Research Writing

Research techniques types characteristics and examples

Research techniques are processes and instruments used when starting the study of a particular phenomenon. These methods make it possible to collect, examine and expose information, thus the main objective of all research is achieved, which is to acquire new knowledge.

The choice of the most appropriate research technique depends on the problem to be solved and the objectives established, which is why this choice ends up being a fundamental point in all research processes.

For example, the techniques used to study the customs and beliefs of a social group are different from those used to assess the efficacy and safety of a drug.

There are two general types of research techniques: quantitative and qualitative techniques, the fundamental difference between these two orientations being the way they make observations and how they translate them into analyzable data.

Types of research techniques

– quantitative research

Quantitative research is based on objectivity, making it empirical. Furthermore, in this process, the data generated are numerical, which allows establishing causal relationships between the different characteristics of the phenomenon studied.

The overall objective of quantitative research is to convey numerically what is being seen and to arrive at specific, observable, general, and repeatable conclusions.

There are four main techniques in quantitative research: surveys, correlational studies, causal-comparative studies, and experimental studies.

The research

In this technique, the data are obtained through a questionnaire. This tool is designed to measure the characteristics of a population using statistical methods.

Investigations through surveys begin with the design of the questionnaire according to the established objectives; It then determines how the questionnaire will be administered – that is, how the information will be collected – and how the data will be analyzed.

correlational study

These studies make it possible to determine the degree of relationship between two or more variables within a population (or sample). The degree of these relationships is estimated through the use of statistical methods, which allow establishing whether the relationship between the variables is positive or negative.

An example of a positive relationship between two variables would be: the increase in cases of infection (variable 1) with the increase in the degree of malnutrition in a population (variable 2). In this case, it is positive because both variables increase.

On the other hand, an example of a negative relationship in a study would be: the decrease in malnutrition in children (variable 1) with the increase in the mother’s level of knowledge about the importance of breastfeeding. In this example, the relationship is negative because as one variable increases, the other decreases (variable 2).

Causal comparative study

These studies seek to discover a cause and effect relationship, which is achieved by establishing the time in which cause and effect occur. For these reasons, comparative causal studies are classified into retrospective and prospective investigations.

Retrospective research requires an investigator to analyze a problem when effects have already occurred. For example, a teacher‘s assessment of how her students responded to the activities they assigned in math class.

Whereas prospective investigation starts before the facts occur, that is, it starts with the causes and tries to evaluate the effects. For example, a teacher begins to apply a new reading strategy and assesses student progress.

experimental study

One of the characteristics of experimental studies is that they are guided by the previous elaboration of a hypothesis. That is, they start with a statement that must be approved or disproved.

In this way, the researcher controls a certain variable and evaluates the effects of this control on the population or sample studied. In this way, the hypothesis can be verified or rejected, allowing to reach a conclusion about the two variables.

– Qualitative research

The main objective of qualitative research is to understand and interpret social interactions; in this way, it results in descriptions of environments, people and communities.

Unlike quantitative methods, qualitative techniques give more importance to the context in which the research is carried out; so they give a naturalistic and human perspective.

They are especially useful when the research topic is sensitive or is subject to social problems that need to build trust in the population studied.

There are several techniques and methods in qualitative research: observation, bibliographic research, ethnography, phenomenological studies, grounded theory, narrative and visualization methods, and case studies.


Observation is a qualitative technique in which the scientist or researcher attends to a specific phenomenon, situation or environment to obtain information. It is used at the beginning of investigations or when there is not much information about a specific phenomenon.

Observation is a fundamental element in the entire research process, as it is the researcher’s basis for obtaining the greatest amount of data.

There are different ways of observation:

Participant observation is one in which, in order to obtain the results, the researcher must be included in the object of study (group, event or phenomenon).

On the other hand, non-participant observation is one in which the researcher selects the data from outside, without intervening in the social group or in the object. For this reason, most scientific observations are not participatory.

Bibliographic research

Bibliographic research is a research technique responsible for exploring what has been written in the scientific community on a particular topic or problem. In general, bibliographic research has the following functions:

– Support and sustain the research work to be carried out.

– Avoid carrying out investigations that have already been carried out before.

– Allow the knowledge of previously designed experiments to repeat the same steps, if necessary.

– Assist in the continuation of previous investigations that were interrupted or not completed.

– Facilitate the collection of relevant information and the establishment of the theoretical framework.

ethnographic study

Ethnographic studies are used when you want to delve into the behavior patterns, dogmas, habits, conditions and ways of life of a human group.

These studies can be carried out in very different groups, such as different ethnic groups in a region or an organized group of professionals. In both cases, there are behaviors, beliefs and attitudes that constitute a cultural unit.

phenomenological study

This type of qualitative study is based on the analysis of the everyday experiences of human beings. Through this technique, researchers seek to understand the meaning that humans give to their problems and difficulties.

grounded theory

This qualitative research method builds theory from data. That is, the starting point of this research technique is the data, not the theory.

Grounded theory is used not only in the social sciences, but also in health service research, nursing studies, and education. For example, the assessment of a patient’s symptoms and signs determines the initial steps for disease control.

Narrative and visualization methods

Narrative focuses on how people tell their stories to reveal how they make sense of their events and situations. On the other hand, visualization methods involve asking people under investigation to report the problem by designing maps, diagrams or other group images.

For example, participants can draw an outline of their community and indicate hazardous locations or areas where buildings or other facilities may be located.

Visualization methods are widely used in the public health arena, such as when community members are asked to describe how and where a particular skin infection has affected them.

This provides the researcher with an understanding of the popular concept of health and allows health experts to apply intervention, treatment and prevention measures.

Case study

This technique involves an in-depth examination of a single person or institution. The main objective of the case study is to provide the most accurate representation possible of the studied individual.

It is widely used in the field of psychology when the case studied is complex and needs special attention. For these reasons, this study technique includes in-depth interviews and a detailed review of the patient’s entire history.

The individuality of the case study leads the researcher to deeply understand the problem to be studied, as it implies an opportunity for an intensive analysis of many specific details.

Examples of uses of research techniques

– An example of research would be the assessment of the level of knowledge of adolescent mothers about the importance of breastfeeding. These data would be expressed in percentage (%).

– A correlational study would determine the relationship between children vaccinated against measles and the number of cases of the disease.

– A causal-comparative study would be performed to determine factors associated with childhood obesity, such as sedentary lifestyle, ultra-processed intake, or genetics.

– An example of an experimental study could be the evaluation of the effect of insecticides on the development of fumigated plants. For this, the researcher selects or controls the concentrations of insecticides and evaluates their effects on the growth of plants and fruits.

– An observation example is waiting in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest to see what the jaguar’s reproductive behavior is.

– A  bibliographic investigation is to investigate in an online database which publications have been made about a particular species of bat.

– A phenomenological study would be the assessment of women’s perception of their obesity problems. In this case, analyzing their experiences and beliefs, it is possible to establish the existence of psychological suffering related to social acceptance or problems with anxiety control.

– An ethnographic study would live for several months with a jungle tribe in Borneo to learn about their customs, traditions and culture in general.

– A well- founded theory would be one that an economist elaborates on the viability of a company based on data such as profits, expenses, competition or external threats, among others.

– An example of narrative and other visualization methods are those applied when a patient is asked to indicate where they feel discomfort and to what degree of pain. This can stipulate the possible condition.

– An example of a case study would be carried out with a wild child, that is, a person who lived outside of society, being raised in the wild by animals. These are unique cases and cannot be ethically performed unless they are done in a circumstantial way.

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