Critical use of knowledge can bring numerous benefits


Life skill: Research is a powerful instrument to build knowledge and learning. – 123rf.com

MANY think that research is some esoteric activity done by academics or scientists. They think it is somewhat abstract, if not abstruse.

It is also thought that research is published as gobbledygook in high-brow journals that only self-selected individuals read, and that average individuals cannot access nor comprehend.

This impression of research is, of course, not totally accurate.

It is everywhere

Indeed, a lot of academic research is arcane. But such research is not only useful, but also very usable.

Research is everywhere in our daily lives. In fact, we do research in everything we think, do and act without realising it. We probably do this in a non-rigorous or systematic way.

First, what is research? In simple terms, it is a systematic way of thinking about, and communicating, anything we want to know or investigate.

Some research may be about questions that seem to defy answers. For example, why is there a universe? Such “why” questions are often somewhat philosophical. There are also the “how” questions: how do we solve the gravity challenge and launch spaceships to outer space? This seems quite straightforward.

Now, we ask some urgent health questions like how do we solve the Covid-19 pandemic that disrupts the way we live?

The system of research requires us to have a structure of inquiry. Knowing what to ask and how to ask questions is fundamental to research.

For example, what is the purpose of what we want to solve? What are the assumptions we use? Do we have the right data? How do we infer?

How do we conceptualise the findings into theories and models? How valid and reliable are the results? If the findings are useful for analysing a problem, are they also reliable for predictions?

Asking questions helps to clarify what we really want to know and how to get the answers.

We may also remind ourselves that there are standards to govern the research agenda.

There must be logic, depth, precision and so on in the analysis. The researcher must also have ethical standards in interpreting the findings – that is, he must be honest to report the findings accurately and not distort the discovery.

An unethical person may deliberately mislead by interpreting the data or findings for nefarious reasons.

It is useful for everyone

I enjoy teaching research to students. I believe that the earlier a student learns the elements of reasoning, the sharper his intellect and critical inquiry will be.

This skill is essential to any thinking human being. It definitely improves our affective and cognitive attitudes.

With research thinking skills internalised in us, we can make more reliable decisions and evaluate more accurately our judgments about events, people and Nature.

We understand and appreciate our environment better. For example, knowing how to do research on the circular economy helps us to design a more friendly ecological economy.

Research is thus a powerful instrument to build knowledge and learning.

This is a powerful tool to help us judge what to believe and what not to accept as reliable news or judgments.

It helps us to understand the controversial issues that are happening every day. It sharpens our public awareness of unconnected information. With such guidance, we become less gullible and more mindful about detecting what is believable.

Knowing how to conduct research definitely helps us to perform better in managing our businesses, as research helps us to identify opportunities and understand risks better.

It also provides alternative views about decisions. For example, we need research to find out how digitalisation can help small and medium enterprises solve their challenges during this pandemic.

Above all, practising research encourages us to read more and become more inquisitive.

As we do so, it enables us to develop critical reading skills, critical thinking and critical writing. This, in turn, further helps to strengthen our research capability.

We are in the digital age. We can easily access a huge and diverse amount of data and information on the Internet.

But we need the research ability to sort out coherently what we read and hear. Otherwise, we will be deluged with data that are meaningless to us.

Having too much data and information without knowing what to discard and what to use becomes cumbersome.

We need research skills to understand patterns and relationships, and to determine correlation and causation. This is the first step to doing research about anything.

Otherwise, we associate variables wrongly in a causation relationship. For example, to believe blindly that a certain festival causes rain to fall.

One good habit of learning to carry out research is to do a literature review. This means that we find out all the studies done on a topic.

Doing this means that we know what has been done and what the missing gaps are.

This literature search using Internet tools is very useful to find out the most up-to-date thinking about what’s happening in anything.

For example, you may want to find out the latest research on lalang because you want to make it an edible vegetable. This may help you to decide the next step in your endeavour.

So, some knowledge about how to do research helps us in numerous ways. It helps us not to believe anything we read or hear.

A healthy sceptical attitude is often a quality attitude to look at issues. We can thus make more judicious judgments and evaluations.

We know how to critique anything we read or hear, and this helps us to see the thin line between truth and falsehood.

When we are empowered with a critical use of knowledge, we can learn more effectually.

Above all, with some research skills, our attitude towards everything we think and do is now more evidenced by good reasoning and data driven.

Our analyses are more accurate and reliable. We can even make some sound predictions, knowing how much to trust such projections.

Prof Datuk Dr Paul Chan is the co-founder, vice-chancellor and president of HELP University (Malaysia). The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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