The design of any scientific research is dependent on the selected philosophy. The primary idea of any research is to develop knowledge based on set assumptions and beliefs. Therefore, a research philosophy relates to the beliefs or assumptions on how knowledge should be gained and utilized. In simple terms, philosophy guides the researcher on what to do when researching or acquiring knowledge in a given field. Whether a person is conscious or not, every particular stage of research requires a researcher to make assumptions. The assumptions can be about human knowledge (epistemological assumptions) or pegged on the encountered realities (ontological assumptions). Besides, there is the extent to which the researcher influences knowledge development (axiological assumptions). Most importantly, assumptions often influence the researcher’s understanding of research questions, the design to be used, and how to interpret findings. The consistent set of well-thought-out assumptions builds the research philosophy. Therefore, this research aims to provide an understanding of the different research philosophies and outline how the philosophies are important in designing research. Besides, the paper highlights the key elements of the research design process and gives the philosophies’ role in the design process.
Undoubtedly, a research philosophy is vital when designing any research methodology. According to Wallace and Wray (2011), research philosophy can be classified in three ways known as epistemology, ontology, and axiology. As noted, assumptions can be about human knowledge (epistemological assumptions) or pegged on the encountered realities (ontological assumptions). Moreover, there is the extent to which the researcher influences knowledge development (axiological assumptions). Most importantly, Silverman (2013) mentioned that philosophical stances help the researcher to decide on the research approach, which should be selected based on the research questions. The crucial assumptions are essential in a research philosophy that guides the researcher’s perspective regarding the world. Essentially, Saunders et al. (2012) mentioned that the philosophical approaches help develop a research strategy and the methods suitable for answering the research questions. Therefore, a research philosophy relates to the beliefs or assumptions on how knowledge should be gained and utilized.
Simply put, the philosophy guides the researcher on what to do when embarking on research or acquiring knowledge in a given field. Whether a person is conscious or not, every particular research stage requires a researcher to make assumptions. Ideally, explaining the various philosophical approaches based on different assumptions classified as ontology, epistemology, or axiology is important.
Ontology relates to the reality of nature, which is viewed based on objectivism and subjectivism. Tashakkori and Teddlie (1998) claimed that objectivism provides a stance that social objects occur in reality, which is external to the social actors. On the other hand, subjectivism focuses on social phenomena that depend on the perceptions and consequences of the social actors. Additionally, epistemology is considered as the acceptable knowledge of a given study area, which can be viewed as the resources researcher and feeling researcher. According to Wallace and Wray (2011), resource research requires data collection based on the natural world’s perspective. Feeling research, on the other hand, is pegged on the attitudes and feelings of the employees towards their managers. Therefore, Pallant (2013) claimed that resource research is hinged on the positivist philosophy while feeling research is based on interpretivism philosophy. Most importantly, epistemology can be classified into different categories, such as positivism, interpretivism, and realism.
The positivist stance requires researchers to collect and analyze data objectives from observable social entities. The philosophy guides a strategy of objective data collection and the development of hypotheses. Moses and Knutsen (2007) stated that the hypotheses must be tested and confirmed at the end of the study, which also helps to develop future research knowledge gaps. Positivist researchers often follow a structured methodology to develop hypotheses that are tested using quantifiable observations and statistical analysis. Interpretivism, on the other hand, requires understanding the differences between people based on social constructions. Therefore, different meanings and languages should be appreciated. Silverman (2013) explained that interpretivism appreciates the differences between people as opposed to objects, such as computers and medicines. Therefore, the philosophy supports the subjective collection and analysis of data.
Furthermore, realism is about disclosing reality and objects without considering the human mind. Saunders et al. (2012) mentioned that realism can be viewed as critical realism or direct realism. Critical realism is the perception that what is experienced by people’s sensations is considered an image of the real world. Direct realism, on the other hand, is experienced by people’s senses. Besides, there is the extent to which the researcher influences knowledge development (axiological assumptions).
How research philosophies are important in designing a research
As aforementioned, the research philosophies provide overall guidelines on how a study should be designed or the method of data collection. Wallace and Wray (2011) mentioned that a researcher might deliberate on the design of collecting data through methods such as qualitative interviews or quantitative designs, which is often a starting point of any research project. However, it must be understood that the researchers are required to explore the philosophical assumptions and the associated research questions before making decisions on the data collection methods. Tashakkori and Teddlie (1998) explained that the philosophical assumptions relate to the reality nature (ontology) and nature of knowledge (epistemology). The most important thing for a researcher is to align the specific data collection and analysis method with the philosophical approaches, which is essential for the quality of a research design. Notably, Creswell (2013) mentioned that the different philosophical stances define the differences between the qualitative and quantitative research designs and how they influence conducting rigorous research. For instance, the positivist notion often requires an objective view and collection of repeatable and concrete data. As a result, the philosophy directs a researcher to choose a quantitative research design.
