Dimensions of Research

The Dimension of Research

The dimensions of research include the distinction between applied and basic research, or how people use research. The next is the purpose of doing research, or the goal of a study.
One way to see the dimensions is as decision points for a researcher when moving from a broad topic to a focused research question to the design of a specific study.

Dimension of Research Major Types
How research is used Basic, Applied
Purpose of the study Exploratory, descriptive, explanatory
The way time enters in Cross-sectional, longitudinal ( time series, panel, cohort), case study
Tecnique for collecting data
For Quantitative Data Experiments, surveys, content analysis, existing statistics studies
For Qualitative Field research, historical comparative research

Dimensions of research

The Use of Research

Those who seek an understanding of the fundamental nature of social reality are engaged in basic research. Applied researchers, by contrast, primarily want to apply and tailor knowledge to address a specific practical issue. They want to answer a policy question or solve a pressing social problem.

Basic Research

  • Basic research advances fundamental knowledge about the social world. It focuses on refuting or supporting theories that explain how the social world operates, what makes things happen, why social relations are a certain way, and why society changes. Basic research is the source of most new scientific ideas and ways of thinking about the world.
  • It is true that knowledge produced by basic research often lacks practical applications in the short term. Yet, basic research provides a foundation for knowledge and understanding that are generalizable to many policy areas, problems, or areas of study.
  • Basic research is the source of most of the tools- methods, theories, and ideas that applied researchers use.

Applied Research

  • Applied researchers conduct a study to address a specific concern or to offer solutions to a problem of their employer, a club or organization they are affiliated with, their community or a social movement to which they are committed.
  • Applied research means a quick, small scale study that provides practical results that people can use in the short term.
  • The consumers of applies research findings are practitioners.

Types of Applied Research

Evaluation Research

  • This type of research is widely used in large bureaucratic organizations to find out whether a program, a new way of doing something, a marketing campaign, a policy, and so forth is effective—in other words, “ does it work?”
  • Most evaluation researcher adopt positivist approach and used cost benefit analysis.
  • Two types of evaluation research are formative and summative. Formative evaluation is built in monitoring or continuous feedback on a program used for program management. Summative evaluation looks at final program outcomes. Both are usually necessary.

Action Research

  • Action research is applied research that treats knowledge as a form of power and abolishes the line between research and social action.
  • The researcher tries to advance a cause or improve conditions by expanding public awareness.
  • AR are explicitly political, not value neutral.
  • Action researchers assume that ordinary people can become aware of conditions and learn to take action that can bring about improvement.
  • Action research is associated with the critical social science approach. It attracts researchers how hold specific perspectives.

Social Impact Assessment research

  • Social Impact Assessment research may be part of a larger evnironemental impact statement require by government agencies.
  • Its purpose is to estimate the likely consequence of a planned change.
  • Such an assessment can be used for planning and making choices among alternative policies.

Tools in Applied Research

Applied researchers use two tools: needs assessment and cost benefit analysis.

Need assessment
In a need assessment, a researcher collects data to determine major needs and their severity.
It is often a preliminary step before a government agency or charity decies on a stregy to help people.
A researcher may confront dilemmas or difficult issues.

One issue is to decide on the group to target for the assessment.
A second issue is that people may not express a need in a way that links it direcly to policies or long term solutions.
People often have multiple needs.
A needs assessment may generate political controversy or suggest solutions beyond local control.

Cost Benefit Analysis

In cost benefit analysis, the researcher estimates the future costs and benefits of one or several proposed actions and gives them monetary values.
Cost benefit analysis appears to be a neutral, rational, and technical decision making strategy, but it can be controversial. People do not necessary agree on what are positive and negative consequence. People look at cost / benefit differently. Someone’s cost maybe other’s benefits.

There are two ways to assign monetary value to costs and benefits.

Contingency evaluation asks people how much something is worth to them.
Actual cost evaluation estimates the actual medical and job loss costs.

A significant issue for cost benefit analysis is the assumption that everything has a price and that people assign similar valuations.

