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Staff Paper Series
FOOD AND RESOURCE ECONOMICS DEPARTMENT
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611
WE CALL IT RESEARCH
C.O. Andrew and P.E. Hildebrand
Staff Paper 9
Staff Papers are circulated without formal review
by the Food and Resource Economics Department.
Content is the sole responsibility of the author.
Food and Resource Economics Department
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611
WE CALL IT RESEARCH
C.O. Andrew and P.E. Hildebrand
Applied research, as a service to a client desiring to resolve
a problem, is the basic theme of this paper. Because such research
has a definite purpose, there is usually a time constraint or dead-
line within which the work must be completed as well as a limit on
the other resources the client has available for resolution of the
problem. Consequently, the researcher must be cognizant of the ef-
ficient use of the research resources while attempting to maximize
the likelihood of providing a useful product to the client.
What is Applied Research?
Research is the orderly procedure by which man increases his
knowledge. In contrast to accidental discovery, it follows a series
of steps designed precisely for the purpose of developing information.
And applied research differs from basic research because it is under-
taken specifically to help resolve a particular problem.
Applied research is carried out in all parts of the world --
it is a much more widespread activity than basic research. Even
though it is a necessity only the wealthiest countries can afford to
The authors express their appreciation to Drs. Holt, Mathis
and Prochaska for their insights and comments.
undertake much basic research. Most applied research is conducted
under moderate to severe resource limitations, so efficiency in the
research process is vital. An effective applied research methodology
focuses on the efficient use of available research resources to maxi-
mize the probability of achieving meaningful results to help resolve
> Perhaps the most critical deficiency in applied research is the
failure to identify clearly and fully the specific problem toward
which the research is to be oriented. Disappointment in the results
of applied research -- a "So what?" response -- in most instances can
be traced directly to inadequate problem identification. This may
result when the researcher uncritically accepts the problem as stated
by the client or by his spokesman.
Another serious deficiency may occur even after properly iden-
tifying the problem. This is the failure to formulate hypotheses and
objectives correctly oriented-toward the resolution of the problem
and then (and only then) to specify appropriate analytical techniques.
Hence, the most critical concepts in applied research are those of
problem identification and the interrelationships involved between
problem identification, hypotheses, objectives, analytical techniques,
and resource restraints.
Is Theory Important?
The role of theory is critical to applied research. Without
discounting the value of practice and experience, the greater the
researcher's command of theory, the broader will be his capabilities
and the more efficient he will be in planning and conducting the
applied research project. This is true because theory envelops and
supports the entire research process. Without a good command of stress
theory an engineer cannot properly design nor efficiently build a safe
bridge. A plant breeder must understand the theory of genetics before
he can hope to effectively develop a disease resistant strain. An ag-
ricultural economist cannot determine an optimum farm organization
without knowledge of production economics theory.
The researcher's foundation in theory provides the orientation
for defining a problem that is researchable within the discipline or
disciplines relevant to the research and with the resources available.
Theory also provides the basis for the formulation of hypotheses and
in the selection of the analytical techniques to be used. And it
should be obivous that the interpretation of the results depends
heavily on the theoretical orientation of the researcher.
Although theory permeates the entire research process, the
researcher's practical experience is equally important because ap-
plied research is frequently conducted under sub-optimum conditions.
Institutional and budgetary restraints, less than ideal field condi-
tions, poorly trained personnel, inadequate background information
and other similar factors have a very significant effect on the re-
search process and therefore must be recognized and dealt with ac-
cordingly. Along with theoretical training practical experience is
invaluable in helping the researcher overcome the obstacles which are
so often encountered in applied research.
Institutional and Resource Considerations
The success a researcher will have in serving his client is
tempered by the research environment within which he labors. An
applied researcher cannot be effective in satisfying clients when he
is isolated from them by a system that reduces or prevents effective
communication among them. This can happen, for example, when an ex-
tention service with direct client contact has little communication
with research personnel even though they may be in the same organi-
zation. It can also happen in a research organization in which proj-
ects are dictated by administrators who have little contact with the
clients and hence have no appreciation of their real problems.
