Policy Press

Publishing with a purpose

Glossary of terms for basic research methods terminology

This glossary contains definitions of words and phrases as they are used in the book. You need to bear in mind that research terms are not always used in the same way by everyone.
 
abstract: summary of academic research, usually 250–500 words long
 
academic research: research conducted for an academic qualification, such as a diploma, Master’s degree or PhD, or in support of an academic career
 
action research: an iterative process of reflection and problem solving in groups or communities
 
analysis: see data analysis
 
application programming interface (API): a piece of source code that is being used to release some open data in such a way that external programs can communicate with it and access or exchange data
 
average: see mean
 
background research: part of a research project designed to give context to the research question, which may be in the form of a document review – for workplace research; or a literature review – for academic research
 
bibliography: a list at the end of a book or other written document containing references, some of which are cited in the text and some of which are not but may be useful to readers
 
bivariate statistics: descriptive statistics which describe the relationship between two variables
 
case study: a research method in which a single ‘case’ (person, organisation, country and so on) is studied in depth
 
citation: giving the details of the source of an idea, fact or opinion which you draw on in your research
 
closed question: a question with predefined answers to choose from
 
code: a label for a piece of quantitative data or qualitative data
 
coding: labelling quantitative data or qualitative data to facilitate data analysis
 
coding frame: a set of words or phrases to guide your coding of qualitative data
 
content analysis: a method of analysing qualitative data where you count the number of instances of each code
 
convenience sample: a sample where you choose the first participants you can find who are willing to help
 
copyright: the legal right of control over original written (or musical or artistic) work
 
correlation co-efficient: a statistical calculation that gives an estimate of the average distance of each point on a scattergraph from the regression line
 
covariant relationship: a relationship where two variables change in accordance with one another
 
cross-analysis of data: see data synthesis
 
data: information collected for research
 
data analysis: methods of analysing data to find out what it can tell you
 
data collection: methods of collecting data for research
 
data mashup: a mixture of data from two or more APIs
 
data preparation: methods of preparing data for coding and analysis
 
data repository: a place where data is kept, usually on the World Wide Web
 
data synthesis: comparing and contrasting the findings of different segments of data analysis within the same piece of research. Sometimes called cross-analysis of data
 
dependent variable: a measurable characteristic which stays constant in the course of the research
 
descriptive statistics: statistics which enable us to summarise and describe numerical data
dissemination: sharing knowledge gained through research
 
dissertation: the write-up of a piece of academic research conducted for a qualification such as a Master’s degree
 
document review: a review of relevant documents to provide context for workplace research
 
documents: pieces of text which may be used for background research or as data
 
doi: Digital Object Identifier, used to uniquely identify electronic resources
 
draft: an unfinished piece of writing
 
edit: work to improve a draft
 
emancipatory research: see value-based research
 
emergent coding: coding based on whatever the researcher perceives to be of interest in qualitative data
 
ephemera: text and/or images that are not designed to be kept, but may be useful as data, such as advertising leaflets and social media updates
 
ethics: the rules of conduct for a particular activity
 
ethnography: a time-consuming research method, used in qualitative research, from the discipline of anthropology
 
evaluation: a type of applied research used to assess the effectiveness of services or interventions, and make recommendations for improvement
 
Excel: computer software by Microsoft designed for spreadsheets and with the ability to perform statistical calculations
 
executive summary: summary of workplace research, usually 1–4 pages long
 
findings: the results of research
 
focus group: a data collection technique in qualitative research that usually involves one or two researchers and several participants
 
formal theory: a way of making sense of an aspect or aspects of the world around us, based primarily on thought
 
freewriting: a technique to help writers overcome blocks or solve problems
 
frequency distribution: a way of showing how many times a particular variable has occurred, both of itself and in relation to other variables
 
generalisability: the extent to which the findings of research apply in situations beyond that in which the research was conducted
 
geographic information system (GIS): a way of working with data that contains location or place information, and plotting it on a map or doing calculations related to its position on the Earth
 
graph: a diagram to show changes in one variable or the relationship between two variables
 
grey literature: documents that are not formally published, but that may be available in hard copy and/or electronic formats from individuals, organisations, or governments
 
grid: a table designed for keeping records, for example of documents or literature, or making notes, for example of observations, for the purposes of research
 
hypothesis: a hunch, guess, or suspicion about something unknown
 
independent relationship: a relationship where two variables change independently of one another
 
independent researcher: a researcher who is not part of an academic or other institution
 
independent variable: a measurable characteristic that changes in the course of the research
 
inferential statistics: statistics that enable us to infer something about a population from a sample
 
informal theory: a way of making sense of an aspect or aspects of the world around us, based primarily on experience
 
instrument: see measuring devices
 
intellectual property: original ideas or words, which are held to belong to the person who created them
 
interval data: quantitative data in ranks with a defined numerical distance between them, such as age in years
 
interview: a data collection technique in qualitative research that usually involves one researcher and one or two participants
 
inventory: see measuring devices
 
literature: academic texts that may be used for background research
 
literature review: a review of relevant literature to provide context for academic research
 
location: a researcher’s position, which may be geographical, political, theoretical and so on
 
mashup tool: a technological tool for combining data from different APIs (application programming interfaces)
 
mean: a statistical calculation for quantitative data in which the total of all values is divided by the number of values. Also known as the average
 
measuring devices: scales, tools, instruments or inventories designed to measure human characteristics and conditions
 
median: the middle value in a set of quantitative data after it has been ranked in order
 
meta-analysis: similar to a systematic review, but also includes a statistical summary of findings from quantitative research
 
metadata records: data about data, such as grids designed for recording data during observation or for coding visual data
 
mixed-method research: research drawing on both quantitative data and qualitative data
 
mode: the value occurring most commonly in a set of quantitative data
 
nominal data: data in categories with labels, such as categories of ethnicity
 
non-probability sample: a sample in which every member of the population does not have an equal chance of becoming a member of the sample
 
