Research and the Research Process
ENGA14 Finnish Institutions Research Paper (Hopkins)
“Diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject
in order to discover facts or principles.”
(2) “A studious inquiry or examination, especially a critical investigation
. . having as its aim the discovery of new facts
and their correct interpretation, the revision of accepted conclusions,
theories, or laws in the light of new discovered facts,
practical application of such conclusions, theories or laws.”
(Definitions quoted by Dr. Robert V. Williams, College of
Library and Information Science, U.South Carolina)
What is Research?
The chief responsibility of a university is to produce and disseminate new
knowledge. New knowledge is created through research. Research is based
on primary and secondary sources, often
together with original data collected via research "instruments" (surveys,
interviews, questionnaires, "focus groups," etc.) to produce new knowledge
on a particular topic.
In addition to primary sources and original instruments, secondary
sources are used to provide an overview of existing published knowledge on
a topic, and possible current debates about the topic. The background
provided by secondary sources provides a contextual background and
establishes how the new knowledge described in a paper differs from what
is already known.
Research may be categorized as either Basic or Applied:
All research focuses on "solving problems" at minimum, as
it concerns FIN-1, answering the defined research question(s). Otherwise,
research addresses the perceived "problem" of missing or inadequate
information on a particular topic. Research might be further categorized
- Basic research looks at causes, effects, and the nature of
- Applied research trys to find answers and solutions to specific
The emphasis and methodology of research may differ between different
fields and disciplines, particularly between the Sciences and the
Humanities. However, most fields share the following concerns:
- Research as description
- Research as understanding trends and operations
- Research as explanation
Research is most often published (in academic or professional journals, in
online archives, or as a "monograph") as a research "paper," though it may
also be presented orally (at least initially) as a conference address, or
even in "poster" format at a scholarly conference. When published as a
"full research paper" it will usually include the following components.
- Discovering the relevant "facts" of an event, issue, procedure, or
- Reviewing and evaluating contrasting explanations for the topic being
researched, especially explanations which may differ from what the current
research has concluded;
- Reviewing the consensus (or lack of it) of the research findings among
- Disseminating the findings and conclusions for critical review.
Components of a Full Research Paper
Traditional, print-format "full research papers" usually include the
following components, which represent the different stages of the research
process. (The names and descriptions of these components may differ
slightly from one academic discipline or paper "style" to another.)
[NB: The ENGA14 paper, as with other FAST program research
papers, is not a "full" research paper in the traditional sense, nor will
it be published in print format (although the expectation is that it will
be published in an online archive). Therefore the format expected for the
ENGA14 papers is abbreviated from the more extensive research paper
description given below. [See also the IMRAD
file, as well as how the required elements of a research article have been
defined by the Scandinavian Journal of Management,
and how these in turn differ from the
Journal of Business Research.]
- Title page
- Abstract (one paragraph or one page, as/if needed)
- Introduction, or Problem Statement, or Problem
Identification: what exactly is being researched and why; what the
relevance or importance is; what questions will be addressed, and an
overview of what conclusions will be drawn.
- Background and Review of Existing Literature, including
definitions of special terminology used in the paper
- Research Methodology: What is Being Studied, and How: In
this section the purpose and research questions or hypotheses are
re-stated, and the exact nature of what is being researched and how
(population and sampling) is defined, along with what instrumentation was
used (copies of instruments should be included in Appendices). Also in
this section are details on the procedure and time frame of the research,
the analysis plan, the validity and reliability of the data used, the
author's assumptions which are based on the research, and possible
limitations to these assumptions, or other conclusions.
- Data Collection: This presents the raw data collected via
the research methodology described above.
- Findings (Results and Analysis of Your Data):
A discussion of what you did and discovered, including why and how you
feel it is significant.
- Conclusions: A summary of the nature and application of the
"new knowledge" represented in your paper. Also included here are
possible contraindications of your conclusions, along with proposed
further research based on your findings (and the possible
- Discussion of 'Limitations': This section is increasingly a
part of research articles published in academic journals. It is a
separate section of the paper which describes real or potential faults
with the methodology, research material, or other factors that could have
influenced the research findings.
- Notes (if needed usually they are . . . )
- Works Cited, plus a review (where relevant) of related
materials which were not cited
- Appendices (if needed), for example to present research
instruments which were employed (questionnaires, surveys, statistical
The Research Process
The research process is the step-by-step procedure of developing one's
research and research paper. However, one can seldom progress in
a step-by-step fashion as such. Writing a research paper frequently
requires continuous, and sometimes extensive, re-evaluation and revision
of both one's topic and the way it is presented.
It is often necessary to revise an initial research plan. You may need
to add new material, delete extraneous material, or even change the topic
completely, depending on what is discovered during your research. You may
find that your topic is too broad and needs to be narrowed, or that
sufficient information resources may not be available (e.g. the topic is
too narrow, and needs to be expanded or changed). Sometimes what you learn
may not support the thesis with which you began.