These institutional problems may suggest a need for smaller
research organizations, but more realistically, they suggest organi-
zations in which researchers maintain close personal contact with
their clients and in which they all share a voice in determining the
research priorities of the organization. We suggest that a better
coordinated working relationship between research administrators,
researchers, and clients will develop if all three groups carefully
consider the problem identification phase of research planning.
The proposed scope of an applied research project and the
quantity and quality of research resources which can be devoted to
the solution of the problem at hand must be united in the research
planning process. Because the research is oriented toward the re-
solution of a specific problem, there is usually a time restraint
fixed by the need to make a decision. Time as an important resource
or constraint interacts with other resources as a complement and
substitute. Applied research is carried out under varying degrees
of financial restrictions and usually under rather severe shortages
of trained manpower and modern data processing resources. Another
research resource which is" seldom abundant under many conditions of
applied research is published data, other forms of secondary data or
reliable information in general. Basic physical facilities such as
means of transportation of land area for research can also limit the
scope of research activities.
S The researcher must be aware of the effect that various resource
limitations can have on his research. This cognizance will improve
his research effort by increasing the probability that the proposed
project will produce useful results. Projects designed in the ab-
sence of this consideration can and frequently do encounter diffi-
culties such that the productive potential of the resources utilized
is not attained. The result is that less effective information is
made available for decision making and problem resolution. Careful
consideration of resource availability can help prevent situations
where the deadline arrives and the researcher, still engrossed in
gathering data or making analyses, has little of value to report
to his client.
Planning for Applied Research
The most important and critical steps in planning research and
developing a research proposal are problems, hypotheses, and objec-
tives. These three aspects,constituting the first phase of applied
research, are not independent from each other, nor are they inde-
pendent from other portions of the proposal and aspects of con-
ducting the research. However, this phase of the development of
a research proposal is the most important key to efficient research.
It is much too common, and seemingly easier, to embark on the next
steps of the research process -- data collection, analysis, and in-
terpretation -- with a poorly specified project statement. The con-
sequence is usually that budget and time restrictions cannot be met
and one of the following results:
1) Conclusions must be drawn on the basis of inadequate
2) More resources and more time must be devoted to the
project to allow completion, or
3) The project withers and dies and is relegated to a
drawer in the file, never to be heard from again.
The time spent in careful development of the problem statement,
the hypothesis, and the objectives can well be the most productive
time spent by the researcher. Even in cases where the researcher
may have only one month, one week, or perhaps just one day to pro-
vide an answer, the time spent in this phase of the research is
critical to the success of the undertaking. Many, many times when
a person is given a rush task, the tendency is to "come up with
something." Little time is spent on analyzing the situation to
determine precisely what the client wants, what is really needed,
and what resources are available to accomplish the necessary, task.
Too often the results have no value because the "something" which
the researcher "comes up with" is not really'related to the prob-
lem of the client.
Problems.appropriately specified for applied research have
the following characteristics:
1) they are based on felt needs of individuals, groups and
2) the causal relationships expressed in a problem statement
are not hypothetical and are relevant to the problem;
3) problem statements must suggest testable hypothetical
relationships that, when analyzed, yield relevant and
4) the problem and the research to resolve the problem must
be relevant and manageable with resource restrictions.
Researchable problems can be distinguished from problematic situations
in that numerous researchable problems can be formulated from a prob-
The hypotheses serve as guides to executing the research. Hy-
1) be stated to provide direction for the research;
2) be formulated as causal relationships with if: then impli-
3) be capable of tests within the limits of the research
4) be stated as simply as possible; and,
5) as a groip be adequate and efficient in suggesting
means to one or more meaningful solutions to the problem.
In general, objectives describe what is expected to be achieved
by the project. Specifically, objectives:
1) define the limits of the research project;
2) suggest or clarify the means of conducting research;
3) describe the nature of the potential research product
to the client; and,
4) identify the client or clients.
