Let’s say you’re engaging in a science discussion with a few of your friends. When the topic enters the realms of outer space, one of them asks, “Do you think aliens exist?” You ponder the question to yourself and wonder how to voice your own opinion. While your opinion may already be formed, how do you back it up? You may be thinking, “Okay, I think aliens exist. And I will collect evidence to support my argument.” Sounds like a plan! But how many cases should you collect? Is it how Fox Mulder started his career? In situations like these, research skills that help you develop problem-solving techniques are key skills to learn.
Another approach is that you look at this problem from a different angle. Rather than trying to gather the mounds of evidence needed to prove that aliens do exist, consider disproving the statement: “Aliens do not exist.” Many benefits come with this angle. Now, you need only one case or two so you can argue, “I cannot say that aliens do not exist.” If you find a couple more cases, you are in a much better position to be able to reject the idea: “Aliens do not exist.” This approach is a more efficient and cost-saving research method.
The second statement in this example, Aliens do not exist, is called a null hypothesis. Meanwhile, the first statement, Aliens do exist, is called an alternative hypothesis. In social science research, we normally deal with the null hypothesis. If you can reject the null hypothesis, it automatically allows us to support the argument in the alternative hypothesis. It is the very first step in doing hypothesis testing, which is essential in research skills.
Research skills help you become a better decision-maker. Knowledge of the research process and analytic methods will help you digest academic reports and critically evaluate the reliability of the research. The best way to become a prepared decision-maker is to develop research skills yourself.
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By: Jeongwoo Kim, Ph. D., associate professor, EKU Department of Government