The Devil You Know: Continuing Problems with Research on Terrorism

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


What is the function of research? Ultimately, all research is concerned with the creation of new knowledge. But the level of this knowledge varies as do the methods which are used to reach it. Psychologist Colin Robson noted that research was generally concerned with producing knowledge which could meet one of three purposes. The first was exploratory, the second descriptive and the third explanatory.1

At the initial levels, researchers are generally concerned with very basic issues. The subject at hand is like a blank sheet of paper and the researcher wants to sketch in an outline. There is an emphasis on qualitative research methods in particular (for example, case studies). The methods commonly used are not overly concerned with issues of reliability and validity, as the primary importance is to set the scene and identify what may be the main forces at work. Descriptive research aims to build on this earlier work, while explanatory research aims to provide reliable insight into the subject, to explain what has happened and is happening and, importantly, to also provide the ability to predict what will happen in the future. At this final level, the research methods used are more rigorous and more intensive than in the previous stages, partly because the researcher must address greater concerns that the findings be clearly reliable and valid.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch on Terrorism
Subtitle of host publicationTrends, Achievements and Failures
EditorsAndrew Silke
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherFrank Cass
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780429233760
ISBN (Print)9780714653112, 9780714682730
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • research on terrorism
  • terrorism studies
  • bibliometrics

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