FORMULATING AND CLARIFYING THE RESEARCH TOPIC Lecture 2 ISD 554: Business Research Methods [email_address] Password: isd554
LECTURE OUTLINE By the end of this lecture you should be able to: generate ideas that will help in the choice of a suitable research topic; identify the attributes of a good research topic; turn research ideas into research problems, which have clear research question(s) and objectives;
and draft a research proposal.
2.1 introduction Choosing a research topic is most exciting. Choose something that will sustain your interest throughout the months that you will need to complete it. You need to have at least some idea of what you want to do. (most difficult but important part of the research project). Formulating and clarifying the research topic is the starting point of your research project.
Being clear about this will ensure your ability to choose the most appropriate research strategy and data collection and analysis techniques.
2.2 Attributes of a good research topic Attributes of a research topic do not vary a great deal between universities.
The most important of these is that the research topic should meet the requirements of the examining body.
Box 2.2: Attributes of a good research topic Capability: is it feasible? Is the topic something with which you are really fascinated? Do you have, or can you develop within the project time frame, the necessary research skills to undertake the topic? Is the research topic achievable within the available time? Will the project still be current when you finish your project? Is the research topic achievable within the financial resources that are likely to be available?
Are you reasonably certain of being able to gain access to data you are likely to require for this topic?
Box 2.2: Attributes of a good research topic Appropriateness: is it worth while? Does the topic fit the specifications and meet the standards set by the examining institution? Does your research topic contain issues that have a clear link to theory? Are you able to state your research question(s) and objectives clearly? Will your proposed research be able to provide fresh insights into this topic? Does your research topic relate clearly to the idea you have been given (perhaps by an organisation)? Are the findings for this research topic likely to be symmetrical: i.e., of similar value whatever the results?
Does the research topic match your career goals?
2.3 Generating and refining research ideas A range of techniques can be used to find and select a topic. More frequently used techniques are:
Using both techniques is recommended.
Table 2.1: Techniques used for generating research ideas Searching the literature: friends and tutors are good sources Looking at past project titles e.g. MBA theses. Rational thinking Examining your own strengths and interests Brainstorming: problem-solving List issues, problems and questions from the broad area. Map of issues and questions under the area of interest. Exploring personal preferences using past projects Creative thinking
Keeping a notebook of ideas
Refining research ideas Use of groups of people interested or involved in your research. Initial critical review of the literature Informal discussion with experts. Use combinations of all techniques. Referred to as ‘Working up and narrowing down’. Classify idea into subject area (accounting), then field (financial accounting methods), and focus precise topic (activity-based costing) in which you are interested.
When you are able to say “I had like to do some research on ……” then the process of generating and refining ideas is complete.
2.4 Turning research ideas into research projects Writing research questions
Writing research objectives
Writing research questions Strategic question(s) concern what ought to be done in a particular situation. E.g., what should we do about x? Strategic questions are not research questions. Strategic questions can’t be answered by doing research. They can only be answered by an act of judgement and will. They concern the future – what should be done?
In writing your research questions, you can identify a broad “what should be done about X?” strategic type of question that responds to managerial or organisational issues and concerns.
Writing research questions Research question(s) are those to which it is possible, in theory at least, to go out and find answers. Research questions mostly refer to what is happening or what has happened. Research questions can be answered by doing research. Your conclusions are drawn from data collected. Good data depends on the clarity of the research question. Start with one general focus question that flows from the research idea.
Other more detailed questions may follow to define the research objectives .
Writing research questions The research question should be sufficiently involving to satisfy the required standards Research questions should not be too easy . E.g., ‘What is the proportion of graduates entering the civil service who attended public universities?’ Far easier to answer and may not be theory-based. Research questions should not be too difficult . E.g., ‘Why are graduate from public universities more likely to enter the civil service than graduates from private universities?’ May be very broad or difficult to gain sufficient access. Frame your question in simple plain English language. Do not use jargons at this stage. It’s a reflection of your lack of understanding. E,g.,
“ I am addressing the issues relevant to leveraging human resource competency to produce turnaround to world-class status and to diagonally integrate professional functionalities.”
