinpoint fake research articles and raises awareness of just how important fact-checking can be. 

The Importance Of Research To Students

It is not a hidden fact that research can be mentally draining, which is why most students avoid it like the plague. But the matter of fact is that no matter which career path you choose to go down, research will inevitably be a part of it. 

But why is research so important to students ? The truth is without research, any intellectual growth is pretty much impossible. It acts as a knowledge-building tool that can guide you up to the different levels of learning. Even if you are an expert in your field, there is always more to uncover, or if you are studying an entirely new topic, research can help you build a unique perspective about it.

For example, if you are looking into a topic for the first time, it might be confusing knowing where to begin. Most of the time you have an overwhelming amount of information to sort through whether that be reading through scientific journals online or getting through a pile of textbooks. Research helps to narrow down to the most important points you need so you are able to find what you need to succeed quickly and easily. 

It can also open up great doors in the working world. Employers, especially those in the scientific and medical fields, are always looking for skilled people to hire. Undertaking research and completing studies within your academic phase can show just how multi-skilled you are and give you the resources to tackle any tasks given to you in the workplace. 

The Importance Of Research Methodology

There are many different types of research that can be done, each one with its unique methodology and features that have been designed to use in specific settings. 

When showing your research to others, they will want to be guaranteed that your proposed inquiry needs asking, and that your methodology is equipt to answer your inquiry and will convey the results you’re looking for.

That’s why it’s so important to choose the right methodology for your study. Knowing what the different types of research are and what each of them focuses on can allow you to plan your project to better utilise the most appropriate methodologies and techniques available. Here are some of the most common types:

  • Theoretical Research: This attempts to answer a question based on the unknown. This could include studying phenomena or ideas whose conclusions may not have any immediate real-world application. Commonly used in physics and astronomy applications.
  • Applied Research: Mainly for development purposes, this seeks to solve a practical problem that draws on theory to generate practical scientific knowledge. Commonly used in STEM and medical fields. 
  • Exploratory Research: Used to investigate a problem that is not clearly defined, this type of research can be used to establish cause-and-effect relationships. It can be applied in a wide range of fields from business to literature. 
  • Correlational Research: This identifies the relationship between two or more variables to see if and how they interact with each other. Very commonly used in psychological and statistical applications. 

The Importance Of Qualitative Research

This type of research is most commonly used in scientific and social applications. It collects, compares and interprets information to specifically address the “how” and “why” research questions. 

Qualitative research allows you to ask questions that cannot be easily put into numbers to understand human experience because you’re not limited by survey instruments with a fixed set of possible responses.

Information can be gathered in numerous ways including interviews, focus groups and ethnographic research which is then all reported in the language of the informant instead of statistical analyses. 

This type of research is important because they do not usually require a hypothesis to be carried out. Instead, it is an open-ended research approach that can be adapted and changed while the study is ongoing. This enhances the quality of the data and insights generated and creates a much more unique set of data to analyse. 

The Process Of Scientific Research

No matter the type of research completed, it will be shared and read by others. Whether this is with colleagues at work, peers at university, or whilst it’s being reviewed and repeated during secondary analysis.

A reliable procedure is necessary in order to obtain the best information which is why it’s important to have a plan. Here are the six basic steps that apply in any research process. 

  • Observation and asking questions: Seeing a phenomenon and asking yourself ‘How, What, When, Who, Which, Why, or Where?’. It is best that these questions are measurable and answerable through experimentation. 
  • Gathering information: Doing some background research to learn what is already known about the topic, and what you need to find out. 
  • Forming a hypothesis: Constructing a tentative statement to study.
  • Testing the hypothesis: Conducting an experiment to test the accuracy of your statement. This is a way to gather data about your predictions and should be easy to repeat. 
  • Making conclusions: Analysing the data from the experiment(s) and drawing conclusions about whether they support or contradict your hypothesis. 
  • Reporting: Presenting your findings in a clear way to communicate with others. This could include making a video, writing a report or giving a presentation to illustrate your findings. 

Although most scientists and researchers use this method, it may be tweaked between one study and another. Skipping or repeating steps is common within, however the core principles of the research process still apply.

By clearly explaining the steps and procedures used throughout the study, other researchers can then replicate the results. This is especially beneficial for peer reviews that try to replicate the results to ensure that the study is sound. 

What Is The Importance Of Research In Everyday Life?

Conducting a research study and comparing it to how important it is in everyday life are two very different things.

Carrying out research allows you to gain a deeper understanding of science and medicine by developing research questions and letting your curiosity blossom. You can experience what it is like to work in a lab and learn about the whole reasoning behind the scientific process. But how does that impact everyday life? 

Simply put, it allows us to disprove lies and support truths. This can help society to develop a confident attitude and not believe everything as easily, especially with the rise of fake news.

Research is the best and reliable way to understand and act on the complexities of various issues that we as humans are facing. From technology to healthcare to defence to climate change, carrying out studies is the only safe and reliable way to face our future.

Not only does research sharpen our brains, but also helps us to understand various issues of life in a much larger manner, always leaving us questioning everything and fuelling our need for answers. 

Logan Bessant

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How to Discuss the Significance of Your Research

How to Discuss the Significance of Your Research

  • 6-minute read
  • 10th April 2023

Introduction

Research papers can be a real headache for college students . As a student, your research needs to be credible enough to support your thesis statement. You must also ensure you’ve discussed the literature review, findings, and results.

However, it’s also important to discuss the significance of your research . Your potential audience will care deeply about this. It will also help you conduct your research. By knowing the impact of your research, you’ll understand what important questions to answer.

If you’d like to know more about the impact of your research, read on! We’ll talk about why it’s important and how to discuss it in your paper.

What Is the Significance of Research?

This is the potential impact of your research on the field of study. It includes contributions from new knowledge from the research and those who would benefit from it. You should present this before conducting research, so you need to be aware of current issues associated with the thesis before discussing the significance of the research.

Why Does the Significance of Research Matter?

Potential readers need to know why your research is worth pursuing. Discussing the significance of research answers the following questions:

●  Why should people read your research paper ?

●  How will your research contribute to the current knowledge related to your topic?

●  What potential impact will it have on the community and professionals in the field?

Not including the significance of research in your paper would be like a knight trying to fight a dragon without weapons.

Where Do I Discuss the Significance of Research in My Paper?

As previously mentioned, the significance of research comes before you conduct it. Therefore, you should discuss the significance of your research in the Introduction section. Your reader should know the problem statement and hypothesis beforehand.

Steps to Discussing the Significance of Your Research

Discussing the significance of research might seem like a loaded question, so we’ve outlined some steps to help you tackle it.

Step 1: The Research Problem

The problem statement can reveal clues about the outcome of your research. Your research should provide answers to the problem, which is beneficial to all those concerned. For example, imagine the problem statement is, “To what extent do elementary and high school teachers believe cyberbullying affects student performance?”

Learning teachers’ opinions on the effects of cyberbullying on student performance could result in the following:

●  Increased public awareness of cyberbullying in elementary and high schools

●  Teachers’ perceptions of cyberbullying negatively affecting student performance

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●  Whether cyberbullying is more prevalent in elementary or high schools

The research problem will steer your research in the right direction, so it’s best to start with the problem statement.

Step 2: Existing Literature in the Field

Think about current information on your topic, and then find out what information is missing. Are there any areas that haven’t been explored? Your research should add new information to the literature, so be sure to state this in your discussion. You’ll need to know the current literature on your topic anyway, as this is part of your literature review section .

Step 3: Your Research’s Impact on Society

Inform your readers about the impact on society your research could have on it. For example, in the study about teachers’ opinions on cyberbullying, you could mention that your research will educate the community about teachers’ perceptions of cyberbullying as it affects student performance. As a result, the community will know how many teachers believe cyberbullying affects student performance.

You can also mention specific individuals and institutions that would benefit from your study. In the example of cyberbullying, you might indicate that school principals and superintendents would benefit from your research.

Step 4: Future Studies in the Field

Next, discuss how the significance of your research will benefit future studies, which is especially helpful for future researchers in your field. In the example of cyberbullying affecting student performance, your research could provide further opportunities to assess teacher perceptions of cyberbullying and its effects on students from larger populations. This prepares future researchers for data collection and analysis.

Discussing the significance of your research may sound daunting when you haven’t conducted it yet. However, an audience might not read your paper if they don’t know the significance of the research. By focusing on the problem statement and the research benefits to society and future studies, you can convince your audience of the value of your research.

Remember that everything you write doesn’t have to be set in stone. You can go back and tweak the significance of your research after conducting it. At first, you might only include general contributions of your study, but as you research, your contributions will become more specific.

You should have a solid understanding of your topic in general, its associated problems, and the literature review before tackling the significance of your research. However, you’re not trying to prove your thesis statement at this point. The significance of research just convinces the audience that your study is worth reading.

Finally, we always recommend seeking help from your research advisor whenever you’re struggling with ideas. For a more visual idea of how to discuss the significance of your research, we suggest checking out this video .

1. Do I need to do my research before discussing its significance?

No, you’re discussing the significance of your research before you conduct it. However, you should be knowledgeable about your topic and the related literature.

2. Is the significance of research the same as its implications?

No, the research implications are potential questions from your study that justify further exploration, which comes after conducting the research.

 3. Discussing the significance of research seems overwhelming. Where should I start?

We recommend the problem statement as a starting point, which reveals clues to the potential outcome of your research.

4. How can I get feedback on my discussion of the significance of my research?

Our proofreading experts can help. They’ll check your writing for grammar, punctuation errors, spelling, and concision. Submit a 500-word document for free today!

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Science, health, and public trust.

September 8, 2021

Explaining How Research Works

Understanding Research infographic

We’ve heard “follow the science” a lot during the pandemic. But it seems science has taken us on a long and winding road filled with twists and turns, even changing directions at times. That’s led some people to feel they can’t trust science. But when what we know changes, it often means science is working.

Expaling How Research Works Infographic en español

Explaining the scientific process may be one way that science communicators can help maintain public trust in science. Placing research in the bigger context of its field and where it fits into the scientific process can help people better understand and interpret new findings as they emerge. A single study usually uncovers only a piece of a larger puzzle.

Questions about how the world works are often investigated on many different levels. For example, scientists can look at the different atoms in a molecule, cells in a tissue, or how different tissues or systems affect each other. Researchers often must choose one or a finite number of ways to investigate a question. It can take many different studies using different approaches to start piecing the whole picture together.

Sometimes it might seem like research results contradict each other. But often, studies are just looking at different aspects of the same problem. Researchers can also investigate a question using different techniques or timeframes. That may lead them to arrive at different conclusions from the same data.

Using the data available at the time of their study, scientists develop different explanations, or models. New information may mean that a novel model needs to be developed to account for it. The models that prevail are those that can withstand the test of time and incorporate new information. Science is a constantly evolving and self-correcting process.

Scientists gain more confidence about a model through the scientific process. They replicate each other’s work. They present at conferences. And papers undergo peer review, in which experts in the field review the work before it can be published in scientific journals. This helps ensure that the study is up to current scientific standards and maintains a level of integrity. Peer reviewers may find problems with the experiments or think different experiments are needed to justify the conclusions. They might even offer new ways to interpret the data.

It’s important for science communicators to consider which stage a study is at in the scientific process when deciding whether to cover it. Some studies are posted on preprint servers for other scientists to start weighing in on and haven’t yet been fully vetted. Results that haven't yet been subjected to scientific scrutiny should be reported on with care and context to avoid confusion or frustration from readers.

We’ve developed a one-page guide, "How Research Works: Understanding the Process of Science" to help communicators put the process of science into perspective. We hope it can serve as a useful resource to help explain why science changes—and why it’s important to expect that change. Please take a look and share your thoughts with us by sending an email to  [email protected].

Below are some additional resources:

  • Discoveries in Basic Science: A Perfectly Imperfect Process
  • When Clinical Research Is in the News
  • What is Basic Science and Why is it Important?
  • ​ What is a Research Organism?
  • What Are Clinical Trials and Studies?
  • Basic Research – Digital Media Kit
  • Decoding Science: How Does Science Know What It Knows? (NAS)
  • Can Science Help People Make Decisions ? (NAS)

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1 Chapter 1: The Importance of Research Methods and Becoming an Informed Consumer of Research

Case study : student apprehension regarding research methods.

Research Study

Understanding and Measuring Student Apprehension in Criminal Justice Research Methods Courses 1

Research Question

How do we measure disinterest, relevance argumentation, and math anxiety experienced by students enrolled in research methods courses?

Methodology

It is said that “misery loves company,” so you are not alone in your apprehension and anxiety regarding your research methods course. The problem of student apprehension and anxiety related to taking a research methods course is not new and has been studied for over 25 years. Previously, such apprehension and anxiety appeared to be caused by math anxiety, especially as it applies to statistics. The authors of this article believe that student apprehension goes beyond math anxiety; that math anxiety is too simplistic of an explanation of student fear of research methods courses. Besides math anxiety, the researchers think that apprehension is caused by student indifference to the subject matter and irrelevance of the course because it does not apply to the “real world.” They state that student apprehension in research methods and statistics courses is due to three main factors:

Disinterest (D.);

Relevance Argumentation (RA.), and;

Math Anxiety (MA.).

Taken together, the reconceptualization is known as D.RA.MA., and the combination of these three factors constitutes the D.RA.MA. scale for research methods and statistics courses.

The researchers developed the D.RA.MA. scale by constructing survey questions to measure each factor in the scale (i.e., disinterest, relevance argumentation, and math anxiety). After they developed the survey, they tested it by distributing the survey to three criminal justice classes, totaling 80 students, from a midsized regional comprehensive university in the southern region of the United States. Higher scale scores demonstrate more disinterest, more relevance argumentation, or more math anxiety.

The D.RA.MA. scale consists of 20 survey questions. Ten questions were borrowed from an existing Math Anxiety scale developed by Betz 2 . The researchers then created five items to assess Disinterest and five items intended to measure Relevance Argumentation. The items for the D.RA.MA. scale are illustrated below.

Math Anxiety 3

I usually have been at ease in math classes.

Math does not scare me at all.

I am no good at math.

I don’t think that I could do advanced math.

Generally, I have been secure about attempting math.

For some reason, even though I study, math seems unusually hard for me.

Math has been my worst subject.

My mind goes blank and I am unable to think clearly when working in mathematics.

I think I could handle more difficult math.

I am not the type to do well in mathematics.

Relevance Argumentation 4

I will need research methods for my future work.

I view research methods as a subject that I will rarely use.

Research methods is not really useful for students who intend to work in Criminal Justice.

Knowing research methods will help me earn a living.

Research methods does not reflect the “real world.”

Research Disinterest 5

I am excited about taking research methods.

It would not bother me at all to take more research methods courses.

I expect a research methods class to be boring.

I don’t expect to learn much in research methods.

I really don’t care if I learn anything in research methods, as long as I get the requirement completed.

The Math Anxiety Scale responses for the 80 students ranged from 0 to 30 with a mean of 14, demonstrating a moderate level of math anxiety among the study participants. The responses for Relevance Argumentation ranged from 0 to 12 with a mean of 5.4 while those for Disinterest ranged from 1 to 15 with a mean of 7.0, demonstrating a moderate level of disinterest and relevance argumentation among students regarding research methods. Based on these findings, the study demonstrated that student apprehension regarding research methods courses goes beyond math anxiety and includes two additional factors; disinterest in the subject matter and irrelevance of research methods to the “real world.”

