Research Process: Definition & Steps (2023)

Research can be the thing that makes or breaks a project. Whether it's an essay, a presentation, or an important scientific endeavor, without thorough research, it's likely that the work will fall flat. With that in mind, how do we ensure that our research process is effective?

In this explanation, we'll cover the research process from top to bottom, learning all the details about implementing effective and carefully considered research. By the end of this article, you'll have the tools necessary to smash any research project!

Research Process: Definition & Steps (1)Fig. 1 - Research isn't as daunting once you know how to structure it

Research Process Definition

Before we dive head-first into the details, let's start with a definition of the research process :

The research process is a set of ordered steps a researcher takes to ensure that all parts of an investigation are completed to a high standard. Following the research process allows the researcher to cover all angles and ensure that the information they gather is reliable and effectively presented.

Once a researcher has completed all the research process steps, they can write up their findings appropriately.

Research Process Steps

We know that the research process is about ensuring research is completed effectively and appropriately. But how can you make sure you don't forget any important aspects of the research process?

The key steps to think about are as follows:

  1. Identify the purpose or research question
  2. Design a research plan
  3. Collect the required data
  4. Interpret the collected data
  5. Present the research findings

By following these five ordered research process steps, you'll ensure your research is complete.

Research Writing Process

In this section, we'll delve deeper into each step of the research writing process listed above. We'll also look at some tips for how to approach writing your research project.

Identify Your Purpose

Before researching a topic, you need to know what information you want to find out. There's no point simply Googling "Ernest Hemingway" when what you're specifically interested in is the effects of the narrative perspective used in his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Identifying your brief or devising a research question is vital to ensure you are looking for the right information and not being too broad. This will also help you find information that is relevant and helpful for your investigation.

A research question is a targeted and specific question that sets the basis for your research.

How has the development of technology impacted our language use?


A hypothesis is an idea or proposition used as a basis for research, which sets a foundation for further investigation. A hypothesis is an idea that is not necessarily assumed to be correct but is simply used as a basis for further exploration.

For example: "Younger people are more likely to use acronyms when communicating using social media than older people."

Not all types of research will require a hypothesis – for example, literature-based research. However, things like scientific research or other kinds of primary research (research where you are contributing your own ideas to the field) may require one.

Design a Research Plan

It's now time to design your research plan. Before you begin your research, you'll need to consider the type of research you'll undertake, i.e., qualitative or quantitative, and whether you'll create new research (primary) or conduct research by analyzing the research of others (secondary). You must also decide what types of sources you might use. We'll also discuss ethical research processes.

Research Types

There are two key types of research: Qualitative and Quantitative:

Qualitative research is concerned with investigating opinions, values, or characteristics that cannot be counted or quantified. Qualitative research is generally holistic in approach and provides more descriptive data.

  • Observations
  • Focus groups
  • Questionnaires (with open-ended questions)
  • Interviews
  • Literature reviews

On the other hand,

Quantitative research is concerned with statistics, facts, and values that can be counted or quantified. Quantitative data is often numerical and often used to map correlations and patterns or make predictions.

  • Surveys
  • Polls
  • Scientific experimentation
  • Questionnaires (with closed-ended questions)

Research methods are not only qualitative or quantitative but also primary or secondary. What do these terms mean?

Primary research is research that you, yourself, conduct. This could include conducting a survey or questionnaire or carrying out an observation on a participant group. Primary research produces information that can add to the existing resources on that topic.

Secondary research is when you conduct research by analyzing the research of others - this is sometimes called "desk-based" research. A literature review is an example of secondary research.

We've seen the word "source" pop up a few times, but what are these?


You'll need to consider what sources you will use in your research. The majority of research projects will require you to use a combination of primary sources and secondary sources:

Primary sources are directly linked to an event or topic – for example, photographs, artifacts, diaries, or journals. Primary sources are directly connected to an event/situation, so they're less likely to be biased.

Secondary sources are interpretations of events or topics – for example, textbooks, journal articles, and research papers. Secondary sources add context to primary sources.

Ethical Considerations of Research

Regardless of the type of research you conduct, you'll need to ensure your research is carried out ethically. Here are some considerations you should take into account:

  • Consent: If you involve participants in your research (such as conducting an interview or observation), you'll need their consent to participate in your study. You must also ensure their identifying information is kept confidential.

  • Intent: You must make the intent of your research clear. Participants should have the chance to make informed decisions about their input, and readers of your research should not be misled about its purpose.

  • Bias: When researching, you should remain impartial and should look for secondary resources that are impartial too. Using materials that are biased can lead to skewed results and unsubstantiated arguments.

