Research techniques are processes and instruments that are used when starting the study of a specific phenomenon. These methods allow information to be collected, examined and displayed, thus achieving the main objective of all research, which is to acquire new knowledge.
The choice of the most appropriate research technique depends on the problem to be solved and the objectives set, which is why this choice turns out to be a fundamental point in all investigative processes.
For example, the techniques used to study the customs and beliefs of a social group are different from those used to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of a drug.
There are two general types of research techniques: quantitative and qualitative techniques, the fundamental difference between these two orientations being the way in which they make the observations and how they translate them into analyzable data.
Types of investigation techniques
– Quantitative investigation
Quantitative research is based on objectivity, so it is empirical. Furthermore, in this process the data generated is numerical, which allows establishing causal relationships between the different characteristics of the phenomenon studied.
The general objective of quantitative research is to transmit numerically what is being seen and to reach specific, observable, general and repeatable conclusions.
There are four main techniques in quantitative research: surveys, correlational studies, causal-comparative, and experimental.
In this technique, the data are obtained through a questionnaire. This tool is designed in order to measure the characteristics of a population through the use of statistical methods.
Research through surveys begins with the design of the questionnaire according to the objectives set; Then it is determined how the questionnaire will be administered – that is, how the information will be collected – and how the data will be analyzed.
These studies allow to determine the degree of relationship between two or more variables within a population (or a sample). The degree of these relationships is estimated by using statistical methods, which make it possible to establish whether the relationship between the variables is positive or negative.
An example of a positive relationship between two variables would be: the increase in cases of an infection (variable 1) with the increase in the degree of malnutrition of a population (variable 2). In this case, it is positive because both variables increase.
On the other hand, an example of a negative relationship in a study would be: the decrease in malnutrition in children (variable 1) with the increase in the level of knowledge of the mother about the importance of breastfeeding. In this example, the relationship is negative because while one variable increases the other decreases (variable 2).
These studies seek to discover a cause and effect relationship, which is achieved by establishing the time in which cause and effect occur. For these reasons, comparative causal studies are classified into retrospective investigations and prospective investigations.
Retrospective research requires an investigator to perform problem analysis when the effects have already occurred. For example, a teacher’s assessment of how her students responded to the activities she assigned in math class.
Whereas, prospective investigation begins before the events occur, that is, it begins with the causes and tries to evaluate the effects. For example, a teacher begins to apply a new reading strategy and evaluates the progress of the students.
One of the characteristics of experimental studies is that they are guided by the prior elaboration of a hypothesis. That is, they start from a statement that must be approved or refuted.
In this way, the researcher controls a certain variable and evaluates the effects of this control in the population or sample studied. In this way, the hypothesis can be verified or rejected, which makes it possible to reach a conclusion about the two variables.
– Qualitative research
The main objective of qualitative research is to understand and interpret social interactions; in this way, it results in descriptions of settings, people and communities.
Unlike quantitative methods, qualitative techniques give more importance to the context in which the research takes place; for this they give a naturalistic and human perspective.
They are especially useful when the research topic is sensitive or is subject to social problems that need to develop trust in the studied population.
There are several techniques and methods in qualitative research: observation, bibliographic research, ethnographic studies, phenomenological studies, grounded theory, narrative and visualization methods, and case studies.
Observation is a qualitative technique in which the scientist or researcher attends to a particular phenomenon, situation or environment to obtain information. It is used at the beginning of investigations or when you do not have much information about a specific phenomenon.
Observation is a fundamental element throughout the research process, since the researcher relies on it to obtain the greatest amount of data.
There are different forms of observation:
Participant observation consists of one in which, to obtain the results, the researcher must be included in the object of study (group, fact or phenomenon).
On the other hand, non-participant observation consists of one in which the researcher selects the data from the outside, without intervening in the social group or the object. Because of this most of the scientific observations are nonparticipants.
Bibliographic research is a research technique that is responsible for exploring what has been written in the scientific community about a specific topic or problem. In general, bibliographic research has the following functions:
– Support and sustain the investigative work to be carried out.
– Avoid developing research that has already been carried out previously.
– Allow knowledge about previously elaborated experiments to be able to repeat the same steps if necessary.
– Assist in the continuation of previous investigations that were interrupted or not completed.