Limitations with the Study Procedure

This research study was designed to develop a broader measure of student apprehension in criminal justice research methods courses. Moving beyond just math anxiety, the researchers accomplished their objective by developing the D.RA.MA. scale; adding disinterest and relevance argumentation to the understanding of student apprehension regarding research methods. As is true for all research, this study is not without limitations. The biggest limitation of this study is the limited sample size. Only 80 students completed the survey. Although this is certainly a good start, similar research (i.e., replication) needs to be completed with larger student samples in different locations throughout the country before the actual quality of the D.RA.MA. scale can be determined.

Impact on Criminal Justice

The D.RA.MA. scale developed in this study identifies disinterest and relevance argumentation, in addition to math anxiety, as part of student apprehension and resistance to research methods. A variety of instructional strategies can be inferred from the D.RA.MA. survey. However, it is important for professors to recognize that no single approach will reduce research methods resistance and apprehension for all students. For example, discussing research methods in a popular culture framework may resonate with students and lead to engaged students who are more interested in the subject matter and identify with the relevance of research methods to criminal justice in general and the future careers of students, in particular. This approach may provide an effective means for combating student disinterest and relevance argumentation in criminal justice research methods courses. At a minimum, it is critical for professors to explain the relevance of research methods to the policies and practices of police, courts, and corrections. Students need to realize that research methods are essential tools for assessing agency policies and practices. Professors will always have D.RA.MA.-plagued students, but recognizing the problem and then developing effective strategies to connect with these students is the challenge all professors face. Experimenting with a multitude of teaching strategies to alleviate the math anxiety, relevance argumentation, and disinterest of criminal justice research methods students will result in more effective teaching and learning.

In This Chapter You Will Learn

What research is and why it is important to be an informed consumer of research

The sources of knowledge development and problems with each

How research methods can dispel myths about crime and the criminal justice system

The steps in the research process

How research has impacted criminal justice operations

Introduction

As noted in the chapter opening case study, it is expected that you have some anxiety and apprehension about taking this criminal justice research methods course. But, you have taken a significant step toward success in this course by opening up your research methods book, so congratulations are in order. You might have opened this book for a number of reasons. Perhaps it is the first day of class and you are ready to get started on the course material. Perhaps you have a quiz or exam soon. Perhaps the book has been gathering dust on your shelf since the first day of class and you are not doing well in your research methods class and are looking for the book to help with course improvement. Perhaps you are taking a research methods class in the future and are seeing if all the chatter among students is true.

No matter how you got here, two things are probably true. First, you are taking this research methods course because it is a requirement for your major. The bottom line is that most of the students who read this text are required to take a research methods course. While you may think studying research methods is irrelevant to your career goals, unnecessary, overly academic, or perhaps even intimidating, you probably must finish this course in order to graduate. Second, you have heard negative comments about this course. The negative comments mention the difficulty of the course and the relevance of the course (e.g., “I am going to be a police officer, so why do I need to take a research methods course?”). If you are like most students we have experienced in our research methods courses in the past, you are not initially interested in this course and are concerned about whether you will do well in it.

If you are concerned about the course, realize that you are not alone because most students are anxious about taking a research methods course. Also realize that your professor is well aware of student anxiety and apprehension regarding research methods. So, relax and do not think about the entire course and the entire book. Take the course content one chapter, one week at a time. One of the advantages of taking a research methods course is that you learn about the process of research methods. Each chapter builds upon the previous chapters, illustrating and discussing more about the research process. This is certainly an advantage, but it is also critical that you understand the initial chapters in this book so you are not confused with the content discussed in later chapters. In addition to anxiety and apprehension over the course material, research methods can be boring if you only read and learn about it with no particular purpose in mind. Although examples are prevalent throughout the book, as you read this material, it is recommended that you think about the relevancy and application of the topics covered in this book to your specific criminal justice interests. As you continue to read the book, think about how you might use the information you are reading in your current position or your intended profession.

The goal of this research methods book is to develop you into an informed consumer of research. Most, if not all, of your fellow classmates will never conduct their own research studies. However, every one of you will be exposed to research findings in your professional and personal lives for the remainder of your lives. You are exposed to research findings in the media (e.g., television, newspapers, and online), in personal interaction with others (e.g., friends and family, doctors, and professors), as well as in class. You should challenge yourself for this semester to keep a journal and document exposure to research in your daily life outside of college whether through the nightly news, newspapers, magazine articles, Internet, personal conversations, or other means. At the end of the semester, you will be amazed at the amount of research you are exposed to in a short period of time. This book is focused on research exposure and assisting you to become an educated consumer of research by providing you the skills necessary to differentiate between good and not so good research. Why should you believe research findings if the study is faulty? Without being an educated consumer of research, you will not be able to differentiate between useful and not useful research. This book is designed to remedy this problem.

This book was written to make your first encounter with research methods relevant and successful while providing you the tools necessary to become an educated consumer of research. Therefore, this book is written with the assumption that students have not had a prior class on research methods. In addition, this book assumes that practical and evaluative knowledge of research methods is more useful than theoretical knowledge of the development of research methods and the relationship between theory and research. Since the focus of this book is on consumerism, not researcher training, practical and evaluative knowledge is more useful than theoretical knowledge.

It is also important to understand that the professors who design academic programs in criminal justice at the associate and bachelor level believe that an understanding of research methods is important for students. That is why, more than likely, this research methods course is a required course in your degree program. These professors understand that a solid understanding of research methods will enrich the qualifications of students for employment and performance in their criminal justice careers.

As previously stated, the basic goal of this book is to make students, as future and possibly even current practitioners in the criminal justice system, better informed and more capable consumers of the results of criminal justice research. This goal is based on the belief that an understanding of research methods allows criminal justice practitioners to be better able to make use of the results of research as it applies to their work-related duties. In fact, thousands of research questions are asked and answered each year in research involving criminal justice and criminological topics. In addition, thousands of articles are published, papers presented at conferences, and reports prepared that provide answers to these questions. The ability to understand research gives practitioners knowledge of the most current information in their respective fields and the ability to use this knowledge to improve the effectiveness of criminal justice agencies.

How Do We Know What We Know? Sources of Knowledge

The reality is the understanding of crime and criminal justice system operations by the public is frequently the product of misguided assumptions, distorted interpretations, outright myths, and hardened ideological positions. 6 This is a bold statement that basically contends that most people’s knowledge of crime and criminal justice is inaccurate. But, how do these inaccuracies occur? Most people have learned what they know about crime and criminal justice system operations through some other means besides scientific research results and findings. Some of that knowledge is based on personal experience and common sense. Much of it is based on the information and images supported by politicians, governmental agencies, and especially the media. This section will discuss the mechanisms used to understand crime and criminal justice operations by the public. It is important to note that although this section will focus on the failings of these knowledge sources, they each can be, and certainly are, accurate at times, and thus are valuable sources of knowledge.

Knowledge from Authority

We gain knowledge from parents, teachers, experts, and others who are in positions of authority in our lives. When we accept something as being correct and true just because someone in a position of authority says it is true, we are using what is referred to as authority knowledge as a means of knowing. Authorities often expend significant time and effort to learn something, and we can benefit from their experience and work.

However, relying on authority as a means of knowing has limitations. It is easy to overestimate the expertise of other people. A person’s expertise is typically limited to a few core areas of significant knowledge; a person is not an expert in all areas. More specifically, criminal justice professors are not experts on all topics related to criminal justice. One professor may be an expert on corrections but know little about policing. If this professor discusses topics in policing in which he is not an expert, we may still assume he is right when he may be wrong. Authority figures may speak on fields they know little about. They can be completely wrong but we may believe them because of their status as an expert. Furthermore, an expert in one area may try to use his authority in an unrelated area. Other times, we have no idea of how the experts arrived at their knowledge. We just know they are experts in the topic area.

As I am writing this, I recall an example of authority knowledge that was wrong during my police academy training in the late 1980s. My academy training was about four years after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Tennessee v. Garner. 7 In this case, the Court limited the use of deadly force by police to defense of life situations and incidents where the suspect committed a violent offense. Prior to the decision, the police in several states could use deadly force on any fleeing suspect accused of a felony offense. One day, the academy class was practicing mock traffic stops. During one of my mock traffic stops, I received information that the vehicle I stopped was stolen. The driver and passenger exited the vehicle and fled on foot. I did not use deadly force (this was a training exercise so was not real) against the suspects and was chastised by my instructor who insisted that I should have shot the suspects as they were fleeing. Training instructors, just like professors, convey authority knowledge but, in this case, the instructor was wrong. I was not legally authorized to use deadly force in the traffic stop scenario despite the insistence of my instructor to the contrary.

Politicians are sometimes taken as a source of authority knowledge about the law, crime, and criminal justice issues. Since they enact laws that directly impact the operations of the criminal justice system, we may assume they are an authority on crime and criminal justice. More specifically, we may assume that politicians know best about how to reduce crime and increase the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. However, history is rife with laws that sounded good on paper but had no impact on crime. For example, there is little evidence that sex offender registration protects the public from sexual predators or acts as a deterrent to repeat sex offenders even though every state has a law requiring convicted sex offenders to register with local authorities. Perhaps politicians are not the criminal justice experts some perceive them to be.

History is also full of criminal justice authorities that we now see as being misinformed. For example, Cesare Lombroso is the father of the positivist school of criminology. He is most readily recognized for his idea that some individuals are born criminal. He stated that criminals have certain unique biological characteristics, including large protruding jaws, high foreheads, flattened noses, and asymmetrical faces, to name a few. 8 These characteristics were similar to those found in primitive humans. Therefore, Lombroso argued that some individuals were genetic “throwbacks” to a more primitive time and were less evolved than other people and thus, were more likely to be criminals. Lombroso’s research has been discredited because he failed to compare criminals with noncriminals. By studying only criminals, he found characteristics that were common to criminals. However, if Lombroso had studied a group of noncriminals, he would have discovered that these biological characteristics are just as prevalent among noncriminals. This example involves authority knowledge that is supported by research but the research methods used were flawed. The errors of Lombroso seem obvious now, but what do we know today through authority knowledge that is inaccurate or will be proven wrong in the future?

Knowledge from Tradition

In addition to authority knowledge, people often rely on tradition for knowledge. Tradition knowledge relies on the knowledge of the past. Individuals accept something as true because that is the way things have always been so it must be right. A good example of tradition knowledge is preventive/random patrol. Ever since vehicles were brought into the police patrol function, police administrators assumed that having patrol officers drive around randomly in the communities they serve, while they are not answering calls for service, would prevent crime. If you were a patrol officer in the early 1970s and asked your supervisor, “Why do I drive around randomly throughout my assigned area when I am not answering a call for service?” the answer would have been, “That is the way we have always done patrol and random patrol reduces crime through deterrence.” The Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment challenged the tradition knowledge that preventive/random patrol reduces crime. The results of the study made it clear that the traditional practice of preventive/random patrol had little to no impact on reducing crime. This allowed police departments to develop other patrol deployment strategies such as directed patrol and “hot spots” policing since preventive patrol was seen as ineffective. The development of effective patrol deployment strategies continues today.

Knowledge from Common Sense

We frequently rely on common sense knowledge for what we know about crime and the criminal justice system because it “just makes sense.” For example, it “just makes sense” that if we send juvenile delinquents on a field trip to prison where they will see first hand the prison environment as well as be yelled at by actual prisoners, they will refrain from future delinquency. That is exactly what the program Scared Straight, originally developed in the 1970s, is designed to do. Scared Straight programs are still in existence today and are even the premise for the television show Beyond Scared Straight on the A&E television network. As originally created, the program was designed to decrease juvenile delinquency by bringing at-risk and delinquent juveniles into prison where they would be “scared straight” by inmates serving life sentences. Participants in the program were talked to and yelled at by the inmates in an effort to scare them. It was believed that the fear felt by the participants would lead to a discontinuation of their delinquent behavior so that they would not end up in prison themselves. This sounds like a good idea. It makes sense, and the program was initially touted as a success due to anecdotal evidence based on a few delinquents who turned their lives around after participation in the program.

However, evaluations of the program and others like it showed that the program was in fact unsuccessful. In the initial evaluation of the Scared Straight program, Finckenauer used a classic experimental design (discussed in Chapter 5), to evaluate the original “Lifer’s Program” at Rahway State Prison in New Jersey where the program was initially developed. 13 Juveniles were randomly assigned to an experimental group that attended the Scared Straight program and a control group that did not participate in the program. Results of the evaluation were not positive. Post-test measures revealed that juveniles who were assigned to the experimental group and participated in the program were actually more seriously delinquent afterwards than those who did not participate in the program. Also using an experimental design with random assignment, Yarborough evaluated the “Juvenile Offenders Learn Truth” (JOLT) program at the State Prison of Southern Michigan at Jackson. 14 This program was similar to that of the “Lifer’s Program,” only with fewer obscenities used by inmates. Post-test measurements were taken at two intervals, three and six months after program completion. Again, results were not positive. Findings revealed no significant differences in delinquency between those juveniles who attended the program and those who did not. Other experiments conducted on Scared Straight- type programs further revealed their inability to deter juveniles from further delinquency. 15 Despite the common sense popularity of these programs, the evaluations showed that Scared Straight programs do not reduce delinquency and, in some instances, may actually increase delinquency. The programs may actually do more harm than good. I guess that begs the question, “Why do we still do these types of programs?”

Scared Straight programs and other widely held common sense beliefs about crime and the criminal justice system are questionable, based on the available research evidence. Common sense is important in our daily lives and is frequently correct, but, at times, it also contains inaccuracies, misinformation, and even prejudice.

CLASSICS IN CJ RESEARCH

Is It Safe to Put Felons on Probation?

Research Study 9

In the mid-1970s, the number of offenders on probation began to significantly increase. By the mid-1980s, probation was the most frequently used sentence in most states and its use was becoming more common for felons, whereas previously, probation was typically limited to misdemeanor crimes and offenses committed by juveniles. Increasing numbers of felony offenders were being placed on probation because judges had no other alternative forms of punishment. Prisons were already operating above capacity due to rising crime rates. Despite the increase in the use of probation in the 1980s, few empirical studies of probation (particularly its use with felony offenders) had been published. In the early 1980s, the Rand Corporation conducted an extensive study of probation to learn more about the offenders sentenced to probation and the effectiveness of probation as a criminal sanction. At the time the study began, over one-third of California’s probation population were convicted felons. 10 This was the first large-scale study of felony probation.

Is it safe to put felons on probation?

Data for the study were obtained from the California Board of Prison Terms (CBPT). The Board had been collecting comprehensive data on all offenders sentenced to prison since 1978 and on a sample of adult males from 17 counties who received probation. From these two data sources, researchers selected a sample of male offenders who had been convicted of the following crimes: robbery, assault, burglary, theft, forgery, and drug offenses. These crimes were selected because an offender could receive either prison or probation if convicted. Approximately 16,500 male felony offenders were included in the study. For each offender, researchers had access to their personal characteristics, information on their crimes, court proceedings, and disposition.

Two main research questions were answered in this study. First, what were the recidivism rates for felony offenders who received probation? When assessing recidivism rates, the study found that the majority of offenders sentenced to probation recidivated during the follow-up period, which averaged 31 months. Overall, 65% of the sample of probationers were re-arrested and 51 % were charged with and convicted of another offense. A total of 18% were convicted of a violent crime.

The second research question asked, what were the characteristics of the probationers who recidivated? Property offenders were more likely to recidivate compared to violent or drug offenders. Researchers also discovered that probationers tended to recidivate by committing the same crime that placed them on probation. Rand researchers included time to recidivism in their analysis and found that property and violent offenders recidivated sooner than drug offenders. The median time to the first filed charge was five months for property offenders and eight months for violent offenders.

