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Defining Research

The federal regulations define research as a systematic investigation including research development, testing, and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.

A "systematic investigation" is an activity that involves a prospective plan that incorporates data collection, either quantitative or qualitative, and data analysis to answer a question.
Examples of systematic investigations include (but are not limited to):

Investigations designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge are those designed to:

  • draw general conclusions,
  • inform policy, or
  • generalize findings beyond a single individual or an internal program (e.g., publications or presentations.)

However, research results do not have to be published or presented to qualify the experiment or data gathering as research. The intent to contribute to "generalizable (scholarly) knowledge" makes an experiment or data collection research, regardless of publication. Research that never is published is still research. Participants in research studies deserve protection whether or not the research is published.

Examples of activities that typically are not generalizable include:

  • biographies
  • oral histories that are designed solely to create a record of specific historical events
  • service or course evaluations, unless they can be generalized to other individuals
  • services, courses, or concepts where it is not the intention to share the results beyond the U.Va. community
  • classroom exercises solely to fulfill course requirements or to train students in the use of particular methods or devices
  • quality assurance activities designed to continuously improve the quality or performance of a department or program where it is not the intention to share the results beyond the U.Va. community.
Thesis or dissertation projects conducted to meet the requirement of a graduate degree are usually considered generalizable, and require IRB review and approval.

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