The study of research methods provides you with knowledge and skills you need to solve problems and meet the challenges of a fast-paced decision-making environment. Business research courses are recognition that students preparing to manage businesses, not-for-profit and public organizations in all functional areas – need training in a disciplined process for conducting an inquiry related to a management dilemma. These factors stimulate an interest in a scientific approach to decision making:
- The Manager’s increased need for more and better information
- The availability of improved techniques and tools to meet this need, and
- The resulting information overload if disciplined is not employed in the process
During the last two decades, we have witnessed dramatic changes in the business environment. Emerging from a historically economic role, the business organization has evolved in response to the social and political mandates of natural public policy, explosive technology growth, and continuing innovations in global communications. These changes have created new knowledge needs for the Manager and new publics to consider when evaluating any decision. Other knowledgeable demands have arisen from problems with mergers, trade policies, protected markets, technology transfers, and macroeconomic savings – investment issues.
The trend toward complexity has increased the risk associated with business decisions, making it more important to have a sound information base. Each of the factors listed below, which characterize the complex business decision-making environment, demands that managers have more and better information on which to base decisions:
• There are more variables to consider in every decision.
• More knowledge exists in every field of management
• Global and domestic competition is more vigorous, with many businesses downsizing to refocus on primary competencies, reduce costs and make competitive gains.
• The quality of theories and models to explain tactical and strategic results is improving.
• Government continues to show concern with all aspects of society, becoming increasingly aggressive in protecting these various publics.
• Workers, shareholders, customers, and the general public are demanding to be included in company decision-making; they are better informed and more sensitive to their own self interest than ever before.
• Organizations are increasingly practicing data mining, learning to extract meaningful knowledge from volumes of data contained within internal databases.
• Computer advances have allowed businesses to create the architecture for data warehousing, electronic storehouses where vast arrays of collected, integrated data are ready for mining.
• The power and ease of use of today’s computer have given us the capability to analyze data to deal with today’s complex managerial problems.
• Techniques of quantitative analysis take advantage of increasingly powerful computing capabilities.
• The number and power of the tools used to conduct research have increased, commensurate with the growing complexity of business decisions.
To do well in such an environment, you will need to understand how to identify quality information and to recognize the solid, reliable research on which your high-risk decisions as a Manager can be based. You also will need to know how to conduct such research. Developing these skills requires understanding of scientific method as it applies to the managerial decision making environment. This study material addresses your needs as an information processor.
The value of Acquiring Skills
You can profit by having research skills in at least seven situations:
- As a decision maker (Manager) you will often feel the need for more information before selecting a course of action. Your options are limited if there is no one to whom you can delegate this task. You either make an initiative judgment without gathering additional information, or you gather the data yourself with some reasonable level of skill. Gathering information may involve data mining existing databases and information sources or collecting new information. At the early levels of your career in management, when your experience is limited and your initiative judgment less reliable, it should be obvious which option is better.
- In a second instance, you could be called to do a research study for a higher-level executive. Such a task often coming early in your career can be seen as a career-boosting opportunity, it can be the chance to make a favorable impression on that Executive.
- The third scenario has you buying research services from others or evaluating proposals for research prepared by others. If you understand the research design proposed and adequately judge the quality of the planned activities and the likelihood that such activities will assist you in making a decision you can save your Organization both time and money.
- Because much decision making relies on using information collected during prior research projects, with research skills you will be able to become a more discriminating consumer of the information given by research consultants or information contained in research journals.
- Research can also enable you to sense, spot and deal with problems before they become serious. It will enable you to identify the specific factors that are behind an existing problem.
- Knowledge in research methods enhances the sensitivity of a manager to the multidimensional nature of issues affecting the organization. This enables him/her to avoid inappropriate simplistic notions of one variable causing another. Eg. Motivation involves much more just raising the salaries for employees.
- Another reason to study research methods is so that you may establish a career as a research specialist. As a specialized function, research offers attractive career opportunities especially in financial analysis, marketing research, operations research, public relations and human resource management. Job opportunities for research specialists exist in all fields of
management and in all industries.
Meaning of research and business research
Kerlinger Fred N. has defined scientific research as a systematic, controlled, empirical and critical investigation of natural phenomena guided by theory and hypothesis about the presumed relations among such phenomena. The terms systematic and controlled in this definition refer to the degree to which the observations are controlled and alternative explanations of the outcome are ruled out.
The terms empirical and critical permit to the requirements for the researcher to test subjective beliefs against objective reality and have the findings open to further scrutiny and testing. These qualities are what the author means by scientific. C. C Crawford defines research as a systematic and refined technique of thinking, employing specialized tools, instruments and procedures in order to obtain a more adequate solution to a problem.