The issue of whether or not the findings would generalize to other counties in California and to other states was raised. Data for the study came from probation and prison records from two counties in California. These two counties were not randomly selected, but were chosen because of their large probation populations and the willingness of departments to provide information. Further, the probation departments in these counties had experienced significant budget cuts. Supervision may have become compromised as a result and this could have explained why these counties had high rates of recidivism. Studies of probation recidivism in other states have found recidivism rates to be much lower, suggesting the Rand results may not have applied elsewhere. 11 Several studies examining the effectiveness of probation and the factors correlated with probation outcomes were published after 1985. Much of this research failed to produce results consistent with the Rand study.

The Rand study of felony probation received a considerable amount of attention within the field of corrections. According to one scholar, the study was acclaimed as “the most important criminological research to be reported since World War II.” 12 The National Institute of Justice disseminated the report to criminal justice agencies across the country and even highlighted the study in their monthly newsletter. Today, the study remains one of the most highly cited pieces of corrections research.

According to Rand researchers, these findings raised serious doubts about the effectiveness of probation for felony offenders. Most of the felons sentenced to probation recidivated and researchers were unable to develop an accurate prediction model to improve the courts’ decision-making. The continued use of probation as a sanction for felony offenders appeared to be putting the public at risk. However, without adequate prison space, the courts had no other alternatives besides probation when sentencing offenders.

The researchers made several recommendations to address the limitations of using probation for felony offenders. First, it was recommended that states formally acknowledge that the purpose of probation had changed. Probation was originally used as a means of furthering the goal of rehabilitation in the correctional system. As the United States moved away from that goal in the late 1960s, the expectations of probation changed. Probation was now used as a way to exercise “restrictive supervision” over more serious offenders. Second, probation departments needed to redefine the responsibilities of their probation officers. Probation officers were now expected to be surveillance officers instead of treatment personnel, which required specialized training. In addition, states needed to explore the possibility of broadening the legal authority of its probation officers by allowing them to act as law enforcement officers if necessary. Third, states were advised to adopt a formal client management system that included risk/need assessments of every client. Such a system would help establish uniform, consistent treatment of those on probation and would also help departments allocate their resources efficiently and effectively. Fourth, researchers encouraged states to develop alternative forms of community punishment that offered more public protection than regular probation, which led to the development and use of intensive supervision probation, house arrest, electronic monitoring, day reporting centers, and other intermediate punishments.

Knowledge from Personal Experience

If you personally see something or if it actually happens to you, then you are likely to accept it as true and gain knowledge from the experience. Gaining knowledge through actual experiences is known as personal experience knowledge, and it has a powerful and lasting impact on everyone. Personal experiences are essential building blocks of knowledge and of what we believe to be true. The problem with knowledge gained from personal experiences is that personal experiences can be unique and unreliable, which can distort reality and lead us to believe things that are actually false.

How can events that someone personally experienced be wrong? The events are not wrong. Instead, the knowledge gained from the experience is wrong. For example, the research consistently shows that a person’s demeanor significantly impacts the decision-making of police officers. During a traffic stop, if a person is rude, disrespectful, and uncooperative to the officer, then the driver is more likely to receive a traffic citation than a warning. That is what the research on police discretion shows. However, if a person was rude and uncooperative to a police officer during a traffic stop and was let go without a citation, the person will gain knowledge from this personal experience. The knowledge gained may include that being disrespectful during future traffic stops will get this person out of future tickets. Not likely. The event is not wrong. Instead, the knowledge gained from the experience is wrong because being disrespectful to the police usually leads to more enforcement action taken by the police, not less.

As a student in criminal justice, you have probably experienced something similar in interaction with friends, relatives, and neighbors. Your knowledge of criminal justice that you have developed in your criminal justice classes is trumped by one experience your friend, relative, or neighbor had with the criminal justice system. They believe they are right because they experienced it. However, there are four errors that occur in the knowledge gained from personal experiences: overgeneralization, selective observation, illogical reasoning, and resistance to change.

Overgeneralization happens when people conclude that what they have observed in one or a few cases is true for all cases. For example, you may see that a wealthy businesswomen in your community is acquitted of bribery and may conclude that “wealthy people, especially women, are never convicted in our criminal justice system,” which is an overgeneralization. It is common to draw conclusions about people and society from our personal interactions, but, in reality, our experiences are limited because we interact with just a small percentage of people in society.

The same is true for practitioners in the criminal justice system. Practitioners have a tendency to believe that because something was done a particular way in their agency, it is done that way in all agencies. That may not be true. Although there are certainly operational similarities across criminal justice agencies, there are also nuances that exist across the over 50,000 criminal justice agencies in the United States. Believing that just because it was that way in your agency, it must be that way in all agencies leads to overgeneralization.

Selective observation is choosing, either consciously or unconsciously, to pay attention to and remember events that support our personal preferences and beliefs. In fact, with selective observation, we will seek out evidence that confirms what we believe to be true and ignore the events that provide contradictory evidence. We are more likely to notice pieces of evidence that reinforce and support our ideology. As applied to the criminal justice system, when we are inclined to be critical of the criminal justice system, it is pretty easy to notice its every failing and ignore its successes. For example, if someone believes the police commonly use excessive force, the person is more likely to pay attention to and remember a police brutality allegation on the nightly news than a police pursuit that led to the apprehension of the suspect without incident on the same nightly news. As another example, if you believe treatment efforts on sex offenders are futile, you will pay attention to and remember each sex offender you hear about that recidivates but will pay little attention to any successes. It is easy to find instances that confirm our beliefs, but with selective observation, the complete picture is not being viewed. Therefore, if we only acknowledge the events that confirm our beliefs and ignore those that challenge them, we are falling victim to selective observation.

Besides selective observation, some of our observations may simply be wrong. Consider eyewitness identification. It is a common practice in the criminal justice system, but research has consistently demonstrated inaccuracies in eyewitness identification. The witness feels certain that the person viewed is the person who committed the offense, but sometimes the witness is wrong. Even when our senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell are fully operational, our minds have to interpret what we have sensed, which may lead to an inaccurate observation.

RESEARCH IN THE NEWS

When Your Criminal Past Isn’t Yours 16

The business of background checks on prospective employees is increasing significantly. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, since the events of September 11, 2001, the percentage of companies that conduct criminal history checks during the hiring process has risen past 90%. Employers spend at least $2 billion a year to look into the pasts of their prospective employees. Problems with the business of background checks were identified through research that included a review of thousands of pages of court filings and interviews with dozens of court officials, data providers, lawyers, victims, and regulators.

The business of background checks is a system weakened by the conversion to digital files and compromised by the significant number of private companies that profit by amassing public records and selling them to employers. The private companies create a system in which a computer program scrapes the public files of court systems around the country to retrieve personal data. Basically, these are automated data-mining programs. Today, half the courts in the United States put criminal records on their public websites. So, the data are there for the taking, but the records that are retrieved typically are not checked for errors—errors that would be obvious to human eyes.

The errors can start with a mistake entered into the logs of a law enforcement agency or a court file. The biggest culprits, though, are companies that compile databases using public information. In some instances, their automated formulas misinterpret the information provided them. Other times, records wind up assigned to the wrong people with a common name. Furthermore, when a government agency erases a criminal conviction after a designated period of good behavior, many of the commercial databases don’t perform the updates required to purge offenses that have been removed from public record. It is clear that these errors can have substantial ramifications, including damaged reputations and loss of job opportunities.

Illogical reasoning occurs when someone jumps to premature conclusions or presents an argument that is based on invalid assumptions. Premature conclusions occur when we feel we have the answer based on a few pieces of evidence and do not need to seek additional information that may invalidate our conclusion. Think of a detective who, after examining only a few pieces of evidence, quickly narrows in on a murder suspect. It is common for a detective to assess the initial evidence and make an initial determination of who committed the murder. However, it is hoped that the detective will continue to sort through all the evidence for confirmation or rejection of his original conclusion regarding the murder suspect. Illogical reasoning by jumping to premature conclusions is common in everyday life. We look for evidence to confirm or reject our beliefs and stop when a small amount of evidence is present; we jump to conclusions. If a person states, “I know four people who have dropped out of high school, and each one of them ended up addicted to drugs, so all dropouts abuse drugs,” the person is jumping to conclusions.

Illogical reasoning also occurs when an argument, based on invalid assumptions, is presented. Let’s revisit the Scared Straight example previously discussed. Program developers assumed that brief exposure to the harsh realities of prison would deter juveniles from future delinquency. The Scared Straight program is an example of illogical reasoning. Four hours of exposure to prison life is not going to counteract years of delinquency and turn a delinquent into a nondelinquent. The program is based on a false assumption and fails to recognize the substantial risk factors present in the lives of most delinquents that must be mediated before the juvenile can live a crime-free lifestyle. A fear of prison, developed through brief exposure, is not enough to counteract the risk factors present in the lives of most delinquents. Although the Scared Straight program sounds good, it is illogical to assume that a brief experience with prison life will have a stronger impact on the decisions made by delinquents than peer support for delinquency, drug abuse, lack of education, poor parental supervision, and other factors that influence delinquency.

Resistance to change is the reluctance to change our beliefs in light of new, accurate, and valid information to the contrary. Resistance to change is common and it occurs for several reasons. First, even though our personal experience may be counter to our belief system, it is hard to admit we were wrong after we have taken a position on an issue. Even when the research evidence shows otherwise, people who work within programs may still believe they are effective. As previously stated, even though the research evidence shows otherwise, Scared Straight programs still exist and there is even a television show devoted to the program. Second, too much devotion to tradition and the argument that this is the way it has always been done inhibits change and hinders our ability to accept new directions and develop new knowledge. Third, uncritical agreement with authority inhibits change. Although authority knowledge is certainly an important means of gaining knowledge, we must critically evaluate the ideas, beliefs, and statements of those in positions of authority and be willing to challenge those statements where necessary. However, people often accept the beliefs of those in positions of authority without question, which hinders change.

Knowledge from Media Portrayals

Television shows, movies, websites, newspapers, and magazine articles are important sources of information. This is especially true for information about crime and the criminal justice system since most people have not had much contact with criminals or the criminal justice system. Instead of gaining knowledge about the criminal justice system through personal experience, most people learn about crime and the operations of the criminal justice system through media outlets. Since the primary goal of many of these media outlets is to entertain, they may not accurately reflect the reality of crime and criminal justice. Despite their inaccuracies, the media has a substantial impact on what people know about crime and the criminal justice system. Most people know what they know about crime and criminal justice through the media, and this knowledge even has an impact on criminal justice system operations.

An example of the potential impact of the media on the actual operations of the criminal justice system involves the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation television shows. The shows have been criticized for their unrealistic portrayal of the role of forensic science in solving criminal cases. Critics claim that CSI viewers accept what they see on the show as an accurate representation of how forensic science works. When summoned for jury duty, they bring with them unrealistic expectations of the forensic evidence they will see in trial. When the expected sophisticated forensic evidence is not presented in the real trial, the juror is more likely to vote to acquit the defendant. This phenomenon is known as the CSI Effect. Has the research shown that the CSI Effect exists and is impacting the criminal justice system? Most of the research shows that the CSI Effect does not exist and thus does not impact juror decision-making, but other research has shown that viewers of CSI have higher expectations related to evidence presented at trial. 17

There are several instances in which media attention on a particular topic created the idea that a major problem existed when it did not. An example is Halloween sadism. Halloween sadism is the practice of giving contaminated treats to children during trick or treating. 18 In 1985, Joel Best wrote an article entitled, “The Myth of the Halloween Sadist.” 19 His article reviewed press coverage of Halloween sadism in the leading papers in the three largest metropolitan areas ( New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune ) from 1958–1984. Although the belief in Halloween sadism is widespread, Best found few reported incidents and few reports of children being injured by Halloween sadism. Follow-ups on these reported incidents led to the conclusion that most of these reports were hoaxes. Best concluded, “I have been unable to find a substantiated report of a child being killed or seriously injured by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick or treating.” 20 Since 1985, Best has kept his research up to date and has come to the same conclusion. Halloween sadism is an urban legend; it is a story that is told as true, even though there is little or no evidence that the events in the story ever occurred.

Dispelling Myths: The Power of Research Methods

In the prior section, sources of knowledge were discussed along with the limitations of each. A researcher (e.g., criminologist), ideally, takes no knowledge claim for granted, but instead relies on research methods to discover the truth. In the attempt to generate new knowledge, a researcher is skeptical of knowledge that is generated by the sources discussed in the prior section, and this skepticism leads to the questioning of conventional thinking. Through this process, existing knowledge claims are discredited, modified, or substantiated. Research methods provide the researcher with the tools necessary to test current knowledge and discover new knowledge.

Although knowledge developed through research methods is by no means perfect and infallible, it is definitely a more systematic, structured, precise, and evidence-based process than the knowledge sources previously discussed. However, researchers should not dismiss all knowledge from the prior sources discussed, because, as mentioned, these sources of knowledge are sometimes accurate and certainly have their place in the development of knowledge. Researchers should guard against an elitist mind-set in which all knowledge, unless it is research-based knowledge, is dismissed.

To further discuss the importance of research methods in the development of knowledge, this section will discuss myths about crime and criminal justice. Myths are beliefs that are based on emotion rather than rigorous analysis. Take the myth of the Halloween sadist previously discussed. Many believe that there are real examples of children being harmed by razor blades, poison, or other nefarious objects placed in Halloween candy. This belief has changed the practices of many parents on Halloween; not allowing their children to trick-or-treat in their neighborhood and forbidding them from going to the doors of strangers. After careful analysis by Best, there is not a single, known example of children being seriously injured or killed by contaminated candy given by strangers. The Halloween sadist is a myth but it is still perpetuated today, and as the definition states, it is a belief based upon emotion rather than rigorous analysis. People accept myths as accurate knowledge of reality when, in fact, the knowledge is false.

The power of research is the ability to dispel myths. If someone were to assess the research literature on a myth or do their own research, she would find that the knowledge based on the myth is wrong. Perceived reality is contradicted by the facts developed through research. But that does not mean that the myth still doesn’t exist. It is important to keep in mind that the perpetuation and acceptance of myths by the public, politicians, and criminal justice personnel has contributed to the failure of criminal justice practices and policies designed to reduce crime and improve the operations of the criminal justice system. In this section, a detailed example of a myth about crime, police, courts, and corrections will be presented to demonstrate how the myth has been dispelled through research. In addition, several additional myths about crime, police, courts, and corrections will be briefly presented.

The Health Benefits of Alcohol Consumption 21

The press release from Oregon State University is titled “Beer Compound Shows Potent Promise in Prostate Cancer Battle.” The press release leads to several newspaper articles throughout the country written on the preventative nature of drinking beer on prostate cancer development with titles such as “Beer Protects Your Prostate” and “Beer May Help Men Ward Off Prostate Cancer.” By the titles alone, this sounds great; one of the main ingredients in beer appears to thwart prostate cancer.

The study that generated these headlines was conducted by a group of researchers at Oregon State University using cultured cells with purified compounds in a laboratory setting. The research showed that xanthohumol, a compound found in hops, slowed the growth of prostate cancer cells and also the growth of cells that cause enlarged prostates. But you would have to drink more than 17 pints of beer to consume a medically effective dose of xanthohumol, which is almost a case of beer. In addition, although the research is promising, further study is necessary to determine xanthohumol’s true impact on prostate cancer.

These are the types of headlines that people pay attention to and want to believe as true, even if disproven by later research. People want to believe that there are health benefits to alcohol consumption. You have probably heard about the health benefits of drinking red wine, but here is something you should consider. Recently, the University of Connecticut released a statement describing an extensive research misconduct investigation involving a member of its faculty. The investigation was sparked by an anonymous allegation of research irregularities. The comprehensive report of the investigation, which totals approximately 60,000 pages, concludes that the professor is guilty of 145 counts of fabrication and falsification of data. The professor had gained international notoriety for his research into the beneficial properties of resveratrol, which is found in red wine, especially its impact on aging. Obviously, this throws his research conclusions, that red wine has a beneficial impact on the aging process, into question.

