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How to write a thesis? (1) Scientific research

When I decided to go to Germany for master’s degree, my biggest concern was writing a thesis. Because in Korea, we don’t usually write a thesis to graduate from college. In the meantime, I took a seminar class that was greatly helpful in writing a thesis. The purpose of summarizing and posting the contents is to help someone who writes the first thesis paper like me.

What I want to cover in this series are the various scientific research methods and theories, especially in the field of information systems. Thus, it looks at various papers published in the journal IS as examples and covers the procedures of qualitative research, quantitative research, and design-based research.

Section 1 Scientific research
1.1 logic behind approving a paper in a journal (read more)
1.2 basic terms related to a writing a thesis (read more)
Section 2 Theory and theory construction
2.1 what is a good theory, how to evaluate a theory? (read more)
2.2 a guide to research design & methodological fit (read more)
2.3 mixed methods (quantitative + qualitative) (read more)
Section 3 Research design
Section 4 Literature review
Section 5 Case study
Section 6 Survey
Section 7 Collecting and Analyzing Survey Data
Section 8 Experiments
Section 9 Design Science
■ Science and Scientific research

In the future, I will use the term, science, a lot. Scientific research is research that 1) contributes to science and 2) follows the scientific method. So what is science? Science comes from the Latin word scientia, which means knowledge. The field of Information Systems, which will be covered in this series, is study area in the social sciences that seeks to explain and offer solutions to business problems.

Natural SciencesSocial science
Observations of natural phenomena
(physics, chemistry, etc.)
Observations of phenomena in society
(behavior, organization, etc.)
Phenomena exist independently of humans
(raw data is not man-made)
Phenomena are constituted by humans
Nature does not interpret itselfRaw data is man-made
Classified as Physical Sciences, Earth Sciences, and Life SciencesClassified as Psychology, Sociology, and Economics
■ Scientific knowledge

The goal of science is to create scientific knowledge. Scientific knowledge generally contributes to some laws or theories and describes certain phenomena or behavior. By using scientific methods, the reader can understand how the study was conducted. The reason for using scientific methods is that they allow readers to replicate research.

A law is an observed pattern of a phenomenon or behavior. Theory means a systematic explanation of an underlying phenomenon or behavior. In particular, theories answer the question of why there are certain phenomena/behaviors that exist in reality. A common mistake in master’s thesis is not to explain “why?” For example, when studying the relationship between two variables, students often omit explaining why the researcher believes that variable A causes variable B.

■ Scienctific research

Scientific research means systematic and reproducible research to explain natural phenomena. The purpose of scientific research is to discover laws, to formulate theories to explain phenomena in nature/society. Of course, this knowledge may not be perfect or may differ from the actual truth. Also, in some cases, there may be multiple truths rather than a single truth. Therefore, it should be borne in mind that a theory is to explain a particular phenomenon based on scientific knowledge.

There are two levels of scientific research. One is the theoretical level and the other is the empirical level. The theoretical level has to do with developing abstract concepts or looking at the relationships of concepts to create theories. The empirical level means testing theoretical concepts and building them into better theories that are reflected in the observations of reality. Through this process, over time, the theory develops and expands.

The following shows the cycle of the research. The process of creating a theory is usually called induction, and testing a theory is called deduction. Induction is the process of generalizing from observations, and deduction is the process of testing hypotheses.

The cycle of thesis (scientific research) consists of deduction from theory to observation and induction from observation to theory.
Cycle of thesis (scientific research)
■ Scientific method

So far, we’ve seen that science refers to knowledge learned through scientific research. What is the scientific method? The scientific research method of a thesis must meet the following four characteristics:

1) Intersubjectivity
Intersubjectivity refers to an approach in which one researcher’s work can be reproduced by another. The approach and reasons for the study must be understandable, and must be based on clear assumptions and facts. Also, all sources must be made public. For example, if you’re studying a corona vaccine, the results should be the same, whether you’re testing in Germany or South Korea. If the context stays the same, no matter who/when/where you proceed, you should get similar results. Therefore, when writing a thesis, the experimental process should be sufficiently and clearly described that other researchers can reproduce it.

2) Reliability
Reliability refers to results that can be trusted with confidence and certainty. To do this, the results must be tested several times. If the result is reliable, it can be reproduced continuously when the same approach is used under the same context. For example, you have a 30 cm ruler and you want to measure the length of something. No matter what you measure at any time, the measurements must not change.

3) Validity
Validity means that evidence must always be correct and relevant to the problem. The results should be precise and not ambiguous. Research questions should be answered logically within restricted assumptions. Note that some results may be more reliable, but less valid. For example, if you want to measure the length of something in centimeters (cm), but you accidentally measure it in inch (in), the reliability is high, but the validity is low.

4) The pursuit of truth and knowledge creation
This is aimed at finding general principles and explanations. The simplest and most logical explanation is important (this is also called parsimony). Also, the results found using one case should be useful for others. Scientific research must add new knowledge to existing research.

■ Purpose of writing a thesis paper

Of course, the goal of writing a thesis for a beginner like me is graduation, but the fundamental reason and goal of writing a thesis paper is to fill the scientific gap between previously published papers and further expand existing research or add value. The results of a published paper become part of the current level of knowledge/research and serve as the basis for other researchers to conduct new research.


  • Social science research: principles, methods, and practices (Anol Bhattacherjee) – Chapter 1

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