FACTORS TO BE CONSIDERED BY RESEARCHERS WHEN DEFINING THE DATA REQUIRED FOR THEIR RESEARCH
12th, January 2012
Researchers engage in research for a variety of reasons. They mainly aim at carrying out an investigation, or enquiry into a specific phenomenon that lacks a clear understanding. Additionally, research serves to increase the knowledge of researchers and the public in a particular field or phenomenon. In order to obtain quality and reliable information in a research, the involved researchers must identify and make use of the appropriate methods for data collection and data analysis during the research process. It is also important that the researchers conduct the research in the best way to ensure that the investigated research question leads to data findings that contribute to the knowledge in the investigated field. Basing on two empirical studies, this paper therefore, investigates various factors, which must be considered by researchers in their definition of data that is required for their research.
A Comparison of Objectives of the Two Studies
The reference point in explaining the facts of this essay bases on two empirical studies conducted in different areas. One study was conducted in Vietnam among injection drug users in two districts, to compare the prevalence of HIV and other associated risks among the drug users in the two different districts (Bergenstrom et al, 2008). Another study was conducted in the USA, involving different HVC treatment programs for HVC positive clients. This study however, studied two categories of these treatment programs, including the HVC drug free programs and the HVC MMTPs programs (Astone-Twerell et al, 2006).
The two studies were conducted for different reasons, thus, the difference in their objectives. The study among the injection drug users in Vietnam was conducted with the purpose of establishing the prevalence of drug overdose in the region, including the main reasons behind this phenomenon. The additional voluntary HIV testing was aimed at helping to get more information about the relationship between drug use, age, and HIV prevalence. Therefore, the study samples were studied differently to establish and assess the prevalence rate, as well as the characteristics that are associated with non-fatal drug overdose among the injection drug users in the two districts of North Vietnam (Bergenstrom et al, 2008).
On the other hand, the second study aimed at establishing the range of Hepatitis C Virus services, which are provided to HVC positive clients by treatment programs. In both studies, the research was based on drug use and the relationship with a specific disease. While the Vietnam study compares the injection drug users and the prevalence of HIV, the second study in America seeks to determine the variety of treatment services provided to HVC positive clients by the different treatment programs in the USA (Astone-Twerell et al, 2006: Bergenstrom et al, 2008).
A Comparison of the Research Designs of both Studies
There are varieties of study designs that can be used in both qualitative and quantitative researches. These vary with regard to whether the study is qualitative or quantitative in nature. Unlike the quantitative research, for qualitative research, the distinctions between the study designs employed are not perfectly clear (Charoenruk, n.d). In some qualitative studies, it is hard to tell if the study employs a longitudinal research design, or whether it uses the case study design. Any type of research must be purposeful as it aims at obtaining an outcome. Jackson (2008) argues that the nature of the outcome of research is highly dependent on the type of research design a study adopts. Researchers must therefore, be very careful when choosing the type of research design for their research as this highly influences the reliability of their findings. Nonetheless, the study designs of these two researches are different, owing to the varying nature of the researches.
When choosing an appropriate research design, a researcher must first, determine the research paradigm for their study. This is the framework that gives guidance on how the research process will be conducted, based on the knowledge of the particular field of study and the research context. This also bases on the worldviews of the researcher, and assumptions about the philosophies of other people, as most researches involve interactions with different people. The two empirical studies addressed in this essay fall within the same discipline, which is the health discipline. However, these have used different research designs, since they do not address a perfectly similar issue, even though there is a significant relationship between these two studies. In the study conducted among injection drug users in Vietnam, the research was a community-based-cross-sectional survey among the active injection drug users. 20 trained current and former drug-using peer outreach workers recruited the drug users. The main method used to recruit the participants was the snowballing method. This study was cross-sectional, as it involved the study of two districts, namely the Tu Son and Bac Ninh districts. Therefore, the research findings in either of the districts would be compared to those of the other district, then deductions made about the comparison and analysis of the research findings in both districts. Evidently, cross-sectional survey research involves a structured observation at a single point in time, and is inclusive of content analysis on a sample of documents (Bergenstrom et al, 2008).
In the second study on the HVC treatment programs in the USA, data collection fell in the comparative survey research design. Telephone interviews were used from the initial stages of the research to the final stages. This includes the screening stage, to the real research, and the final stages of research. After the screening of different programs for eligibility, the qualifying programs were allowed to take part in the study. The participating programs were subjected to a telephone interview that lasted 3 hours, in which they were asked detailed questions about their program’s characteristics, and the number, and nature of clients they were involved with in their program. Normally, in a comparative research design, a survey research is carried out on two or more cases, with the purpose of obtaining and revealing crucial information about the cases for later comparison (Astone-Twerell et al, 2006).