The research process involves identifying, locating, assessing,
analyzing, and then developing and expressing your ideas. These are the
same skills that will be needed in the post-university "real world" when
you produce reports, proposals, or othe research for your employer. All
of these activities will be based on primary and secondary sources from
which recommendations or plans are formulated.
Identifying Your Research 'Problem' the 'What' and 'Why'
For most researchers, identifying exactly what they are researching, and
why, is the most difficult part of the entire process. It is not enough
just to be interested in a subject and want to write about it. For a
research paper, there has to be a particular reason why you are writing
about it, a particular perspective you are taking, a particular aspect
you will be covering, and a particular conclusion you will be drawing.
Compare, for example, the following (as discussed in class):
To date, most ENGA14 papers have described various Finnish historical,
cultural, linguistic or other "institutional" phenomena. These may be
legitimately considered "research papers" in the sense that they are
academically-supervised papers which explicate specific topics, with
formal citation of primary and secondary sources and a prescribed,
accepted scholarly register of expression and organization. They provide a
new form of information on their topics. This information is disseminated
widely through publication in the "archives" of the course website.
- The paper on The History, Art and
Architecture of Tampere Cathedral (Valtonen, 2004), where a simple
research question was posed and addressed;
- The paper on Donald Duck Comics as
a Finnish Institution (Eskelinen, 2008), where questions were
identified, a background was given, a research instrument (webform survey)
was employed, and conclusions derived from the source material and
independent research option were reached;
- The paper [previously covered in class] on Tove Jansson and the
Moomin Business (Räihä, 2005), where a face-to-face 'survey'
with fixed questions and illustrations was used to explore what a group of
children knew about Jansson and the Moomins;
Such papers are a type of "Action Research": exploratory, descriptive
research of a topic which enables further, more specific actions or
research to be undertaken on the topic in a more informed manner. By
describing the broad parameters of a given topic, these papers help
subsequent scholars identify specific questions (= research "problems")
that may be researched further. Whereas many "action research" papers are
often based largely on secondary sources and usually do not involve
original research, subsequent papers would rely more on primary sources
and also involve original research.
Examples of "action research" papers which through their general
explication of a subject, largely via secondary sources, identify specific
topics for original research followup include:
(Original research is also "action research" in the sense that it will
always prompt new research topics. A simple example is the question
raised almost in passing in Räihä's discussion on whether
children at the age of the target group were really able to understand the
of nationality. This is a potential research question future
students might explore.)
In short, most past FIN-1 papers have given good descriptive
foundations as any good research paper should do but have
not gone further (which was not required under the terms of the
'old' study curriculum). The new curriculum offers additional credit for
students to do original research to clarify some of the questions that the
descriptive part of their paper will raise (with the expectation that most
students will include original research in their papers). Thus new
knowledge will be created and disseminated.
Theory in the Research Process
Advanced academic research is based on applying existing theory or
a working hypothesis
(often as the basis for deducing new theory) to a research problem. Yet
what can "theory" include, and is it required for the FIN-1 paper?
At its simplest, a "theory" is simply a hypothesis (idea) which has
been validated by testing, usually in a form similar to if condition X
prevails, then result Y will occur. A theory can be original and
relatively simple; it need not be a Universal Truth derived from
Aristotle. Could the thought that "Swedish-speaking Finns get better
service at Stockmann's in Helsinki" be a "theory"? Possibly. But it
would more easily be thought of as one potential research question under
the theory that there is a relationship between customer service and
cultural stereotyping (involving not only language, but gender, race, age,
height, weight, hair color, nationality, etc.). In other words, "if all
other factors are equal, and one customer is Swedish-speaking and the
other Finnish-speaking, would the quality of service be greater or
lesser depending on the language spoken" [if X prevails, would Y then
If such questions were tested and found to be true, this could result
in a "theory" on the human variables of customer service in multilingual,
multicultural institutions, markets or communities.
Variations on this "theory" would then be repeatedly tested in order to
arrive at a formulation that would be generally valid, together with an
identification of factors that might cause it not to be valid.
Using Theory in the FIN-1 Paper
There are two primary functions of theory in the research paper:
- To guide one's research. Theories help identify what the problem is,
what the concepts or variables are, and what the results should be;
- To reveal new insights into a topic, especially when using
theories from quite different disciplines to show new analogies and ways
of interpreting your topic, as discussed further in
The FIN-1 paper does not require students to use a "theory." However,
they certainly may do so. Papers may employ theories from Translation
Studies, the student's minor subject(s), or elsewhere. Students may also
propose and test their own theories.