Myths about Crime—Drug Users Are Violent

The myth of drug users as violent offenders continues to be perpetuated by media accounts of violent drug users. The public sees drug users as violent offenders who commit violent crimes to get money for drugs or who commit violent crimes while under the intoxicating properties of drugs. The public also recognizes the violent nature of the drug business with gangs and cartels using violence to protect their turf. In May 2012, extensive media attention was given to the case of the Miami man who ate the face of a homeless man for an agonizing 18 minutes until police shot and killed the suspect. The police believed that the suspect was high on the street drug known as “bath salts.” This horrific case definitely leaves the image in the public’s mind about the relationship between violence and drug use.

In recent years, media reports have focused on the relationship between methamphetamine use and violence; before then it was crack cocaine use and violence. 32 However, media portrayals regarding the violent tendencies of drug users date back to the 1930s and the release of Reefer Madness. In 1985, Goldstein suggested that drugs and violence could be related in three different ways:

1. violence could be the direct result of drug ingestion;

2. violence could be a product of the instability of drug market activity; and

3. violence could be the consequence of people having a compulsive need for drugs or money for drugs. 33

So, what does the research show? Studies have found that homicides related to crack cocaine were usually the product of the instability of drug market activity (i.e., buying and selling drugs can be a violent activity) and rarely the result of drug ingestion. 34 After an extensive review of research studies on alcohol, drugs, and violence, Parker and Auerhahn concluded, “Despite a number of published statements to the contrary, we find no significant evidence suggesting that drug use is associated with violence. There is substantial evidence to suggest that alcohol use is significantly associated with violence of all kinds.” 35 The reality is not everyone who uses drugs becomes violent and users who do become violent do not do so every time they use drugs; therefore, the relationship between violence and drug use is a myth.

MYTHS ABOUT CRIME

Some additional myths about crime that research does not support include:

•Crime statistics accurately show what crimes are being committed and what crimes are most harmful. 22

•Most criminals—especially the dangerous ones—are mentally ill. 23

•White-collar crime is only about financial loss and does not hurt anyone. 24

•Serial murderers are middle-aged, white males. 25

•Criminals are significantly different from noncriminals. 26

•People are more likely to be a victim of violent crime committed by a stranger than by someone they know. 27

•Older adults are more likely to be victimized than people in any other age group. 28

•Sex offender registration protects the public from sexual predators. 29

•Juvenile crime rates are significantly increasing. 30

•Only the most violent juveniles are tried as adults. 31

Myths about Police—Female Police Officers Do Not Perform as Well as Males

Female police officers still face the myth that they cannot perform as well as male police officers. Throughout history, females have faced significant difficulties even becoming police officers. In the past, it was common for police agencies to require all police applicants to meet a minimum height requirement to be considered for employment. The minimum height requirement was 5′8″ for most agencies, which limited the ability of females to successfully meet the minimum standards to become a police officer. Even if women could meet the minimum height requirements, they were typically faced with a physical-abilities test that emphasized upper body strength (e.g., push-ups and bench presses). Women failed these tests more often than men, and thus were not eligible to be police officers. Minimum height requirements are no longer used in law enforcement, but the perception that female police officers are not as good as males still exists. Today, the myth that women cannot be effective police officers is based largely on the belief that the need to demonstrate superior physical strength is a daily, common occurrence in law enforcement along with the belief that police work is routinely dangerous, violent, and crime-related.

So, what does the research show? On occasion, it is useful for police officers to be able to overpower suspects by demonstrating superior physical strength, but those types of activities are rare in law enforcement. In addition, it is fairly rare for a police officer to have to deal with a dangerous and violent encounter or even an incident involving a crime. The Police Services Study conducted in the 1970s analyzed 26,418 calls for service in three metropolitan areas and found that only 19% of calls for service involve crime and only 2% of the total calls for service involve violent crime. 43 This research study was among the first to assess the types of calls for service received by police agencies.

Despite the belief that women do not make good police officers, consistent research findings show that women are extremely capable as police officers, and in some respects, outperform their male counterparts. 44 Research has demonstrated several advantages to the hiring, retention, and promotion of women in law enforcement. First, female officers are as competent as their male counterparts. Research does not show any consistent differences in how male and female patrol officers perform their duties. Second, female officers are less likely to use excessive force. Research has shown that female patrol officers are less likely to be involved in high-speed pursuits, incidents of deadly force, and the use of excessive force. Female officers are more capable at calming potentially violent situations through communication and also demonstrate heightened levels of caution. Third, female officers can help implement community-oriented policing. Studies have shown that female officers are more supportive of the community-policing philosophy than are their male counterparts. Fourth, female officers can improve law enforcement’s response to violence against women. Studies have shown that female officers are more patient and understanding in handling domestic violence calls, and female victims of domestic violence are more likely to provide positive evaluations of female officers than their male counterparts. 52

MYTHS ABOUT POLICE

Some additional myths about the police that research does not support include:

•Police target minorities for traffic stops and arrests. 36

•Most crimes are solved through forensic science. 37

•COMPSTAT reduces crime. 38

•Intensive law enforcement efforts at the street level will lead to the control of illicit drug use and abuse. 39

•Police work primarily entails responding to crimes in progress or crimes that have just occurred. 40

•Police presence reduces crime. 41

•Detectives are most responsible for solving crimes and arresting offenders. 42

Myths about Courts—The Death Penalty Is Administered Fairly

According to a recent Gallup poll, 52% of Americans say the death penalty is applied fairly in the United States, the lowest mark in almost 40 years. 53 The issue of fairness and the death penalty typically concerns whether the punishment is equally imposed on offenders who are equally deserving based on legal factors (i.e., similar offense, similar prior criminal history, similar aggravating circumstances, and similar mitigating circumstances). 54 Unfairness can be shown if similarly situated offenders are more or less likely to receive death sentences based on age, gender, and race.

So, what does the research show? First, has research shown that a defendant’s age influences his or her chances of being sentenced to death? A study of about 5,000 homicides, controlling for legally relevant variables, found that defendants over the age of 25 were more than twice as likely to receive the death penalty in comparison to those 25 years of age or younger. 55

Second, has research shown that a defendant’s gender influences his or her chance of being sentenced to death? Capital punishment is almost exclusively reserved for male defendants. On December 31, 2010, there were 3,158 prisoners under a sentence of death in the United States: 58 were women, or 1.8%. 56 However, women account for 10–12% of all murders in the United States. 57 One research study found that male defendants were 2.6 times more likely than females to receive a death sentence after controlling for legally relevant factors. 58

Third, has research shown that a defendant’s race influences his or her chance of being sentenced to death? Most of the research on the biased nature of the death penalty has focused on racial inequities in the sentence. Although some research has shown that a defendant’s race has an impact on the likelihood of receiving a death sentence, a significant amount of research has shown that the race of the victim has the most substantial impact on death sentences. The research evidence clearly shows that offenders who murder white victims are more likely to receive a death sentence than offenders who murder black victims. 59 When assessing the race of both the victim and offender, the composition most likely to receive the death penalty is when a black offender murders a white victim. 60

MYTHS ABOUT COURTS

Some additional myths about courts that research does not support include:

•Many criminals escape justice because of the exclusionary rule. 45

•Subjecting juvenile offenders to harsh punishments can reduce crime committed by juveniles. 46

•Public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of imprisonment and harsh punishment for offenders. 47

•The death penalty brings closure and a sense of justice to the family and friends of murder victims. 48

•Insanity is a common verdict in criminal courts in the United States. 49

•Eyewitness identification is reliable evidence. 50

•Most people who commit crimes based on hatred, bias, or discrimination face hate crime charges and longer sentencing. 51

Myths about Corrections—Imprisonment Is the Most Severe Form of Punishment

It seems clear that besides the death penalty, the most severe punishment available in our criminal justice system is to lock up offenders in prison. On a continuum, it is perceived that sentence severity increases as one moves from fines, to probation, to intermediate sanctions such as boot camps, and finally, to incarceration in prison. The public and politicians support this perception as well.

So, what does the research show? What do criminals think is the most severe form of punishment? A growing body of research has assessed how convicted offenders perceive and experience the severity of sentences in our criminal justice system. 61 Research suggests that alternatives to incarceration in prison (i.e., probation and intermediate sanctions) are perceived by many offenders as more severe due to a greater risk of program failure (e.g., probation revocation). In comparison, serving prison time is easier. 62  

For example, one study found that about one-third of nonviolent offenders given the option of participating in an Intensive Supervision Probation (ISP) program, chose prison instead because the prospects of working every day and submitting to random drug tests was more punitive than serving time in prison. 73 Prisoners also stated that they would likely be caught violating probation conditions (i.e., high risk of program failure) and be sent to prison anyway. 74 In another research study involving survey responses from 415 inmates serving a brief prison sentence for a nonviolent crime, prison was considered the eighth most severe sanction, with only community service and probation seen as less punitive. Electronic monitoring (seventh), intensive supervision probation (sixth), halfway house (fifth), intermittent incarceration (fourth), day reporting (third), county jail (second), and boot camp (first) were all rated by inmates as more severe sanctions than prison. 75

MYTHS ABOUT CORRECTIONS

Some additional myths about corrections that research does not support include:

•Punishing criminals reduces crime. 63

•Prisons are too lenient in their day-to-day operations (prisons as country clubs). 64

•Prisons can be self-supporting if only prisoners were forced to work. 65

•Private prisons are more cost effective than state-run prisons. 66

•Focus of community corrections is rehabilitation rather than punishment. 67

•Correctional rehabilitation does not work. 68

•Drug offenders are treated leniently by the criminal justice system. 69

•Most death row inmates will be executed eventually. 70

•If correctional sanctions are severe enough, people will think twice about committing crimes. 71

•Sexual violence against and exploitation of inmates of the same gender are primarily the result of lack of heterosexual opportunities. 72

What is Research and Why is It Important to be an Informed Consumer of Research?

We probably should have started the chapter with the question “What is research?” but we wanted to initially lay a foundation for the question with a discussion of the problems with how knowledge is developed and the power of research in discovering the truth. Research methods are tools that allow criminology and criminal justice researchers to systematically study crime and the criminal justice system. The study of research methods is the study of the basic rules, appropriate techniques, and relevant procedures for conducting research. Research methods provide the tools necessary to approach issues in criminal justice from a rigorous standpoint and challenge opinions based solely on nonscientific observations and experiences. Similarly, research is the scientific investigation of an issue, problem, or subject utilizing research methods. Research is a means of knowledge development that is designed to assist in discovering answers to research questions and leads to the creation of new questions.

How Is Knowledge Development through Research Different?

Previously, sources of knowledge development were discussed, including authority, tradition, common sense, personal experience, and media portrayals. The problems generated by each knowledge source were also discussed. Research is another source of knowledge development, but it is different than those previously discussed in several ways. First, research relies on logical and systematic methods and observations to answer questions. Researchers use systematic, well-established research practices to seek answers to their questions. The methods and observations are completed in such a way that others can inspect and assess the methods and observations and offer feedback and criticism. Researchers develop, refine, and report their understanding of crime and the criminal justice system more systematically than the public does through casual observation. Those who conduct scientific research employ much more rigorous methods to gather the information/knowledge they are seeking.

Second, in order to prove that a research finding is correct, a researcher must be able to replicate the finding using the same methods. Only through replication can we have confidence in our original finding. For researchers, it may be important to replicate findings many times over so that we are assured our original finding was not a coincidence or chance occurrence. The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment is an example of this and will be discussed in detail in Chapter 5. In the experiment, the researchers found that arrests for domestic violence lead to fewer repeat incidences in comparison to separation of the people involved and mediation. Five replication studies were conducted and none were able to replicate the findings in the Minneapolis study. In fact, three of the replications found that those arrested for domestic violence had higher levels of continued domestic violence, so arrest did not have the deterrent effect found in the Minneapolis study.

Third, research is objective. Objectivity indicates a neutral and nonbiased perspective when conducting research. Although there are examples to the contrary, the researcher should not have a vested interest in what findings are discovered from the research. The researcher is expected to remain objective and report the findings of the study regardless of whether the findings support their personal opinion or agenda. In addition, research ensures objectivity by allowing others to examine and be critical of the methodology, findings, and results of research studies.

It should be clear that using research methods to answer questions about crime and the criminal justice system will greatly reduce the errors in the development of knowledge previously discussed. For example, research methods reduces the likelihood of overgeneralization by using systematic procedures for selecting individuals or groups to study that are representative of the individuals or groups that we wish to generalize. This is the topic of Chapter 3, which covers sampling procedures. In addition, research methods reduces the risk of selective observation by requiring that we measure and observe our research subjects systematically.

Being an Informed Consumer of Research

Criminal justice and criminological research is important for several reasons. First, it can provide better and more objective information. Second, it can promote better decision-making. Today, more than ever, we live in a world driven by data and in which there is an increasing dependence on the assessment of data when making decisions. As well as possible, research ensures that our decisions are based on data and not on an arbitrary or personal basis. Third, it allows for the objective assessment of programs. Fourth, it has often been the source of innovation within criminal justice agencies. Fifth, it can be directly relevant to criminal justice practice and have a significant impact on criminal justice operations.

Before we apply research results to practices in the criminal justice system, and before we even accept those research results as reasonable, we need to be able to know whether or not they are worthwhile. In other words, should we believe the results of the study? Research has its own limitations, so we need to evaluate research results and the methods used to produce them, and we do so through critical evaluation. Critical evaluation involves identifying both positive and negative aspects of the research study—both the good and the bad. Critical evaluation involves comparing the methodology used in the research with the standards established in research methods.

Through critical evaluation, consumers of research break studies down into their essential elements. What are the research questions and hypotheses? What were the independent and dependent variables? What research design was used? Was probability sampling used? What data-gathering procedures were employed? What type of data analysis was conducted and what conclusions were made? These are some of the questions that are asked by informed consumers of research. The evaluation of research ranges from the manner in which one obtains an idea to the ways in which one writes about the research results, and understanding each step in the research process is useful in our attempts to consume research conducted by others. Located between these two activities are issues concerning ethics, sampling, research design, data analyses, and interpretations.

The research design and procedures are typically the most critically evaluated aspects of research and will likewise receive the greatest amount of attention in this text. Informed consumers of research don’t just take the results of a research study at face value because the study is in an academic journal or written by someone with a Ph.D. Instead, informed consumers critically evaluate research. Taking what is learned throughout this text, critical evaluation of research is covered in Chapter 8, and upon completing this text, it is hoped that you will be an informed consumer of research and will put your research knowledge to use throughout your career.

Although many students will never undertake their own research, all will be governed by policies based upon research and exposed to research findings in their chosen professional positions. Most government agencies, including the criminal justice system, as well as private industry, routinely rely on data analysis. Criminal justice students employed with these agencies will be challenged if not prepared for quantitative tasks. Unfortunately, it is not unusual to find students as well as professionals in criminal justice who are unable to fully understand research reports and journal articles in their own field.

Beyond our criminal justice careers, we are all exposed to and use research to help us understand issues and to make personal decisions. For example, we know that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and has other significant health impacts, so we don’t smoke. Your doctor tells you that your cholesterol is too high and you need to limit your red meat intake because research shows that consumption of red meat raises cholesterol; so, you quit eating red meat. That is why not all the examples in this text are criminal justice research examples. Some come from the medical field while others come from psychology and other disciplines. This is to remind you that you are probably exposed to much more research than you thought on day one of this class.

