Elements of Research



The purpose of all research is to describe and explain variance in the world. Variance is simply the difference; that is, variation that occurs naturally in the world or change that we create as a result of a manipulation. Variables are names that are given to the variance we wish to explain.

A variable is either a result of some force or is itself the force that causes a change in another variable. In experiments, these are called dependent and independent variables respectively. When a researcher gives an active drug to one group of people and a placebo , or inactive drug, to another group of people, the independent variable is the drug treatment. Each person's response to the active drug or placebo is called the dependent variable. This could be many things depending upon what the drug is for, such as high blood pressure or muscle pain. Therefore in experiments, a researcher manipulates an independent variable to determine if it causes a change in the dependent variable.

Case example of independent and dependent variables

As we learned earlier in a descriptive study, variables are not manipulated.  They are observed as they naturally occur and then associations between variables are studied.  In a way, all the variables in descriptive studies are dependent variables because they are studied in relation to all the other variables that exist in the setting where the research is taking place. However, in descriptive studies, variables are not discussed using the terms "independent" or "dependent." Instead, the names of the variables are used when discussing the study.  For example, there is more diabetes in people of Native American heritage than people who come from Eastern Europe.  In a descriptive study, the researcher would examine how diabetes (a variable) is related to a person's genetic heritage (another variable).

Case example of descriptive study variables

Variables are important to understand because they are the basic units of the information studied and interpreted in research studies. Researchers carefully analyze and interpret the value(s) of each variable to make sense of how things relate to each other in a descriptive study or what has happened in an experiment.


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