Overview of the Research Process for Business Students
What is Research? People undertake research in order to find things out in a systematic way, thereby increasing their knowledge (Jankowicz, 1995).“Systematic” suggests that research is based on logical relationships and not just beliefs (Ghauri and Gronhaug, 2010).To “find things out” suggests there are a multiplicity of possible purposes for your research (Becker, 1998).
It is therefore an activity which has to be finished at some point to be of use.
The results of research really are all around us in everyday life. Politicians often justify their policy decisions on the basis of research; Newspapers report the findings of research companies. Documentary programmes tell us about research findings and advertisers may highlight the results of research to encourage consumers to buy a particular product or brand. The most difficult hurdle to overcome in doing research is not in learning the techniques or doing the actual work or even writing the report.
The biggest obstacle, surprisingly, lies in figuring out what you want to know. Two problems are very common: choosing a topic which is too broad… or “dressing up” a topic (Kane, 1987) Formulating and clarifying the research topic is the starting point of research (Ghauri and Gronhaug, 2010; Smith and Dainty 1991). Most research originates from a general problem. Usually, the problem is broad enough that it could not be addressed in a single research study.
Consequently, the problem is narrowed into a more specific research question. A well-constructed research question is one described by Maylor and Blackmon (2005, p. 54) which “identifies the scope of the research and guides the plan of the project”. The research question is the central issue being addressed in the study and from this research objectives can be set. The table below sets out criteria to help devise useful research objectives. Criterion| Purpose|
Transparency| The meaning of the research objective is clear and unambiguous| Specificity| The purpose of the research objective is clear and easily understood, as are the actions required to fulfil it| Relevancy| The research objective’s link to the research question and wider research project is clear| Interconnectivity| Taken together as a set, the research objectives illustrate the steps in the research process from its start to its conclusion, without leaving any gaps. In this way the research objectives form a coherent whole| Answerability| The intended outcome of the research objective is achievable.
Where this relates to data, the nature of the data required will be clear or at least implied| Measurability| The intended product of the research objective will be evident when it has been achieved| Saunders (2012) Research Methods for Business Students, Table 2. 3 p. 44 Literature Review A literature review is a body of text that aims to review the critical points of current knowledge on a particular topic. Its ultimate goal is to bring the reader up to date with current literature and forms the basis for another goal, such as justification for future research the area. Knowledge does not exist in a vacuum, and your work only has value in relation to other peoples” (Jankowicz, 2005). It seeks to describe, summarise, evaluate, and clarify/integrate the content of previous researches and assists in limiting the scope of inquiry while conveying the importance of studying a topic to readers. Literature sources available include Primary, Secondary and Tertiary. Primary data is original data that has been collected from the original source with a purpose in mind.
Secondary sources are the subsequent publication of primary literature and tertiary sources (search tools) are designed to either help locate primary and secondary literature or to introduce a topic. Tertiary Indexes Databases Catalogues Encyclopaedias Dictionaries Bibliographies Citation Indexes Secondary Journals Books Newspapers Government Publications Primary Reports Theses Emails Company Reports Unpublished Manuscripts Some Government Publications Increasing time to publish Increasing level of detail Saunders (2012) Research Methods for Business Students Table 3. 3, p82 Primary versus Secondary Research
Primary data has not been published and so is more reliable, authentic and objective. It has not been changed or altered by human beings therefore its validity is greater than secondary data however it is important to remember it can only be considered as reliable as the people who gathered it. Gathering data in this way is time consuming, and incurs a high cost. More resources tend to be required and it can result in inaccurate feedback. Secondary data is less valid but it is readily available and can be reused. It is cheaper and quicker to obtain in comparison to primary data.
In some circumstances primary data does not exist and so one has to confine the research of secondary data. The Research Process Research is not neutral, but reflects a range of the researcher’s personal interests, values, abilities, assumptions aims and ambitions. “The research philosophy depends on the way you think about the development of knowledge” (Saunders et al. 2000, p. 84) Collis and Hussey (2003, p. 52) highlight two main research philosophies and detail that there can be overlap between the two and both positions may be identifiable in any research project. They are the positivistic and phenomenological.
Positivistic approaches are founded on the belief that the study of human behaviour should be conducted in the same way as studies conducted in the natural sciences. Therefore seeking to identify measure and evaluate any phenomena and to provide a rational explanation for it. This approach attempts to establish casual links and relationships between the different elements (or variables) of the subject and relate them to a particular theory or practice. Phenomenological approaches however, approach research from the perspective of understanding behaviour from the participants’ own subjective frames of reference.
Research methods are chosen, therefore, to try and describe, translate and explain and interpret events from the perspectives of the people who are the subject of the research. The following diagram describes the research process “onion” that supports the researcher to “depict the issues underlying the choice of data collection methods” (Saunders, 2012 Research Methods for Business Students, Fig 4. 1, p. 128) The layers of research represent the following aspects: * Research philosophy; * Research approach; * Research strategy/methodology; * Time horizons; and * Data collection methods Research Approach – Deductive or Inductive? It is the theory that decides what can be observed” Albert Einstein Bryan & Bell (2007) state that the researcher will either use: 1) deductive in which a theory and hypothesis is developed and a strategy is designed to test the hypothesis, or 2) inductive approach will be used in which the data is collected and as the result of data analysis theory and hypothesis are developed. However, Mason (2001, p. 181) supports the use of more than one research approach, “it is worth pointing out that most research strategies (approaches) in practice probably draw on a combination of these (inductive or deductive) approaches”.
What is the difference between method and methodology? A method is a technique used for gathering evidence or the various ways in which proceeding in gathering information. Methodology is the underlying theory of how research does or should proceed, often influenced by discipline. Research Strategy The research strategy is of paramount important in setting the parameters and creating the credibility of any study. According to Collis and Hussey (2003, p. 55) research methodology refers to the overall approaches and perspectives to the research process as a whole and is concerned with the following main issues: Why you collected certain data; * What data you collected; * Where you collected it; * How you collected it; * How you analysed it The choice of research strategy is dependent on the research questions and objectives, the extent of existing knowledge, the amount of time and resources available and the philosophical foundations (Saunders et al. 2007). There are various research strategies proposed by different authors including experiment, survey, case study, action research, grounded theory and ethnography. Experiment is a classical form of research which allows studying the effect of change, an independent variable can bring in another dependent variable (Hakim, 2000) * Survey is a methodology which is usually associated with the deductive approach and is mostly used in the situations where there is a need to collect the data from a large population in an economical manner (Saunder et al, 2007) * Case Study is defined as a “strategy for doing research which involves an empirical investigation of a particular contemporary phenomenon within its real life context using multiple sources of evidence” (Robson, 2000: 178) * Action Research is focused on finding a way to bring about a change in a controlled environment * Grounded theory is often thought of as the best example of inductive approach as the hypothesis is developed from the data generated by a series of observations (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) * Ethnography is a research strategy which focuses on acquiring the social knowledge in order to understand the observed patterns of human activity (Hussey & Hussey, 1997) Ethical Issues Ethical concerns may emerge at all stages of research. Saunders et al. (2007, p. 31) summarise the main issues to consider, although ethical issues surrounding these items are not always clear: * The rights of privacy of individuals * Voluntary nature of participation – and the rights of individuals to withdraw partially or completely from the process * Consent and possible deception of participants (Appendix ? ) * Maintenance of confidentiality of data provided by individuals or identifiable participants and their anonymity * Reactions of participants to the ways which researchers seek to collect data * Effects on participants of the way data is analysed and reported * Behaviour and objectivity of the researcher Reliability and Validity