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What is research? (basic definition)

Research is nothing more complicated than ‘finding out’ about a particular topic of interest. Most people are ‘natural researchers’ as they track down relevant information.

In Higher Education, ‘research’ has come to be associated with finding out ‘new knowledge’ - pushing the frontiers of understanding. At undergraduate level this means simply a fresh understanding of the topic.

You carry out research every time you prepare an essay or assignment. However, you might well also have to complete a longer dissertation, often in the final year before graduation. The purpose of this is threefold: to help you consolidate your learning; to give you a chance to use your academic skills to explore a topic of your choosing; and to prepare the ground for later postgraduate work by getting you to extend your existing research skills.

What is research? (formal definition)

Research is a systematic process of discovery and inquiry. It involves finding, documenting, analysing and evaluating critical information as well as collating, analysing and evaluating data. Research is carried out to:

  • To increase knowledge
  • To contribute to new knowledge
  • To evaluate bodies of knowledge, viewpoints, the validity of a hypothesis or theories.
  • To generate questions for further inquiries.
  • To evaluate and develop practices.

The challenges of managing independent research

All your study activities at university involve an element of self-management and organisation. These qualities are especially important, and will be tested to the full, when you undertake an independent research project as part of your dissertation (undergraduate or Masters) or thesis (PhD). Completing this research on time, and to the best of your abilities, will involve the completion of numerous interrelated activities and multiple deadlines, and require you to respond dynamically to any challenges you encounter. .  

Common elements in research assignments

Every research project, dissertation or thesis will have some kind of introduction, main body and a conclusion. Within this framework there will be a review of literature, an in-depth investigation of the topic, and some form of original research, leading to a critical analysis and discussion of its findings, both in their own right and in the context of what is already known about the topic. These elements should be structured into a logical, systematic narrative that leads the reader through the subject matter and is formatted to meet your School’s formal submission guidelines.

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