The role of statistics in research

The role of statistics in research is sometimes exaggerated. Statistics have a role only when you have collected the required information, adhering to the requirements of each operational step of the research process. Once data is collected you encounter two questions:

  1. How do i organise this data to understand it?
  2. What does the data mean?

In a way, the answer to the first question forms the basis for the second. Statistics can play a very important role in answering your research questions in such a manner that you are able to quan­tify, measure, place a level of confidence on the findings, make an assessment of the contribution each variable has made in bringing out change, measure the association and relationship between various variables, and help predict what is likely to happen in the light of current trends.

From individual responses, particularly if there are many, it becomes extremely difficult to understand the patterns in the data, so it is important for the data to be summarised. Some simple statistical measures such as percentages, means, standard deviations and coefficients of correlation can reduce the volume of data, making it easier to understand. In computing sum­mary measures, certain information is lost and therefore misinterpretation is possible. Hence, caution is required when interpreting data.

Statistics play a vital role in understanding the relationship between variables, particularly when there are more than two. With experience, it is easy to ‘read’ the relationship between two variables from a table, but not to quantify this relationship. Statistics help you to ascer­tain the strength of a relationship. They confirm or contradict what you read from a piece of information, and provide an indication of the strength of the relationship and the level of confidence that can be placed in findings. When there are more than two variables, statistics are also helpful in understanding the interdependence between them and their contribution to a phenomenon or event.

Indirectly, knowledge of statistics helps you at each step of the research process. Knowledge of the problems associated with data analysis, the types of statistical test that can be applied to certain types of variable, and the calculation of summary statistics in relation to the measurement scale used plays an important role in a research endeavour. However, you can also carry out a perfectly valid study without using any statistical procedures. This depends upon the objectives of your study.

Source: Kumar Ranjit (2012), Research methodology: a step-by-step guide for beginners, SAGE Publications Ltd; Third edition.

4 thoughts on “The role of statistics in research

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