Proper English, proper attire, proper format. Everything needs to be proper. At the recent Research Live social media research conference in London, I kept hearing a phrase that sounded something like this: “we didn’t do proper research.”

So what is proper research? Is it test and control groups? Large sample sizes? Quantitative data and probability based statistics? Surveys and randomized groups? It made me wonder what was improper about the research, why their research was so bad that it needed special caveats.

Research isn’t test-tubes and skinner boxes. Research is a living, breathing process by which people discover relationships among variables. Research comes in all forms from qual to quant, from covert to overt, from 1 group to 51 groups, from surveys to n=1 case studies, from exploratory to confirmatory.

The only form of proper research I know is this: a scientific approach to discovering answers to questions. This process involves knowing the risks, the pros and cons, the biases and skews of the method you’ve chosen. It involves knowing how to handle the resulting data properly, without preconceived biases, without expectancy effects. Proper research isn’t a specific type of research. It’s simply smart research.