When you make the decision to conduct primary research, you must consider more than simply what type of primary research method you want to use or the research ethics involved. Any research study requires careful consideration from start to end, and there are some common research problems you can navigate through with the right preparation and forethought.
Bias is any form skews your primary research and presents a research problem. The pitfall of researcher bias is in assuming you already know the answer. There are three areas where bias has a tendency to creep into your research:
To eliminate bias, write survey questions and interview questions of good quality, take objective notes when doing any observations and objectively interpret data to draw conclusions supported by your data.
Whenever you are asking participants questions, even anonymously, they have a tendency to report behavior in a more favorable light, creating a research problem –albeit one that is unavoidable. Therefore, you must acknowledge that reported behavior and actual behavior are not always the same. For example, if you survey participants about the number of calories they consume in 24 hours, they are likely to report fewer calories than they actually consume.
Ignoring factors related to your primary research but that you are unable to study creates a research problem. While it is virtually impossible to study every factor that relates to a group of participants, you should make every effort to incorporate them into the analysis of your data. For example, if you are studying student lunch choices from school cafeterias, you are omitting other factors, such as students who skip lunch, faculty and staff who eat lunch, students who eat differently at school than they do privately, students who leave the cafeteria to eat elsewhere or students who pack a lunch.
Over generalization presents another research problem. While it is tempting to make a generalization about a group based on interviews, observations or surveys, never attribute your findings as something that is permanent. Recognize any generalizations apparent in your primary research as a pattern or trend—one that may change. Any research involving human participants focuses on individuals who are dynamic and functioning in situations and scenarios that constantly change, which changes the results of the same research at another point in time or in another situation.
Unfortunately, some primary research participants are the source of your research problem. While you hope every participant takes your study seriously, there are always some participants who intentionally provide inaccurate answers or behave aberrantly. Because data from these contrived responses and behaviors can alter your entire data set, you must have the ability to recognize when this occurs by carefully examining all primary research methods and result sets. When you encounter this type of data in your results, omit it from the data upon which you perform an analysis.
Another common research problem with primary research is the temptation to take a correlation between two things and imply causation. A relationship between two things does not automatically mean one causes the other. It can simply mean that the two are related by a third, outside variable.
For example, if participants report eating chocolate and experience an acne breakout shortly afterward, this does not automatically imply causation. Instead, there may be a third factor, such as higher stress levels, that leads to higher chocolate consumption and increased breakouts. In this scenario, eating chocolate and acne breakouts are correlated, but the causation lies with stress.
While these are not the only research problems that may pop up in your primary research, they are some of the more common ones. By keeping your focus and analyzing data carefully and thoroughly, you can minimize the effects these problems have on your research findings.