Knowledge in various academic fields is expanding every day, and all this new knowledge is the result of good academic research. In fact, according to the National Science Foundation, global research output for science and engineering alone grew at an annual rate of about 4% in the last decade. Thanks to good research, more peer-reviewed journal articles and conference papers in science and engineering are being published each year.
Academic research involves more than just choosing a topic and collecting and analyzing data. To be considered good, research must meet certain criteria. This article aims to answer the question “What are the characteristics of good research?” by listing the criteria for such research. Hopefully, this guide can help researchers ensure the quality of their work.
Research is a common activity in academic institutions all over the world. In the United States, for instance, research output is bolstered by educational institutions such as Harvard University, Stanford University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Nature Index, n.d.).
Also called scholarly research, academic research has been defined as research that has the sole purpose of creating or furthering knowledge (ARTiFACTS, 2020). Academic research also tends to be theoretically focused, and its findings are evaluated through peer review and made public through scholarly journals and academic conferences.
In many cases, academic research is defined in contrast to professional research. Also called applied research, professional research is carried out to find solutions to practical problems. This research is also commonly organizationally focused (Belmont University, 2021).
Below is a table illustrating the main differences between academic and professional research.
|Public School System||State||Enrollment|
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A sound research question is one of the most important characteristics of good research. In 2010, Farrugia et al. proposed that developing a research question is the most important step in doing a research project.
A good research question details exactly what a researcher wants to learn and defines a study’s scope. By formulating a good research question, researchers can ensure that they stay on track during the course of their study. In most cases, the research question influences the rest of the steps a researcher takes during his or her study as well.
However, the formulation of a research question is often easier said than done. As such, numerous frameworks–like the FINER and PICO criteria–have been invented to help researchers formulate sound research questions.
For instance, Cummings et al. (2013) suggest using FINER criteria to create or evaluate a research question. According to this set of criteria, a good research question is:
The overall quality and success of a research study are largely determined by the research methodology it uses (Thattamparambil, 2020). Choosing an appropriate research methodology helps ensure that researchers can collect relevant data and use the right data analysis methods.
Research methodology refers to the systematic procedures or techniques a researcher uses to ensure that his study achieves valid, reliable results (Jansen & Warren, 2020). Research methodologies are often classified into qualitative research, quantitative research, and mixed-methods research.
Researchers must consider a variety of factors in choosing the best methodology for their study. In most cases, research questions and objectives play a significant role in defining the most appropriate research methodology to use.
Researchers should also take into account the methods currently used by other researchers in their specific field. For instance, studies have shown the increasing use of mixed-methods research in the health sciences. In their 2019 article “Mixed methods and survey research in family medicine and community health” published in the Family Medicine and Community Health journal, Cresswell and Hirose observed how surveys were used in combination with focus groups on resident physicians’ communication and collaboration competencies:
“Thus, the authors in the Sonnenberg et al. study used an explanatory sequential mixed methods design to examine the ability of the IP clinicians to provide feedback to pediatric residents during their rotation. Using survey research in the first phase, the researchers compared IP supervisors and physician supervisors in terms of communication and if collaborative training objectives were met. …Then, in the second phase, the researchers conducted follow-up qualitative focus groups to probe a contextual understanding of the factors that influenced the process of assessment.”
While good research leads to the discovery of new knowledge, it also means studying previous research on the topic. By studying scholarly articles and other works related to your subject of interest, you get an idea of what has already been studied and how your study fits into existing research.
Exploring previous research can also ensure that you’re not duplicating existing work. Related literature can also shed light on potential obstacles and issues researchers may encounter during their studies.
Given the importance of studying research related to one’s topic, most academic research projects (like theses or dissertations) feature a literature review. A literature review describes and objectively evaluates scholarly articles, books, and other sources relevant to a particular field of study, helping readers gain a full understanding of the topic at hand (Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, n.d.).
According to the latest edition of The STM Report from the International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers, there were approximately 33,100 active scholarly peer-reviewed English-language journals in mid-2018. At an annual growth rate of 4%, these journals publish over three million articles a year (Johnson et al., 2018). With these numbers, it appears to be unlikely for researchers to face difficulties in finding literature related to their research topic.
Source: National Science Foundation
One of the most important qualities of a good research study is that it deals with empirical data. Empirical data is data that has been collected by researchers themselves through observation, experience, or experimentation (Bradford, 2017). This is crucial in doing good research because empirical data is considered objective, unbiased evidence.
Good research doesn’t stop with the collection of empirical data, the data collected must be analyzed properly as well. The type of data collected largely determines the right data analysis method to use.
Quantitative data, for instance, is usually analyzed through descriptive statistics or inferential statistics (Humans of Data, 2018). These statistics can help researchers find figures to summarize variables, find patterns, and make predictions. On the other hand, the analysis of qualitative data involves identifying and interpreting patterns and themes in textual data. Common analysis methods for qualitative data include content analysis, narrative analysis, and thematic analysis (Warren, 2020).
