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What is research?

Participating in research

Research is a general term which covers all kinds of studies designed to find responses to worthwhile questions by means of a systematic and scientific approach. Clinical trials into the safety and effectiveness of new drugs are just one type of research. Other studies, in the domain of dementia, might be aimed at finding out how a procedure could be improved, how people with dementia or their carers cope, whether a certain form of social support delays entry into residential care or whether a new drug or technique is safe and effective etc.

There are many different ways to carry out research but roughly speaking there are two main approaches, namely qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative studies concentrate mainly on words and meanings and aim to capture the richness and complexity of human experience, whereas quantitative studies involve recording information obtained from participants in numerical form so as to enable statistical analysis of the findings and the generalisation of those findings to the wider population. Behind these two main approaches, there are important theoretical differences and philosophical assumptions about the nature of knowledge, truth and reality, how this should be recorded, what kinds of methods should be used and the role of the researcher in this process. In the past, there was considerable debate about which approach was “right” and some people argued that the two approaches were incompatible. Nowadays, it is generally accepted that both approaches are valid and have their advantages and disadvantages. For this reason, many researchers adopt a pragmatic approach, simply using whichever method is best suited to answering their research questions and which might even involve a combination of both approaches within the same study.



Last Updated: Friday 21 August 2009