  • Referencing: ALWAYS reference your research to avoid plagiarism and give proper credit to the original writers of your secondary sources. You should use the proper in-text citations and should include a bibliography or reference list at the end of your paper.

Collect the Required Data

The data collection process can be split into two sub-categories.

Firstly, you must collect secondary research data by conducting your own research based on primary and secondary sources that already exist. These existing sources could include journal articles, news articles, textbooks, and literary works.

In some cases, your data collection may end here, and you could move on to interpreting your findings. However, you may need to conduct primary research as well.

Your primary research could include conducting surveys, interviews, or questionnaires, among other qualitative and quantitative research methods. When conducting primary research, you must remain ethical and keep clear records of your data for analysis.

Research Process: Definition & Steps (2)Fig. 2 - Newspapers are an example of a print resource.

Interpret the Collected Data

To interpret your findings, you should organize them so that the data relates to a certain point or argument. By doing this, you'll be able to see how your collected data supports, disproves or influences the research question or hypothesis made in the beginning.

Your evidence might show something different from what your research question or hypothesis suggested – that's ok.

You can analyze the data to see what conclusions can be drawn. In other words, explore the data you collected to understand what it means or suggests.

Suppose you were investigating the impact of social media on language use. In that case, you might have conducted a range of surveys and questionnaires to gain data on how your participants use language via social media. These surveys and questionnaires are your primary sources. You might also have researched the effects of social media on language use using secondary sources such as existing articles and research papers on the subject. By collating this collected data, you could pick out patterns across your participant group (such as people using more acronyms such as LOL and BRB when instant messaging). You could then use your secondary research to suggest reasons for these patterns.

Present Findings

It's finally time to create your final report or presentation on your findings. Whether your project is an essay or a visual presentation, you need to carefully consider how to portray your results and conclusion so that they are easy to follow.

Think about what you want your reader or audience to understand from the research and how the data you collected supports this. Make sure your conclusion is decisive and backed up with appropriate evidence.

A good way to ensure you have supported your argument or investigation sufficiently is to use the PEEL method in each paragraph:

  • Point: Make the point, or state the argument you want to discuss.

  • Evidence: Provide evidence to support your argument or point.

  • Explanation: Explain how and why the evidence backs up what you are saying.

  • Link: Provide a link to your next paragraph, where you make your next point.

An effective way of presenting visual data is with charts and graphs.

For example, out of 100 participants, 40 said they use more acronyms on social media than when using other forms of written communication.

Research Process: Definition & Steps (3)Fig. 3 - Out of 100 people surveyed, 40% said they used more acronyms on social media than other written communication forms.


References and citations are so important. You must reference and cite your work correctly and fully. Some standard referencing formats include MLA, Chicago, and APA, but you should check with your teacher which one to use.

Referencing is essential as it gives credit to the people who have written the secondary resources you use in your research and acknowledges when you've used an idea that isn't your own. It also contextualizes your work and shows how extensive your research has been. Finally, referencing will stop you from being pulled up for plagiarism.

Research Process Example

Now you have a good idea of how the research process works, let's look at an example:

1.) Identify the research question.

How does language use differ between 18-26-year-olds and 45-60-year-olds using social media?

2.) Formulate a hypothesis (this step will only be necessary for primary research or scientific research).

Younger people are more likely to use social media for communication and are more likely to use short-form language such as abbreviations and acronyms.

3.) Design a research plan.

A research plan for this investigation could include:

  • Selecting two groups of participants that match the research criteria, gaining their consent to be included in the study
  • Use qualitative research methods, such as interviews, to gather data on different variables.
  • Consider how to record the data (e.g., detailed notes from secondary research and collating questionnaire and survey answers).

4.) Collect the required data.

Use a range of primary and secondary sources to conduct secondary research and conduct a semi-structured interview to gain primary qualitative data. Record this data in an organized and meaningful way.

5.) Interpret the data.

Use your secondary research knowledge to help analyze the results gained from your primary research. Link your analysis back to your research question and hypothesis, drawing a conclusion that is backed up by evidence found during your investigation.

6.) Present your findings.

This research could be reported in an essay or turned into a visual presentation using graphs and images to illustrate different points.

Research Process - Key Takeaways

  • The research process is a set of ordered steps that can help you to ensure your research is complete.
  • The research process is comprised of 5 steps: identifying the purpose, designing a research plan, collecting the data, interpreting the data, and reporting the findings.
  • There are two key types of research with their own research methods: qualitative and quantitative research.
  • A research question demonstrates the aim of the research.
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