NB: Be aware that if a theory is used, the paper will be longer,
since the paper must explicate both the 'institutional' topic addressed
and the theory used, before describing how the paper relates one to the
other. If the theory used is not 'original', the paper must also give
examples of how it has been previously employed, particularly examples
which would be similar to how the theory has been applied in the student's
A research theory often evolves from an explication of "problems" which
are determined by induction or deduction:
Inductive and deductive reasoning are both fully acceptable research
procedures. They lay the foundation for eventual "theory" which can be
tested and validated via successive related research.
- Induction: The process of deriving general principles from particular
facts or instances; e.g. reasoning from specific to general;
- Deduction: The process of reasoning in which a conclusion follows
necessarily from the stated premises; inference by reasoning from the
general to the specific.
Questions to Consider When Determining a Research "Problem"
When examining a potential research topic, for instance when reviewing the
different phenomena introduced in "action research" narratives and
searching for an explanatory perspective, the following types of questions
may be useful. They may help identify a "problem" to be researched, or a
hypothesis to be applied to a problem.
More concretely, when reviewing possible research "problems," your
questions could include the following [points 1-3 would be preliminary to
posing a theoretical approach, with points 6-8 required to 'test' the
theory. Points 4-5 develop the working theory (or hypothesis) itself]:
- "What is actually happening in this situation"?
- "Would it still happen this way if ..."
- "In this context, if X does this, would Y then ..."
- "What causes X to react to Y in this way"
For example, briefly, how do the above questions apply to the paper on Recycling in
Finland (using only one of several possible good examples available
online and bearing in mind that the paper was written
before the questions in this document were available)?
- What bothers you about a particular "problem"? What information seems
to be unclear, or incomplete, or missing, or improbable as stated?
- What are the essential concepts and issues relevant to the problem?
- Does the description or implementation of the problem vary? If so,
how and why?
- Can you state a relationship between the variables of your problem?
- Can you hypothesize an answer?
- Can you collect primary and secondary data to test the hypothesis?
- Can you collect original data to further test the hypothesis?
- Is the problem you identify part of a larger problem?
Taking the above questions in order as they apply to the paper:
- There seemed to be a problem with recycling in Finland. The Finnish
population is highly educated and socially conscious. It has a
well-developed respect for environmental concerns. Moreover, in recent
years there has been extensive publicity on the importance of recycling.
Despite this, it was apparent that many Finns did not recycle. Why? How
does one explain this apparent contradiction?
- One question was whether Finns really knew as much about recycling
as was assumed. If they did, was the problem then that they did not know
what could be recycled? Or did they want to but not have easy access to
recycling facilities? These plus several other questions related to the
"problem" were easily identified.
- Was there a distinction between urban and provincial residents as
to whether or how they recycled? Between apartment-dwellers and
home-owners? Between different educational levels or occupations? Between
older and younger Finns?
- There were several interesting relationships between the population
variables. The recycling situations of those who lived in apartments and
single-family houses were similar regardless of whether they lived in
larger or smaller municipalities. However, their practices differed.
Access to recycling facilities was problematic for many in both locations,
but for different reasons. Knowledge about recycling was similar, but
motivation to act on the knowledge varied, etc.
- The hypothesis was that the available information about recyling was
either inadequate or ineffective, and that there were signficant practical
differences between urban and rural residents. This hypothesis was tested
and found to be generally true.
- Many primary and secondary sources were available, including books,
pamphlets, legislation, interviews, etc.
- An original-research survey of sample audiences could be taken in
both a large city and a small town to test the hypothesis.
- The information gained from Tampere and Kauhava would apply
generally elsewhere in Finland. Moreover, recycling and environmental
consciousness is not only a local or national issue, but a global problem.
Knowledge gained from the material covered can also be applied on a larger
Class Discussion Note
Theories or study models from other disciplines may often be surprisingly
insightful in the analysis of quite different topics from those for which
they were originally developed. Examples discussed briefly in class
- The application of Vladimir Propp's
theory of folk-tale structure (1928), originally designed for the study of
'crisis and recovery' (among other plot elements) in fairy tales, to the
'crisis and recovery' of corporate decline and turnaround process in
The unconscious deep-level mechanisms governing the corporate process,
or indeed any process which includes crisis and recovery, could be
described as a folk-tale-like structure in which Propp's theory may then
be a useful tool when analyzing how organizations move from (1) initial
strategic harmony to (2) disharmony [crisis], and eventually to (3) the
construction of a new strategic harmony [recovery].
- The application of Jeremy Bentham's "panopticon" theory (see
also the Wikipedia
entry), widely used in the social sciences, especially as modified by
Michel Foucault for prison control, to the study of control mechanisms in
internet 'chat' communities, especially those which extensively use web
cameras, thus resulting in an interactive 'visibility' of community
members. Is the 'control' over what is appropriate to be revealed in such
communities related to each member's continuous 'visibility' to the
Moderator and other community members?
Research & Academic Writing
ENGA14 Class Schedule
Last Updated 10 January 2013