Contribution to knowledge in a master’s or doctoral study – what is it?

Many researchers are misled by what contributions to knowledge mean. Many students find that their intensive review of literature is a contribution to knowledge. Or the use of a new statistical tool is a contribution to knowledge. Simply doing something differently does not contribute to knowledge. For most researchers, the contribution to knowledge seems rather unclear.

In fact, the contribution to knowledge is clearly defined.

Consider a literature review. You pull out a reference and read through it. As you read, you notice an interesting point related to your research topic of interest. As you arbitrate over this point, remember to run through many aspects of the point. For example, you may consider the population (P) studied, the intervention (I) used, the comparison (C) made, the result (O) indicated, and the setting (S) for the point. This is actually the PICOS method of evaluating a point of interest in your literature review. There are other methods such as PITAM that represent population, intervention, theory, analysis and methodology. The researcher could, of course, use his own classification for the review and actually be encouraged to do so.

While conducting this review, the researcher must consider the current state toward a future state. Very clearly, the current state should ideally come from an exhaustive list of references to that point. No argument here. To the extent that some references are not included, the literature review lacks rigor and the researcher could omit important knowledge already known. If such a defect is picked up by the supervisor, it can be rectified. But if challenged by the examiner, it may be too late.

Every point in the literature review needs to be considered. All points could be pooled and further marked as being an independent, dependent or range variable, which will be used later in the development of the theoretical framework.

In conducting the literature review, the researcher exercises some thought-bending techniques to develop a conceptual framework. This framework is the driving force of the research proposed by the researcher. This conceptual framework is not an option. For example, a conceptual framework may show the transition from a flat earth to a spherical soil. The mechanisms by which the researcher will prove that the sphere earth must be assigned (or visualized) within the theoretical framework. The theoretical framework must enumerate all the research questions that need to be answered necessarily and adequately prove the sphere soil theory. This is where the number of research questions is determined – and is not arbitrary.

From the research questions, the hypothesis, test design, test method and the statistical test are explicitly determined. Even Zero and Alternative hypotheses are determined. Although the research methodology could be printed in the style of researchers, a fairly predefined research methodology is invoked for a given hypothesis, test design, test method and the statistical test. This actually enables a modular concept in the research methodology. Unfortunately, researchers have to invent the wheel by wading through scores of books to arrive at the overall method.

The next step is to follow the research methodology and collect data. As just described, the data collection template when determining the statistical test method is also. When the data template is filled in, the data analysis is again, almost uniquely defined except for some adjustments and settings. From the data analysis, the test decision is made, e.g. Reject Ho or, Don’t Reject Ho. If the test decision is Reject Ho, alternative hypothesis is shown. The most important thing is that the research question is answered.

As innocent until proven, it is Ha that the researcher is interested. Do not reject Ho, do not prove anything because it is the de facto assumption in the first place. However, there are instances where Ho may be what is needed, but these are statistical nuances that are skipped in this short article and taken to be understood. Thus, any research question that does not culminate with a Ha is still not proven and does not support the “theory” proposed in the conceptual framework. When all research questions are answered with Ha, the theoretical framework is covered and the conceptual framework applies. Therefore, the thesis statement, which is a textual statement of the conceptual framework, contained. Thereby, your theory that the earth is a sphere holds.

Note emphatically that, apart from the literature review, much of the researcher being taken is really answering the research question. Every research question that culminates with a Ha is proof of the transition from the present state to the future state – and this is the researcher’s contribution to knowledge.