Generally speaking, research can be defined as a careful and systematic means of solving a problem. It is a careful and systematic attempt to provide answers to questions and these answers may be abstract or general or highly concrete and specific. Research is directed towards a specific area for the purpose of discovering, interpreting or applying facts, principles or theories. As a scientific study, research calls for careful observations of phenomenon, recording and analyzing of data in order to reach sound and tenable conclusion on the basis of available evidence.
The systematic and scholarly application of scientific methods interpreted in its broadcast sense to the solutions of business enterprises can be considered as business research. Therefore business research can be defined as a systematic, scientific enquiry that provides information to guide business decisions. Business research could encampus the study of human resource management, marketing research, entrepreneurship etc. for example, in marketing research we could address issues pertaining to product image, advertising, sales promotions, packaging and branding, pricing, new product development.
How scientific is Business Research?
The development of scientific method in business research lags behind similar developments in the physical sciences. Physical scientists have been more vigorous in their concepts and research procedures. They are much more advanced in their theory development than business scientists. The public domain has sponsored much physical research, some of it for hundreds of years.
Governments have allocated billions of dollars to support such research, driven by motivation to overcome disease or to improve the human condition. Nations driven by threat of war and national pride have also played a major role in the advance of physical science. Much of the findings of their research are in the public domain.
Business research is of much more recent origin and is largely supported by business organizations that hope to achieve a competitive advantage. Research methods and findings cannot be patented, and sharing findings often results in a loss of competitive advantage; “The more valuable the research result is, the greater the value in keeping it secret.” Under such conditions, access to findings is obviously restricted. Even though there is a growing amount of academic business research it receives meager support when compared to research in the physical sciences.
Business research operates in a less favorable environment in other ways too. Physical research is normally conducted under controlled laboratory conditions, business research seldom is. Business research normally deals with topics such as human attitudes behavior, and performance. People think they already know a lot about these topics and do not really accept research findings that differ from their opinions. Even with these hindrances, business researchers are making great strides in the scientific arena. New techniques are being developed, and vigorous research procedures are advancing rapidly. Computers and powerful analytical methods have contributed to this movement but a greater understanding of the basic principles of sound research is more important. One outcome of these trends is that research-based decision making will be more widely used in the future than it has been in the past. Managers who are not prepared for this change will be at a severe disadvantage.
Purposes of Research
- Discover new Knowledge
The main purpose of research is to discover new knowledge. This involves the discovery of new facts, their correct interpretation and practical application. Although there are other sources of knowledge, research remains the most efficient and reliable source of knowledge. It is the most accurate system of securing useful knowledge. Quite often, a scientist will take an interest in a
topic without having any other clear ideas about what to expect in the way of relationship among variables. Initially, the relevant variables are not even clear. The initial research, infact may have the identification of important variables on its primary purpose.
Much of social research is conducted to explore a topic, to provide a beginning familiarity with that topic. This purpose is typically when a researcher is examining a new interest or when the subject of study is itself relatively new and unstudied.
Example, let’s suppose that widespread taxpayer dissatisfaction with the Government erupts into a tax payer’s revolt. People begin refusing to pay their taxes and they organize themselves around that issue. You might want to learn more about the movement. How widespread is it? What levels and degrees of support are there within the community? How is the movement organized? What kinds of people are active in it? You might undertake an exploratory study to obtain at least appropriate answers to some these questions.
Exploratory studies are also appropriate in the case of more persistent phenomena. Perhaps a college student is unhappy with the college’s dormitory regulations and wants to work towards changing them. Exploratory studies are more typically done for three purposes:
1. To satisfy the researcher’s curiosity and desire for better understanding
2. To test the feasibility of undertaking a more careful study; and
3. To develop the methods to be employed in a more careful study.
A major purpose of many studies is to describe situations and events. Descriptive studies try to discover answers to the questions; who, what, when, where and sometimes how. The researcher observes and then describes what was observed. A census is an excellent example of descriptive social research. The goal of the census is to describe accurately and precisely a wide variety of characteristics of a population, as well as the population of smaller areas such as towns and rural councils. Other examples of descriptive studies are the computation of age-sex profiles of population done by demographers and the computation of crime rates for different towns. A poll conducted during a political election campaign has the purpose of describing the voting intentions of the electorate.
