Action Research- Meaning, Characteristics,Principles, Uses and Limitations

Action Research

Meaning and Definition of Action Research

Action Research is known by many other names, including participatory research, collaborative inquiry, emancipation research, action learning, and contextual action research, but all are variations on a common theme. In a nutshell, action research is ‘Research in Action’. – a group of people identify a problem, do something to resolve it, see how successful their efforts were, and if not satisfied, try again.  

 Kurt Lewin, a German social psychologist, has been credited with the development of the idea of action research. He first found that experimental methods, in many cases, were inadequate and unsatisfactory. He then tried to seek for a method that based on people’s real world experience; from that time on, action research has centred the world of researchers.

 According to Kurt Lewin, action research is ‘a comparative research on the conditions and effects of various forms of social action and research leading to social action’; this type of research uses ‘a spiral step’, each of which is ‘composed of a circle of planning, action and fact finding about the result of the action’.

Characteristics of Action Research

 Many scholars have attempted to characterize action research in terms of a school based research. McDonough proposes four characteristics of action research as


1. It is participant-driven and reflection.

2. It is collaborative.

3. It leads to change and the improvement of practice not just knowledge in itself.

4. It is context-specific.

Action research is implemented in a classroom by a particular teacher or group of teachers who work together to pursue a change or improvement in their teaching and learning issues.

 Briefly speaking, Creswell proposes six key characteristics of action
research as-

1. A practical focus.

2. The education-researcher own practices.

3. Collaboration.

4. A dynamic process.

5. A plan of research.

6. Sharing research.

Creswell asserts that understanding the above characteristics will help teachers better design their own study to read, evaluate and use an action research study published in literature.

Action Research

Difference between Fundamental Research and Action Research


Fundamental Research

Action Research


Search new facts and establish universal truths

Look for solution to the prevalent school/educational problems

Area of problem

Conductive in the context of general circumstances in the field of education

Problems related to specific school

Nature of problem

Theoretical and wide

Practical and narrow


Large and gathered from outside

Limited and gathered only from the related school


Can be used universally

Related to the specific school


Unlimited, can work life long

Limited, maximum one session

Research Procedure

Rigid, technical knowledge required

Flexible, no technical knowledge required

Collection of data

Authentic tools are used

Teacher made test are used


Anyone, not necessary of the school

Teachers belong to the same school

Analysis of data

Complex statistics are used

General statistics are used.

Principles of Action Research

 Borgia and Schuler describe components of action research as the “Five C’s”-

1. Commitment

 Time commitment should be carefully considered by participants of action research since it takes them time to get acquaintance with other participants, think about change, try new approach, collect data, interpret results etc.

2. Collaboration

 In an action research, all participants are equal to each others in terms of giving ideas, suggestions or anything that leads to success of the change.

3. Concern

 In the research process, participants will build up a group of ‘critical friends’ who trust each other and the value of the project.

4. Consideration

 As it is mentioned above, reflective practice is a review of a professional research like action research. It demands concentration and careful consideration as one seeks pattern and relationship that will create meaning within the investigation.

5. Change

 For humans, especially teachers, change is continuing and it is a significant element in remaining their effectiveness.

Winter (1989) provides a comprehensive overview of six key principles:-

1. Reflexive Critique:- Which is the process of becoming aware of our own perceptual biases.

2. Dialectic Critique:- Which is a way of understanding the relationships between the elements that make-up various phenomenon in our context.

3. Collaboration:- Which is intended to mean that everyone’s view is taken as a contribution to understanding the situation.

4. Risking distribution:- Which is an understanding of our own taken-for-granted processes and willingness to submit them to critique.

5. Creating plural structures:- Which involves developing various accounts and critiques, rather than a single authoritative interpretation.

6. Theory and practice internalised:- Which is seeing theory and practice as two interdependent yet complimentary phases of the change process.

Uses and Limitations of Action Research

 Action research is a systematic investigation which is conducted by a teacher or group of teacher researchers, principles, school counsellors, or other stakeholders in an educational institution to collect information about their own practice so as to improve it through necessary action. This type of research is conducted with the purposes of gaining understanding, developing reflective practice, carrying out positive changes in educational institutions, and improving student outcomes as well as effecting professional development.

Uses of Action Research

 Thus action research can be used to-

1. Professionalize the work of teachers and thereby increasing its efficiency.

2. Comprehend the teacher or the practitioner own work or practices.

3. Find out ways and measures to make one’s teaching or other practice better.

4. Find out ways to bring changes that are thought necessary to make one’s teaching or practice more effective.

5. Work on or deal with problems identified by teachers and principles themselves.

6. Make the work of teachers and principles more effective.

7. Meet the needs of divergent student body on the basis of research.

8. Encourage teachers to study and evaluate their own teaching and to think about improvements.

9. Encourage collaborative work by teachers and principals.

10. Effect professional development of teachers and principals through continuous learning and progressive problem solving.

11. Develop theoretical problem-solving and expanding scientific knowledge leading to better future decisions and actions.

12. Enhance competency of the teacher researcher through a learning processes that is integrated to the action research project.

Limitations of Action Research

 Though action research can be very useful for teachers and academic researchers in the solution of their teaching problems and to evaluate and improve the effectiveness their teaching, as an approach to research action research has certain limitations. Following are a few of such limitations of action research-

 a. Action research is often carried out in a hurry which makes it impossible to maintain the rigour that is characteristics of the research process.

b. Unfamiliarity with research methods among researchers is another limitations of action research. Action research is usually carried out by classroom teachers or practitioners who are not trained in the methodology of research.

c. Gibson (1985) suggested that action research tended towards the heavily ironic situation of little self-critique.

d. Despite the fact that most action research studies use descriptive designs of research, they attempt to draw conclusions about the effects of an action on some outcome. However, such conclusions and cause and effect relationships can be drawn only on the basis of experimental design of research.

e. Since most action research is limited to one classroom or school, the result of action research can not be generalised beyond that external validity and hence not useful for making policy decisions.

 f. Action research is also criticised for researcher bias in data collection, analysis and interpretation since researchers themselves are interested parties in the research process.

g. Action research can make very limited or no contribution to the advancement of knowledge.

h. Mertler and Charles (2009) hold that, action research does not conform with many of the requirements of conventional research with which one may be familiar- it is therefore less structured and more difficult to conduct.

i. They also hold that, because of the lack of fit between standard research requirements and the process of conducting action research, one may find it more difficult to write-up the results.

Thus, action research is an informal research conducted by teachers researchers are not by academic researchers. Although action research can not match the reliable and validity of fundamental research, it can be of great use and significance in educational field since it helps teachers to know about their teaching and improve it.

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