– Facilitate the collection of pertinent information and the establishment of the theoretical framework.
Ethnographic studies are used when you want to delve into the behavior patterns, dogmas, habits, conditions and ways of life of a human group.
These studies can be carried out in very diverse groups, such as the different ethnic groups in a region or in an organized group of professionals. In both cases there are behaviors, beliefs and attitudes that constitute a cultural unit.
This type of qualitative study is based on the analysis of the daily experiences of human beings. Through this technique, researchers seek to understand the meaning that humans give to their problems and difficulties.
This qualitative research method builds the theory from the data. In other words, the starting point for this research technique is the data, not the theory.
Grounded theory is used not only in the social sciences, but also in health services research, nursing studies, and education. For example, the evaluation of a patient’s symptoms and signs determines the initial steps in controlling the disease.
Narrative and visualization methods
The narrative focuses on how people tell their stories to reveal how they give meaning to their events and situations. On the other hand, visualization methods involve asking the people investigated to report the problem through the group design of maps, diagrams or other images.
For example, participants can draw a diagram of their community and indicate places of risk or areas where buildings or other facilities can be located.
Visualization methods are widely used in public health, such as when community members are asked to describe how and where a certain skin infection affected them.
This provides the researcher with an understanding of the popular concept of health and allows health specialists to apply intervention, treatment and prevention measures.
This technique involves an in-depth examination of a single person or a single institution. The main objective of the case study is to provide as accurate a representation as possible of the individual studied.
It is widely used in the area of psychology when the case studied is complex and needs special attention. For these reasons, this study technique includes in-depth interviews and a detailed review of the entire patient’s history.
The individuality of the case study leads the researcher to have a deep understanding of the problem to be studied, since it implies an opportunity for intensive analysis of many specific details.
Examples of uses of investigation techniques
– An example of a survey would be the evaluation of the level of knowledge of adolescent mothers about the importance of breastfeeding. These data would be expressed as a percentage (%).
– A correlational study would determine the relationship between children vaccinated against measles and the number of cases of the disease.
– A causal-comparative study would be carried out to determine the factors associated with childhood obesity, such as sedentary lifestyle, the ingestion of ultra-processed substances or genetics.
– An example of an experimental study can be the evaluation of the effect of insecticides on the development of fumigated plants. For this, the researcher selects or controls the concentrations of insecticides and assesses their effects on the growth of plants and fruits.
– An example of observation is waiting in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil to see what the reproductive behavior of the jaguar is.
– A bibliographic research is to investigate in an online database what are the publications that have been made on a certain species of bat.
– A phenomenological study would be the evaluation of the perception of women about their obesity problems. In this case – through the analysis of their experiences and beliefs – the existence of a psychological discomfort related to social acceptance or problems with anxiety control can be established.
– An ethnographic study would be living for several months with a tribe from the Borneo jungle to learn about their customs, traditions and culture in general.
– A grounded theory would be one that an economist develops on the viability of a company based on data such as profits, expenses, competition or external threats, among others.
– An example of narrative and other visualization methods are those that are applied when a patient is asked to indicate where he feels discomfort and in what degree of pain. With this, the possible condition can be stipulated.
– An example of a case study would be the one carried out with a wild-child, that is, a person who has lived outside of society, being raised in nature by animals. They are unique cases and ethically cannot be carried out unless it occurs in a circumstantial way.
- Mousalli, (2015). Quantitative Research Methods and Designs. Retrieved on April 28, 2020 from: researchgate.net
- Apuke, (2017). Quantitative Research Methods: A Synopsis Approach. Retrieved on April 28, 2020 from: researchgate.net
- Astin,, Long A (2014). Characteristics of qualitative research and its application. Retrieved on April 29, 2020 from: researchgate.net
- Elkatawneh, (2015). Comparing Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Retrieved on April 29, 2020 from: researchgate.net
- Wolff, B., Mahoney, F., Lohiniva, A., Corkum, M. (2018). Collecting and Analyzing Qualitative Data. Retrieved on April 27, 2020 from: cdc.gov
- Woodsong, Mack., McQueen, K., Guest, G. (2005). Qualitative research methods: a data collectors field guide. Retrieved on April 27, 2020 from: org