Wecome to this course on Theological Research Methodology. This lesson is an Introduction to Research. Why do we need an introduction to research? Because few words are as much abused and as little understood as the word "research". We are going to provide an overview of research. What is it? What is it not? What is involved in doing research? In your Reader, there are two articles that relate to this introduction. The first is an article by Paul Leedy, called "The Demensions of Research". The other is by Nancy Vyhmeister, entitled "What is Research?" I would encourage you to read those before you proceed with this lesson.
This lesson is organized around two excellent introductory chapters which describe the nature of research. Paul Leedy wrote a general book on research methodology which is widely used as a primer in graduate schools in the United States. His opening chapter has helpful insights regarding the nature of research. So we are going to begin by analysing what Leedy says research is, what it is not, and how the research process works. Nancy Vyhmeister wrote one of the few primer's on theological research. We highly recommend her book. She also provides an excellent overview of research, with the added advantage that she has theological research in mind. She has theological research in mind when she explains what research is and how it works. We believe this is a critical topic because there are many misconceptions out there, even amongst beginning master's and doctoral students, as to what research is and how it works. These two sources provide us with some valuable insights. In case you are wondering, the full articles by Leedy and Vyhmeister are available in the course reader. Please read them. However, we shall add our own perspectives as we summarise their contribution.
We begin with Paul Leedy's chapter, "The Dimensions of Research". In this chapter, Leedy offers his vision of what research is and what it isn't. He dispels some common misconceptions of research, misconceptions that are common amongst postgraduate students. He also offers a helpful overview of how research works, that is, what is involved in the process of doing research.
False conceptions of “research”1. Transferring informationStudents are often told to go and “research a subject” and “write a research report”. They go to the library or the internet, local a few sources of information, assemble a collection of data, and submit it as their “research report”. Transferring information from one document to another is not research. It is a learning activity for the student, but it is not research. The assignment is not a research report, even though the student may have referenced it properly. This process of transferring data meets none of the requirements for research. We will revisit it later in this lesson, after we have seen what research is.2. Impressing othersBecause few people really know what research is, the word is often used in everyday conversation to impress others. Leedy gives the example of a real-estate agent who promises to research the prices of property in an area; all he intends to do is look up a few recent sales to get a rough idea of what your property might sell for. He uses the word “research” to impress you.3. Sales gimmickAdvertisements often claim that years of research have produced a miracle product. People claim that something has been “researched” to give it credibility in the eyes of the uninformed. We even do it in casual conversation. A pastor might claim to have researched his congregation’s views on a matter, when in fact all he has done is ask a few close friends in the church.
This is how Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language defines “research”:Research. A studious inquiry or examination, especially a critical and exhaustive investigation or experimentation having for its aim the discovery of new facts and their correct interpretation, the revision of accepted conclusions, theories, or laws in the light of newly discovered facts or the practical application of such conclusions, theories, or laws.Almost every clause of this definition deserves comment.
If there is no rigorous, critical, and exhaustive investigation, there is no research. Research is a rigorous, critical, and [often] exhaustive investigation of a problem. It is rigorous in that it follows the establishes processes for solving a problem; if you have not followed a rigorous research process, you have not done research. It is critical in that it questions and probes existing beliefs, theories, and conclusions, seeking alternative explanations of the data. If there is no discovery, there is no research. The definition states that the aim of research is the discovery and correct interpretation of facts. If you do not offer insight into the relationship between data, or the meaning and significance of the data, you have not done research. If there is no interpretation of the data, there is no research. Research must critically examine its data to determine their meanings. Some students think that if they string together a series of scholarly quotes to form a composite document, they have done research. No! You only do research when you interpret your sources and interact critically with them. If there is no formation, revision, or application of theories, there is no research. The ultimate goal of research is to arrive at a more accurate and complete understanding of reality. Therefore, research evaluates the validity of existing explanations of phenomena. In the light of new data, it either (a) revises existing theories and conclusions or (b) makes fresh applications of them.
What is the value of doing theological research? In particular, if you are a student without aspirations to become a full-time researcher, what do you gain by learning to write good research papers?Learning to do research teaches you how to recognize a problem and how to go about solving it. Problem-solving is an invaluable life skill that you use in very sphere of life—personal, family, business, church, and so on.You learn more about your topic by writing a research paper than by learning from a teacher. In a taught course, you normally get one or two perspectives—the textbook’s and possibly the teacher’s. The teacher may not be an expert. By contrast, when you research a topic, you compare and evaluated all the leading experts’ views. You will often know more about the topic than the professor.You learn best by doing. In a taught class, you are passive for most of the time. You listen while the teacher talks. When you research, you are active. You read, think, compare, think some more. Research requires active learning, not passive listening—and everyone knows an active learner learns more than a passive one.