Overall, knowledge of research methods will allow you to more appropriately consider and consume information that is important to your career in criminal justice. It will help you better understand the process of asking and answering a question systematically and be a better consumer of the kind of information that you really need to be the best criminal justice professional you can. Once familiar with research methods, your anxiety about reviewing technical reports and research findings can be minimized. As discussed in the next section, research methods involve a process and once you understand the process, you can apply your knowledge to any research study, even those in other disciplines.

The Research Process

One of the nice things about studying research methods is it is about learning a process. Research methods can be seen as a sequential process with the first step being followed by the second step, and so on. There are certainly times when the order of the steps may be modified, but researchers typically follow the same process for each research study they complete regardless of the research topic (as depicted in Figure 2.1 in Chapter 2). Very simply, a research problem or question is identified, and a methodology is selected, developed, and implemented to answer the research question. This sequential process is one of the advantages of understanding research methods, because once you understand the process, you can apply that process to any research question that interests you. In addition, research methods are the same across disciplines. So, sampling is the same in business as it is in health education and as it is in criminal justice. Certainly the use of a particular method will be more common in one discipline in comparison to another, but the protocol for implementing the method to complete the research study is the same. For example, field research (discussed in Chapter 6) is used much more frequently in anthropology than in criminal justice. However, the research protocol to implement field research is the same whether you are studying an indigenous Indian tribe in South America in anthropology or a group of heroin users in St. Louis in criminal justice.

Some authors have presented the research process as a wheel or circle, with no specific beginning or end. Typically, the research process begins with the selection of a research problem and the development of research questions or hypotheses (discussed further in Chapter 2). It is common for the results of previous research to generate new research questions and hypotheses for the researcher. This suggests that research is cyclical, a vibrant and continuous process. When a research study answers one question, the result is often the generation of additional questions, which plunges the researcher right back into the research process to complete additional research to answer these new questions.

In this section, a brief overview of the research process will be presented. The chapters that follow address various aspects of the research process, but it is critical that you keep in mind the overall research process as you read this book, which is why is it presented here. Although you will probably not be expected to conduct a research study on your own, it is important for an educated consumer of research to understand the steps in the research process. The steps are presented in chronological order and appear neatly ordered. In practice, the researcher can go back and forth between the steps in the research process.

Step 1: Select a Topic and Conduct a Literature Review

The first step in the research process is typically the identification of a problem or topic that the researcher is interested in studying. Research topics can arise from a wide variety of sources, including the findings of a current study, a question that a criminal justice agency needs to have answered, or the result of intellectual curiosity. Once the researcher has identified a particular problem or topic, the researcher assesses the current state of the literature related to the problem or topic. The researcher will often spend a considerable amount of time in determining what the existing literature has to say about the topic. Has the topic already been studied to the point that the questions in which the researcher is interested have been sufficiently answered? If so, can the researcher approach the subject from a previously unexamined perspective? Many times, research topics have been previously explored but not brought to completion. If this is the case, it is certainly reasonable to examine the topic again. It is even appropriate to replicate a previous study to determine whether the findings reported in the prior research continue to be true in different settings with different participants. This step in the research process is also discussed in Chapter 2.

Step 2: Develop a Research Question

After a topic has been identified and a comprehensive literature review has been completed on the topic, the next step is the development of a research question or questions. The research question marks the beginning of your research study and is critical to the remaining steps in the research process. The research question determines the research plan and methodology that will be employed in the study, the data that will be collected, and the data analysis that will be performed. Basically, the remaining steps in the process are completed in order to answer the research question or questions established in this step. The development of research questions is discussed in more detail in Chapter 2.

Step 3: Develop a Hypothesis

After the research questions have been established, the next step is the formulation of hypotheses, which are statements about the expected relationship between two variables. For example, a hypothesis may state that there is no relationship between heavy metal music preference and violent delinquency. The two variables stated in the hypothesis are music preference and violent delinquency. Hypothesis development is discussed in more detail in Chapter 2.

Step 4: Operationalize Concepts

Operationalization involves the process of giving the concepts in your study a working definition and determining how each concept in your study will be measured. For example, in Step 3, the variables were music preference and violent delinquency. The process of operationalization involves determining how music preference and violent delinquency will be measured. Operationalization is further discussed in Chapter 2.

Step 5: Develop the Research Plan and Methodology

The next step is to develop the methodology that will be employed to answer the research questions and test the hypotheses. The research methodology is the blueprint for the study, which outlines how the research is to be conducted. The research questions will determine the appropriate methodology for the study. The research design selected should be driven by the research questions asked. In other words, the research questions dictate the methods used to answer them. The methodology is basically a research plan on how the research questions will be answered and will detail:

1. What group, subjects, or population will be studied and selected? Sampling will be discussed in Chapter 3.

2 . What research design will be used to collect data to answer the research questions? Various research designs will be covered in Chapters 4–7.

You need to have familiarity with all research designs so that you can become an educated consumer of research. A survey cannot answer all research questions, so knowing a lot about surveys but not other research designs will not serve you well as you assess research studies. There are several common designs used in criminal justice and criminology research. Brief descriptions of several common research designs are presented below, but each is discussed in detail in later chapters.

Survey research is one of the most common research designs employed in criminal justice research. It obtains data directly from research participants by asking them questions and is often conducted through self-administered questionnaires and personal interviews. For example, a professor might have her students complete a survey during class to understand the relationship between drug use and self-esteem. Survey research is discussed in Chapter 4.

Experimental designs are used when researchers are interested in determining whether a program, policy, practice, or intervention is effective. For example, a researcher may use an experimental design to determine if boot camps are effective at reducing juvenile delinquency. Experimental design is discussed in Chapter 5.

Field research involves researchers studying individuals or groups of individuals in their natural environment. The researcher is observing closely or acting as part of the group under study and is able to describe in depth not only the subject’s behaviors, but also consider the motivations that drive those behaviors. For example, if a researcher wanted to learn more about gangs and their activities, he may “hang out” with a gang in order to observe their behavior. Field research is discussed in Chapter 6.

A case study is an in-depth analysis of one or a few illustrative cases. This design allows the story behind an individual, a particular offender, to be told and then information from cases studies can be extrapolated to a larger group. Often these studies require the review and analysis of documents such as police reports and court records and interviews with the offender and others. For example, a researcher may explore the life history of a serial killer to try and understand why the offender killed. Case studies are discussed in Chapter 6.

Secondary data analysis occurs when researchers obtain and reanalyze data that was originally collected for a different purpose. This can include reanalyzing data collected from a prior research study, using criminal justice agency records to answer a research question, or historical research. For example, a researcher using secondary data analysis may analyze inmate files from a nearby prison to understand the relationship between custody level assignment and disciplinary violations inside prison. Secondary data analysis is discussed in Chapter 7.

Content analysis requires the assessment of content contained in mass communication outlets such as newspapers, television, magazines, and the like. In this research design, documents, publications, or presentations are reviewed and analyzed. For example, a researcher utilizing content analysis might review true crime books involving murder to see how the characteristics of the offender and victim in the true crime books match reality as depicted in the FBI’s Supplemental Homicide Reports. Content analysis is discussed in Chapter 7.

Despite the options these designs offer, other research designs are available and will be discussed later in the text. Ultimately, the design used will depend on the nature of the study and the research questions asked.

Step 6: Execute the Research Plan and Collect Data

The next step in the research process is the collection of the data based on the research design developed. For example, if a survey is developed to study the relationship between gang membership and violent delinquency, the distribution and collection of surveys from a group of high school students would occur in this step. Data collection is discussed in several chapters throughout this text.

Step 7: Analyze Data

After the data have been collected, the next phase in the research process involves analyzing the data through various and appropriate statistical techniques. The most common means for data analysis today is through the use of a computer and statistically oriented software. Data analysis and statistics are discussed in Chapter 9.

Step 8: Report Findings, Results, and Limitations

Reporting and interpreting the results of the study make up the final step in the research process. The findings and results of the study can be communicated through reports, journals, books, or computer presentations. At this step, the results are reported and the research questions are answered. In addition, an assessment is made regarding the support or lack of support for the hypotheses tested. It is also at this stage that the researcher can pose additional research questions that may now need to be answered as a result of the research study. In addition, the limitations of the study, as well as the impact those limitations may have on the results of the study, will be described by the researcher. All research has limitations, so it is incumbent on the researcher to identify those limitations for the reader. The process of assessing the quality of research will be discussed in Chapter 8.

Research in Action: Impacting Criminal Justice Operations

Research in the criminal justice system has had significant impacts on its operations. The following sections provide an example of research that has significantly impacted each of the three main components of the criminal justice system: police, courts, and corrections. The purpose of this section is to demonstrate that research has aided the positive development and progression of the criminal justice system.

Police Research Example 76

The efforts of criminal justice researchers in policing have been important and have created the initial and critical foundation necessary for the further development of effective and productive law enforcement. One seminal study asked: How important is it for the police to respond quickly when a citizen calls? The importance of rapid response was conveyed in a 1973 National Commission on Productivity Report despite the fact that there was very little empirical evidence upon which to base this assumption. In fact, the Commission stated “there is no definitive relationship between response time and deterrence, but professional judgment and logic do suggest that the two are related in a strong enough manner to make more rapid response important.” 77 Basically the Commission members were stating that we don’t have any research evidence that response times are important, but we “know” that they are. Police departments allocated substantial resources to the patrol function and deployed officers in an effort to improve response time through the use of the 9-1-1 telephone number, computer-assisted dispatch, and beat assignment systems. Officers were typically assigned to a patrol beat. When the officers were not answering calls for service, they remained in their assigned beats so they could immediately respond to an emergency.

The data for the project were collected as part of a larger experiment on preventive patrol carried out in Kansas City, Missouri, between October 1972 and September 1973. 78 To determine the impact of response time, researchers speculated that the following variables would be influenced by response time: 1) the outcome of the response, 2) citizen satisfaction with response time, and 3) citizen satisfaction with the responding officer. Several data sources were used in the study. First, surveys were completed after all citizen-initiated calls (excluding automobile accidents) that involved contact with a police officer. The survey instrument consisted of questions to assess the length of time to respond to a call and the outcome of the call (i.e., arrest). Over 1,100 surveys were completed. Second, a follow-up survey was mailed to citizens whom the police had contacted during their response. These surveys asked questions to assess citizen satisfaction with response time and outcome. Over 425 of these surveys were returned.

The data collected during the study showed that response time did not determine whether or not the police made an arrest or recovered stolen property. This was the most surprising finding from the study because it challenged one of the basic underlying principles of police patrol. Researchers attributed the lack of significance to the fact that most citizens waited before calling the police. Rapid response simply did not matter in situations where citizens delayed in reporting the crime.

Rapid response time was not only believed to be important in determining the outcome of a response (i.e., more likely to lead to an arrest), it was also considered an important predictor of citizen satisfaction. Data from the study showed that when the police arrived sooner than expected, citizens were more satisfied with response time. However, subsequent research has shown that citizens are also satisfied with a delayed response as long as the dispatcher sets a reasonable expectation for when the patrol officer will arrive. Response time was also the best predictor of how satisfied a citizen was with the responding officer. It was further revealed that citizens became dissatisfied with the police when they were not informed of the outcome (i.e., someone was arrested). Again, these findings indicate the need for dispatchers and patrol officers to communicate with complainants regarding when they should expect an officer to arrive and the outcome of the call.

Based on the results of the response time study, the researchers concluded that rapid response was not as important as police administrators had thought. Response time was not related to an officer’s ability to make an arrest or recover stolen property. Results from the response time study challenged traditional beliefs about the allocation of patrol in our communities. Based on tradition knowledge, as previously discussed, rapidly responding to calls for service is what the police had always done since they started using patrol vehicles. In addition, common sense, as previously discussed, played a role in the practice of rapid response to calls for service; it just made sense that if a patrol officer arrives sooner, she will be more likely to make an arrest.

Prior to the research, police departments operated under the assumption that rapid response was a crucial factor in the ability of an officer to solve a crime and an important predictor of citizen satisfaction. In response to the research on rapid response, many police departments changed the way they responded to calls for service. Many departments adopted a differential police response approach. Differential police response protocols allow police departments to prioritize calls and rapidly dispatch an officer only when an immediate response is needed (i.e., crimes in progress). For crimes in progress, rapid response is critical and may reduce the injuries sustained by the victim as well, but these emergency calls usually account for less than 2% of all 9-1-1 calls for police service. For nonemergency calls, an officer is either dispatched at a later time when the officer is available or a report is taken over the phone or through some other means. Differential police response has been shown to save departments money and give patrol officers more time to engage in community-oriented and proactive policing activities. The benefits for a department are not at the expense of the public. In fact, a study by Robert Worden found a high degree of citizen satisfaction with differential police response. 79

Courts Research Example 80

Research on the courts component of the criminal justice system, while far from complete, has produced direct effects on the operations of the criminal justice system. The study reviewed in this section asked the following research question: Are jurors able to understand different legal rules for establishing a defendant’s criminal responsibility? The study described below explored the issue of criminal responsibility as it applies to the insanity defense in the United States. For several years, the M ’ Naghten rule was the legal rule applied in all courts of the United States. Under M ’ Naghten, criminal responsibility was absent when the offender did not understand the nature of his actions due to failure to distinguish “right” from “wrong.” This is known as the “right/wrong test” for criminal responsibility. The case of Durham v. United States was heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and offered an alternative test for criminal responsibility and insanity. The legal rule emerging from Durham was that criminal responsibility was absent if the offense was a product of mental disease or defect. This ruling provided psychiatrists with a more important role at trial because of the requirement that the behavior be linked to a mental disorder that only a psychiatrist could officially determine.

At the time of Simon’s 1967 study, most courts across the country still followed the M ’ Naghten rule. Questions arose, however, regarding whether juries differed in their understanding of M ’ Naghten versus Durham and, in turn, whether this resulted in differences in their ability to make informed decisions regarding criminal responsibility in cases involving the insanity defense. The study was designed to determine the effect of different legal rules on jurors’ decision-making in cases where the defense was insanity. There was a question of whether there was a difference between the rules to the extent that jurors understood each rule and could capably apply it.

Simon conducted an experimental study on jury deliberations in cases where the only defense was insanity. 81 Utilizing a mock jury approach, Simon took the transcripts of two actual trials with one reflecting the use of the M ’ Naghten rule and the other the Durham rule. Both cases were renamed and the transcripts were edited to constitute a trial of 60–90 minutes in length. These edited transcripts were then recorded, with University of Chicago Law School faculty as the attorneys, judges, and witnesses involved in each case. Groups of 12 jurors listened to each trial with instruction provided at the end regarding the particular rule of law ( M ’ Naghten or Durham) for determining criminal responsibility. Each juror submitted a written statement with his or her initial decision on the case before jury deliberations, and the juries’ final decisions after deliberation were also reported.

Simon found significant differences in the verdicts across the two groups ( M ’ Naghten rule applied and Durham rule applied) even when the case was the same. For the M ’ Naghten version of the case, the psychiatrists stated that the defendant was mentally ill yet knew right from wrong during the crime. These statements/instructions should have led to a guilty verdict on the part of the mock jury. As expected, the M ’ Naghten juries delivered guilty verdicts in 19 of the 20 trials, with one hung jury. For the Durham version of the case, the psychiatrists stated that the crime resulted from the defendant’s mental illness, which should have lead to acquittal. However, the defendant was acquitted in only five of the 26 Durham trials. Twenty-six groups of 12 jurors were exposed to the Durham version of the trial and the case was the same each time. Simon interpreted these results as suggesting that jurors were unambiguous in their interpretations and applications of M ’ Naghten (due to the consistency in guilty verdicts), but they were less clear on the elements of Durham and how to apply it (reflected by the mix of guilty, not guilty, and hung verdicts). 82

After Simon’s study, most states rejected the Durham test. Recall her finding that the Durham rule produced inconsistent verdicts. She interpreted this finding as Durham being no better than providing no guidance to jurors on how to decide the issue of insanity. The observation helped to fuel arguments against the use of Durham, which, in turn, contributed to its demise as a legal rule. Today, only New Hampshire uses a version of the Durham rule in insanity cases.