Quantitative research designs require the adoption of a positivistic view. According to Bryman and Bell (2015), quantitative approaches to data collection are important when the aim is to test the theory. On the other hand, the interpretivism stance requires a researcher to embrace a qualitative design of data collection. Silverman (2013) claimed that qualitative designs either apply the current theories as a lens for shaping the research approach or generate new theories through inductive reasoning. The quantitative design, on the other hand, entail deductive logic, where the starting point is to make general arguments about theories and concepts that provide data points. Saunders et al. (2012) further explained that the qualitative approach is about inductive reasoning, where a researcher starts with the data and makes a description, explanatory model, or theory. The different philosophies also determine the purpose of the study results. For instance, Wallace and Wray (2011) mentioned that the positivist stance that directs the quantitative design aims at generalizing the study findings. However, the interpretivism philosophy calls for a qualitative design that gives specific attention to given groups, individuals, cultures, or contexts to ensure an in-depth understanding of a local context (Blaikie, 2000). Based on establishing rigor, the quantitative design often collects evidence relating to the study’s validity and reliability. The idea is to have an objective view. However, Moses and Knutsen (2007) mentioned that only some qualitative designs determine research validity and reliability, and most of them aim at developing specific frameworks, criteria, and terminology. At the same time, the quantitative design focuses on an objective view, while the qualitative stance is on a subjective perspective. While most of the quantitative designs use a random sampling strategy to select respondents, qualitative researchers are mostly concerned with people that can provide data (purposive sampling). The main takeaway message is that the research philosophies provide guidelines for the overall research process, which include the approach, strategy, design, and tools for collecting and analyzing data. They help in determining the key elements of the research design process, which could be different when a researcher uses either a qualitative design or a qualitative design.
Key elements of the research design process
Before conducting any study, it is imperative to develop a plan for collecting and evaluating data and tackle potential challenges in order to reach a required conclusion. Silverman (2013) mentioned that a comprehensive design provides a research direction that allows the sharpening of the research methods. The realm of the research design process entails many issues. It must be understood that the research design is considered the glue that holds the overall research process. According to Saunders et al. (2012), a good design should research design must identify the problem to be addressed and reviews the current literature around the study problem. Besides, it is imperative to describe the sources of data. As a matter of fact, there are several elements of a research design. For instance, Pallant (2013) mentioned that the study design must state the purpose of the research in order to inform the reader of the possible outcomes promptly. The purpose statement should align with the research questions.
Additionally, Silverman (2013) stated that another important element of the research design is the data collection method. As aforementioned, there are different types of data collection methods and tools. For instance, Wallace and Wray (2011) mentioned that qualitative interviews are applicable when the researcher aims to collect in-depth information about the opinions and views of the respondents through open-ended questions. On the other hand, quantitative questionnaires are important when collecting objective data allows statistical analysis and understanding.
Another element of research design is the technique for data analysis. Just as the different methods of collecting data, there are various approaches to analyzing data. For instance, quantitative researchers often use statistical analysis methods, such as descriptive and inferential analysis. Mainly, the statistical analysis aims to test and confirm the hypotheses. Qualitative data analysis is mostly done through the use of words, mostly through qualitative content analysis. Creswell (2013) also added that a research design should outline the potential challenges. For instance, qualitative designs often involve the researcher in the process of data collection and analysis, which might lead to researcher bias. On the other hand, quantitative questionnaires always include closed-ended questions, which confines the respondents to respond only based on the given answer options. That is, there is no room for a broad range provision of their thoughts and opinions. At the same time, Moses and Knutsen (2007) noted that a research design must outline the duration and resources required to accomplish the study.
The role of research philosophies in the design process
The main role of research philosophy is to provide guidelines for the best design that will translate to reduced inaccuracies and errors in the findings. The right philosophy also increases the reliability and efficiency of the study in addition to minimisation of time and resources. Ideally, the philosophy guides the researcher on what to do when embarking on research or acquiring knowledge in a given field. Whether a person is conscious or not, every particular stage of research requires a researcher to make assumptions. Therefore, the primary role of philosophy is to direct the research of the approach, strategy, and choice of the techniques of data collection and analysis.
In summation, the designing of any scientific research is dependent on the selected philosophy. The primary idea of any research is to develop knowledge, which is pegged on set assumptions and beliefs. Therefore, a research philosophy relates to the beliefs or assumptions on how knowledge should be gained and utilized. In simple terms, the philosophy guides the researcher on what to do when embarking on research or acquiring knowledge in a given field. The study revealed that research design must depend on the choice of the study philosophy. Research philosophy can be classified in three ways known as epistemology, ontology, and axiology. As noted, assumptions can be about human knowledge or pegged on the encountered realities. The research philosophies provide overall guidelines on how a study should be designed or the method of data collection. The researcher should deliberate on the design of collecting data through methods such as qualitative interviews or quantitative designs, which is often a starting point of any research project.
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