Methods of Research Inquiry
Descriptive research (usually quantitative) focuses on describing certain characteristics of the target population. It does not explain the origins of these characteristics, or any other causational links (Cozby & Bates, 2015). Descriptive studies are often useful for finding out what currently exists, what the situation is, or for categorizing something.
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Descriptive research can be applied to a research project to comprehend the current situation. For instance, a descriptive approach needs to be taken if one wishes to find out how many policemen there are is a specific county and what their rank division is (i.e., what percentage of recruits, deputy sheriffs, master deputies, corporals, etc., there are).
Similarly to descriptive research, correlational studies (quantitative) investigate certain characteristics of the target population; however, they also examine the correlations between these characteristics. Correlational research does not permit making inference about causal relationships (Cozby & Bates, 2015).
Such studies can be applied to a project by helping explore the association between measured phenomena. For example, the correlation between the number of imprisoned individuals and the number of crimes in different states can be investigated. This will allow for finding out, e.g., with which change in the number of crimes a 1-unit change in the number of prisoners is associated. However, this will not permit concluding that, e.g., more prisoners cause more crime, or that more crime always causes an increase in the number of prisoners.
(Quasi-)experimental studies are quantitative studies in which the causal relationship between several variables is investigated. For this purpose, the independent variable(s) are manipulated, and the resulting change in the dependent variables is measured, while all the other important conditions are held constant.
(Quasi-)experimental studies feature control groups. In experimental studies, the assignment of participants to control and experimental groups is random. In quasi-experimental studies, however, the assignment to groups is not random; also, some external conditions might not be well-controlled (Cozby & Bates, 2015). It is noteworthy that (quasi-)experiments are often difficult to implement due to the need to satisfy numerous requirements (isolated environment, appropriate participants, ethical reasons, etc.).
(Quasi-)experimental studies can be used in a project to investigate causation between phenomena. For instance, the impact of new methods of crime prevention on crime rates can be checked via an experimental study. The baseline levels of crime should be measured; then, in some randomly selected areas (experimental group), new methods should be implemented, whereas, in the other areas (control group), the old methods should still be used. All the areas should be homogenous for potential confounders. Crime rates should be measured in both types of areas and compared. This will allow for assessing the impact of new crime prevention methods on crime rates.
Phenomenological studies (qualitative) investigate people’s perceptions and experiences of particular situations or phenomena. For this purpose, in-depth interviews (often semi-structured) are performed with several participants (e.g., 10-20), and recorded. Then, the gathered data is processed, and conclusions are drawn; one method to do so is coding, which permits finding common themes and issues in the data (Creswell & Poth, 2013).
Phenomenological research can be useful in projects where it is needed to comprehend the opinions and experiences of people. For instance, it is possible to conduct phenomenological research with criminals or delinquents of a certain category to understand their driving motives, thus allowing for solving similar crimes in the future, or for preventing such crime by eliminating the causes of criminal intentions.
Case studies are qualitative studies examining a very small sample of participants (e.g., 1-3 participants) in an in-depth manner. This permits conducting a detailed investigation of the phenomenon in question, its relationships to other phenomena, etc. (Creswell & Poth, 2013).
Case studies may be used in various projects – for instance, to examine the potential impact of some innovation on a single subject before investigating it on a larger sample (a pilot study). For example, the impact of a behavioral intervention on 1-3 criminals with mental disabilities may be examined via a case study before implementing that intervention or testing it on a larger scale (Pritchard et al., 2016).
Applying Research Methods to a Hypothesis
The hypothesis will be as follows: Implementing stricter weapon regulations allows for reducing homicide and suicide rates.
To conduct a correlational study to check the proposed hypothesis, it is possible to gather data on homicide and suicide rates in different areas with varying degrees of the strictness of weapon regulations. It will be needed to classify weapon regulations using a categorical scale (e.g., strict, moderate, and non-strict). Then, it will be possible to assess the association between different levels of strictness and homicide and suicide rates over a certain period, as well as the association between different levels of strictness and the number of suicides over that period. This will allow for supporting or rejecting the provided hypothesis (although it will be impossible to infer causal relationships).
To test the proposed hypothesis, it will be required to measure the baseline level of suicide and homicide, e.g., over 2 years in several counties in a state where weapon regulations are non-strict. After that, it will be needed to make weapon regulations stricter, but only in some of these counties. Then, it will be required to measure the new levels of homicide and suicide in each of the two types of counties and compare them (while taking into account the baseline levels of suicide and homicide). This will allow for supporting or rejecting the hypothesis. It should be noted, however, that such a study will be very difficult due to practical reasons.
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Cozby, P. C., & Bates, S. C. (2015). Methods in behavioral research (12th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Pritchard, D., Graham, N., Penney, H., Owen, G., Peters, S., & Mace, F. C. (2016). Multi-component behavioural intervention reduces harmful sexual behaviour in a 17-year-old male with autism spectrum disorder: A case study. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 22(3), 368-378.