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Section 1
The Research Process

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Figure 2-1.

All writing begins with research of a given topic. Organized and focused research provides a wealth of material that improves the quality of a product. The tasking may come from a job requirement, professional development, or an instructor. The "research" to complete this tasking consists of finding information, making notes, explaining the notes, and documenting your sources.

We conclude that because we documented the sources and included a bibliography we've done research. Yes, what we have done is part of research. However, at best our efforts are merely "pseudo-research." Whenever we fail to tell the reader how the facts and ideas support our thesis, we have not completed the tasking. We are merely scribes who collect and describe information, but we are not researchers.

RESEARCH IS A PROCESS to systematically gather information to find the answer to a specific question or to develop the solution to a given problem. The process itself has several distinct characteristics:

  • You begin with a question that you cannot answer with a yes or no.
  • You must have a clearly stated purpose.
  • You divide the primary problem into subproblems.
  • You make educated guesses (hypotheses) based on specific assumptions.
  • You develop a specific plan of action.
  • You only accept information, evidence, facts, observations, and experiences (we call this data) relevant to the problem.
  • Your investigation has an audience.

1.  THE RESEARCH QUESTION(S). Your research consists of asking questions and finding answers. Some questions that you may use to identify the problem, establish your purpose, analyze the data, and draw valid conclusions include:

  • What is the real problem?
  • What is your purpose in answering the problem?
  • What are the subordinate questions you must answer to solve the problem?
  • What are your educated guesses (hypotheses) that suggest solutions to the problem?
  • What are the assumptions behind your educated guesses?
  • What is your research plan?
  • What type of information do you need?
  • What is your plan to analyze the information (data)?
  • Why does your information support your hypothesis? Why not?
  • What conclusions can you draw from the data analyzed?

You always begin with a question you cannot answer with a yes or no. Whenever you attempt to answer a question that requires more than a yes or no response, you have a problem requiring research. For example, you've received orders assigning you to a joint task force responsible for extracting troops from Haiti on the completion of a military intervention to quell political and social unrest. The task force can answer the question "Will we remove our military forces from Haiti?" That question only calls for a "yes" or "no" answer. By definition the question does not call for any research. However, when you ask "What conditions must be met before we extract our military forces from Haiti," you then have a problem that requires research.

2.  YOU MUST HAVE A CLEARLY STATED PURPOSE. The mere statement of a research problem only gives you direction for research. Compiling information without a purpose is merely collecting facts, opinions, and ideas on a given topic that only has value to the individual. You must identify why you need to answer the research problem. "Why" provides purpose for your efforts. Purpose provides you with direction, while helping you and your audience understand what you want to accomplish. For example, consider the US involvement in Haiti. Your task may be--

  • Protect soldiers from the danger of armed confrontation with Haitian nationalists.
  • Convince the media that the intervention is in the best interest of the Haitians.
  • Extract US troops from Haiti following a successful intervention.
  • Restore public confidence in the Haitian police force.
  • Protect lives and property of all Haitians.
  • Establish democratic elections.
  • Convince the State Department that Haitians are ready to manage their own affairs.
  • Convince the United Nations that Haitians are ready to manage their own affairs.

Each of these tasks suggests numerous purposes. Each purpose also provides you with numerous points of view, frames of reference, and perspectives that you must consider. Your immediate concern is to identify a specific purpose to pursue. Let's say you have been placed on a process action team responsible "to establish democratic elections in Haiti." You can identify your specific purpose by asking questions of the person who gave the team the tasking. Two possible purpose questions are:

  • Is this to be a one-time democratic election so that we can expedite US troop withdrawal?
  • Is this to be an electoral system that will continue after US troop withdrawal?

Let’s say you’ve identified your purpose as "to establish a democratic electoral system in Haiti that will continue after US troop withdrawal."

3.  DIVIDE THE PRIMARY PROBLEM INTO SUBPROBLEMS. There are several subproblems that you need answers to before you can fulfill the purpose behind your tasking. Each subproblem directly affects your purpose. It is imperative, therefore, that you take the time to identify the subproblems that directly affect your purpose. Some subproblems may include:

  • What is the situation in the area where the Kosovo Albanians have sought refuge?
  • What resources are readily available to the Kosovo Albanians?
  • What resources are available to the squad to enable it to perform the mission?
  • What resources are available to overcome any language barriers?

The answer to each of these subproblems will help you determine courses of action to develop for the Kosovo Albanians a defense system that will provide protection after the withdrawal of NATO forces.

4.  THE HYPOTHESES (EDUCATED GUESSES). You make educated guesses (hypotheses) based on specific assumptions that direct your thinking toward possible solutions. (Research reports will include this step, but an essay may not.) An educated guess may reflect one or more points of view, which helps you to focus on the problem. Now let's make some educated guesses to identify factors that may create voter abuse.

  • Less than 10 percent of the Albanians understand English.
  • Preliminary intelligence studies indicate the Albanians only have small arms.
  • The squad will be operating in mountainous terrain.
  • The Serbs are intent on destroying both the Albanians and those helping them.

Each of the foregoing factors may create a situation that could jeopardize mission accomplishment. You need to examine each factor and determine whether a valid assumption supports it or not.

An assumption is a self-evident condition that you need to complete your research. You discover the assumptions by asking yourself "What is it that I'm taking for granted?" For example, if you are evaluating computer-assisted training for soldier development, your assumption may be that soldiers can read. If they cannot read, then your educated guess is invalid.

Now let's consider the first assumption, "Less than 10 percent of the Albanians understand English." This statement assumes that a non-English speaking population may increase the potential for mission failure. If this assumption is true, then a condition exists which nullifies part or all of your investigation. Remember, an assumption is a self-evident condition that you need to complete your investigation. Before accepting any assumption as valid, you need to determine whether the self-evident condition nullifies or supports your investigation. On the other hand, some assumptions are so self-evident that you may err by not identifying them. Without identifying your assumptions you won't know if they are valid or invalid. It is necessary that you take the time to identify your assumptions.

5.  YOU DEVELOP A SPECIFIC PLAN OF ACTION. Military operations begin with a clearly stated purpose. Implementation requires a specific plan of action. Research requires the same. You identify your purpose and then develop a plan to discover the information needed to answer the question. It then becomes important to consider where you will find your research data. Just as important is to consider how you are going to analyze the data to ensure you recognize and understand its significance for your research.

6.  DATA ACCEPTANCE. You only accept information, evidence, facts, observations, and experiences (data) relevant to the problem. Every problem has many factors. Data will come from primary and secondary sources. Some are relevant while others may have nothing to do with the solution. Your task is to determine what data is relevant and then to collect it. However, what you collect only becomes significant when you use your mind to extract meaning from it. Data demands interpretation; it cannot stand-alone. It must pass from your notes through your mind for processing and interpretation. Data that passes from the raw stage to the final product without interpretation are merely the regurgitation of meaningless ideas.

7.  YOUR RESEARCH HAS AN AUDIENCE. Your research never takes place in a vacuum--there is always an audience. You may be seeking to develop a new fuel-efficient engine for lawn mowers. If this is a task that benefits only one person, then your audience is one person. However, if your purpose is to increase your income, then your audience quickly expands to include manufacturers, financial leaders, and those wanting a fuel-efficient engine for their lawn mowers. Returning to the Haitian incident, for example, you can readily identify several audiences. Your purpose is to develop a democratic electoral system for Haiti. With this as your task, your audience includes the Haitian populous, Haitian politicians, the United States (President, Congress, State Department), and the United Nations, as a minimum.

David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 14, 2016