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Research Terminology: Definitions and Distinctions


This essay gives detailed definitions of the terms paradigm, ontology, epistemology, and philosophy of science. The paper goes further to highlight the distinctions between (and among) these four terms. Researchers should be aware of these four fundamental terms. This discussion explains why such researchers should have a clear understanding of the terms.

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Definition of Terms

Philosophy of science

The term philosophy of science refers to “the perception, analysis, exploration, and study of science” (Hussain, Elyas, & Nasseef, 2013, p. 2376). This form of philosophy focuses on the nature and aspect of science. The study is usually founded on ontology and epistemology.


According to Fazliogullari (2012), a paradigm is a model or system that is used by researchers to establish specific procedures. Paradigms are unique ways of scientific examinations.


This term refers to the methods and experimentations that produce different philosophical arguments. Epistemology becomes the basis of philosophical knowledge. A good example is when a scientist’s subjective perspective contributes to scientific inquiry. This inquiry “will never result in the attainment of knowledge” (Hussain et al., 2013, p. 2376). Epistemology therefore examines how human beings acquire knowledge.


On the other hand, ontology mainly deals with the study of existence or reality (Hussain et al., 2013). It goes further to examine how reality exists in accordance to human views. Ontology “is therefore a philosophical study of reality as it pertains to human knowledge” (Alghamdi & Li, 2013, p. 3).

Distinction Between (and Among) These Terms

The above terms are used as guidelines for effective scientific inquiry (Aliyu, Bello, Kasim, & Martin, 2014, p. 82). This fact explains why such terms are always used interchangeably. However, each term has its unique meaning or definition. For instance, philosophy of science will examine a scientist’s epistemology and ontology. The process will focus on scientists’ foundational justifications in an attempt to expand their knowledge. This acquisition of knowledge will result in new procedures. Such critical procedures present the structure of the researcher’s perceptions (Aliyu et al., 2014). Such perceptions will eventually result in new paradigms. A researcher’s epistemology will therefore dictate his or her paradigms.

Ontology will always consider the researcher’s perceptions of reality. It is also agreeable that reality changes from one culture to another. Researchers will have to study existence carefully in order to acquire new concepts. This philosophical study is what many people call ontology. The process of attaining knowledge is called epistemology (Alghamdi & Li, 2013). These four terms illustrate the fundamental systems embraced in every scientific exploration. The term philosophy of science therefore examines the nature of things. This kind of philosophy makes it easier for scholars to perceive the natural world (Alghamdi & Li, 2013). This development has led to the creation of different scientific models.

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Why Researchers and Scientists Should Know these Terms

It is appropriate for researchers to be aware of the above terms. This understanding will make it easier for them to explore the nature of science. This practice will result in a positive perception of the universe. Philosophy of science acts as the background of every scientific inquiry (Aliyu et al., 2014). The researcher will establish the best ontology that can support the targeted theory. The scientist will use the best paradigms to describe every scientific argument. Scientists should therefore understand these terms before choosing the best epistemologies (Reynolds, 2007). This practice will make it easier for them to produce meaningful theories. This knowledge explains why “scientists differentiate theories without accepting them as facts” (Fazliogullari, 2012, p. 49). This process will result in new scientific perceptions and ideas.

Reference List

Alghamdi, A., & Li, L. (2013). Adapting Design-Based Research as a Research Methodology in Educational Settings. International Journal of Education and Research, 1(10), 1-12.

Aliyu, A., Bello, M., Kasim, R., & Martin, D. (2014). Positivist and Non-Positivist Paradigm in Social Science Research: Conflicting Paradigms or Perfect Partners? Journal of Management and Sustainability, 4(3), 79-95.

Creswell, J. (2009). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Fazliogullari, O. (2012). Scientific Research Paradigms in Social Sciences. International Journal of Educational Policies, 6(1), 41-55.

Hussain, M., Elyas, T., & Nasseef, O. (2013). Research Paradigms: A Slippery Slope for Fresh Researchers. Life Science Journal, 10(1), 2374-2381.

Reynolds, P. (2007). A Primer in Theory Construction. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

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