The purpose of a Study


  • Exploration- the researcher’s goal is to formulate more precise questions that future research can answer. Exploratory research may be the first stage in sequence of studies.
  • A researcher may need to conduct an exploratory study in order to know enough to design and execute a second, more systematic and extensive study.
  • Exploratory research rarely yields definitive answers. It addresses the “what” question.
  • It is difficult to conduct because there are few guidelines to follow.
  • Everything is potentially important, steps are not well defined, and the direction of inquiry changes frequently.
  • Exploratory researchers frequently use qualitative techniques for gathering data and they are less wedded to a specific theory or research question.


  • Description- the researcher presents a picture of the specific details of a situation, social setting, or relationship.
  • Much of the social research found in scholarly journals or used for making policy decisions is descriptive.
  • The researchers begin with a well defined subject and conducts research to describe it accurately. The outcome of a descriptive study is a detailed picture of the subject.
  • Exploring new issues or explaining shy something happens is less of a concern for descriptive researchers than describing how things are.
  • Descriptive research focuses on “how” and “who” questions. Descriptive researcher use most data gathering techniques—surveys, field research, content analysis, and historical comparative research.


  • When you encounter an issue that is already known and have a description of it, you might begin to wonder why things are the way they are.
  • Explanation- the desire to know “why” is the purpose of explanatory research.
  • It builds on exploratory and descriptive research and goes on to identify the reason something occurs.
  • Explanatory research looks for causes and reasons.

The Time Dimension in Research

  • An awareness of the time dimension will help researcher read or conduct research because different research questions or issues incorporate time in different ways.
  • Quantitative research is divided into two groups: a single point in time (cross sectional research) versus multiple time points (longitudinal research). Quantitative research looks at a large group of cases, people, or units and measures a limited number of features.
  • A case study involves qualitative methods and focuses on one or a few cases during a limited time period.
  • Cross-Sectional Research
  • In cross sectional research, researchers observe at one point in time.
  • It is usually the simplest and least costly alternative. Its disadvantage is that it can not capture social processes or change.

Longitudinal Research

  • Researcher examines features of people or other units at more than one time.
  • It is usually more complex and costly than cross sectional research but it is more powerful, especially when researchers seek answer to questions about social change.

3 types of longitudinal research are

  • Time series research is a longitudinal study in which the same type of information is collected on a group of people or other units across multiple time periods.
  • The panel study observes exactly the same people, group, or organization across time periods.
  • A cohort analysis observes a category of people who share a similar life experience in a specific time period.

Case Studies

  • In case study research, the researcher examines, in depth, many features of a few cases over duration of time. A case can be individual, groups, organizations, movements, events, or geographic units.
  • Qualitative and case study research are not identical, but “almost all qualitative research seek to construct representations based on in depth, detailed knowledge of cases”
  • Case studies help researchers connect the micro level, or the actions of individual people, to the macro level, or large scale social structures and process.
  • Case studies are likely to produce the best theory.

Data Collection Technique Used

The techniques are grouped into two categories: quantitative, collecting data in the form of numbers, and qualitative, collecting data in the form of word or pictures.

Quantitative Data


  • Experimental research uses the logic and principles found in natural science research.
  • Experiments can be conducted in laboratories or in real life.
  • Experiments are most effective for explanatory research.
  • In most experiments, the researcher divides the people being studied into two or more groups.
  • He or she then treats both groups identically, except that one group but not the other is given a condition he or she is interested in: the treatment.


  • Survey techniques are used in descriptive or explanatory research.
  • A survey researcher asks people questions in written questionnaire or during an interview then record answers.

Content Analysis

Content analysis is a technique for examine information, or content, in written or symbolic material.
Content analysis is used for exploratory and explanatory research but is most often used in descriptive research.

Existing Statistics

  • In existing statistics research, a researcher locates a source of previously collected information, often the form of government reports or previously conducted survey. He or she then reorganizes or combines the information in new ways to address a research question.
  • The existing quantitative informaitn consists of stored survey or other data that a researcher reexamines using various statistical procedures. This is called secondary analysis research.
  • Existing research is most frequently used for descriptive research.

Qualitative Data

  • Field Research
  • Most field researchers conduct case studies on a small group of people for some length of time.
  • Historical Comparative Research
  • Historical comparative research examines aspects of social life in a past historical era or across different cultures.
  • This kind of research combines theory with data collection.
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