Goldilocks test The tests decides if the research question is: Need significant research funding, resources and time. Insufficient substance. Avoid questions that will not generate new insights. See Box 2.2 Sensitivities that may be aroused as a result of doing the research. E.g., timing or reasons that may upset key people who have a role to play in the research context.
Just right for investigation at this time, by this researcher in this setting.
Table 2.2: Examples research ideas and their derived focus research questions What effect has the growth of Internet Banking has upon the uses customers make of branch facilities? The use of internet banking In what ways does the use of specific aromas in supermarkets affect buyer behaviour? The use of aromas as a marketing device How effective is recruiting for new staff via the internet in comparison with traditional methods? Job recruitment via the internet How does the running of TV advertising campaign designed to boost the image of a company affect its share price? Advertising and share pricing General focus research questions Research idea
Exercise: Writing your research question Identify a topic for your research project by working through the techniques recommended above. Within the general topic chosen, identify: a broad “what should be done about X?” strategic type of question that responds to managerial or organisational issues and concerns and; one or more research questions that say what you want to find out;
and frame them in simple language understandable to an interested lay person who has asked about your research.
Writing research objectives Use your general focus question as a base from which you write a set of research objectives . Objectives are evidence of researchers’ clear sense of purpose and direction.
Objectives should pass the SMART test.
Table 2.3: Phrasing research questions as research objectives To develop an explanatory theory that associates certain factors with the effectiveness of team briefing schemes. Can the explanation be generalised? a ) To determine the factors associated with the effectiveness criteria for team briefing being met. b ) To estimate whether some of those factors are more influential than others How can the effectiveness of team briefing be explained? To describe the extent to which the effectiveness criteria for team briefing have been met. Has team briefing been effective? To establish suitable effectiveness criteria for team briefing schemes. How can the effectiveness of team briefing schemes be measured? To identify organisations’ objectives for team briefing schemes. Research objective Research question
Why have organisations introduced team briefing?
The importance of theory in writing research questions and objectives Figure 2.1 Grand, middle range and substantive theories
2.5 Writing your research proposal Writing a research proposal helps you to organise your ideas, and can be thought of as a contract between you and the reader.
The content of the research proposal should tell the reader what the research is intended to do, why it is necessary to do it, what it is trying to achieve and how the proposed research will achieve it.
The purpose of the research proposal Through writing. It clarifies your thoughts. Amend your initial idea and convince your tutor that the proposed research is achievable. Contracting with your ‘client’
Approval implies that your proposal is satisfactory and that you have an appropriate destination and journey plan.
The content of the research proposal It should mirror the content of the proposal. States why you think the research is worth the effort. May be expressed in the form of a problem that needs solving. Demonstrate knowledge of the relevant literature. Where does your work fit into the debate in the literature. Show clear links between previous works and your proposal. Provide an overview of key literature source which you intend to use. Research questions and objectives What is it that your research seeks to achieve?
Precisely written and lead to observable results. (see Table 2.3)
The content of the research proposal It details precisely how you intend to go about achieving your objectives. Justify your choice of method in line with the objectives. research design section: method chosen and reasons for the choice. Explain where you intend to carry the research Coverage, e.g., organisations, sectors of the economy, etc. Identity of research population (e.g., managers, or TUC officials) Why you selected that population? Explain the general way in which you will undertake the research. E.g., questionnaires, interviews, examination of secondary data etc. Data collection section: detail about how specifically data are collected. E.g., specify survey population and sample size; How you will distribute questionnaires etc.; How many interviews will be conducted and duration; Statement of Ethical guidelines
Not necessary to include details of questionnaires questions in the proposal.
The content of the research proposal Timescale : use a Gantt chart. See figure 2.2 Help to decide viability of your research project. Divide your research plan into stages. Literature on subject area (access to SPSS, Minitab, NVivo for data analysis) (written approval from host organisations) Conducting research cost money Likely response rate to questionnaires
Key literature sources to which you have referred to in the background section and which relate directly to your work.
Figure 2.2 Gantt chart for a research project
Criteria for evaluating research proposals The extent to which the components of the proposal fit together. The viability of the proposal.
The absence of preconceived ideas.
SELF-CHECK QUESTIONS You have decided to search the literature to ‘try to come up with some research ideas in your area of specialisation’. How will you go about this?
How would you demonstrate the influence of relevant theory on your research proposal?
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