WHAT RESEARCH SHOWS: IMPACTING CRIMINAL JUSTICE OPERATIONS

The Punishment Cost of Being Young, Black, and Male

Steffensmeier, Ulmer, and Kramer 83 hypothesized that African Americans overall were not likely to be treated more harshly than white defendants by the courts because it was only particular subgroups of minority defendants that fit with court actors’ stereotypes of “more dangerous” offenders. In particular, they argued that younger African American males not only fulfilled this stereotype more than any other age, race, and gender combination, they were also more likely to be perceived by judges as being able to handle incarceration better than other subgroups.

In order to test their hypotheses, the researchers examined sentencing data from Pennsylvania spanning four years (1989–1992). Almost 139,000 cases were examined. The sentences they examined included whether a convicted defendant was incarcerated in prison or jail, and the length of incarceration in prison or jail. The researchers found that offense severity and prior record were the most important predictors of whether a convicted defendant was incarcerated and the length of incarceration. The authors found that the highest likelihood of incarceration and the longest sentences for males were distributed to African Americans aged 18–29 years. Their analysis of females revealed that white females were much less likely than African American females to be incarcerated, regardless of the age group examined. Taken altogether, the analysis revealed that African American males aged 18–29 years maintained the highest odds of incarceration and the longest sentences relative to any other race, sex, and age group.

Overall, this research showed that judges focused primarily on legal factors (offense severity and prior record) when determining the sentences of convicted offenders. These are the factors we expect judges to consider when making sentencing decisions. However, the research also found that judges base their decisions in part on extralegal factors, particularly the interaction of a defendant’s age, race, and gender. This research expanded our knowledge beyond the impact of singular factors on sentencing to expose the interaction effects of several variables (race, gender, and age). Court personnel are aware of these interaction effects based on this study, and others that followed, as well as their personal experiences in the criminal justice system. Identification and recognition of inequities in our justice system (in this case that young, African American males are punished more severely in our justice system) is the first step in mitigating this inequity.

Corrections Research Example 84

Although the research in corrections is far from complete, it has contributed greatly to the development of innovative programs and the professional development of correctional personnel. The contributions of academic and policy-oriented research can be seen across the whole range of correctional functions from pretrial services through probation, institutional corrections, and parole.

Rehabilitation remained the goal of our correctional system until the early 1970s, when the efficacy of rehabilitation was questioned. Violent crime was on the rise, and many politicians placed the blame on the criminal justice system. Some believed the system was too lenient on offenders. Interest in researching the effectiveness of correctional treatment remained low until 1974 when an article written by Robert Martinson and published in Public Interest titled “What Works? Questions and Answers about Prison Reform” generated enormous political and public attention to the effectiveness of correctional treatment. 85

Over a six-month period, Martinson and his colleagues reviewed all of the existing literature on correctional treatment published in English from 1945 to 1967. Each of the articles was evaluated according to traditional standards of social science research. Only studies that utilized an experimental design, included a sufficient sample size, and could be replicated were selected for review. A total of 231 studies examining a variety of different types of treatment were chosen, including educational and vocational training, individual and group counseling, therapeutic milieus, medical treatment, differences in length and type of incarceration, and community corrections. All of the treatment studies included at least one measure of offender recidivism, such as whether or not offenders were rearrested or violated their parole. The recidivism measures were used to examine the success or failure of a program in terms of reducing crime.

After reviewing all 231 studies, Martinson reported that there was no consistent evidence that correctional treatment reduced recidivism. Specifically, he wrote, “with few and isolated exceptions, the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far have had no appreciable effect on recidivism.” 86 Martinson further indicated that the lack of empirical support for correctional treatment could be a consequence of poorly implemented programs. If the quality of the programs were improved, the results may have proved more favorable, but this conclusion was for the most part ignored by the media and policy-makers.

Martinson’s report became commonly referred to as “nothing works” and was subsequently used as the definitive study detailing the failures of rehabilitation. The article had implications beyond questioning whether or not specific types of correctional treatment reduced recidivism. The entire philosophy of rehabilitation was now in doubt because of Martinson’s conclusion that “our present strategies … cannot overcome, or even appreciably reduce, the powerful tendencies of offenders to continue in criminal behavior.” 87

Martinson’s article provided policy makers the evidence to justify spending cuts on rehabilitative programs. Furthermore, it allowed politicians to respond to growing concerns about crime with punitive, get-tough strategies. States began implementing strict mandatory sentences that resulted in more criminals being sent to prison and for longer periods of time. Over the next several years, Martinson’s article was used over and over to support abandoning efforts to treat offenders until rehabilitation became virtually nonexistent in our correctional system.

Chapter Summary

This chapter began with a discussion of sources of knowledge development and the problems with each. To depict the importance of research methods in knowledge development, myths about crime and the criminal justice system were reviewed along with research studies that have dispelled myths. As the introductory chapter in this text, this chapter also provided an overview of the steps in the research process from selecting a topic and conducting a literature review at the beginning of a research study to reporting findings, results, and limitations at the end of the study. Examples of actual research studies in the areas of police, courts, and corrections were also provided in this chapter to demonstrate the research process in action and to illustrate how research has significantly impacted practices within the criminal justice system. In addition, this chapter demonstrated the critical importance of becoming an informed consumer of research in both your personal and professional lives.

Critical Thinking Questions

1. What are the primary sources of knowledge development, and what are the problems with each?

2. How is knowledge developed through research methods different from other sources of knowledge?

3. What myths about crime and criminal justice have been dispelled through research? Give an example of a research study that dispelled a myth.

4. Why is it important to be an informed consumer of research?

5. What are the steps in the research process, and what activities occur at each step?

authority knowledge: Knowledge developed when we accept something as being correct and true just because someone in a position of authority says it is true

case study: An in-depth analysis of one or a few illustrative cases

common sense knowledge: Knowledge developed when the information “just makes sense”

content analysis: A method requiring the analyzing of content contained in mass communication outlets such as newspapers, television, magazines, and the like

CSI Effect: Due to the unrealistic portrayal of the role of forensic science in solving criminal cases in television shows, jurors are more likely to vote to acquit a defendant when the expected sophisticated forensic evidence is not presented

differential police response: Methods that allow police departments to prioritize calls and rapidly dispatch an officer only when an immediate response is needed (i.e., crimes in progress)

experimental designs: Used when researchers are interested in determining whether a program, policy, practice, or intervention is effective

field research: Research that involves researchers studying individuals or groups of individuals in their natural environment

Halloween sadism: The practice of giving contaminated treats to children during trick or treating

hypotheses: Statements about the expected relationship between two concepts

illogical reasoning: Occurs when someone jumps to premature conclusions or presents an argument that is based on invalid assumptions

myths: Beliefs that are based on emotion rather than rigorous analysis

operationalization: The process of giving a concept a working definition; determining how each concept in your study will be measured

overgeneralization: Occurs when people conclude that what they have observed in one or a few cases is true for all cases

personal experience knowledge: Knowledge developed through actual experiences

research: The scientific investigation of an issue, problem, or subject utilizing research methods

research methods: The tools that allow criminology and criminal justice researchers to systematically study crime and the criminal justice system and include the basic rules, appropriate techniques, and relevant procedures for conducting research

resistance to change: The reluctance to change our beliefs in light of new, accurate, and valid information to the contrary

secondary data analysis: Occurs when researchers obtain and reanalyze data that were originally collected for a different purpose

selective observation: Choosing, either consciously or unconsciously, to pay attention to and remember events that support our personal preferences and beliefs

survey research: Obtaining data directly from research participants by asking them questions, often conducted through self-administered questionnaires and personal interviews

tradition knowledge: Knowledge developed when we accept something as true because that is the way things have always been, so it must be right

variables: Concepts that have been given a working definition and can take on different values

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2 Betz, N. E. (1978). “Prevalence, distribution, and correlates of math anxiety in college students. Journal of Counseling Psychology 25 (5), 441–448.

3 Briggs, et al., 2009, p. 221.

4 Ibid, p. 221.

5 Ibid, p. 221.

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7 Tennessee v. Gamer, 471 U.S. 1 (1985).

8 Lombroso-Ferrero, Gina. (1911). Criminal man, according to the classification of Cesare Lombroso. New York: Putnam.

9 This study was included in Amy B. Thistlethwaite and John D. Wooldredge. (2010). Forty studies that changed criminal justice: Explorations into the history of criminal justice research. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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39 Masters, et al., 2013.

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48 Acker, James R. “The myth of closure and capital punishment.” 167–175 in Bohm, Robert M., and Jeffrey T. Walker. (2006). Demystifying crime and criminal justice. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

49 Masters, et al., 2013.

52 Lersch, 2006.

53 Newport, Frank. “In U.S., support for death penalty falls to 39-year low.” October 13, 2011. http://www.gallup .com/poll/150089/support-death-penalty-falls-year-low.aspx. Retrieved on April 16, 2012.

54 Applegate, Brandon. “The myth that the death penalty is administered fairly.” 158–166 in Bohm, Robert M., and Jeffrey T. Walker. (2006). Demystifying crime and criminal justice. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

55 Williams, M. R., and J. E. Holcomb. (2001). “Racial disparity and death sentences in Ohio.” Journal of Criminal Justice 29, 207–218.

56 Snell, Tracy L. (2011, December). Capital punishment, 2010—statistical tables. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

57 Applegate, 2006.

58 Williams and Holcomb, 2001.

59 Applegate, 2006.

61 Wood, Peter B. “The myth that imprisonment is the most severe form of punishment.” 192–200 in Bohm, Robert M., and Jeffrey T. Walker. (2006). Demystifying crime and criminal justice. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

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64 McShane, Marilyn, Frank P. Williams III, and Beth Pelz. “The myth of prisons as country clubs.” 201–208 in Bohm, Robert M., and Jeffrey T. Walker. (2006). Demystifying crime and criminal justice. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

65 Parker, Mary. “The myth that prisons can be self-supporting.” 209–213 in Bohm, Robert M., and Jeffrey T. Walker. (2006). Demystifying crime and criminal justice. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

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67 Jones, G. Mark. “The myth that the focus of community corrections is rehabilitation.” 221–226 in Bohm, Robert M., and Jeffrey T. Walker. (2006). Demystifying crime and criminal justice. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

68 Cullen, Francis T., and Paula Smith. “The myth that correctional rehabilitation does not work.” 227–238 in Bohm, Robert M., and Jeffrey T. Walker. (2006). Demystifying crime and criminal justice. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

69 Masters, et al., 2013.

73 Petersilia, Joan. (1990). “When probation becomes more dreaded than prison. Federal Probation 54, 23–27.

75 Wood, P. B., and H. G. Grasmick. (1999). “Toward the development of punishment equivalencies: Male and female inmates rate the severity of alternative sanctions compared to prison.” Justice Quarterly 16, 19–50.

76 Example is excerpted from Amy B. Thistlethwaite and John D. Wooldredge. (2010). Forty studies that changed criminal justice: Explorations into the history of criminal justice research. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. This is an excellent book that demonstrates the impact research has had on criminal justice operations.

77 National Commission on Productivity. (1973). Opportunities for improving productivity in police services. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, p. 19.

78 Pate, T., A. Ferrara, R. Bowers, and J. Lorence. (1976). Police response time: Its determinants and effects. Washington, DC: Police Foundation.

79 Worden, R. (1993). “Toward equity and efficiency in law enforcement: Differential police response. American Journal of Police 12, 1–32.

80 Example is excerpted from Amy B. Thistlethwaite and John D. Wooldredge. (2010). Forty studies that changed criminal justice: Explorations into the history of criminal justice research. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

81 Simon, R. (1967). The jury and the defense of insanity. Boston: Little, Brown.

83 Steffensmeier, D., J. Ulmer, & J. Kramer. (1998). “The interaction of race, gender, and age in criminal sentencing: The punishment cost of being young, black, and male. Criminology 36, 763–797.

84 Example is excerpted from Amy B. Thistlethwaite and John D. Wooldredge. (2010). Forty studies that changed criminal justice: Explorations into the history of criminal justice research. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

85 Martinson, R. (1974). “What works? Questions and answers about prison reform.” The Public Interest 10, 22–54.

86 Ibid, p. 25.

87 Ibid, p. 49.

Applied Research Methods in Criminal Justice and Criminology by University of North Texas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • Research Objectives | Definition & Examples

Research Objectives | Definition & Examples

Published on July 12, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan . Revised on November 20, 2023.

Research objectives describe what your research is trying to achieve and explain why you are pursuing it. They summarize the approach and purpose of your project and help to focus your research.

Your objectives should appear in the introduction of your research paper , at the end of your problem statement . They should:

  • Establish the scope and depth of your project
  • Contribute to your research design
  • Indicate how your project will contribute to existing knowledge

Table of contents

What is a research objective, why are research objectives important, how to write research aims and objectives, smart research objectives, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about research objectives.

Research objectives describe what your research project intends to accomplish. They should guide every step of the research process , including how you collect data , build your argument , and develop your conclusions .

Your research objectives may evolve slightly as your research progresses, but they should always line up with the research carried out and the actual content of your paper.

Research aims

A distinction is often made between research objectives and research aims.

A research aim typically refers to a broad statement indicating the general purpose of your research project. It should appear at the end of your problem statement, before your research objectives.

Your research objectives are more specific than your research aim and indicate the particular focus and approach of your project. Though you will only have one research aim, you will likely have several research objectives.

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Research objectives are important because they:

  • Establish the scope and depth of your project: This helps you avoid unnecessary research. It also means that your research methods and conclusions can easily be evaluated .
  • Contribute to your research design: When you know what your objectives are, you have a clearer idea of what methods are most appropriate for your research.
  • Indicate how your project will contribute to extant research: They allow you to display your knowledge of up-to-date research, employ or build on current research methods, and attempt to contribute to recent debates.

Once you’ve established a research problem you want to address, you need to decide how you will address it. This is where your research aim and objectives come in.

Step 1: Decide on a general aim

Your research aim should reflect your research problem and should be relatively broad.

Step 2: Decide on specific objectives

Break down your aim into a limited number of steps that will help you resolve your research problem. What specific aspects of the problem do you want to examine or understand?

Step 3: Formulate your aims and objectives

Once you’ve established your research aim and objectives, you need to explain them clearly and concisely to the reader.

You’ll lay out your aims and objectives at the end of your problem statement, which appears in your introduction. Frame them as clear declarative statements, and use appropriate verbs to accurately characterize the work that you will carry out.

The acronym “SMART” is commonly used in relation to research objectives. It states that your objectives should be:

  • Specific: Make sure your objectives aren’t overly vague. Your research needs to be clearly defined in order to get useful results.
  • Measurable: Know how you’ll measure whether your objectives have been achieved.
  • Achievable: Your objectives may be challenging, but they should be feasible. Make sure that relevant groundwork has been done on your topic or that relevant primary or secondary sources exist. Also ensure that you have access to relevant research facilities (labs, library resources , research databases , etc.).
  • Relevant: Make sure that they directly address the research problem you want to work on and that they contribute to the current state of research in your field.
  • Time-based: Set clear deadlines for objectives to ensure that the project stays on track.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Methodology

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

Research objectives describe what you intend your research project to accomplish.

