What is Research?
Research is the process by which we gain new knowledge. Put simply, research involves forming hypotheses (assumptions), testing hypotheses, and determining whether the results of those tests support the initial hypotheses.
Research is guided by the scientific method. The scientific method involves 5 steps:
- Make an observation about a phenomenon (occurrence or fact) of interest (e.g., there are different models of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for pregnant women with opioid use disorder)
- Develop a question about that observation based on gaps in knowledge about the phenomenon of interest (e.g., What model produces the best outcomes for women and their infants?)
- Formulate a hypothesis about that question. When considering their question, a scientist may develop a theory about the answer to the question based on existing data (e.g., clinical observation suggests that MAT that is provided along with prenatal care will produce more positive results than MAT delivered outside of prenatal care). The hypothesis is tested in a research study.
- Conduct an experiment or study to test the hypothesis. An experiment may involve introducing an intervention to some participants, or carefully studying what is already being done and measuring outcomes. All studies involve collecting data about the phenomena of interest and analyzing the data to determine if the hypothesis is supported or unsupported.
- Analyze the data from the study and draw a conclusion. Often, results from a study will lead to more questions to guide more research and the scientific method begins anew.
What are the different research methods?
Research methods typically fall into the following major categories:
- Quantitative Research: Research that uses numerical data to describe a phenomenon. Quantitative research uses statistical methods to aggregate and summarize data.
- Qualitative Research: Research that uses observations, interviews, and other kinds of non-numerical information to describe a phenomenon. Qualitative research requires analytic methods to determine themes within a dataset.
How do are the findings from research shared?
Scientists disseminate, or share, their research in a number of ways, including presentations at local, national and international conferences, and scientific papers in academic journals so other researchers and practitioners can read about the findings to inform clinicians’ practice and future research.
To promote the quality and scientific rigor of published research, academic journals require that submitted publications undergo peer review where other scientists review the research, suggest improvements to the publication, and make a judgement about whether the article should be published or not based on its contribution to the scientific field.