Experimental and Non-Experimental Research
A major difference between experimental and non-experimental
research is the degree of control the researcher exercises over the
variables being studied or measured. In an experiment, the researcher
controls the design and levels of certain variables and the measurement
of phenomena resulting from the experiment. In non-experimental re-
search, the researcher in most instances cannot influence the design
and level of the variables nor directly measure the phenomena, but
controls only the technique used in measurement (primarily a sample
survey and questionnaire).
Experimentation and experimental design usually are associated
with objectivity, precision, and scientific purity -- concepts that
imply rigidity and inflexibility in procedure. In basic research
this is mostly true, but in applied research, considerations other
than pure scientific objectivity can become more important.in de-
termining the type of design to be used for any given experiment.
Resource limitations will usually force a reduction in the accuracy
obtainable. Other factors such as extension demonstration uses with
selected pilot farms where dual goals of research and extension are
met simultaneously, will modify the nature of the design ultimately
selected. It is important that the applied researcher maintain a
flexible attitude with respect to experimentation and experimental
design in order to increase his effectiveness and make him more ef-
ficient in his work.
The success of non-experimental data collection rests upon the
ability of the researcher to sample the defined population accurately
and, once the sample is drawn, communicate with the selected respon-
dents. In designing the questionnaire, two important communication
problems must be considered: 1) differences in terminology between
various groups, and 2) cultural differences in beliefs and values.
Pretesting the questionnaire under actual field conditions can pro-
vide information both about its effectiveness as a data gathering
tool and information on the population which can help in establishing
As is the case in experimentation, guidelines for optimum sample
selection procedures and questionnaire design can be stated, but in
applied research it is important that the researcher also remain
flexible in his attitude. Scientific perfection can serve as a
norm, but the researcher must remember that for the client, it is
almost always better to have some information to help hime make his
decisions than to have no information except that the researcher is
still designing a better questionnaire (mousetrap) or tying to decide
on the best means of choosing the respondents.
The real skill of the applied researcher comes into play after
the data have been collected. Experience and imagination have a par-
ticularly high payoff in the analysis and the interpretation of the
data and can make a difference between a useful project and one
which ends up in a file drawer. It is in this process that the
researcher finally comes down to the point of determining what
the data entail; data do.not "speak for themselves" but must be
interpreted and analyzed. The researcher-must draw conclusions
from the analysis and, in the end, make recommendations to his
client to help in resolving the problem that originated the proj-
ect. This, of course, is the reason for undertaking applied re-
search in the first place.
Often with interpretation of applied research results, per-
sonal experience becomes very important. This experience might be
called, in part, the art of research, or subjective analysis.or,
by the purist, personal viewpoints and judgements. We prefer to
think of subjective analysis as flexibility in ones attitude toward
his use of scientific procedures. This is the attitude that allows
the researcher to completely ."milk". the data and draw out all the
information which might be of help to the client. Furthermore, this
attitude encourages the good applied researcher to insist on a role
in the interpretation of the statistical or other analyses which
have been used (either by him, by another person, by a computer,
etc.) rather than accept these impersonal results without question.
Because the client must make a decision, it is also necessary
that he understand the information which the-researcher presents as
the results of the research. Too often the investigator writes his
report as if he were communicating only with other professionals and
thereby ignores the needs of the client toward whom the presentation
must be directed. The agricultural economist who, upon completing a
sound piece of research, writes for other agricultural economists
in such a way that his client (possibly an extension agent or a
farmer) can not possibly comprehend has failed his client as mis-
erably as if the research results had been unsound.
When the moment for recommendations arrives, the client is
expecting a useful product. Applied research is not useful to
S the client when the researcher reports that he had to go back for
more data so he has no conclusions. Conclusions and recommendations
must be made on the basis of the results at hand because that is the
best information that is or will be available within the allowable
time and resource restrictions.
Finally, no amount of planning, no elegant data collection
procedures, and no sophisticated analyses are going to help the
researcher who is too timid when the moment of truth arrives to
utilize all his information, draw meaningful conclusions and make
appropriate recommendations to the-client.