Monday, February 29, 2016

Introduction to Research

Research can be one of the most interesting features of any degree course as it offers you a measure of control and autonomy over what you learn. It gives you an opportunity to confirm, clarify, pursue – or even discover – new aspects of a subject or topic you are interested in.

Research is a process of inquiry and investigation; it is systematic, methodical and ethical; research can help solve practical problems and increase knowledge.

The Purpose of Research

  • Review or synthesize existing knowledge
  • Investigate existing situations or problems
  • Provide solutions to problems
  • Explore and analyse more general issues
  • Construct or create new procedures or systems
  • Explain new phenomenon
  • Generate new knowledge
  • A combination of any of the above

Different Types of Research

Exploratory research is undertaken when few or no previous studies exist. The aim is to look for patterns, hypotheses or ideas that can be tested and will form the basis for further research.
Typical research techniques would include case studies, observation and reviews of previous related studies and data.

Descriptive research can be used to identify and classify the elements or characteristics of the subject, e.g. number of days lost because of industrial action.
Quantitative techniques are most often used to collect, analyze, and summarize data.

Analytical research often extends the Descriptive approach to suggest or explain why or how something is happening, e.g. underlying causes of industrial action.
An important feature of this type of research is in locating and identifying the different factors (or variables) involved.

The aim of Predictive research is to speculate intelligently on future possibilities, based on close analysis of available evidence of cause and effect, e.g. predicting when and where future industrial action might take place.

Research can be approached in the following ways:


The emphasis of Quantitative research is on collecting and analyzing numerical data; it concentrates on measuring the scale, range, frequency etc. of phenomena. This type of research, although harder to design initially, is usually highly detailed and structured and results can be easily collated and presented statistically.

Qualitative research is more subjective in nature than Quantitative research and involves examining and reflecting on the less tangible aspects of a research subject, e.g. values, attitudes, perceptions. Although this type of research can be easier to start, it can be often difficult to interpret and present the findings; the findings can also be challenged more easily.


The primary aim of Basic Research is to improve knowledge generally, without any particular applied purpose in mind at the outset. Applied Research is designed from the start to apply its findings to a particular situation.


Deductive research moves from general ideas/theories to specific particular & situations: the particular is deduced from the general, e.g. broad theories.
Inductive research moves from particular situations to make or infer broad general ideas/theories.

Research Philosophy

Research is not ‘neutral’, but reflects a range of the researcher’s personal interests, values, abilities, assumptions, aims and ambitions.

There are essential two main research philosophies (or positions) although there can be overlap between the two – and both positions may be identifiable in any research project: positivistic and phenomenological.


Positivistic approaches to research are based on research methodologies commonly used in science.

They are characterized by a detached approach to research that seeks out the facts or causes of any social phenomena in a systematic way.

Positivistic approaches are founded on a belief that the study of human behavior should be conducted in the same way as studies conducted in the natural sciences (Collis & Hussey, 2003, p.52).

Positivistic approaches seek to identify, measure and evaluate any phenomena and to provide rational explanation for it.

This explanation will attempt to establish causal 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 that human behavior is not as easily measured as phenomena in the natural sciences.

Human motivation is shaped by factors that are not always observable, e.g. inner thought processes, so that it can become hard to generalize on, for example, motivation from observation of behavior alone.

People place their own meanings on events; meanings that do not always coincide with the way others have interpreted them.

Phenomenological approaches are particularly concerned with understanding behavior 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.

Source: Coffin, Caroline, et al. Teaching Academic Writing. London: Routledge, 2003. Print.

Gathering Information and Data

One-to-one interviews

It can be face to face, telephone, or other technologically-aided means. There are three types: structured interviews (use of questionnaires based on predetermined and identical set of questions), semi-structured interviews (list of themes to be covered, the interview can omit or add to some questions or areas, depending on the situation and the flow of conversation), and unstructured (informal discussions where the interviewer wants to explore in-depth a particular topic, pre-deicided range of topics in the discussion.

Focus Groups

Focus groups are used to gather data, usually in the forms of opinions, from a selected group of people on a particular and pre-determined topic. The researcher creates a relaxed atmosphere and records in some way what is being said.

Participant Observation

The following are the roles a researcher can adopt:

Complete Participant
 - identity and purpose of researcher is not revealed.
 - the researcher attempts to become a full covert member of the group.

Complete Observer
 - purpose of the research activity is not revealed
 - researcher does not take part in the activities beings observed.

Observer Participant
 - The researcher's role is known to others in the group
 - researchers participate in activities, but the engagement may be fairly superficial as the researchers role is to observe the real participants.

Participant as Observer
 - the researcher's role is known to everyone in the group
 - the researcher would engage fully in all the activities and experience them totally themselves.

Data Collection as a Participant Observer

This can be in the form of:

Primary Observations: the researcher notes what actually happened
Secondary Observations: interpretative statements by observers of what happened
Experiential Data: a record of the researcher's feelings/values and how these changed over time


Questionnaires facilitate the collection of data by asking all, or a sample of people, to respond to the same questions.