Using these analysis methods, you can interpret quantitative or qualitative data to answer your research question.
Criteria of good research include being representative. In research, representativeness refers to a sample’s ability to represent a larger group. This means the characteristics of the subjects (people) being studied closely match those of the study’s target population (Austin Research, 2014).
In most cases, representativeness can be achieved through population sampling (Economic Research and Social Council, n.d.). By using proper methods to create a representative sample, researchers can ensure that their findings can be generalized to the larger population represented.
The table below depicts the uses, advantages, and limitations of the most common sampling methods used by researchers today.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of research is that the entire process is guided by logic. Using logic, for instance, can help researchers determine what kind of data they need for answering their research question. Being guided by logic throughout the research process also helps researchers spot fallacies and inconsistencies in their claims and findings.
The logical processes of induction and deduction can also prove to be valuable in the research process. Golesh et al. (2019) proposed that logic aids researchers by helping them arrive at valid conclusions. According to the study, inductive reasoning can be used to discover patterns and construct generalizations and theories. Meanwhile, deductive reasoning can help researchers collect empirical data to confirm or refute theories or hypotheses.
Aside from these applications of logic, logical reasoning can also make more research more meaningful, especially if the research is to be used in the context of decision-making (Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, n.d.).
Good research has external validity if its results or findings can be applied to the real world (Glen, 2015). If your research findings can be generalized to other situations or applied to a broader context, your study has high external validity.
There are two types of external validity for researchers to consider: population validity and ecological validity (Bhandari, 2021b). Research with findings that can be generalized from the sample to the larger population has a high population validity. Meanwhile, you can achieve ecological validity if you can apply your study’s findings to real-world situations and settings.
Since generalizable knowledge is almost always the aim of scientific research, external validity is an important component of good research as well.
Replicability, reproducibility, and transparency are some of the most important characteristics of research. The replicability of a research study is important because this allows other researchers to test the study’s findings. Replicability can also improve the trustworthiness of a research’s findings among readers (Understanding Health Research, 2020).
Good research is also reproducible. Though replicability and reproducibility are often used interchangeably, research is reproducible if researchers achieve consistent results using the same data and analysis methods (Miceli, 2019). The reproducibility and replicability of a research study and its findings can confirm the study’s overall validity and credibility.
For research to be replicable or reproducible, it must also be transparent or available to other researchers. Research must be written or presented in such a way that it provides comprehensive details on how data was collected and analyzed and how conclusions were reached (Baskin, 2015). This is why most scholarly articles provide clear descriptions of their corresponding research process.
Source: American Society for Cell Biology
In addition to information on data collection and analysis methods, good research also opens doors for future research on the topic. For instance, researchers can provide details on unexpected study findings or suggest techniques for exploring unaddressed aspects of your research problem or research question (Business Research Methodology, n.d.).
In many cases, these suggestions for future research stem from the research’s limitations. Researchers must acknowledge their study’s limitations and potential flaws and present these along with the study’s findings and conclusion. Ross and Zaidi (2019) further explain that a meaningful presentation of a research study’s limitations includes implications of these limitations and potential alternative approaches.
Understandably, good research is carried out according to research ethics. According to the World Health Organization, research ethics provide standards of conduct for scientific researchers. These standards help protect the rights and dignity of research participants while ensuring that researchers practice values, such as honesty, objectivity, integrity, and accountability in their work (Resnik, 2020).
Resnik also emphasizes the importance of learning how to interpret and apply various ethical standards in research, especially since existing ethical codes won’t cover every situation.
Some of the most common violations of research ethics include:
While self-citation and self-referencing are common practices among scientists, recent studies show rising trends in excessive self-citation. A 2017 study on citation metrics revealed that at least 250 scientists collected over 50% of their citations from themselves or their co-authors. This figure is significantly higher than the median self-citation rate of 12.7% (Ioannis et al., 2019).
According to the Committee on Publication Ethics, extreme self-citation is a form of citation manipulation. This manipulation may stem from authorities’ over-reliance on citation metrics to make decisions on career advancement and research funding (Van Noorden & Chawla, 2019). As well, academic institutions and private organizations rely on citations to bolster their h-index ranking and overall institution ranking, creating an overly competitive market that invites unscrupulous scientists and organizations to manipulate the system.
Source: "How much is too much? The difference between research influence and self-citation excess" (Szomzor et al., 2021)
In addition to the characteristics of good research, researchers must also be aware of the difficulties they may encounter during the course of their study. Shreffler and Huecker (2021) list some of the pitfalls common in the research process:
Hopefully, this guide on the qualities of good research has helped you evaluate whether your study is on the right track. Good research starts with a sound research question, which influences the research methodology, including data collection and analysis methods.
The findings of a good research study are based on empirical data collected from a sample representative of the population. More importantly, good research is ethical and transparent. Transparency is crucial in ensuring that a research study is replicable and reproducible.
If you’re looking for more ways to improve your research study, you can also check out our guide on writing a research paper for publication.