Different methods of research (companies and medical research) and the advantages and disadvantages of each

Research methods: The pros and cons

There are many ways to do research, and each has advantages and disadvantages. These include cost, time, accuracy, and response rate. Below is a summary of major research methods and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Survey Method: This is the most common research method. It can be done on paper, over the phone, or over the internet. The advantages are it’s cheap (maybe even free if the company already has a website), it’s easy, it doesn’t take a lot of time or labor (these are all reasons why companies choose this method of research). However, one major problem is that surveys have a very low response rate – about 10% (of those the company calls or sends the paper survey to). This often leads to a non-random sample, which completely skews the result. This problem isn’t as large for companies (who can do the same research in different areas and come up with a relatively decent result) as it is for psychologists, who must have a random sample to have any sort of usable data.

Interview Method: This method takes a little bit longer and a lot more money. It requires several researchers and assistants to complete one-on-one interviews. This is occasionally used by companies (perhaps in a mall, asking customers to participate in a brief questionnaire), but is more frequently used by psychologists. In psychological research, this allows for more in-depth answers and information. However, it also may decrease accuracy (people want to look good; they’re less likely to be honest when faced with a live researcher than in an anonymous survey). It helps to get a more random sample, and if the research team is large enough, a larger sample (response rate is better). However, it still creates honesty problems.

Experiment (Cross-Sectional): This is one of the ideal research methods for any kind of medical professional (including psychologists). It is expensive and it takes a lot of time. Researchers often must pay participants for their time, as well as paying their team of assistants. The research may take several weeks or months to complete each trial (and the researchers are likely to run it more than once). However, it yields the most accurate results and gives a true answer to the research question (assuming all other variables are properly controlled for), because it allows researchers to get a true random sample.

Experiment (Longitudinal): This is one of the ideal research methods, but it takes the most time. In this type of study, one large group of people are selected and followed for a series of years. It is expensive and difficult, because people can leave the study for varying reasons (death, moving, desire to discontinue participation), which can result in a non-random sample (and therefore, an invalid result). Participants must also be paid for their time every time they are expected to “check in” with researchers. However, if enough people stay in the study and it goes well, this can yield the most accurate results of any study. It shows long-term effects of a drug or treatment, which is invaluable information.

Case Study: There are some situations that cannot be ethically studied in a lab. (For example, the effects of alcohol on pregnant women.) When researchers wish to study situations like these, they must wait until an opportunity happens to arise, and then study it individually. This is called a case-study, and it can provide very in-depth information about a particular subject. However, because only one person or family is involved, the results can’t always be generalized to the public. This method can yield valid information about a difficult situation, and several case studies can provide a relatively clear picture of a disease or situation. However, one case study cannot really stand alone because it is not enough information to talk about what “usually” happens, or to generalize in other ways.

All of these methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Most good researchers use a combination of these methods to answer their questions. Using a variety of methods helps guarantee a more accurate result.

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