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EDPSYCH 3148 - Learning and Motivation in Classroom Contexts: Research

A portal to ERIC, PsycINFO, high impact educational psychology journals, and guides to best practices in education research.

How do we define Research?

The term research is used in various ways and has different meanings. It is derived from the word "recherche", which means "to go about seeking".  The outcome of this “seeking” – the “findings” – are also commonly referred to as research, as in the phrase “research suggests that…”.

In this course, we will use the term research both to refer to something you do (i.e., to engage in methods of systematic investigation in order to address a specific question) as well as something you consult (i.e., reading research reports in order to address a specific question).

To help clarify the meanings and uses of the term research and other associated terms used in this course, we will adopt the following more specific terms:

Library Research: The systematic search and collection of relevant references/sources of published information that address a topic/question.  Library research usually is a first step toward writing a Literature Review (i.e., Research Brief), or summary/synthesis of available published research reports.


When searching for and identifying relevant sources of information, it is useful to make a distinction between primary and secondary sources of information. With respect to educational research, we will use the following distinction:

Primary Sources: These are published reports written by researchers that provide a first-hand account of an event, results of an experiment, data collected, etc.

Secondary Sources: These are published papers written by researchers that comment on, analyze, evaluate, and summarize primary sources. In this sense, they are one-step removed from the original event, experiment, etc.

Empirical Research: An activity in which people employ systematic methods for assembling evidence through observation or experimentation to answer a specific question. Empirical research can employ quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methodologies to collect and analyze data. Researchers who engage in empirical research often share what they learned from this activity in the form of a published empirical research report.
Theory/Theoretical Perspective: Theories or theoretical perspectives are a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of human behavior or the natural world. A good theory should not only explain known facts but should also make predictions of what should be observed if the theory is true. Theories can help in the analysis of problems, understanding of situations and design of solutions. Theoretical perspectives are often included in published research reports, either as section of an empirical research report (usually in the introduction/literature review section) or the main body of the manuscript if it is focused on describing or comparing theories.