Glossary of Terms

When you are doing research you will come across many technical terms and also more commonly used words that are used to mean something specific in relation to the research process.  This glossary is designed to explain some of the specific meanings of these words and some terms used throughout the toolkit.  Where there are detailed definitions of terms such as the different ways of calculating averages in the text, we have not repeated them here.

If a word or term is specifically relevant to one section then the number of that section is given in brackets.  Terms with asterisks are listed elsewhere in this glossary

Academic – coming from a university.  An academic is usually one who teaches in a university and academic research is undertaken by teachers and students, especially those who are taking higher ‘post-graduate’ qualifications

Action research (4) a specific research method that involves participants testing solutions to a problem and reviewing whether or not they have addressed that issue.  A form of qualitative* research often carried out by insiders* or practitioners*

Analysis – reviewing the information generated by the research and using it to answer the research questions

Assessment – a process of reviewing an activity using methods such as monitoring* or evaluation*

Average (7) – this is a way of showing patterns in your findings*.  There are different ways of calculating averages: mode, median and mean, that can be used to reflect different sets of figures to produce an accurate way of looking at them

Case study (4) – giving a detailed example of one person’s experience or how one organisation works to illustrate an issue or increase understanding.  This is not necessarily an experience that is typical of the population as a whole

Closed questions (6) – questions that require the respondent to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or where there are pre-determined answers selected by the researcher

Coding (7) – this is the first step in counting how many responses you have had to particular questions and what answers people have given.  It means giving a code or number to each possible response so that you can count them

Commissioning – when an organisation buys in goods or services, for example when an organisation commissions an external organisation to undertake research on its behalf

Community – a defined group of people such as those living in a certain place or who share characteristics, such as age or ethnicity or who use a service

Community development (5) – an approach to working in or with communities in which the individuals from a community come together to identify problems and create solutions.  Whether they are working on their own as a group or supported by an external facilitator* (Community Development Worker), the key issue is that the community is in control of the process, which should not be time limited or linked to a particular project or programme.  Community development approaches are used in a range of situations where full community participation* is the goal

Confidentiality (4) – when there is no possibility of knowing what respondents said or how they responded to questions during the research – or even that they participated at all.  This is particularly important when the research is in a sensitive issue, such as matters of health or sexual issues and where insider* researchers are taking part.  This includes any aspect of what someone said that might identify them to others even if their comments or responses are given anonymously

Consent (4) – when those people who are the subjects of the research are participating on the basis of understanding what the research is for and what their role is within it.  They are fully informed and have given active, sometimes written consent to take part

Consultation – where people who have some involvement in an issue, such as people who live in an area, are involved in providing information about their experiences in order to inform the process

Co-production (3) – when services or activities are developed and delivered jointly by those with professional expertise and those with lived experience (experts by experience*) and in which the two groups are given equal value

Cost benefit analysis (2) – a process of costing everything that needs to be done for an activity to take place and comparing this with the costs of the results of that activity taking place.  This is frequently done by public authorities and is used to assess, for example, whether it is more cost effective to pay for preventative actions such as getting people to stop smoking, than it is to treat them once they get ill from smoking related diseases

Data – information you gather through doing your research

Data inputter (7) – someone who takes the responses from questionnaires and transfers the information to a data base where it can be stored and the information can be analysed.  This can be someone unconnected with the research but who is skilled at transferring data quickly and accurately

Data protection (4) – how research information is collected and stored – covered by the General Data Protection Regulation

DBS checks (5)  – Disclosure and Barring System (replaced CRB checks) where those working with children and vulnerable adults have to disclose any criminal records.  Only certain types of organisation can request a DBS check directly so if you believe you need to request that people have had the check, you should get advice from an organisation such as a local council or a Council for Voluntary Services that will be able to advise you and get the checks done if necessary.

