Phases of Research:
Steps in Gathering and Evaluating Evidence
The following are general steps for
conducting a research
1. Generate Ideas
2. Formulate a Research Question
3. Develop a Hypothesis
4. Devise a study to test the hypothesis
5. Run the Study & Get Results
6. Analyze & Interpret the Results
7. Communicate the Results
Step 1. Generate Ideas
The starting place of all research studies is a
single idea. Ideas come to us through our observations of the
from conversations with other people, from sources such as books or
or from reading other journal articles. Ideas represent the
of a person. The idea does not have to be a full fledge research
project. All that is needed at this point is a thought, curiosity
about the topic, and interest in pursuing the topic further.
Let's take an
example that we will use for all of the steps. You notice that
are able to memorize items such as phone numbers better when you eat
and wonder if there is a connection between candy and memory.
Step 2. Formulate a Research Question
After you have your idea, it is now appropriate
to examine the literature on the topic in order to ascertain what other
researchers have done and how they have conceptualized and tested the
Afterwards, convert your idea into a clearly posed research question or
set of research questions.
our example, let's say that you researched the topic of memory
and saw that other researchers have looked at how certain herbs and a
diet can improve memory. However, no one* has examined if sugar
improve memory. Therefore, your research question is:
Can sugar improve memory?
(*Keep in mind this is just an example
and does not accurately
reflect the research literature on memory enhancement.)
Step 3. Develop a Hypothesis
A hypothesis is a testable prediction/belief of
what will happen in some circumstance. Recall from the review of
that a good theory is one that is testable. In developing a
you take your research question and restate it in specific terms that
a prediction. (You may also choose to keep the hypothesis more
if you are conducting an exploratory study.)
if the research question is to see if sugar affects memory, the
would be more specific and state:
who ingest 2 grams of sugar before studying for a memorization task
perform better than college students who do not ingest sugar."
Step 4. Devise a study to test the hypothesis
In this step, you (a) define all important terms
and variables in your study, (b) decide on the best research method to
test your hypothesis, and (c) select what statistical methods you will
use for analyzing the data.
(a) The reseacher should define, or create an operational
definition of, all important terms. An operational definition
is a definition that specifies the operations or procedures used to
In our example,
"sugar" and "memory" are terms that need to be defined in order for a
to understand exactly what the researcher means by those terms (and for
others to replicate the study). Sugar could be defined as white
sugar while memory could be described as a score from a memorization
of nonsense syllables.
A variable is a characteristic that can have more
than 1 value. Examples of variables include intelligence, sex,
in a family, type of behavior, etc. In a typical research study,
there are 2 main types of variables:
|1) Independent Variable
The independent variable (IV) is generally defined as the variable that
influences the dependent variable. It is any variable that
different groups of participants who are measured via the dependent
It can also be a variable that describes the qualities of the
(An independent variable is also defined in some textbooks as the
researchers manipulate so that its effects may be observed. But
definition can be limiting, as explained below*.)
In our above example, 2 grams of sugar would be the independent
Why? First, it is the sugar that is hypothesized to influence (in
this case, improve) memory; not the other way around. Second, the
IV is often the variable that can be changed or altered by the
such as 1 gram of sugar or 2 or 3.
Another example would be if we were comparing spelling ability for
with mental retardation and children without mental retardation.
The IV for this example would be: mental retardation
condition (students with it and without it). Why?
First, whether or not one has mental retardation is hypothesized to influence
spelling ability, not the other way around. Second, it is the
that defines the groups of participants who are to have their spelling
abilities measured. Third, it describes the quality of the
(either having or not having mental retardation).
(*The experimenter cannot directly manipulate the degree of mental
in the participants; however, the experimenter could indirectly
this through the recruitment procedure (i.e., recruit children with
and moderate levels of mental retardation and children who are of
intelligence). For this reason, defining IV's as the variable
manipulate can be confusing and limiting because it does not include
independent variables such as the sex or age of a person.)
|2) Dependent Variable
dependent variable (DV) is the variable that is hypothesized to change
in response to the IV. It is the variable that is hypothesized to
be influenced by the IV. The DV is often a score
some sort but NOT ALWAYS.
In our sugar experiment, "scores on the memorization task" would be the
dependent variable because that is what is hypothesized to change
of or be influenced by (in this case, improve) the independent variable
In the other example above, "score on a spelling test" would be the DV
because it is hypothesized to change in response to whether or not one
has mental retardation.
study can have more than one IV and more than one DV.
Click here for a quiz on IV's and DV's.
(b) After you have these variables defined,
you need to choose the best research method. Click here
to review the different methods.
our sugar study, we would pick the experimental method. We would
have 2 groups: college students who ingest 2 grams of sugar and
students who ingest 2 grams of a harmless placebo-powder (no
After both groups ingest their respective powder, they would have 3
to memorize a list of nonsense syllables. After a 5 minute rest,
both groups would recall as many of the syllables as possible.
number of correct syllables recalled would represent their memory
You also need to select your statistical procedures, but that is beyond
the scope of this tutorial.
Step 5. Run the Study & Get Results
Now that everything has been planned, it is time
to run your study.
Step 6. Analyze & Interpret the Results
Statistical procedures are now employed to analyze
the collected data. After analysis, you need to examine the
to see if they do or do not support your hypothesis.
Step 7. Communicate the Results
The communication of research results is a vital
step in the overall process. Researchers typically communicate
results through publication of journal articles. They may also
to present a poster or conduct a discussion at a psychological meeting
or research conference.