A Comparison of the Methodologies of both Studies
A research methodology is the overall approach of the entire research process. This approach is partly determined by the research problem. In addition, the researcher’s assumptions in the research, their definition and perception of the research problem also highly influence the approach they undertake in their research process. This also influences the methods the researcher will use to collect research data. In choosing the research methodology, it is worth noting that there is a great difference between research design and research method. In addition, the research methods of quantitative type of research vary from the research methods in the qualitative type of research (Fitzpatrick, & Wallace, 2005: Charoenruk, n.d).
The two researches are qualitative in nature. Therefore, the involved researchers put an emphasis on the themes of their studies, as well as the different meanings and experiences their research phenomenon bore. In the cross-sectional study among drug-users in Vietnam, the researchers made use of questionnaire survey as a major method of data collection in the research process. In total, the research involved three hundred and nine participants, who were all injection drug users. All these were involved in face-to-face interviews. The questionnaires had question involving the characteristics of the population, history of drug use, how the participants acquired syringes and needles used for drug injections, the sexual behaviour of the participants, their medical history, and history of drug overdose. As a way of gathering more supporting evidence and data, the cross-sectional research included a voluntary HIV test, which was performed on participants by trained counsellors (Bergenstrom et al, 2008). This was an appropriate approach as normally, cross-sectional research uses questionnaires, as a data collection methodology. In this case, this the interviewers administered questionnaires to the respondents. Additionally, cross-sectional studies use biological samples and diagnostic tests to supplement the information obtained from the questionnaires. In this study, the respondents were involved in a voluntary HIV testing exercise (Bryman 2012).
In the second study conducted in the USA, the participants in the study included drug treatment programs across the different states of the USA; who were selected randomly. The method used in this study was telephone interviews, which helped in the screening of the participants, who included groups of drug treatment programs. These programs’ information and contacts were obtained from the Inventory of Substance Abuse Treatment of the year 2000. Screening the programs was important to establish if they were eligible to be considered for the research, as the study was highly dependent on the programs for an effective outcome. The screening survey over the telephone involved a number of questions, which were directed to the manager of the program. These questions sought to obtain information regarding eligibility, the program’s basic information about the organizational characteristics and operations, as well as the HVC services, which the program provided for their clients. The questions in the telephone interview also sought detailed information about the programs’ medical services; whether the services related to HVC were on-site, or referral. In addition, the program was to specify the amount of HVC services it offered to clients, the number of clients to whom these services were offered, as well as the number of those clients who did not maintain consistency in the HVC treatment. In order to ensure quality data, the telephone interviews were performed by a variety of staff members, who handled different areas of the interview, which related to their expertise (Astone-Twerell et al, 2006).
Reasons why one of the two Studies Used Cross-Section Design
In the two studies, the research design varied because of the nature of the study, as well as the objectives of the study. The research strategy highly influences the choice of research design for research process. Since the two studies had different study strategies, it is more likely that their research designs would as well vary. As seen earlier, the Vietnamese study employed a cross-sectional research design, while the study conducted in the USA, employed a comparative research design. The Vietnamese study employed the cross-section study design because of the nature of the study. In this study, two study populations were involved. These were studied at a single point in line, and the study focused on gathering information about similar components. On the other hand, the research study in the USA was conducted among different HVC treatment programs. These were categorized into two main categories, including the drug-free HVC treatment programs, and those HVC treatment programs that used drugs (Astone-Twerell et al, 2006: Bergenstrom et al, 2008).
Meaning of a Cross-Sectional Design
The cross-sectional design is employed in the cross-sectional types of studies. In this kind of study, the design of the research purposes to address a particular section of the study population at a point in time (“Cross-Sectional Surveys”). In this case, the sample chosen is appropriately selected and its composition is a representative of that in the total population. This can therefore, be a simple random sample, a cluster sample, stratified, or multi-stage sample. In addition to the nature of sampling involved, this design also comprises pre-defined measurements and ascertainment. In most cases, these include survey questions and questionnaires (Thisted 2006). In addition, the sample in the research is estimated in relation to its spread, and association, and the selected sample population can still be estimated. Additionally, the structure of a cross-sectional study varies from that of other types of research. For instance, in this research design, the study population may comprise two sets of people; those affected by the disease, and those not affected by the disease. The research on these two groups of people therefore seeks to establish the level and discrepancies of the risk factors between these two groups of people. Overall, the cross-sectional design is meant for a research type where the objective is to come up with inferences about the influence of one or more variables on an outcome variable (Vaus 2001).
