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Resource Methods Toolkit CO:RE at TUNI Published: 12 May 2022

Normative vs. positive

The one of the important questions along the research journey is to ask what the motive for the study is. It can be seen from the perspective of describing the state of the world or it can be seen from the perspective of changing it. The previous, I.e., positivistic approach, is about to explore and describe. The latter is about giving instructions about how things should be managed or even manipulated in order to achieve the desired state of the world.

Normative research

Normative research is about to define how the findings should be applied to the study population as wells as set the context or define phenomena and interpret the results. Normative research is about measuring, assessing and comparing goodness, value, practicality and functionality. As ‘normative’ proposes it is about setting standards for behaviour by setting norm by explicitly defining possible, desired or feasible way to act. Normative research is also about setting expectations for interaction. In researching the sociotechnical normative research often concentrated on making feasible or desirable ways to behave visible as well as describing causal relations between acts or deeds. In general, or most contexts, it is about relating to an evaluation or value judgement and giving instructions about how to achieve desired state of the world. In normative research there are sound justification or reasons for ending to certain status. In general term it is “in state A you need to X in order to achieve state of the world B”. Very often normative research aims to explain causality and coexistence. Normative research often reflects common values and if is subject to cultural bias

Normative approach is common in disciplines conjuncting social sciences. For example, software engineering is about how to develop easy to use, accessible and high user experience services and applications as a detailed study of engineering to the design, development and maintenance of software. Those principles are subject to human behavior and derived from the body of knowledge accumulated for the centuries. As principles of human action remain somewhat unaltered normative research is also finding new context to existing knowledge and setting norms.

Positive research

Positivism is by definition about seeking ultimate truth and authentic knowledge. The quest is defined by the  need to have certainty on behavioral logic. As a sociological construct positivism represents certainty and to some extent neglecting the relative nature of knowledge. Positivism can be seen as using scientific methods to uncover logic and laws human behavior and social interactions. Positivism as scientific ideal underlines the aim for certainty that is subject to rigor and excelling with methods. Even the positivistic approach is free of prior value judgement, it also contains some normative undertones.

Positive research often describes and explores yet remaining without judgement of desired state of the world. On the other hand, positivistic approach delivers confirmation and assurance, Even it does not neglect relative nature of the knowledge it suggests the value of exploration of the ultimate truth. Positivism can be seen as a tendency to research the nature of things without value judgement or burden of encultured behaviour.

Pros and cons of normative research

The most evident gain of normative research is the motivation by providing actionable research results. Often normative research, seeks to change the current status or improve the state of things. It therefore requires an assessment of the present state of things, to determine the implications for development. By definition, evaluation is only possible if it acknowledges, that it is a self-construct and thus holds biases. In general normative research aims to provide recommendations, rules, advice, artefacts or designs to enhance the state of the world. It also offers a set of do’s and don’ts, which can be implemented. 

Pros and cons of positive research

Positive research is somewhat free from value bias as it prescribes to the ‘general’ laws of behaviour. It is not purely contextual but maintains objectivity through the recognition of conditions and determinants. It also provides a point of reference for situational normative behavior. It evaluates the conditions as well as forecasts the outcomes without judgment.

  1. Armstrong, D.M. (1973). Belief, Truth, and Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

  2. Gettier, E. L. (1963), Is Justified True Belief Knowledge? Analysis, Vol. 23, pp. 121–123 (1963). doi:10.1093/analys/23.6.121

  3. Markie, P (2021). Rationalism vs. Empiricism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University

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Team co-Leader, CO:RE at TUNI

Jussi Okkonen

Jussi Okkonen, PhD, is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication of Tampere University (FI). Okkonen’s research interests lie in socio-technical environments and digital literacy. He has recently done research on educational technology, children and youth in socio-technical context, and impact of AI.

Tampere University
Tampere University

The team at the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication of TUNI identifies, develops and provides access to resources on qualitative, quantitative and mixed research methods together with evaluating their validity in research practice. These resources are collated in the CO:RE methods toolkit that cross-references resources from the evidence base, the compass for research ethics, and the theory toolkit, to give users tools to apply to their individual research contexts.

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