Reporting the voting intentions of an electorate is a descriptive activity, but reporting why some people plan to vote for candidate A and others for candidate B is an explanatory activity, as reporting why some towns have higher crime rates that others. A researcher has an explanatory purpose is if he/she wishes to know why a student’s demonstration ended in a violent confrontation with police, as opposed to simply describing what happened.
Prediction is the ability to estimate phenomena A given B. If we can provide a plausible explanation of an event after it has occurred, it is desirable to be able to predict when and in what situations the event will occur. For example, the aviation industry may be interested in explaining the radiation risks for flight crews and passengers from the sun and stars. The variables might include attitude, proximity or air routes to the poles, time of year and aircraft shielding. Perhaps the relations among the four variables explain the radiation risk variable. This type of study often calls for a high order of inference making. Why, for example would a flight at a specified attitude at one time of the year not produce so great a radiation risk to the airliner’s occupants as the same flight in another season? The answer to such a question would be valuable in planning air routes.
- Involuntary research
The researcher undertakes it as a result of external pressure to do so. There are two major categories:
1.Junior faculty members whose professional security or advancement may depend, in part, on scientific publications; and
2.College students who must undertake research to satisfy the requirements of a course in research methods.
Characteristics (hallmarks of scientific research)
The main distinguishing characteristics of scientific research include:
Any good scientific research must have a definite aim or purpose, ie, it must be focused; otherwise it will fail to be systematic and directed. A statement of the purpose of study guides in the achievement of the research objectives, a practical research design and valid reliable results. Without such a focus it will be difficult for the research to achieve its objectives or test hypothesis.
A good theoretical base and a sound methodology would add rigor to a purposive study, Conclusions drawn from an investigation that lacks a good theoretical foundation would be unscientific. Therefore, rigorous research involves a good theory base and a carefully
thought out methodology, factors which enable the researcher to collect the right kind of information for an appropriate data analysis, arriving at valid conclusions.
Scientific research blends itself to testing logically developed hypothesis to see whether or not the data supports the proposed hypothesis. This means that the hypothesis must be developed after a careful study of the problem. Hypothesis is tested by applying certain statistical tests to the data collected for that purpose. If the hypothesis developed is not quite testable, it weakens a scientific investigation. This happens when the variables developed are too abstract and difficult to measure or observe ie personality,
obedience, understanding, job interest, commitment, tempremence etc.
Replicability in scientific research cohorts that the results of the research or the tests of the hypothesis should be supported again and again when the research is repeated in other similar circumstances, the Replicability gives confidence in our research design and hence makes it scientific.
- Precision and confidence
Precision refers to how close the findings based on a sample are to the reality. Precision reflects the degree of exatitude of the results based on the sample to the phenomena studies on they exist in the universe or the actual population. The closer your results are to the expected or predicted phenomena the higher the precision.
Confidence refers to the probability that our estimates are correct. It is not merely enough to be precise but that it is important to be 95% sure or confident that our estimates are correct and that there is only a 5% chance of our being wrong. This is also known as the confidence level that given perfection we would like to be 100% correct, imaging that if you have too much error for someone who has to take a rocket to the moon, then your research leaves a lot to be desired. The narrower the gap within which we can estimate the range of our predictions, and the greater the confidence we have in our research results, the more useful and scientific the findings
become. Precision and confidence can therefore be obtained by only appropriate scientific sampling designs.
The conclusions drawn through the interpretation of the results of our data analysis should be objective and based on facts resulting from the actual data and not from our own subjective or emotional values. The more objective the interpretation of the data, the more scientific the research investigation
This refers to the (scope) of applicability of the research findings. The wider the range of applicability of the solutions generated by research the more useful the research is Generalisability will depend on how elaborate the sampling design was. The kind of instruments used in data collection and objectivity shown in the interpretation of data
This refers to the simplicity of explaining the phenomena or problems that occur and in the applications of solutions to the problems. Being simple in explaining the outcomes of the research is always preferred to complex research frameworks that consider an imaginable number of factors. Being scientific does not mean that we have to be complicated, we come up
with too many variables that cannot be analyzed and thus end up making the whole research invalid.
Characteristics of good research
Good research generates dependable data, being derived by practices that are conducted professionally that can be used reliably for management decision making. Good research differs from poor research that is carelessly planned and conducted resulting in data that a manager can’t use to reduce his or her decision-making risks. Good research follows the standards of the
scientific methods. These include:
- Purpose clearly defined
The purpose of the research the problem involved or the decision to be made should be clearly defined and sharply delineated in terms as unambiguous as possible. The statement of the decision problem should include its scope, limitations and precise specifications of the meanings of all words and terms significant to the research. Failure of the researcher to do this adequately
may raise legitimate doubts in the minds of research report readers as to whether the researcher has sufficient understanding of the problem to make a sound proposal to attack it. This characteristic is comparable to developing a strategic plan before developing a tactical plan or an action map for achieving an objective.