Why both Studies did not use the Cross-Sectional Design
Different studies employ different research designs and methodology, according to their nature and objectives. Among the two empirical studies, one study employed the cross-sectional design, while the other employed the longitudinal research design. Considering the objectives and the different natures of these studies, it was likely that the research designs used would vary. In the Vietnamese study conducted among the injection drug users, the study employed a cross-sectional design, because the researchers had the objective of studying similar elements or variables in different populations. The fact that they researched on the rate of prevalence and the traits associated with non-fatal drug overdose among the drug users in two different Vietnamese districts compelled them to use the cross-sectional research design (Bergenstrom et al, 2008). On the other hand, the research involving HCV treatment programs in the USA could not employ the cross-sectional design, since the researchers were interested in studying various variables within the same population. This is why they used the 233 HVC treatment programs, as compared to the Vietnamese study where two populations, one of 71 000 and another one of 114, 825, were used to research on similar variables (Astone-Twerell et al, 2006).
Actually, cross-sectional surveys are unsuitable for investigating causal relationships. Therefore, the research involving the HVC treatment programs in the USA could not employ the cross-sectional research design since the variables under this study were highly linked to causal factors. Cross-sectional designs are best suited for research that investigates prevalent incidences. The USA study was based on incident cases, therefore, could not qualify for a cross-sectional design. On the other hand, the study in Vietnam involving the injection drug users was more suitable for the use of cross-sectional design, which is why the researchers chose to make it a cross-sectional study. In this study, the researchers aimed at determining the prevalence level of HIV among the drug users in the two Vietnamese districts. Since the research was based on a prevalence case, it qualified for a cross-sectional design (Bergenstrom et al, 2008).
A Comparison of the Research Samples in the two Studies
In order for a researcher to obtain a sample for their research from the source population, it is important that they identify the sample design they will use in their research. A sample design is the method a researcher uses in the process of selecting the sampling units from the population. There are different sample designs a researcher might choose from, depending on the nature of their research problem. However, a researcher can choose a sample through judgement or through convenience. When using judgement, the researcher selects a sample design they think is balanced or is a representative sample. This can be through their experiences or general knowledge. On the other hand, when choosing a sample using convenience, the researcher uses the most convenient ways at their disposal, who could be volunteers (“Cross-Sectional Surveys”).
In the two empirical studies, the researchers employed different sample designs to select their sampling units. In the USA, study among the HVC treatment programs, the researchers used judgement in the selection of their sampling units. Here, 614 programs were initially selected, of which, 416 were drug free, with 188 MMTPs. These were screened for eligibility in 2001, and were involved in the research until 2003. However, by the end of 2003, after the data collection, 45 programs fell out of eligibility, as they could no longer participate in the research, since the number of their clients under treatment for substance abuse had dropped by more than half. Additionally, 90 programs could not be reached for further research. Therefore, the study used the remaining 479 programs comprised the sampling frame (Astone-Twerell et al, 2006).
Most of the extensive survey was completed with 291 programs only. The rest could not participate in the more extensive research due to lack of time and staff who would commit to the whole research process. Of the 291 programs, only 256 programs managed to complete the medical services section of the research. However, only 233 programs had at least one HCV positive client in the past year. Of the 233 programs, 139 were drug free, the rest were 94 MMTPs. Therefore, the study sample for this research constituted 233 programs. An analysis of these programs sought to establish any differences between programs that had at least one HVC positive client in the past year and those that did not have. Results showed that the categories differed significantly with the programs in the sampling frame. However, the two categories in the sampling frame did not register vast differences in relation to the programs’ proportion. These two categories of programs did not also differ much with regard to organizational characteristics, operations, private-for-profit ownership, and their membership in a network of programs (Astone-Twerell et al, 2006).
In the study of HIV prevalence among the IDU’s in Vietnam, the researchers used convenience to select their sampling units. Here, the eligible participants comprised individuals aged above 18 and less than 45. These were also required to have used injection drugs within the past six months, prior to the study. These were selected by 20 of the former local drug-users, who had training in the field of peer-outreach. The study had two study districts that would be involved in the study. These included the Bac Ninh Township, which had a population of 71 000; and the Tu Son district, with a population of 114, 825. The Bac Ninh district is an urban setting, while Tu Son is a peri-urban district. Most injection drug users in these districts were men. Therefore, the research sample of this Vietnamese research comprised more men and few women (Bergenstrom et al, 2008).
When selecting a sampling unit, it is advisable that researchers use random sampling because this method uses chance to determine those who will be part of the sample. Therefore, this removes any possibility of bias in the selection of samples. In the other sample designs of convenience and judgement, the sample selection is more likely to be faced with selection bias, as the decision of who to include in the sample solely lies with the researcher. This therefore, makes the sample unit to be unrepresentative, since some people will be more likely to be part of the sample, while others will be locked out deliberately. Whichever the case, a researcher must ensure that the sampling unit they choose is representative and devoid of selection bias (Delgado-Rodriquez & Llorca 2004).
