What is Research?

Research is the systematic investigation of a subject, topic, or question. 

Data is the information gathered during research.

Fieldwork is the collection of data in its natural environment.

A white paper is a report or guide that synthesizes a complex topic or question and the state of information and ideas about it.

Scholarship is, broadly, the activity of a scholar. More specifically though, the term refers to the writings of scholars which result from their research. The scholarship of a field or discipline are the books, articles, etc. which have been written on the field or discipline, or on a specific subject, topic, or question in the field or discipline.

What is a theory?

theory is the conceptual basis of a subject or area of study. It is the ideas which underlie how something is understood and the framework within which it is studied.

What is a method?

method is the process or tool used to collect data.

There are three method types: qualitative, quantitative, and historical. Likewise, some research uses mixed methods.

Qualitative research is interested in the specific. It studies things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them, endeavoring to understand human behavior from the perspective of the individual.

Qualitative methods collect data through observation. Qualitative methods include text analysis, interviews, focus groups, observation, record keeping, ethnographic research, case study research.

Qualitative data is descriptive. Qualitative data cannot be precisely measured and is, rather, analyzed for patterns and themes using coding. Qualitative data includes narratives, recordings, photographs, oral histories, etc.

Quantitative research is interested in the general. It studies general laws of behavior and phenomena across different settings and contexts. This type of research endeavors to form conclusions about social phenomena, collecting data to test a theory and ultimately support or reject it.

Quantitative methods collect data through measuring. Quantitative methods include experiments, surveys, questionnaires, statistical modeling, social networks, and demography.

Quantitative data is numerical and statistical. It is data that can either be counted or compared on a numeric scale. Quantitative data includes statistical information. 

Historical research is interested in the past. It reviews and interprets existing data to describe, explain, and understand past actions or events.

Historical methods collect and analyze existing data and analyze it. Historical methods include text analysis, cultural analysis, visual analysis, archival research.

Historical data is data which was created in the past. Historical data includes scholarship, records, artifacts.

A methodology is the rationale for the research approach and the methods used. It is based upon the theories underlying the field or discipline of the research.

Practicing Folklore

Library of Congress YouTube Feed: Folklore

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress produces videos about the practice of folklore, featuring interviews with a variety of folklorists about their careers, methods, fieldwork experiences, and the implications and applications of their work.

Research Theories and Methods

Literary Studies

Literary Studies, also called Literary Criticism, is the study of the written works of cultures, societies, groups, and individuals. Literary Studies examines the place of literature in society, and explores how we conceptualize and describe the world and ourselves.

Literary Theories

There are a number of different theories about literature, why and how it is created. These theories influence how a work of literature is analyzed, interpreted, and understood. Literary Studies most often uses the method of textual analysis.

Linguistic Studies

Linguistics is the study of languages and their structures. Linguistic Studies examines how language is created and constructed, how it functions and is learned, and how we conceptualize and structure our world through our words. 

Language Theories

There are different theories about the creation and purpose of language. Some theories state that language is the result of the nature of society, while others emphasize the role of humans in constructing meaning. Linguistic Studies use methods such as textual analysis, ethnographic research, statistical modeling.

History Studies

History is the study of events, and their related ideas, individuals, and objects. History Studies examines how moments in time are connected, and how we make sense of things that happen.

Historiography is the study of how historians have interpreted and written about historical events, in essence, how they perceive history itself. Traditionally, a historiography was a name for a history, literally a specific "writing of history".

History Theories

There are many different theories about if and how events are related to one another, and these theories have influenced how history has been written about over the centuries. History Studies use methods such as textual analysis and archival research.

A related theory to history theories is Memory Theory, which considers how collective and individual memory is created and preserved. Memory Studies examines the ways in which events are recorded and remembered, or, alternatively, forgotten, and how we choose to create and remember (or forget) our past.

Anthropological Studies

Anthropology is the study of human societies, their behaviors and cultures. Anthropological Studies examine how societies are formed and function, and the many aspects which form our identities.

Social Anthropology examines human behavior. Sometimes this sub-field is combined with Cultural Anthropology as Sociocultural Anthropology.

Cultural Anthropology examines the cultures, or various beliefs and practices, of societies. Sometimes this sub-field is combined with Social Anthropology as Sociocultural Anthropology.

Physical Anthropology, also called Biological Anthropology, examines the biology of humans and how they interact with their environment.

Linguistic Anthropology examines the place of language in shaping social life.

Archaeology examines the material culture, or the objects, of humans. It is considered a sub-field of Anthropology in the United States, and a sub-field of History in other parts of the world.

Ethnography is the study of a specific society using the methods of observation and immersion, or talking and living with individuals in order to understand them. 

Anthropological Theories

The is a long tradition of theories about how societies organize themselves and how they function. These theories determine how cultural beliefs and practices are understood, in essence, how we understand ourselves and others. Anthropology Studies use methods such as interviews, focus groups, observation, ethnographic research, and record keeping, as well as textual analysis and archival research.

Sociological Studies

Sociology is the study of societies, their behaviors, relationships, and interactions. It examines social order and social changes, trying to understand how and why we organize ourselves and relate to one another.

Historical Sociology is the study of the behaviors and organization of societies of the past. 