Desk research (1) – a term for secondary research*, when existing information is used to answer a research question

Diagnosis – the process of identifying what a problem is and leading to the forming of the research question.  This is one of the stages in action research*

Emancipatory research (3) – research methods that explicitly seek to empower the population that is the subject of the research through the gaining of knowledge and by challenging the traditional relationships between researchers and subjects

Empowerment (3) – when a process such as a research study takes place in a way that involves the subjects of the research or the local community, developing skills and gaining experience can empower individuals

Ethics (4) – considering that everyone in the research process is treated fairly and includes issues such as consent*, confidentiality* and data protection*

Ethnography (6) – a type of research that is based on studying people in their own environment, using methods such as observation*, for example: how groups of children behave in the school playground

Evaluation – reviewing an activity or action to find out whether or not it was delivered effectively

Experts by experience (3) – people with lived experience of a situation or issue, including people who use specific services and are able to influence how that service is delivered, such as mental health services or having a specific ethnic or cultural background.  This term is used when lived experience is combined with the skills of professional workers to co-produce* an activity or service and the two are valued equally

Facilitator  a person who makes something happen.  This can be someone who manages a project (usually on a short-term basis) or who is appointed to take on a task such as facilitating a focus group.  Someone who is independent and objective and who can enable participants to put their views forward.

Feasibility study (2) – a planning process that enables an organisation to calculate what the planned activities are likely to cost and what income could be generated and what benefits will be achieved

Field worker – those who are undertaking the research, interviewing, running focus groups, distributing and collecting questionnaires, etc.

Findings – what was learned from the research

Formative evaluation (2) – an evaluation* that reviews progress made to date and uses the findings to inform the ongoing delivery

Generalising  – when the research enables findings from a sample group* to be broadened out to the whole population*.  This can only be done if the sample group is representative* of the whole population

Ground rules (6) – when a group of people participating in a training course or focus group agree on a set of rules about how they will conduct themselves.  These can include behaviours, such as not interrupting other people when they are speaking, or making sure people have their phones switched to silent.

Impact – what difference did an action make to the people who were involved in it?  What changes have taken place?

Impact measurement (1) – undertaking a process of measuring the differences that an activity has made, using a range of methods

Insider researchers (3) – researchers drawn from the population that is the subject of the research who are able to contribute direct experience of the subject and who may be known to the population in the research area

Inputs – what resources and activities were needed for an activity or project to take place, such as money, volunteers, equipment, etc.

Interviewer effect (6) – when the circumstances of the interview affect how the respondents react and what information they are prepared to reveal.  Some factors that can have an effect could include an interviewer that is very formal or very informal in their behaviour, which is not what the respondent is used to, if the language used in the questions makes respondents feel they are being judged, or if the interview is held in a setting where the interviewees do not feel comfortable

Involvement (3) – when the subjects of the research are involved in some aspects of the study by researchers, with or without the ability to influence decision making

Logic chain (2) – a planning activity where assumptions are made about the inputs*, outputs*, outcomes* and impact* that the project or activity is being set up to achieve

Mapping (2) – a research process to find out what is happening or what services currently exist.  This is usually done as part of a process of identifying what resources might be needed.

Milestone – a defined and agreed step towards the goal of the activity or project

Mixed methods research (4) – using a mixture of qualitative* and quantitative* research methods

Monitoring – recording how many people attended an activity, how often, for how long

Needs assessment (2) – finding out what services and resources are needed by a particular community or group of people

Observation (6) – where a researcher watches people undertake certain prepared tasks or in a real-life situation

Open questions (6) – questions that require the respondent to give a response that is not pre-determined by the researcher – the responses can be lengthy or detailed

Oral history (6) – a means of collecting people’s experiences of past events through telling their stories and sharing memories with a researcher.  This can be used as part of a research process similar to interviews but is also used as a therapeutic process, for example people with dementia are often asked to share stories about their past experiences as a way of maintaining memory function

Organisational evaluation (2) – an evaluation* of the organisation that carried out an activity or project

Outcomes – the measures of the short term benefits that result from a project or activity taking place

Outputs – the measures of whether or not a project or activity met its targets and achieved what it set out to do

Outsider researchers (3) – researchers who may have knowledge of the subject or area being researched but who are not from that population.  They are likely to have experience of research methods

Participation (3) – when people from the population that is being studied are actively participating in the research process

Participatory research methods (6)  – when respondents are required to participate in the design of the research and where the methods used are active and creative, such as writing a play or taking photographs 

Practitioner – someone who works or volunteers in an organisation which is part of a research study, who has insider* knowledge

Piloting (5) – testing your research tools, such as questionnaires or interview questions on a small group of people, usually in the target population*, to make sure that your questions make sense to them, that they are providing the answers you need and that the questionnaire process is easily followed

Population (5) – the whole group of people who you would like to know about, such as: everyone who uses your service, everyone who lives in your community.  You may not include all of them in your survey if the group is too big or you have limited resources, in which case you would select a sample* group.

