In Philips and Pugh's How to get a PhD, the authors describe the general philosophical concept of research 'in all disciplines'. I have two questions in this context.
A. They said that an activity that tries to answer a question like
'What are the age, sex and subject distributions of doctoral students in British higher education?'
is considered descriptive, intelligence-gathering activity, but not research. This is pretty clear and agreed upon. However, they attribute that to the 'what' nature of the question.
Later, they said:
Research goes beyond description and requires analysis. It looks for explanations, relationships, comparisons, predictions, generalizations and theories. These are the ‘why’ questions. Why are there so many fewer women doctoral students in physics than in biology? ...
All these questions require good intelligence-gathering, just as decisionmaking and policy formulation do. But the information is used for the purpose of developing understanding – by comparison, by relating to other factors, by theorizing and testing the theories.
Is it sound to consider only 'why' questions as research? How about some 'what' and 'how' questions?
B. In the same text:
All research questions have comparisons in them, as the words ‘fewer’, ‘different’ and ‘less’ in the examples above illustrate.
Should all real research questions really contain comparison (explicitly or implicitly)?