Aspects of Ethics and Validity in the two Studies
The aspect of ethics and validity in research is a paramount in ensuring quality research findings. Both studies considered validity and ethics as a way of enhancing the quality and reliability of their research results. The first step of ethics in research is gaining approval of the research by the concerned body of authority (“The British Psychological Society” 2010). The study involving HVC programs in the United States sought approval of their research before beginning the process. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the National Development and Research Institutes, Inc. granted this approval to them. After the interviewers described the purpose of the research to participants, the interviewers went ahead to assure them that the research was totally voluntary, therefore, no participant was coerced to be part of the study (Astone-Twerell et al, 2006). Additionally, confidentiality is an important ethical factor a research body must consider during their research process (Golafshani 2003). With regard to confidentiality, the interviewers assured the participants that any information submitted would be kept as confidential as possible, for privacy reasons (Astone-Twerell et al, 2006).
In the other Vietnam study among injection drug users, ethics as well as validity was highly upheld. This is evident in the study’s inclusion criteria used. The eligible injection drug users for this study were those aged between 18 and 45 years, and who had used the drugs for the past six months. After their selection, these injection drug users were expected to sign the written consent forms. This was an ethical way of ensuring that the chosen participants were familiar with the research process and expectations, and participated in the research in their own free will. In the consent forms, there was intensive information regarding the purpose and objectives of the research process. The potential risks, as well as benefits of the study were also addressed in the informed consent forms. This way, the participants would make an informed decision of whether to participate in the research process or not, basing on their evaluation of the risks and benefits of the research process. This whole process was treated as important and involved training of the participants on the study site by the Vietnamese interviewers, who were qualified and experienced in the field (Bergenstrom et al, 2008).
According to Stern and Elliott (1997), the ethical requirements of research are meant to ensure that the research subjects are treated with dignity and respect, and not exploited by the researchers. This is because of the important role they play in the research process, which enhances social good. In order to uphold ethics, a research must be valuable. This means the research findings should be used to bring about improvements in the study field (Ezekiel, Wendler & Grady 2000: Thanasegaran 2009).
Stanley, Sieber, and Melton (1996), note that the aspect of validity is paramount to research, as it directly relates with the ethics of the research. A valid research upholds research ethics, while a research with low validity is to some extent unethical. A research that registers high validity is one that is conducted in a way that is methodologically rigorous to produce valid results. Therefore, to attain this validity, a researcher must ensure that the research methods are valid and can be applied practically (Kimmel 1988). In addition, the objectives of the research must be clear, having been designed using appropriate principles. If the research is clinical and compares different therapies, honesty must be highly upheld for valid results (Edwards, Lund & Gibson 2008). This is the case of the study involving HVC treatment programs in the USA. This study therefore, required a high level of honesty for valid results, since it was comparing two types of treatment. Nonetheless, if research is invalid, this becomes a waste of time and resources to both the researcher and funding bodies, as well as the respondents. Invalid research is also incapable of knowledge generation in the related field, and is guilty of exposing its research subjects to vain risks. This is why researchers must be extra careful to produce a valid research (Edwards, Lund & Gibson 2008).
Characteristics of a Good Social Research
According to Farooq, et al, (2011), a good social research is attainable if a researcher adopts the right methodological approach. This kind of research has methodological rigour. This means the research is appropriate and fits in its context. Additionally, it bears the intellectual soundness in its design, and makes a systematic application of its methodology. For a researcher to come up with this sort of social research, they must be careful, detailed, and employ an exacting approach in their study. This will highly influence the research data and lead to the achievement of great research outcomes. However, the characteristics of a good social research will vary depending on the philosophical assumptions on which the research bases on. Nonetheless, the type of research design a researcher chooses will greatly affect the quality of the research. Therefore, the research design of a good social research is sound and allows for a greater level of flexibility of the research. This is important as it gives the research an opportunity and allowance for accommodating newer developments relevant to the research topic, which the researcher can delve in, provided they have sufficient time (Babbie 2010).
This essay has identified the various fundamental factors that researchers need to identify and consider when defining the data required for the research, as well as in all the different levels of the research process. This is essential as it guarantees great research outcomes as expected by the researcher. A research strategy, including research objectives, design, methodology, ethics and reliability must be given an upper hand, as these influence the research data, and how the researcher manipulates it. The researcher must also be careful to ensure that the data they define does not turn out to be contradictory to other people’s common knowledge in the specific field. The researcher must also be careful to ensure that the research data and results they obtain do not resemble other people’s past works, as this might be confusing to the public.
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