How to Conduct a Documentary Research: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Conduct a Documentary Research

The production of scientific knowledge takes place through research. It is based on scientific research that we discover, investigate, and interpret the world we live in.

But scientific research takes many forms about its methods. This vastness of methods can generate doubts in students who have their first contact with the development of research. This article will show the differences between the types of scientific research and delve into what Documentary Research is.

How to Conduct a Documentary Research - A Step-by-Step Guide

Definition and types of scientific research

Scientific research is a systematic procedure for investigating facts inserted in reality. It takes place from scientific procedures (the methods). The result of these procedures is a provisional knowledge capable of facilitating our interaction with the world.

Several types of scientific research may vary according to your approach, nature, objectives, and procedures. When we talk about documentary research, we are talking about a variable related to procedures. In addition to it, there are other studies with different procedures. Check out what they are:

  • Experimental research: Research carried out in the laboratory or the field. It goes through rigorous planning to ensure the effectiveness of what it proposes to measure.
  • Bibliographic search: Performs a survey of theoretical bibliographic sources. The objective is to collect information and previous knowledge about a proposed problem.
  • Field research: Performs its investigation by collecting data from people.
  • Ex-post-facto research: It aims to investigate the cause and effect relationships of a certain identified fact. Its data collection happens after the occurrence of the researched events.
  • Survey research: Conducts exploratory and descriptive studies based on the survey of a sample or population. Censuses are an example of this type of research.
  • Case study: Performs an in-depth analysis within a real context. The researcher observes and collects data, but without the intention to intervene on the object.
  • Participating research: It is carried out with the researcher’s involvement and identification in the investigated group.

And documentary research?

Many students believe that documentary research and bibliographic research are synonymous. Although they have similarities, there is a big difference in their procedures.

Documentary research is also a type of research defined by its procedures. This is because documentary research uses primary sources to explain a particular situation or solve a problem.

But what are primary sources? These are all documentary sources that have not undergone any scientific analysis. And among the documentary sources, there are not only written or printed texts.

The current definition of a document encompasses all types of information or clarifications that elucidate questions proposed by the researcher. Thus, films, videos, photographs, posters, paintings, tapestries, letters, newspapers, magazines, Official, communicated reports are also examples of documents configured as primary sources and can be the basis for documentary research.

As pointed out in the previous topic, bibliographic research has scientific and theoretical documents as its source of research. In other words, they are sources of Bibliographic Research: books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, periodicals, critical essays, and scientific articles. They are documents where there is already a scientific analysis that allows the construction of knowledge and critical thinking on a given subject. As they are part of the scientific domain, these sources are considered secondary.

Where does documentary research apply?

Because of these procedures, documentary research is associated with historical and archaeological research.

However, documentary research is very common in the entire field of Human and Social Sciences. It brings a wealth of information that makes it possible to expand knowledge of historical and socio-cultural issues of the past or analyze the present.

For this reason, Economics, Political Science, Sociology, Education, Art History, and History and Archeology make extensive use of Documentary Research.

Characteristics of documentary research

Documentary research is characterized by the fact that in its execution, it resorts to different types of documents, and from them, it collects, chooses, analyzes, and demonstrates consistent results.

As in all research, it implements logical and mental procedures such as analysis, induction, synthesis, and deduction.

This type of research carries out a process of scientific abstraction, generalizing based on what is fundamental.

It also collects data that helps find facts, focuses on other sources of investigation, and channels how useful instruments can be developed for the investigation and pointing out problems to later elaborate hypotheses.

Documentary research can be considered an essential, very broad, and complete part of the scientific research process since it is carried out in an orderly manner with specific objectives. These will be the basis for building new knowledge.

How to conduct documentary research?

Every research procedure has an internal organizational logic. The division of research into stages ensures the quality of the work being done. Therefore, greater production of scientific knowledge.

After carrying out your pre-research project, delimiting the theme, pointing out the problem to be investigated, it is time to make a preliminary collection of research sources.

In principle, documentary research is divided into two stages of analysis:

1. Preliminary Analysis

First, the researcher defines what his objectives are and the problem that his research intends to answer and conducting a broad search of the documentary sources that may be the basis of the data survey and analysis.

However, locating documents does not guarantee that they will all be relevant to the research objectives or that they are credible sources. Therefore, it is necessary to carry out a preliminary analysis of these documents.

a) The context of the document

Where it evaluates the historical context in which this document was produced. In this sense, it is not enough to think only of time. But it is necessary to consider the socio-political universe of those who produced it and to whom it was directed.

b) Who wrote the document

It is impossible to think of a document without identifying who produced it. As well as how the author expresses himself and what his interests were in producing this document. Understanding who the author was and in what context it is inserted allows the analysis of the document’s credibility.

c) Authenticity and reliability of the document

It is also important to ask how this document was preserved and reached the researcher. After all, it is the original document or a copy. If it is a copy, by whom? Under what conditions and with what interests?

If the document is describing facts, it is necessary to think about the type of report being made, whether the author was a direct or indirect witness of the events if he makes any judgment about the observation.

d) The nature of the document

A document can vary in shape and structure according to its nature. For example, a legal document is very different from an artistic document or a medical document.

e) The internal logic of the document

Where the central message of the document is evaluated. So, how is the message passed on to those who have contact with it? What are the argumentative strategies used in it? These questions are especially important when the survey looks at several similar documents.

The points of this preliminary analysis are even richer for the research when carried out in the form of a file. It is a way to keep research organized and have easy access to relevant information in the future.

2. Analysis of documentary sources

Anyway, it is at this stage where data surveys of documents relevant to the research objectives are carried out. In the analysis, data and themes are discussed based on a theoretical model and relevant bibliographic references. Thus, documentary research meets bibliographic research (where there must also be a preliminary analysis of the sources).

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