NVivo: computer software designed to support the coding and analysis of qualitative data including text, audio, and images
 
observation: a data collection technique in qualitative research that usually involves one researcher and many participants
 
open access: free access for everyone, for example to academic journal articles
 
open data: data collected by governments and made freely available to everyone
 
open question: a question with no predefined answers
 
OpenOffice: freely available software that is compatible with Microsoft Office, including Microsoft Excel, and that performs the same functions
 
ordinal data: quantitative data in ranks without a defined numerical distance between them, such as the first, second, and third places in a competition
 
participant: someone who participates in research, for example by completing a questionnaire or taking part in an interview
 
participant observation: a time-consuming method of collecting data, often used within ethnography
 
participatory action research: similar to action research, but with a slightly stronger emphasis on partnership
 
pie chart: a way to show how many times a particular variable has occurred, of itself and in relation to other variables
 
pilot: a test run of a data collection method to assess its quality
 
plagiarism: presenting someone else’s ideas or words as your own original work
 
polish: the final stage in the writing process, to remove any remaining errors and finalise structure, grammar, word choices and so on
 
population: all of the people you could, in theory, include as participants in a research project
 
practitioner: someone who works in public services, whether paid or unpaid
 
primary data: data collected specifically for your research project
 
probability sample: a sample in which every member of the population has an equal chance of becoming a member of the sample
 
public services: services run by society for society, such as health, social care, criminal justice, and education services from pre-school to university
 
purposive sample: a sample of people who, in the researcher’s judgement, have most to contribute to the research
 
qualitative data: data in the form of words, images, sound, or anything except numbers
 
qualitative research: research based on qualitative data
 
quantitative data: data in the form of numbers
 
quantitative research: research based on quantitative data
 
questionnaire: a data-collection instrument for quantitative research
 
quota sample: the population is divided into segments on the basis of characteristics (for example gender, age, geographical location) and then a different type of sample, such as a convenience sample or purposive sample, is taken from each segment
 
random sample: a sample where random numbers are used to select participants
 
range: the difference between the smallest and largest values in a set of quantitative data
 
recommendations: suggestions for how workplace research can be put into practice
 
reference: the full details of a document or piece of literature, signposted by a citation
 
reference list: a list at the end of a research report, dissertation, or thesis, containing references, all of which are cited in the text
 
reliability: the extent to which a research method will produce the same results when used in different situations
 
research: systematic investigation, using a predefined research method, to gather information with the aim of answering a predefined research question
 
research commissioner: someone who holds a budget for a piece of research
 
research method: system for conducting research
 
research plan: similar to a research proposal, most commonly used in workplace research to inform people such as research commissioners, managers, and colleagues
 
research proposal: a written explanation of what you intend to research and why, and how you intend to carry out the research, to inform people such as potential funders or PhD supervisors, most commonly used in academic research
 
research question: the stated question which a piece of research aims to answer
 
research report: the write-up of a piece of workplace research
 
research topic: the subject area of a piece of research
 
researcher: a person who does research
 
sample: the people you include as participants in a research project, drawn from a population
 
scale: see measuring devices
 
scattergraph: a graph that gives an overview of the relationship between two variables
 
secondary data: data that was not collected specifically for your research project, but that you can use in your research
 
service user: a user of public services
 
snowball sample: a sample where one or more participants help the researcher to find other participants
 
SPSS: Statistical Package for Social Scientists, computer software designed to perform statistical calculations
 
standpoint: a person’s own position from which they view or judge things
 
statistics: a branch of mathematics that enables the analysis and interpretation of numerical data
 
stratified random sample: a sample where the population is divided into segments on the basis of characteristics such as gender, age, or geographical location, and then a random sample is taken from each segment of the population
 
stratified sample: a sample where you use one number generated at random to select the first participant, then choose other participants at regular intervals, for example every third or every tenth person
 
survey: a piece of research, often large-scale, to investigate people’s experiences, attitudes, behaviours, judgements, beliefs and so on
 
systematic review: a review of all the research previously conducted around a specific research question
 
thematic analysis: a method for identifying themes within coded data
 
theory: a way of making sense of an aspect or aspects of the world around us. See also formal theory and informal theory
 
thesis: the write-up of a piece of academic research conducted for a qualification such as a PhD
 
third sector: organisations and groups that provide public services and are neither state-funded nor run purely for profit, such as charities, social enterprises and community groups
 
tool: see measuring devices
 
transcribe: to convert data from audio to text
 
univariate statistics: descriptive statistics that describe a single variable
 
URL: Uniform Resource Locator; that is, the address of a web page
 
validity: the extent to which a research method does what it claims to do
 
value-based research: research intended to effect positive change, sometimes called emancipatory research
 
variable: a measurable characteristic
 
variance: in quantitative data, an estimate of the average distance of each value from the mean
 
visual data: qualitative data in the form of images, such as photographs, paintings, drawings, collage, video
 
viva: an oral examination for academic research such as a PhD
 
workplace research: research conducted to support professional work, such as evaluation research, skills audit, training needs analysis

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