The Truth of It — What Motivates Excellent Research?

Ultimately, the motivation underlying a research project is a search for Truth, but it is well to remember that the Truth will always elude us because there are as many slivers of truth that contribute to the Truth as there are human beings on the Earth.

Ultimately, the motivation underlying a research project is a search for Truth, but it is well to remember that the Truth will always elude us because there are as many slivers of truth that contribute to the Truth as there are human beings on the Earth. So, until we have a framework or paradigm that can accommodate all 7.9 billion slivers of truth, never mind all the passed human beings that contributed their slivers of truth, we are still busy trying to figure out the Truth, and as long as there are contradictions and conflicts between the slivers of truth contributed, the challenge remains that of constructing a framework that resolves those contradictions and conflicts. That means that not only will there always be room to conduct further research, but also, when writing up your research, you are formally contributing your sliver of truth about a particular topic in a particular field to the project of constructing a framework that can contain the Truth.

To make your contribution to that framework, you might confirm someone else’s contribution, with or without including a different context or relationship; challenge another’s contribution, with or without offering a meta view that refutes or accommodates the opposing view; or offer insight by approaching the same question from a different vantage point.

For example, research in the life sciences might replicate a study exactly to confirm or dispute published findings that, for example, mice deprived of calcium are vulnerable to osteoporosis. In the social and business sciences, one might replicate a study in a different context. One might explore the extent to which, for example, job satisfaction is correlated with extrinsic motivation (monetary reward) in an individualistic culture, based on research by Huang (2013) showing a strong positive correlation between job satisfaction and extrinsic motivation in more a collectivist culture like China [1]. 

Research may also arise out of a challenge or practical problem to be solved, such as conflict in the mining industry or the challenge of humanizing remote work, or it might arise from a contradiction in a theoretical framework, such as social support both mediating and exacerbating stress. In the former examples, one might collect data that helps one better understand the problem and then propose solutions and even implement solutions and measure their success or not, thus engaging in what is called action research. In the latter instance, when the focus in on a theoretical contradiction, one might try to understand when and how and under what conditions social support mediates or exacerbates stress.

Research may also involve looking at a phenomenon or topic in a new way and/or pushing the envelope, and such motivations are considered appropriate at a PhD level. For example, after thinking about leadership and publishing his initial ideas about what leads leaders to excel (Bass, 1985), Bass (1990) proposed a leadership style that went beyond controlling and transacting toward facilitating and empowering followers. Since then, further developments in the field of leadership include Robert Greenleaf’s servant-leadership [4] and collectivist leadership [5], which makes it possible for the most skilled person in the moment to step up and then step down when another is more skilled for leading in the next moment. Arguably, leadership research has shifted from a focus on the leader and what the leader does to the follower to what the follower needs from a leader.

So, what is the nature of your inquiry and research question? Are you seeking to confirm a sliver of the Truth? Such studies confirm (or challenge) previous findings and are generally considered appropriate at a master’s level. Or is your intention to resolve a practical or theoretical problem or contradiction or attempting to contribute to the expansion of the frameworks that hold what truths we have discovered about the Truth? The latter two would be considered more appropriate at a PhD level.


[1] Huang, Y. (2013). How intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation affect organizational commitment and job satisfaction: A cross-cultural study in the United States and China, Theses and Dissertations, 89.

[2] Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectation. New York: Free Press.

[3] Bass, B. M. (1990). From transactional to transformational leadership: Learning to share the vision. Organizational Dynamics, (Winter), 19-31.

[4] Greenleaf, Robert. K. (1998). The power of servant leadership: Essays. L. Spears (Ed.). The Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership. Berrett-Koehler. [5] Yammarino, F., Salas, E., Serban, A., Shirreffs, K., & Shuffler, M. (2012). Collectivistic leadership approaches: Putting the “we” in leadership science and practice. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 5(4), 382-402. doi:10.1111/j.1754-9434.2012.01467.x

  1. Hi Michelle. My name is Monica and I was referred to you by Marie LeRoux. We used to work together…

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