What is the value of doing theological research? In particular, if you are a student without aspirations to become a full-time researcher, what do you gain by learning to write good research papers?Preparing a quality research paper teaches skills of observation, analysis, synthesis, and judgement. You learn to think deeply when you research. In a taught class, thinking is often limited to trying to understand the textbook. Research teaches critical thinking. You learn to compare and evaluate various views, and to form and defend well-founded conclusions and convictions.Writing a research paper will help you to develop character, especially perseverance. Research is difficult! Any noble project that is difficult builds character. Successful research requires perseverance. Success is 90 percent perspiration, and 10 percent inspiration. Few character traits are more valuable in ministry than the ability to keep going when the going gets tough.Writing a research paper will help you to cultivate good writing skills. Learning to write well takes hours of rewriting and correcting. But being able to write clearly is a worthy achievement, which will prove useful to you as a student and later to you as a professional.
02 Introduction to Research
By Kevin G. Smith
Introduction to Research
Theological Research Methodology
Summary of Leedy
Paul Leedy wrote a general
book of research
methodology, which is widely
used as a primer in graduate
programmes in the United
States. His opening chapter
has helpful insights regarding
the nature of research.
Summary of Vyhmeister
Nancy Vhymeister wrote one
of the view primer’s on
theological research. We
highly recommend her book.
She also provides an excellent
overview of research, with the
added advantage that she has
theological research in mind.
“THE DIMENSIONS OF RESEARCH”
Summary of Paul Leedy
False Conceptions of “Research”
• Research is the act of finding and transferring
• Research is merely a word that is used to impress
• Research is a catchword that exudes pomposity and
snares the gullible.
“Research. A studious inquiry or
examination, especially a critical and exhaustive
investigation or experimentation having for its aim the
discovery of new facts and their correct
interpretation, the revision of accepted
conclusions, theories, or laws in the light of newly
discovered facts or the practical application of such
conclusions, theories, or laws.”
• If there is no rigorous, critical, and exhaustive
investigation, there is no research.
• If there is no discovery, there is no research.
• If there is no interpretation of the data, there is no
• If there is no formation, revision, or application of
theories, there is no research.
Research: An Eight-step Process
1. Research begins in the mind of the researcher. Research
originates in a curious, observant, inquisitive attitude that
recognizes that problem situations exist which need further
2. Research demands that the researcher articulate a specific
goal for the investigative process. This is known as the
statement of the problem for research.
3. Research demands a specific plan of procedure. This is also
called the research method.
Research: An Eight-step Process
4. Research generally recognises that a frontal attack on the
entire problem is too much to attempt at one time. Every
problem can be divided into subproblems. By subdividing
the problem, it becomes more manageable. You solve one
part at a time.
5. Research is generally guided by constructs called
hypotheses. (Many research projects in the field of theology
are not hypothesis-driven.)
Research: An Eight-step Process
6. Research accepts certain critical assumptions that are
axiomatic and essential for the research process to proceed.
7. Research countenances only specific, measurable data
admissible in resolving the problem.
8. Research is, by nature, a circular or more exactly, a helical
Research is a cyclical
helical process. It
begins with a
problem, sees the goal
clearly, divides the
solutions, gathers and
organises data, and
interprets the data.
“WHAT IS RESEARCH?”
Summary of Nancy Vyhmeister
Definition of Research
“Research can be defined as a method of study
that, through careful investigation of all evidence
bearing on a definable problem, arrives as a solution.
To research a topic is to
collect, organize, evaluate, and present data. This
process cannot take place without analysis and
synthesis, for research is more than compilation of
Definition of Research
Felipe Azofeifa: “Research is a (1) systematic search for
(2) adequate information to reach (3) objective
knowledge of a (4) specific topic.”
1) Systematic search: effort and process
2) Adequate information: evidence, not opinion
3) Objective knowledge: facts, not suppositions
4) Specific topic: narrow, delimited scope
Process of Research
Misconceptions about Research
1. Research is not a compilation of quotations.
2. Research is not simply reworking others’ words or
ideas into a neat description.
3. Research is not a defense or apology of my own
4. Research is not polemical.
5. Research is not the presentation of personal
6. Research is not a sermon.
Value of Research
1. Learning to do research teaches you how to
recognise a problem and how to go about solving it.
2. You learn more about your topic by writing a
research paper than by learning from a teacher.
3. You learn best by doing. Research requires active
learning, not passive listening.
Value of Research
4. Preparing a quality research paper teaches skills of
observation, analysis, synthesis, and judgement.
5. Writing a research paper will help you to develop
character, especially perseverance.
6. Writing a research paper will help you to cultivate
good writing skills.
1. Research is NOT a matter of collecting and
2. Research is a rigorous inquiry to discover the
solution to a specific problem.
3. Research follows a logical plan or process to
reach its conclusions.
4. Research has value far beyond the paper.