Sociological Theories

There are different theories about how societies are structured and why they act the way they do. Sociological Studies often use the methods of surveys, experiments, ethnographic research, and textual analysis.

Sociological theories are theories about how the mechanics of societies function, whereas Social Theory encompasses more broadly theories which explain how societies think and act.

Geography Studies

Geography is the study of land, inhabitants, and natural phenomena. It examines the relationship between humans and their environment, and helps us to understand our relationship with the world. 

Human Geography examines humans and their communities, and their relationships with place, space, and environment.

Physical Geography examines the processes and patterns of environments, such as their atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and geosphere.

Cartography is both the study of and the science and art of map-making. It reveals how we view and conceptualize the world and our relationship to it and to others. 

Geography Theories

There are a number of theories as to the relationship between humans and their environments, many of which are shared with the fields of Anthropology and Sociology. Geography Studies use a variety of research methods, including interviews, surveys, observation, and GIS or spatial analysis.

Cultural Studies

Cultural Studies is the study and analysis of culture. It is a cross-disciplinary field which examines the various aspects of a society, in order to understand how we form our identities. 

Culture is the ideas, behaviors, customs, and objects of a region, society, group, or individual. 

Material culture are the physical objects of a culture, such as tools, domestic objects, religious objects, works of art.

Cultural Theories

Cultural theories draw upon theories in a variety of fields, including literary theories, semiotics, history theories, anthropological theories, social theories, museum studies, art history, and media studies. Cultural theories influence how we analyze and interpret the culture of societies. Cultural Studies tends to use methods such as interviews, observation, ethnographic research, record keeping, archival research, textual analysis, visual analysis.

Folklore Studies

Folklore Studies, also known as Folkloristics, is the study of the expressions of culture, particularly the practices and products of a society. Folklore Studies examines the things we make to understand how they make us.

Folklore has been traditionally considered, narrowly, as the oral tales of a society. More broadly, the term refers to all aspects of a culture – beliefs, traditions, norms, behaviors, language, literature, jokes, music, art, foodways, tools, objects, etc.

Folklore Theories

A number of theories have emerged over the years about how societies create themselves, and these theories influence how we view and understand the things which societies create. Folklore Studies use methods such as interviews, focus groups, observation, ethnographic research, and record keeping, as well as textual analysis, visual analysis and archival research.

Arts Studies

The arts are a range of disciplines which study, create, and engage with human expression. The arts include,

  • Architecture -- Design
  • Visual Arts -- Drawing, Painting, Illustration, Sculpting, Ceramics, Photography, Film
  • Literary Arts -- Fiction, Drama, Poetry, Creative Writing, Storytelling
  • Performance Arts -- Music, Dance, Theatre
  • Textile Arts -- Fashion
  • Craft -- Weaving, Woodwork, Paperwork, Glasswork, Jewelry-making
  • Culinary Arts -- Cooking, Baking, Chocolate-making, Brewing, Wine-making
  • Art History and Criticism

The arts are a collection of areas of studies which combine technical skills and creativity to produce objects which convey human experience.

Architecture is the study and design of structures. It examines both the utilitarian and the sociological aspects of space, and the relationship between constructed space and humans. 

Art History is the study and analysis of visual arts. 

Musicology is the study and analysis of music.

Performance is the study and the practice of art is time and space. 

Film & Media Studies is the study of art which employs technologies. 

Art Theories

There are as many theories about the arts as there are areas of arts. These theories affect how we understand the identity and the agency of the artist, the meaning of the art, and the relationship between the art and society. Arts fields often employ textual and visual analysis research methods, as well as observation and experimentation. 


Folklorists study people's lives and thus they are responsible to preserve and protect culture. Folklorists are professionals and researchers and thus they have a responsibility to the field to uphold standards of behavior and work. Finally, folklorists interact with individuals and are responsible to uphold human rights. Though there is little direct legislation governing folklore studies, there are numerous laws concerning human rights and information, as well as professional standards in the field of cultural heritage preservation. 


The codes of ethics and standards which govern folklore studies have been developed over time from a number of authorities.

1948    United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

1948    American Anthropological Association, Resolution on Freedom of Publication

1971    American Anthropological Association, Principles of Professional Responsibility Statement of Ethics

1976    American Folklife Preservation Act (P.L. 94-201)

American Folklife Center established at the Library of Congress and given duty to preserve American folklife

1985    UNESCO, Protection of Expressions of Folklore Against Illicit Exploitation and Other Prejudicial Actions

1988    American Folklore Society, Statement of Ethics

1988    National Association for the Practice of Anthropology, Ethical Guidelines for Practitioners

1989    UNESCO, Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore

1998    American Anthropological Association, Code of Ethics

2003    UNESCO, Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage

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The Ethics of Cultural Heritage

Tracy Ireland & John Schofeld

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Critical Ethnography

D. Soyini Madison

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Ethics in Ethnography

Margaret D. LeCompte & Jean J. Schensul

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The Ethics of Social Research

Joan E. Sieber, editor

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Research Ethics for Human Geography

Helen F. Wilson & Jonathan Darling, editors

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The Ethics of Cultural Studies

Joanna Zylinska

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Museum Collection Ethics

Steven Miller

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Theorizing Folklore from the Margins

Solimar Otero & Mintzi Auanda Martínez-Rivera, editors