The novice researcher, such as the graduate student, can be overwhelmed by the intricacies of the research methods employed in conducting a scholarly inquiry (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). As both a consumer and producer of research, it is essential to have a firm grasp on just what is entailed in producing legitimate, valid results and conclusions. The very large and growing number of diverse research approaches in current practice exacerbates this problem (Mertler & Vannatta, 2001). The goal of this review is to provide the novice researcher with a starting point in becoming a more informed consumer and producer of research in the form of a lexicon of terms and an analysis of the underlying constructs that apply to scholarly enquiry, regardless of the specific methods employed.
Scholarly research is, to a very great extent, characterized by the type of study conducted and, by extension, the specific methods employed in conducting that type of study (Creswell, 2005, p. 61). Novice researchers, however, often mistakenly think that, since studies are known by how they are conducted, the research process starts with deciding upon just what type of study to conduct. On the contrary, the type of study one conducts is based upon three related issues: the problem driving the study, the body of knowledge, and the nature of the data available to the researcher.
As discussed elsewhere, scholarly research starts with the identification of a tightly focused, literature supported problem (Ellis & Levy, 2008). The research-worthy problem serves as the point of departure for the research. The nature of the research problem and the domain from which it is drawn serves as a limiting factor on the type of research that can be conducted. Nunamaker, Chen, and Purdin (1991) noted that "It is clear that some research domains are sufficiently narrow that they allow the use of only limited methodologies" (p. 91). The problem also serves as the guidance system for the study in that the research is, in essence, an attempt to, in some manner, develop at least a partial solution to the research problem. The best design cannot provide meaning to research and answer the question 'Why was the study conducted,' if there is not the anchor of a clearly identified research problem.
The body of knowledge serves as the foundation upon which the study is built (Levy & Ellis, 2006). The literature also serves to channel the research, in that it indicates the type of study or studies that are appropriate based upon the nature of the problem driving the study. Likewise, the literature provides clear guidance on the specific methods to be followed in conducting a study of a given type. Although originality is of great value in scholarly work, it is usually not rewarded when applied to the research methods. Ignoring the wisdom contained in the existing body of knowledge can cause the novice researcher, at the least, a great deal of added work establishing the validity of the study.
From an entirely practical perspective, the nature of the data available to the researcher serves as a final filter in determining the type of study to conduct. The type of data available should be considered a necessary, but certainly not sufficient, consideration for selecting research methods. The data should never supersede the necessity of a research-worthy problem serving as the anchor and the existing body of knowledge serving as the foundation for the research. The absence of the ability to gather the necessary data can, however, certainly make a study based upon research methods directly driven by a well-conceived problem and supported by current literature completely futile. Every solid research study must use data in order to validate the proposed theory. As a result, novice researchers should understand the centrality of access to data for their study success. Access to data refers to the ability of the researcher to actually collect the desired data for the study. …