- Research process detailed
The research procedures used should be described in sufficient detail to permit another researcher to repeat the research. Except when secrecy is imposed, research reports should reveal with candor the sources of data and the means by which they were obtained. Omissions of significant procedural details make it difficult or impossible to estimate the validity and reliability of the data and justifiably weaken the confidence of the reader in the research and any recommendations based on the research. This characteristic is comparable to developing a tactical plan.
- Research design thoroughly planned
The procedural design of the research should be carefully planned to yield results that are as objective as possible. When a sampling of the population is involved the report should include evidence concerning the degree of representatives of the sample. A survey of opinions or recollections ought not to be used when more reliable evidence is available from documentary
sources or by direct observation.
Bibliographic searches should be as thorough and complete as possible. Experiments should have satisfactory controls. Direct observations should be recorded in writing as soon as possible after the event. Efforts should be made to minimize the influence of personal bias in selecting and recording data. This characteristic is comparable to developing detailed action plans for each tactic.
- High ethical standards applied
Researchers often work independently and have significant latitude in designing and executing research projects. A research design that includes safeguards against causing mental or physical harm to participants and makes data integrity a first priority should be highly valued. Ethical issues in research reflect important moral concerns about the practice of responsible behavior in
society. Researchers frequently find themselves precariously balancing the rights of their subjects against the scientific dictates of their chosen method. When this occurs, they have a responsibility to guard the welfare of the participants in the studies, and also the organizations to which they belong, their clients, colleagues and themselves. Careful consideration must be given to research situations when there is a possibility for physical or psychological harm, exploitation, invasion of privacy, and loss of dignity. The research need must be weighed against the potential for adverse effects. Typically you can redesign a study, but sometimes you cannot. The researcher should be prepared for this dilemma.
- Limitations frankly revealed
The researcher should report, with complete frankness, flaws in procedural design and estimate their effect on the findings. There are very few perfect research designs. Some of the imperfections may have little effect on the validity and reliability of the data. Others may invalidate them entirely. A competent researcher should be sensitive to the effects of imperfect and his or her experience in analyzing the data should provide a basis for estimating their influence. As a decision maker, you should question the value of research where no limitations are reported.
- Adequate analysis for decision makers need
Analysis of the data should be sufficiently adequate to reveal its significance and the methods of analysis is used should be appropriate. The extent to which this criterion is met is frequently a good measure of the competence of the researcher. Adequate analysis of the data is the most difficult phase of research for the novice. The validity and reliability of data should be checked carefully. The data should be classified in ways that assist the researcher to reach pertinent conclusions and clearly reveal the findings that lead to those conclusions. When statistical methods are used the probability of error should be estimated and the criteria of statistical significance applied.
- Findings presented unambiguously
Language that is restrained clear and precise; assertions that are carefully drawn and hedged with appropriate reservations and an apparent effort to achieve maximum objectivity tend to leave a favorable impression of the researcher with the decision maker. Generalizations that outrun the evidence on which they are based, exaggerations and unnecessary verbiage tend to leave an unfavorable impression. Such reports are not valuable to managers wading through the minefields of business decision making. Presentation of data should be comprehensive easily understood by the decision maker, and organized so that the decision maker can readily locate critical findings.
- Conclusions justified
Conclusions should be confined to those justified by the data of the research and limited to those of which the data provided an adequate basis. Researchers are often tempted to broaden the basis of induction by including personal experiences and their interpretations- data not subject to the controls under which the research data were gathered. Equally undesirable is all too frequent practice of drawing conclusions from a study of a limited populations and applying them universally. Researchers may also be tempted to rely too heavily on data collected in a prior study and use it in the interpretation of a new study. Such a practice is sometimes prevalent among research specialists who confine their work to clients in a small industry. These actions tend to decrease the objectivity of research and weaken confidence in the findings. Good researchers always specify the conditions under which their conclusions seem to be valid.
- Researcher’s experience reflected
Greater confidence in the research is warranted if the researcher is experienced, has a good reputation in research, and is a person of integrity. Were it possible for the reader of a research report to obtain sufficient information about the researcher, this criteria perhaps would be one of the best bases for judging the degree of confidence a piece of research warrants and the value of
any decision on which it rests. For this reason, the research report should contain information about the qualifications of the researcher.