The raw materials of research
Historically the first tools of research were those derived from:
- the use of our senses, and
- the human mind.
Although you may not find the term 'research' used much in pre-20th
century publications, the people who were respected in their day for
fulfilling a role comparable to the present-day researcher were:
- those who recorded their own and others' experiences (historians,
- those who observed and recorded what was going on around them (sociologists,
in modern parlance);
- those who used their minds as tools for analysis (philosophers);
- those who expounded and argued for their beliefs.
A question for you to consider
or discuss with your colleagues. Looking at those early raw materials
of research, i.e. experiences, observations, beliefs and the output
of philosophising, which ones are still in use in modern research? You
might think about two lists, one for those still used and widely respected,
and the other for those you would now be less likely to use or are less
generally acceptable. When you have done this, click below to see how
your views compare with those of the authors of this resource.
However, while we may seek to be more objective in research, our personal
ways of 'knowing' show less willingness to discard long tradition. It
has been suggested that nurses gain knowledge in an empirical way (that
is, through experience, observation and experiment), but also through
aesthetics (meaning good taste), ethics and the personal self (or self-awareness).
As for modern research, what perhaps distinguishes it from the greater
subjectivity of personal knowledge, is a commitment to what is often
called 'scientific method' and to the central role now played by information,
usually in the form of information technology.
Still used and respected
One current approach to research is to identify and contact people
who have experience and expertise in the subject area being researched
Another current approach is to carry out a systematic observation
of a setting or process that to be researched, sometimes as a
detached observed ('fly-on-the-wall'), sometimes as a person who
is involved with what is being researched ('participant observer').
Less well used and respected
Perhaps you may accept that there remains a role for the philosopher
or theorist, but it is doubtful if you would accept a conclusion
purely based on theory without either information or the results
of an experiment to offer support.
As with a theoretical approach, supporting evidence now tends
to be sought out. Perhaps it is also felt that people who base
conclusions purely on beliefs are not being objective, but are