Monday, 22 June 2015 19:39

Research Methods

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Online research is not only easy for the researcher, but also cost effective. You can survey a large group at barely any price online. However, a researcher will have several options to choose from when deciding a research method, and to decide on the best one for his task there are some things he should consider. He can start by narrowing down the research topic, which is important even for internet research.

The first step to conducting any research is to be very clear about what you seek. A researcher should first make up his mind what he is searching for. He may start by narrowing down his research area, i.e. the discipline. Then he can narrow it down further and decide what his research topic or focus is, to gain direction, and then he needs to decide and finalize his research question. This will give direction to what exactly needs to be searched.

After the research question is finalized, it will be easier for the researcher to decide what kind of sample he needs. A sample population is based on the target population; hence the target population needs to be defined. A researcher needs to know what group, age and gender he is looking for. A sample will be derived based on that. There are lots of sampling techniques that can be used in this sense. Some of these techniques include random sampling, stratified sampling, or quota sampling. Each of them has its pros and cons.

After the target population and the sample is finalized, there are other considerations you need to review. Is your sample small or large? Do you need qualitative data or quantitative data? A researcher may sometimes require a little of both. Since every research method is best suited to different requirements, after you have decided the size of the sample and the type of information you seek, then you can choose a research method.

Surveys and questionnaires are often used when you have a large sample. They are easy to distribute, fill and collate. They are mostly used for quantitative information but can be used to collect qualitative data too in some instances. If you are an online researcher, your task is made even easier. There are online tools available like Surveymonkey.com and Google Forms that allow you to not only make a customized form, but collate the data and present it in visually appealing graphs.

Interviews are traditionally conducted via face-to-face conversation, however with the technology available, interviews now also encompass questions asked over Skype, and other video calling software. They are often used when short answers are not preferred in one or more of the questions, and follow-up questions might need to be asked. They can be used for either quantitative or qualitative information, but they are preferred for small samples over large samples. Since conducting interviews is time-consuming and labor intensive, using interviews for large samples might prove to be costly.

For an even more qualitative and detail based research, case study is also an option. When a single person, program or a project has to be evaluated, you seek various dimensions and aspects to it and compile it. If it is a person being observed, a researcher will observe them over a period, and record his actions and reactions to stimuli. Case study is strictly used for qualitative data and small samples, because it requires effort and is a time intensive process.

While most of the research methods online are similar to methods used for traditional offline research, more caution should be observed when employing these techniques. Researchers often face problems due to the anonymity maintained over the internet as it becomes harder to establish real identity. Also, it is essential to make sure informed consent is obtained since covert research is often frowned upon. If a researcher uses online research with care and makes sure he uses the right medium, and method, internet research is going to be of immense help. 

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