Primary research (1) – when researchers seek new information collected through methods such as surveys and case studies

Process evaluation (2) – reviewing a project or activity to understand if the systems and management enabled the actions to be effective

Qualitative research (4) – non-numerical research to establish, for example, why something has happened or how people feel about it

Quantitative research (4) – numerical research to establish for example, how many people are affected by a situation, or how often something happens

Questionnaire (6) – a research tool, asking a set of structured questions, usually written down and circulated on paper or electronically

Recording (6) – how the researcher captures the information given in interviews or focus groups.  This can include taking notes, writing on flip charts, audio recording on a mobile phone or other device, filming, asking people to draw pictures or take photographs

Reliability – if another researcher were to conduct the same research that they would reach the same conclusions, that the research is not affected by researcher bias or other actions that would undermine the research, for example selecting a sample that is not representative of the population as a whole

Representative (5) – whether you can demonstrate that the people you have included in your research are statistically representative of the whole population*.  If there are 100 people in the population, 60 of whom are women and 40 of whom are men, your sample* of 10 should include 6 women and 4 men.  Not all samples need to be representative but in most quantitative research you should ensure that your respondents are representative of the wider population*.

Response rate (5) – how many people have responded to your questionnaire.  If you send out a questionnaire to 100 people and 25 people fill it in and send it back to you then your response rate is 25%.  If you do not have control over how many people receive your questionnaire then you will not be able to show a response rate as a percentage of those distributed, for example if you send out an online survey to a group of people and ask them to pass it on to anyone they think might be interested in the issue.

Sample (5) – a sample is a selected part of the overall population you want to study with whom you will be doing your research.  There are different ways of selecting a sample depending on the type of research you are planning to do.  It is important to know whether your sample group needs to be representative* of the whole population*

Sampling frame (5) – this is a complete list of everyone in your target population*.  You can either do your research with the whole population or use the sampling frame to select a smaller sample* group

Secondary research (1) – when researchers seek information from existing sources such as research reports written by others, sometimes referred to as ‘desk research’*

Social research – research taking place in real life situations and addressing social issues, rather than research taking place in special, controlled situations such as a laboratory, often using qualitative methods*

Social value – whether a project or activity created social benefits, often this is measured in addition to what the project was funded to achieve.  Social value is created for individuals or communities and is recognised when public authorities such as councils or hospitals buy in services as a result of the introduction of the Public Services and Social Value Act (2012).

Statistics (7) – once you have coded* and input* your numerical findings, then you can show the numbers in the form of statistics as part of your analysis.  For example, you can show what percentage of the respondents answered yes or no to a question or how many of them are in different age groups.  You will be able to do this at a basic level but you might need to find someone with greater knowledge of statistics to work in more depth.  You should make sure that your statistics reflect a true picture of your findings and are not being manipulated to show one conclusion.

Story-telling (6) – asking people to tell stories about their experiences

Structured (6) –  often relating to interviews or focus groups where the researcher asks everyone the same questions in the same way and where the responses are limited to the information that the researcher has decided to find out

Summative evaluation (2) – an evaluation* made at the end of a project or activity to review whether or not it has succeeded in what it set out to achieve

Survey – to find out what is happening using any type of research methods

Theory of change (2) – part of a planning process in which it is agreed what the goals of a project or activity will be and what actions will be taken in order to address an identified problem

Transcribing (6) when discussions or interviews have been filmed or taped and the researcher plays back the record of the session and makes a written version of what was said

Triangulation (4) – two or more research methods are used to test if the same findings emerge using different methods

Unstructured (6) – often relating to interviews or focus groups where the researcher enables the respondents to share whatever they think is significant.  This is used when the researcher wants to find out about an issue and has no pre-determined plan of what information they want to find out

Valid – did the research succeed in doing what it set out to do and are the findings accepted as presenting a true picture of the research subject?