They summarize the approach and purpose of the project and help to focus your research.

Your objectives should appear in the introduction of your research paper , at the end of your problem statement .

Your research objectives indicate how you’ll try to address your research problem and should be specific:

Once you’ve decided on your research objectives , you need to explain them in your paper, at the end of your problem statement .

Keep your research objectives clear and concise, and use appropriate verbs to accurately convey the work that you will carry out for each one.

I will compare …

A research aim is a broad statement indicating the general purpose of your research project. It should appear in your introduction at the end of your problem statement , before your research objectives.

Research objectives are more specific than your research aim. They indicate the specific ways you’ll address the overarching aim.

Scope of research is determined at the beginning of your research process , prior to the data collection stage. Sometimes called “scope of study,” your scope delineates what will and will not be covered in your project. It helps you focus your work and your time, ensuring that you’ll be able to achieve your goals and outcomes.

Defining a scope can be very useful in any research project, from a research proposal to a thesis or dissertation . A scope is needed for all types of research: quantitative , qualitative , and mixed methods .

To define your scope of research, consider the following:

  • Budget constraints or any specifics of grant funding
  • Your proposed timeline and duration
  • Specifics about your population of study, your proposed sample size , and the research methodology you’ll pursue
  • Any inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • Any anticipated control , extraneous , or confounding variables that could bias your research if not accounted for properly.

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Why is biodiversity important?

Biodiversity is essential for the processes that support all life on Earth, including humans. Without a wide range of animals, plants and microorganisms, we cannot have the healthy ecosystems that we rely on to provide us with the air we breathe and the food we eat. And people also value nature of itself.

Some aspects of biodiversity are instinctively widely valued by people but the more we study biodiversity the more we see that all of it is important – even bugs and bacteria that we can’t see or may not like the look of. There are lots of ways that humans depend upon biodiversity and it is vital for us to conserve it. Pollinators such as birds, bees and other insects are estimated to be responsible for a third of the world’s crop production. Without pollinators we would not have apples, cherries, blueberries, almonds and many other foods we eat. Agriculture is also reliant upon invertebrates – they help to maintain the health of the soil crops grow in.  Soil is teeming with microbes that are vital for liberating nutrients that plants need to grow, which are then also passed to us when we eat them. Life from the oceans provides the main source of animal protein for many people.

Trees, bushes and wetlands and wild grasslands naturally slow down water and help soil to absorb rainfall. When they are removed it can increase flooding. Trees and other plants clean the air we breathe and help us tackle the global challenge of climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide. Coral reefs and mangrove forests act as natural defences protecting coastlines from waves and storms. 

Many of our medicines, along with other complex chemicals that we use in our daily lives such as latex and rubber, also originate from plants. Spending time in nature is increasingly understood to lead to improvements in people’s physical and mental health. Simply having green spaces and trees in cities has been shown to decrease hospital admissions, reduce stress and lower blood pressure.

Further reading

Plural valuation of nature matters for environmental sustainability and justice by Berta Martin-Lopez, Social-Ecological Systems Institute, Faculty of Sustainability, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany

Climate change and biodiversity

Human activities are changing the climate. Science can help us understand what we are doing to habitats and the climate, but also find solutions.

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News Mar | 13 | 2024

New CAR-T Therapy Shows Promise for Glioblastoma: Why Is This Study Important?

Learn more about the findings and importance of a study led by a research and clinical team from the Mass General Cancer Center who is developing new cell therapy for patients with recurrent glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer.

What is Glioblastoma?

Glioblastoma, the most common brain tumor, is a fast-growing cancer in the brain that is universally fatal despite currently available treatments. Symptoms include persistent headaches, blurred vision, vomiting or loss of appetite, changes and mood and personality, seizures and speech difficulty, among others.

It can be diagnosed and monitored through various brain imaging techniques, including computed tomography (CAT scans) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

What is Recurrent Glioblastoma?

Recurrent glioblastoma refers to glioblastoma that returns after initial treatment, which typically includes surgical removal of the tumor and chemotherapy treatment.

INCIPIENT trial infographic

What Makes Glioblastoma Difficult to Treat?

In addition to its location in the brain, glioblastoma is a heterogenous tumor, meaning that not all of the tumor cells are alike and do not respond uniformly to any one treatment strategy.

What Are CAR T Cells?

CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T cell therapy is a type of immunotherapy in which a patient's own immune cells are harvested, re-engineered and then put back into the body to recognize and kill cancer cells. It involves altering the genes inside T cells (a type of white blood cell that fights infection) to help them identify and attack cancer cells.

They have been incredibly successful in treating some forms of blood-based cancers, such as leukemia, but researchers are still working to translate that success into solid tumors such as glioblastomas.

What are CAR-TEAM cells?

CAR-TEAM (T Cell Engaging Antibody Molecule) cells were developed by researchers to address the challenge of heterogeneity in solid tumor cancers.

Typically, CAR T cells are designed to target a single spot on the tumors. CAR-TEAM cells have a dual targeting mechanism that enables them to attack the cancer cells at two different targets.

In this trial, the first target was a common cancer mutation known as EGRFvlll.

The second target is wild type EGFR, a protein that is not detected in normal brain tissue but is expressed in more than 80 percent of cases of glioblastoma.

What did the Trial Show?

The researchers enrolled three patients with recurrent glioblastoma in this first-in-human study .

Treatment of the CAR-TEAM cells were administered directly to the brain via a surgically implanted catheter.

All three patients showed remarkable initial responses to the treatment, with dramatic but transient reductions in tumor size in MRI scans taken shortly after.

What’s Next?

Encouraged by this promising first step and the initial reductions in tumor size, the team is now working on new strategies to increase the longevity of the treatment, either by giving patients additional doses of the CAR TEAM cells over time and/or by combining it with other forms of chemotherapy.

If you are interested in learning more about the INCIPIENT clinical trial, please call 617-724-6226 or email [email protected] . A member of our clinical team will contact you within 48 business hours.

Video: New CAR-T Therapy Shows Promise for Glioblastoma

A collaborative project to bring the promise of cell therapy to patients with a deadly form of brain cancer has shown dramatic results among the first patients to receive the novel treatment.

what is importance of the study in research

Bryan Choi, MD, PhD

  • Brain Tumor Surgeon
  • Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School
  • Associate Director, Brain Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy

what is importance of the study in research

Marcela Maus, MD, PhD

  • Director, Cellular Immunotherapy Program
  • Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

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  • View press release about the INCIPIENT trial
  • View NEJM publication
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  • Watch a video about the trial

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  • Mar | 13 | 2024

Preliminary Clinical Trial Results Show ‘Dramatic and Rapid’ Regression of Glioblastoma after Next Generation CAR-T Therapy

If you are interested in learning more about the INCIPIENT clinical trial, please call or email us. A member of our clinical team will contact you within 48 business hours.

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March 9, 2024

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What heat can tell us about battery chemistry: Using the Peltier effect to study lithium-ion cells

by Michael O'Boyle, University of Illinois Grainger College of Engineering

What heat can tell us about battery chemistry: using the Peltier effect to study lithium-ion cells

Batteries are usually studied via electrical properties like voltage and current, but new research suggests that observing how heat flows in conjunction with electricity can give important insights into battery chemistry.

A team of researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has demonstrated how to study the chemical properties of lithium-ion battery cells by exploiting the Peltier effect, in which electrical current causes a system to draw heat. Reported in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics , this technique allowed them to experimentally measure the entropy of the lithium-ion electrolyte, a thermodynamic feature that could directly inform lithium-ion battery design.

"Our work is about understanding the fundamental thermodynamics of dissolved lithium ions, information that we hope will guide the development of better electrolytes for batteries," said David Cahill, a U. of I. materials science & engineering professor and the project lead. "Measuring the coupled transport of electric charge and heat in the Peltier effect allows us to deduce the entropy, a quantity that is closely related to the chemical structure of the dissolved ions and how they interact with other parts of the battery."

The Peltier effect is well-studied in solid-state systems where it is used in cooling and refrigeration. However, it remains largely unexplored in ionic systems like lithium electrolyte. The reason is that the temperature differences created by Peltier heating and cooling are small compared to other effects.

To overcome this barrier, the researchers used a measurement system capable of resolving one hundred-thousandth of a degree Celsius. This allowed the researchers to measure the heat between the two ends of the cell and use it to calculate the entropy of the lithium-ion electrolyte in the cell.

"We're measuring a macroscopic property, but it still reveals important information about the microscopic behavior of the ions," said Rosy Huang, a graduate student in Cahill's research group and the study's co-lead author. "Measurements of the Peltier effect and the solution's entropy are closely connected to the solvation structure. Previously, battery researchers relied on energy measurements, but entropy would provide an important complement to that information that gives a more complete picture of the system."

The researchers explored how the Peltier heat flow changed with the concentration of lithium ions, solvent type, electrode material and temperature. In all cases, they observed that the heat flow ran opposite to the ionic current in the solution, implying that the entropy from the dissolution of lithium ions is less than the entropy of solid lithium.

The ability to measure the entropy of lithium-ion electrolyte solutions can give important insights into the ions' mobility, governing the battery's recharging cycle, and how the solution interacts with the electrodes, an important factor in the battery's lifetime.

"An underappreciated aspect of battery design is that the liquid electrolyte is not chemically stable when in contact with the electrodes," Cahill said. "It always decomposes and forms something called a solid-electrolyte interphase. To make a battery stable over long cycles, you need to understand the thermodynamics of that interphase, which is what our method helps to do."

Zhe Cheng is the second co-lead author of the study. Beniamin Zahiri, Patrick Kwon and U. of I. materials science & engineering professor Paul Braun also contributed to this work.

Journal information: Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics

Provided by University of Illinois Grainger College of Engineering

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  • v.8(2); 2015 Oct

The Importance of Research—A Student Perspective

Rachel arena.

grid.252546.20000000122978753Department of Psychology, Auburn University, Magnolia Street and Duncan Drive and West Thatch Ave, Auburn, AL 36849 USA

Sheridan Chambers

Angelyn rhames, katherine donahoe.

As students, we will focus on the importance of an objective ranking system, research, and mentorship to an applicant. We will address points raised in the (Behavior Analysis In Practice 8(1):7–15, 2015) article as well as debate the usefulness of proposed standards of objective ranking.

A Student’s Perspective on Research

A little more than a year ago each of us was madly scrambling to negotiate the process of graduate program admissions. Like many people who go to graduate school, each of us had some history of viewing academic efforts through the lens of “too much is never enough,” and we applied our obsessive habits to the challenge of gathering information about graduate programs. We pored over Web sites and printed brochures. We stalked program faculty at conferences, via email and phone, and during campus visits. We talked to trusted mentors about the programs they respected. When in professional settings, we tried to find out where people who impressed us had attended graduate school, and we sometimes eavesdropped on strangers’ conversations for potentially valuable tidbits about the graduate programs they were considering.

Based on this chaotic and exhausting experience, we agree with Dixon et al. ( 2015 ) that consumers in our field need standardized information about the relative merits of graduate programs in applied behavior analysis (ABA). When we began the process of screening graduate programs, we knew that we were uninformed but we were less sure about what we needed to learn to become better consumers. We suspect that, like us, most college seniors find it difficult to know what aspects of a graduate program are crucial to the training of highly qualified ABA practitioners. To us, the most important contribution of Dixon et al. ( 2015 ) was to emphasize that our field should not abandon students to an uncertain process of self-education.

We agree with Dixon et al. ( 2015 ) that our field is better equipped than outside bodies (e.g., U.S. News & World Report ) to determine what constitutes top-quality graduate training. We were aware that the Behavior Analysis Certification Board publishes the rates at which graduates of various programs pass its certification exam, and we considered this information during our respective searches. Even as undergraduates, however, we knew that there is more to being a capable practitioner than simply passing the certification exam, and we would have appreciated much more guidance from our field than we received.

In the absence of standardized, objective information about graduate programs, prospective graduate students have to rely heavily on hearsay. As we gathered information on program reputations from mentors and colleagues, it occurred to us that this information sometimes says as much about the person providing it as about graduate programs themselves. We learned that some people are impressed by graduate programs that have a reputation for highly selective admissions, but we were not sure how or whether this predicted the quality of training that we could hope to receive. We learned that certain mentors thought highly of certain programs, but different people thought highly of different programs, and it was not always obvious how these opinions related to specific features of the training offered by the programs. We weren’t always sure whether the opinions were generic or had been offered with our individual needs and interests in mind.

Among the features of graduate programs that interested us was the type and degree of emphasis on research. Here, a few words of explanation will provide context for our perspective. As undergraduates, we learned to value evidence-based practices, data-based case management, and the science-based critical thinking that should guide clinical case management. But each of us decided to seek graduate training not just to apply current best practices; we also wanted to contribute to clinical innovation (e.g., Critchfield 2015 ). For various reasons, none of us wished to conduct research for a living, and we chose our program at Auburn University in part because its accelerated, 12-month, non-thesis curriculum would get us swiftly into the workplace where we knew, from past field experiences, our main reinforcers are to be found. Still, program research emphasis was important to us.

Unfortunately, far too much time and effort was required for us to understand that different programs have different types of research emphases. “Research training” comprises not a single repertoire but many. One involves conducting research. Another involves locating and consuming available research on a topic of interest. Yet, another involves translating from research findings in order to develop innovative interventions (Critchfield 2015 ; Critchfield & Reed, 2005 ). It is here that we would quibble with the position of Dixon et al. ( 2015 ), which suggests a one-size-fits-all approach to assessing the research climate at ABA graduate programs.

In order to gain insight about the research environment in graduate programs, undergraduates often compare their own research interests to those of faculty as described on program web sites and as illustrated in published articles. This comparison is most relevant to students who seek to become independent researchers. Our own goal is to become life-long consumers of research. It may not be the full-time job of Masters-level practitioners to conduct research, but in a field that is growing quickly it is pivotal that people like us not be limited to the state of our field’s knowledge at the time we take a certification exam. We need skills for tracking scholarly developments across the full breath of our careers.

We agree with Dixon et al. ( 2015 ) that it is helpful for ABA program faculty to maintain active research programs, but our concern is with what program graduates are able to do with the fruits of research, not how many articles a faculty member can publish. It has been suggested that the process of developing effective and transportable interventions from research findings requires a skill set that is independent of either conducting research or implementing existing interventions (e.g., Critchfield 2015 ; Critchfield and Reed, 2005 ). No skill set seems more relevant to our lifelong professional development.

Yes, we want to learn how to read and critically evaluate research, but we want to learn to do this from faculty who know how to translate and who care about helping us to become translators. Our ideal ABA program faculty member will have the time and inclination to focus on this. We want mentors who can conduct research, but more importantly who will discuss research with us on a regular basis and explore with us how research findings relate to the behavioral processes operating in practice settings. We want mentors whose skills and schedules allow them to provide on-site clinical supervision through which the connections between research and practice can be drawn explicitly.

While we applaud the efforts of Dixon et al. ( 2015 ) to rank ABA graduate programs in terms of program research climate, we stress that this climate has multiple facets. We represent a category of consumer who cares very much about our field’s research foundations, but we wish to harness rather than add to those foundations. Faculty publication counts may not be the best measure of a program’s ability to help us to this. Unfortunately, the program attributes that we particularly value are hard to quantify and thus will be difficult to incorporate into an objective system for ranking programs. Yet, if the purpose of rankings is to assist consumers (Dixon et al., 2015 ), then the needs of consumers like us should not be ignored.

Contributor Information

Rachel Arena, Email: ude.nrubua@0200azr .

Sheridan Chambers, Email: ude.nrubua@5400cms .

