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Undergraduate Research in Australia

Difference Between Research and Inquiry

On this website the phrase 'research and inquiry' has been used. The ways research is conducted, the requirements for reporting on it and how the wider academic community evaluates it, all depend on a framework of rules.

Rules define standards of acceptable and unacceptable research behaviour. Academic research is characterised by being evaluated by academics through a peer review process.

There is a set of rules that academic researchers traditionally had to follow, such as impartiality, systematic, originality, awareness of social and political contexts, 'acceptable' methodology which needed to be situated within a body of knowledge using academic discourse. These rules are still current today despite considerable questioning.

The rules of academic research define for society what counts as an inquiry. The extent to which its rules are adhered to depends on the system of evaluation. Different kinds of inquiries are evaluated in different ways by different people, e.g. public inquiry, market research, personal purchasing inquiry and industrial research (Brew 2001: 49-53).

However, we have to recognise that the word 'research' carries with it a number of political overtones. So for example, The relationship between teaching and research is an asymmetrical relationship where power is concerned. Researchers have more power than teachers. Academics have more power than students. These relationships of power are reinforced by the economics and politics of funding regimes, for example the funding of research and teaching separately, also by the practice of evaluating teaching and research separately.

In universities, research is treated as if it were a reward for hard work; something students are permitted to do once they have completed each stage of their undergraduate degree. The suggestion that first year undergraduates should engage in research critically questions this assumption.

In some disciplines, the word 'research' is tied to ideas about generating new knowledge; knowledge that's new for everyone, not just for the student. So we talk about research and inquiry. 'Inquiry' appears to be a looser concept and can encompasses engaging in processes of investigation even when students are generating knowledge which may be new for them, but well known in the discipline.