3 What counts as research?
This fundamental question sounds straightforward but is not an easy question to answer. So let us begin with a minimal definition of research as ‘a process of systematic and critical enquiry’. To develop this definition further, we could say that research is underpinned by a carefully planned strategy for investigation and is motivated by a desire to understand or discover something. This theme is addressed in more detail in the following sections.
Quantitative and qualitative research
There are various approaches to choose from when planning a research study that are underpinned by research paradigms. A research paradigm is a set of beliefs which shapes how a study is designed and carried out to address questions or explore children’s and young people’s lives, for example to understand them better. Historically, research paradigms have tended to be grouped into two broad categories: quantitative (dealing with data mostly in the form of numbers) and qualitative (dealing with data mainly in the form of words). Each has particular strengths and weaknesses.
Activity 3 develops this theme by examining the views of three academic researchers who discuss their experiences of conducting qualitative and quantitative childhood and youth research.
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Rather than dividing different methodological approaches into two distinct fields, we view different methods as sitting along a qualitative–quantitative continuum. How research is designed to explore, measure or test, for example, is underpinned by the research paradigm. When conducting research, the first priority is to clarify the question or hypothesis being investigated, and then decide which approach or approaches will provide the kind of data needed to construct robust evidence which will answer that particular question/hypothesis. This will involve decisions about the role of the researcher and participants within the process. In the next section, we will consider the researcher’s role in practitioner research.