Angelyn Rhames, Email: ude.nrubua@7400rza .

Katherine Donahoe, Email: ude.nrubua@4200drk .

  • Critchfield TS. What counts as high-quality practitioner training in applied behavior analysis? Behavior Analysis In Practice. 2015; 8 (1):3–6. doi: 10.1007/s40617-015-0049-0. [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Critchfield TS, Reed DD. Conduits of translation in behavior-science bridge research. In: Burgos JE, Ribes E, editors. Theory, basic and applied research, and technological applications in behavior science: Conceptual and methodological issues. Guadalajara, Mexico: University of Guadalajara Press; 2005. pp. 45–84. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Dixon MR, Reed DD, Smith T, Belisle J, Jackson RE. Research rankings of behavior analytic graduate training programs and their faculty. Behavior Analysis In Practice. 2015; 8 (1):7–15. doi: 10.1007/s40617-015-0057-0. [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]

ScienceDaily

Study shows important role gut microbes play in airway health in persons with cystic fibrosis

Findings from a new study conducted by a team of researchers at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine and published in the journal mBio , reflect the important role that the gut microbiome (communities of bacteria) plays in the airway health of persons with cystic fibrosis.

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease that causes sticky, thick mucus to build up in the lungs and other organs, causing persistent infections that can be deadly. Until relatively recently, CF microbiology research has largely been focused on microorganisms in the lungs since most CF-related deaths have been due to respiratory complications.

But interest in the CF gut microbiome and its influence on the health of organs like the lungs has grown as the role of the gut microbiome in broader health outcomes has become more apparent.

For George O'Toole, PhD, and his colleagues at the Dartmouth Cystic Fibrosis Research Center(DartCF), the journey to better understand the gut-lung connection began more than 10 years ago, as part of a collaboration with physician-scientist Juliette Madan, MD, MS, who studies children with CF at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC).

"One of the key observations that Dr. Madan made early on was that, surprisingly, the best predictor of how a kid's airway would function actually turned out to be the microbes in their gut rather than the microbes in their airway," explains O'Toole, the Elmer R. Pfefferkorn, PhD, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Geisel and anchor author on the study. "We also had noticed that kids with CF were depleted for Bacteroides , a microbe known to be important in programming gut function and the immune system early in life."

The findings prompted them to do some experiments in which they were able to show that secreted products from these Bacteroides strains could reduce inflammation in gut-derived cell lines grown in the lab. In further experiments, they were able to narrow down the molecule that was important for that process -- a short-chain fatty acid known as propionate.

To reinforce their hypothesis, the team did experiments in mice with the same CF mutation as humans which showed that those mice that had Bacteroides introduced into their guts had less inflammation in their blood and airways after being exposed to Pseudomonas aeruginosa -- a common bacterium in CF infections -- than other similar mice that were not given Bacteroides . Importantly, a Bacteroides variant that could not make propionate could not reduce inflammation.

"We think this establishes the idea that changes in the gut are causing a reprogramming of the immune system in such a way that the body isn't as sensitive to subsequent airway infections, so you don't have as much disease burden," says O'Toole. "The other exciting finding is that this actually provides, we think, a proof of concept that probiotics could be beneficial to kids with CF, so it could have important implications for treatments."

O'Toole is quick to credit his colleagues at Geisel and at DHMC for their contributions to the study, which in addition to Madan's clinic involved three labs in the CF Center and utilized microbiology experiments, tissue culture work, and animal studies. The Bliska, Cramer, and Ross groups at Geisel contributed to this study.

"There were a lot of moving parts to this project, so we needed a lot of help to get it all done," he says. "We're grateful, not only for the expertise that people provided but also for their willingness to participate. The culture of collaboration is core at DartCF, I think, to the success of our group and this is just a nice example of that."

  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Lung Disease
  • Gastrointestinal Problems
  • Veterinary Medicine
  • Microbes and More
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Indoor air quality
  • Health science
  • Public health
  • Encephalopathy
  • Epidemiology

Story Source:

Materials provided by The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth . Original written by Timothy Dean. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference :

  • Courtney E. Price, Rebecca A. Valls, Alexis R. Ramsey, Nicole A. Loeven, Jane T. Jones, Kaitlyn E. Barrack, Joseph D. Schwartzman, Darlene B. Royce, Robert A. Cramer, Juliette C. Madan, Benjamin D. Ross, James Bliska, George A. O'Toole. Intestinal Bacteroides modulates inflammation, systemic cytokines, and microbial ecology via propionate in a mouse model of cystic fibrosis . mBio , 2024; 15 (2) DOI: 10.1128/mbio.03144-23

Cite This Page :

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what is importance of the study in research

New Study: Trans Suicide Rates Double After Gender Surgery

A groundbreaking study has brought to light alarming findings regarding the mental health of transgender individuals who have undergone genital surgery. The research, which investigated the rates of psychiatric emergencies and suicide attempts before and after gender-affirming surgery, has uncovered a disturbing trend that demands immediate attention and action. The study’s results shed light on the complex challenges faced by the transgender community and the urgent need for comprehensive mental health support throughout the transition process.

Doubled Suicide Attempt Rates After Vaginoplasty

One of the most shocking revelations from the study is the dramatic increase in suicide attempt rates following vaginoplasty. The research found that the overall rates of suicide attempts doubled from 1.5% to 3.3% (p=0.017) after this particular gender-affirming surgery. This finding highlights the immense psychological toll that the transition process can take on individuals and the critical importance of providing ongoing mental health support.

Higher Prevalence of Suicide Attempts in Vaginoplasty Group

The study also revealed that suicide attempts were more common among patients who underwent vaginoplasty compared to those who had phalloplasty. In the vaginoplasty group, 4.4% of patients attempted suicide, while only 1.7% of patients in the phalloplasty group had a similar experience (p=0.033). This disparity suggests that individuals undergoing vaginoplasty may be at a higher risk of experiencing severe mental health challenges and require additional support and intervention.

Psychiatric Encounters Before and After Surgery

The research found that a significant proportion of patients in both the vaginoplasty and phalloplasty groups experienced psychiatric encounters before and after their surgeries. Among the vaginoplasty group, 22.2% (193 patients) had at least one psychiatric encounter, while 20.7% (74 patients) in the phalloplasty group had a similar experience. These findings underscore the high rates of mental health challenges faced by transgender individuals throughout the transition process.

Increased Risk for Patients with Prior Psychiatric Emergencies

The study identified that patients with a history of prior psychiatric emergencies were at a higher risk of experiencing mental health challenges after gender-affirming surgery. The rate of a psychiatric encounter occurring after surgery, given a prior episode before surgery, was 33.9% for the vaginoplasty group and 26.5% for the phalloplasty group. This finding emphasizes the need for targeted mental health support and intervention for individuals with a history of psychiatric emergencies.

Comparing Suicide Attempt Rates to the General Population

The study revealed that the observed rate of suicide attempts in the phalloplasty group was similar to that of the general population. However, the vaginoplasty group’s rate was found to be more than double the general population’s rate. This alarming statistic highlights the unique and profound challenges faced by individuals undergoing vaginoplasty and the urgent need for specialized support and resources.

Importance of Pre-Surgical Counseling and Post-Surgical Follow-Up

The findings of this study underscore the critical importance of comprehensive pre-surgical counseling and post-surgical follow-up for transgender individuals undergoing gender-affirming surgery. The research calls for the development of targeted interventions and support systems to address the mental health needs of this vulnerable population, particularly those undergoing vaginoplasty or those with a history of prior psychiatric emergencies.

Call for Further Research and Comprehensive Support

The study’s alarming findings serve as a wake-up call to the medical community and society at large, highlighting the urgent need for further research into the factors contributing to the increased risk of suicide attempts after gender surgery. The research also emphasizes the importance of developing comprehensive, compassionate, and accessible mental health support services for transgender individuals throughout their transition journey.

What’s Behind the Increase in LGBTQ+ Youth?

Are There Really More Than Two Genders?

New Study: Trans Suicide Rates Double After Gender Surgery

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    what is importance of the study in research

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  1. What is research

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  3. WHAT IS RESEARCH?

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COMMENTS

  1. Significance of the Study

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  2. What is the Significance of the Study?

    The significance of the study is a section in the introduction of your thesis or paper. It's purpose is to make clear why your study was needed and the specific contribution your research made to furthering academic knowledge in your field. where you would include it in your paper, thesis or dissertation, and finally an example of a well ...

  3. How To Write Significance of the Study (With Examples)

    4. Mention the Specific Persons or Institutions Who Will Benefit From Your Study. 5. Indicate How Your Study May Help Future Studies in the Field. Tips and Warnings. Significance of the Study Examples. Example 1: STEM-Related Research. Example 2: Business and Management-Related Research.

  4. What is the Significance of a Study? Examples and Guide

    The most obvious measure of a study's long term research significance is the number of citations it receives from future publications. The thinking is that a study which receives more citations will have had more research impact, and therefore significance, than a study which received less citations.

  5. What is the significance of a study and how is it stated in a research

    Answer: In simple terms, the significance of the study is basically the importance of your research. The significance of a study must be stated in the Introduction section of your research paper. While stating the significance, you must highlight how your research will be beneficial to the development of science and the society in general.

  6. Significance of a Study: Revisiting the "So What" Question

    An important consequence of interpreting significance as a carefully developed argument for the importance of your research study within a larger domain is that it reveals the advantage of conducting a series of connected studies rather than single, disconnected studies. Building the significance of a research study requires time and effort.

  7. 2.1 Why Is Research Important?

    Discuss how scientific research guides public policy. Appreciate how scientific research can be important in making personal decisions. Scientific research is a critical tool for successfully navigating our complex world. Without it, we would be forced to rely solely on intuition, other people's authority, and blind luck.

  8. How to write the significance of a study?

    The significance of a study is its importance. It refers to the contribution(s) to and impact of the study on a research field. The significance also signals who benefits from the research findings and how. ... The research aim describes the purpose of the study. The objectives indicate how that aim will be achieved. The rationale explains why ...

  9. PDF Why research is important

    in a research study • your own barriers and motivators around learning more about research. A pragmatic definition of research A useful working definition of research is: a systematic process of critical inquiry leading to valid propositions and conclusions that are communicated to interested others. Breaking this definition down into its ...

  10. What Is Research, and Why Do People Do It?

    And, because research is a social practice, you should also think about whether the results of your study are likely to be important and significant to the education community. If you are doing research in the way we have described—as scientific inquiry—then one purpose of your study is to understand , not just to describe or evaluate or ...

  11. The Central Role of Theory in Qualitative Research

    By linking the specific research questions to the larger theoretical constructs or to important policy issues, the writer shows that the particulars of this study serve to illuminate larger issues and therefore hold potential significance for that field" (Marshall & Rossman, 2011, p. 7). Perhaps the best way to display a conceptual framework ...

  12. A Practical Guide to Writing Quantitative and Qualitative Research

    Consequently, these objectives determine the study design and research outcome. The development of research questions is a process based on knowledge of current trends, cutting-edge studies, and technological advances in the research field. ... To construct effective research questions and hypotheses, it is very important to 1) ...

  13. Purpose of Research

    The purpose of research can vary depending on the field of study, the research question, and the intended audience. In general, research can be used to: Generate new knowledge and theories. Test existing theories or hypotheses. Identify trends or patterns. Gather information for decision-making. Evaluate the effectiveness of programs, policies ...

  14. Six Reasons Why Research Is Important

    2- Research Helps in Problem-solving. The goal of the research is to broaden our understanding. Research gives us the information and knowledge to solve problems and make decisions. To differentiate between research that attempts to advance our knowledge and research that seeks to apply pre-existing information to real-world situations.

  15. Why should I do research? Is it a waste of time?

    Research is the most important activity to achieve scientific progress. Although it is an easy process on a theoretical basis, practically it is a laborious process, and full commitment and dedication are of paramount importance.

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    Why Research Is Necessary and Valuable in Our Daily Lives. It's a tool for building knowledge and facilitating learning. It's a means to understand issues and increase public awareness. It helps us succeed in business. It allows us to disprove lies and support truths. It is a means to find, gauge, and seize opportunities.

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    Builds up credibility. People are willing to listen and trust someone with new information on one condition - it's backed up. And that's exactly where research comes in. Conducting studies on new and unfamiliar subjects, and achieving the desired or expected outcome, can help people accept the unknown.

  18. How to Discuss the Significance of Your Research

    Step 4: Future Studies in the Field. Next, discuss how the significance of your research will benefit future studies, which is especially helpful for future researchers in your field. In the example of cyberbullying affecting student performance, your research could provide further opportunities to assess teacher perceptions of cyberbullying ...

  19. Explaining How Research Works

    Placing research in the bigger context of its field and where it fits into the scientific process can help people better understand and interpret new findings as they emerge. A single study usually uncovers only a piece of a larger puzzle. Questions about how the world works are often investigated on many different levels.

  20. 1 Chapter 1: The Importance of Research Methods and Becoming an

    The study of research methods is the study of the basic rules, appropriate techniques, and relevant procedures for conducting research. Research methods provide the tools necessary to approach issues in criminal justice from a rigorous standpoint and challenge opinions based solely on nonscientific observations and experiences.

  21. Peer Review in Scientific Publications: Benefits, Critiques, & A

    Peer Review is defined as "a process of subjecting an author's scholarly work, research or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field" ( 1 ). Peer review is intended to serve two primary purposes. Firstly, it acts as a filter to ensure that only high quality research is published, especially in reputable journals ...

  22. Research Objectives

    Research objectives describe what your research project intends to accomplish. They should guide every step of the research process, including how you collect data, build your argument, and develop your conclusions. Your research objectives may evolve slightly as your research progresses, but they should always line up with the research carried ...

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    Discover new research from across the sciences in our international, high impact journals. ... Some aspects of biodiversity are instinctively widely valued by people but the more we study biodiversity the more we see that all of it is important - even bugs and bacteria that we can't see or may not like the look of. ...

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    Learn more about the findings and importance of a study led by a research and clinical team from the Mass General Cancer Center who is developing new cell therapy for patients with recurrent glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer.. What is Glioblastoma? Glioblastoma, the most common brain tumor, is a fast-growing cancer in the brain that is universally fatal despite currently available ...

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    Batteries are usually studied via electrical properties like voltage and current, but new research suggests that observing how heat flows in conjunction with electricity can give important ...

  26. PDF What is research?

    What is research? Research is an organized method and process to gain knowledge. Research is the systematic investigation and study of materials, sources, or people in order to establish facts and reach accurate conclusions. Research creates new knowledge and allows us to use what we already know in new and

  27. How Music Resonates in the Brain

    Patrick Whelan. Music also lights up nearly all of the brain — including the hippocampus and amygdala, which activate emotional responses to music through memory; the limbic system, which governs pleasure, motivation, and reward; and the body's motor system.This is why "it's easy to tap your feet or clap your hands to musical rhythms," says Andrew Budson, MD '93, chief of cognitive ...

  28. The Importance of Research—A Student Perspective

    Abstract. As students, we will focus on the importance of an objective ranking system, research, and mentorship to an applicant. We will address points raised in the (Behavior Analysis In Practice 8 (1):7-15, 2015) article as well as debate the usefulness of proposed standards of objective ranking. Keywords: Graduate school, Graduate training ...

  29. Study shows important role gut microbes play in airway health in

    Findings from a new study conducted by a team of researchers at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine and published in the journal mBio, reflect the important role that the gut microbiome ...

  30. New Study: Trans Suicide Rates Double After Gender Surgery

    The research also emphasizes the importance of developing comprehensive, compassionate, and accessible mental health support services for transgender individuals throughout their transition journey.