Five types of questionnaire approaches:

  • On-line
  • Postal
  • Delivery and collection
  • Telephone
  • Interview

You need to be clear before you design your questionnaire what is what you want to learn and what data you need to obtain.

Consider validity (the extent which the data accurately measures what they were intended to measure) and reliability (the extent to which the data collection method will yeild the consisted findings if replicated by others) when designing your questionnaire.

Questions can be open (space is left for the respondent to answer) or closed (a limited number of responses to question is provided).

The flow of the questions should be logical to the respondent.

Questionnaires should be courteously and carefully introduced to the respondents by including a cover letter.

Questionnaires should be piloted, if possible.

General Rules for Designing Questionnaires (source: Collins & Hussey, 2003)

  1. Explain the purpose of the questionnaire
  2. Keep your questions simple
  3. Do not use jargon or specialist language
  4. Phrase each question so that only one meaning is possible
  5. Avoid vague, descriptive words
  6. Avoid asking negative questions 
  7. Only ask one question at a time
  8. Include relevant questions only
  9. Include questions which serve as cross-checks on the answers of other answers.
  10. Avoid leading or value-laden questions
  11. Avoid asking difficult questions
  12. Keep your questionnaire as short as possible

Size and Sampling

Probability Sampling
The researcher has a significant measure of control over who is selcted and on the selection method.

Main Methods

Simple Random Sampling - selection at random from a choice of subjects

Systematic Sampling - selecting at numbered intervals

Stratified Sampling - sampling within particular sections of the target groups

Cluster Sampling - surveying a particular cluster in the subject group

Non-Probability Sampling
The researcher has little or initial control over the choice of who is presented for selection or where controlled selection of participants is not a critical factor.

Main Methods:

Convenience Sampling - choosing those immediately available

Voluntary Sampling - the sample is self-selecting

Purposive Sampling - researchers use their judgment to choose people

Snowball Sampling - building up a sample through informants

Even Sampling - using the opportunity presented by a particular event

Time Sampling - recognizing that different times or days of the week or year may be significant and sampling at these times or days.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Research Methodologies

The main research methodologies can be linked to positivistic and phenomological research positions or approaches. However, research often contains both positivistic and phenomological approaches.

The following research methods are most suitable for a positivistic research philosophy:

Surveys involve selecting a representative and unbiased sample of subjects drawn from the group you wish to study.

  • Uses questionnaires or interviews or a combination
  • Descriptive survey is concerned with identifying and counting the frequency of a particular response among the survey group
  • Analytical survey analyzes the relationship between different elements (variables) in a sample group. 

Experimental studies are done in carefully controlled and structured environments and enable the casual relationships of phenomena to be identified and analyzed. Studies done in laboratories tend to offer the best opportunities for controlling variables; however, the artificiality of the situation can affect the response of test subjects.

Longitudinal studies are often conducted over several years to observe the effect of time has on the situation under observation and to collect primary data of these changes.

Cross-sectional studies are done when time resources for more extended research are limited. Such a study involves different organizations or groups of people to look at similarities or differences between them at any one particular time.

The following research methods are most appropriate for a phenomenological research philosophy:

Case studies offer an opportunity to a study a particular subject information that may be both qualitative and quantitative. Case studies can be used to formulate theories, or be:

  • Descriptive - where current practices is described in detail
  • Illustrative - where the case studies illustrate new practices adopted by an organization
  • Experimental - where difficulties in adopting new practices or procedures are examined
  • Explanatory - where theories are used as a basis for understanding and explaining  procedures

Autobiography is a means of collecting information from small groups of respondents to seek patterns, underlying issues and life concerns. This method could be used to trace the influences of variables such as social class, gender, and educational experiences on career development and career progression within an organization.

Action research involves an intervention by a researcher to influence change in any given situation and to monitor and evaluate the results.

Ethnography as participant observation is where the researcher becomes a working member of the group or situation to be observed.

Participative enquiry is research done within one's group or organization and involves the active involvement and co-operation of people who you would normally associate with on a daily basis.

Feminist perspectives focuses on knowledge grounded in female experience and is of benefit to everyone, but particularly women.

Grounded theory reverses approaches in research that collected data in order to test the validity of theoretical propositions, in favor of an approach that emphasizes the generation of theory from data--to approach research with no preconceived ideas about what might be discovered or learned.

Neville, Collin. Introduction to Research and Research Methods. Effective Learning Advisor, University of Bradford School of Management, 2007. PDF file. 

Stages of the Research Process

  1. Establish a general field of interest; discuss with supervisor/professor.
  2. Undertake preliminary and background reading on the subject to be researched with what is known already and to suggest the choice of an appropriate research methodology. 
  3. Narrow your ideas to a workable topic or research proposal and give it a title. Decide on the most appropriate methods of gathering data. 
  4. Preparation of information gathering tools.
  5. Collation, analysis, and interpretation of research data. 
  6. Write first draft of research project report. 
  7. Revision and re-write dissertation; submit dissertation. 
Neville, Collin. Introduction to Research and Research Methods. Effective Learning Advisor, University of Bradford School of Management, 2007. PDF file.