Research Methods STA630
THE RESEARCH PROCESS
Research task is usually treated as a sequential process involving several clearly defined steps. No one
claims that research requires completion of each step before going to the next. Recycling,
circumventing, and skipping occur. Some steps are begun out of sequence, some are carried out
simultaneously, and some may be omitted. Despite these variations, the idea of sequence is useful for
developing a project and for keeping thee project orderly as it unfolds.
Various approaches suggest somewhat different steps ranging from five steps to eleven steps. The
variation may be due to purposes, and methods used by the researches, though some researchers may
combine some of the steps. Also some writers may portray the same steps in a linear way; others may
put them in a cyclical form. These steps can be:
1. Broad Problem Area
The process begins with a researcher selecting a topic a general area of study or issue such as divorce,
crime, aging, marketing, or powerful elites. A topic appears to be too broad for conducting research.
The specific issues that need to be researched within the situation may not be identified at this stage.
Such issues might pertain to (1) problem currently existing in an organizational setting that need to be
solved (sexual harassment), (2) areas that a manager believes need to be improved in the organization
(improving the existing policies), (3) a conceptual or theoretical issue that needs to tightened up for
basic researcher or to understand certain phenomenon (conceptual definition of harassment), and (4)
some research questions that a basic researcher wants to answer empirically (impact of harassment on
the performance of the workers).
2. Preliminary Data Collection
This step may be considered as part of the exploratory research. An exploration typically begins with a
search for published data and studies. Such sources can provide secondary data which becomes part of
the background information (about the organization, groups of people, context of the issue). Some
secondary sources of data are statistical bulletins, government publications, information published or
unpublished, case studies, online data, web sites, and the Internet. In addition, the researchers often
seek out people who are well informed on the topic, especially those who have clearly stated positions
on controversial aspects of the problem. Such persons can be the professional researchers, or the
informants to whom the issues relate. In certain situations it may be appropriate to have some focus
group discussions with the relevant people. Such discussions help in the identification of variables and
having clarification of the issue
3. Problem Definition
After having discussions with the professionals as well as with the persons to whom the issue relates,
and the review of literature, the researcher is in a position to narrow down from its original broad base
and define the issue clearly. Translate the broad issue into a research question. As part of the applied
research convert the management dilemma into a management question, and then on to research
question that fits the need to resolve the dilemma. The symptoms of a problem might help tracing the
real problem. For example a productivity decline of workers may be an issue. The management may
have tried to solve it by the provision of incentive but did not work. The researcher may have to dig
deep and find the possible factors like the morale and motivation of the workers having some other
antecedents. There could be similar other broad issues which have to be narrowed down to research
1. To what extent has the new advertising campaign been successful in creating the high quality,
consumer-centered corporate image that it was intended to produce?
2. Has the new packaging affected the sale of the products?
Research Methods STA630
Will the day care centers affect the productivity of female workers?
Why the divorce rate is on the increase in Pakistan?
Why the family in Pakistan is changing?
What could be the impact of changing family patterns on the living of senior citizens?
4. Theoretical Framework
Consultations with the informants and professionals, and the review of literature should have helped in
the identification of different factors that are considered to be relevant to the topic. The researcher has
to make logical relationship among several factors identified earlier. This will help in the delineation of
the theoretical framework. The theoretical framework discusses the interrelationships among the
variables that are deemed to be integral to the dynamics of the situation being investigated. Developing
such a conceptual framework helps to postulate or hypothesize and test certain relationships.
We have already discussed the components of a theoretical framework.
5. Generation of Hypotheses
Once we have identified the important variables relevant to an issue and established the logical
reasoning in the theoretical framework, we are in a position to test whether the relationships that have
been theorized do in fact hold true. By testing these relationships scientifically, we are in a position to
obtain reliable information to determine the relationship among the variables. The results of these tests
offer us part of the answers to the formulated research questions, whether these relate basic research or
to applied research.
6. Research Design
Research design is a master plan specifying the methods and procedures for collecting and analyzing the
needed information. It is a framework or the blueprint that plans the action for research project. The
objectives of the study determined during the early stages of the research are included in thee design to
ensure that the information collected is appropriate for solving the problem. The researcher must
specify the sources of information, and the research method or technique (survey or experiment, for
example) to be followed in thee study.
Broadly there are six basic research methods for descriptive and causal research: surveys, experiments,
observation, communication analysis (content analysis), case study, focus group discussion. Use of
secondary data may be another method where the data may have been collected by using any of the six
basic methods listed earlier. The objectives of the research, the available data sources thee urgency of
the decision, and the cost of obtaining the data will determine the method to be is chosen.
Surveys: The most common method of generating primary data is through surveys. Survey is a
research technique in which information is gathered from a sample of people using a questionnaire. The
task of writing a list of questions and designing the exact format of the printed or written questionnaire
is an essential aspect of the development of survey research design.
Research investigators may choose to contact the respondents in person, by telephone, by mail, or on the
internet. Each of these techniques has advantages and disadvantages. The researcher's task is to choose
the most appropriate one for collecting the information needed.
Experiments: Experiments hold the greatest potential for establishing cause-and-effect relationships.
The use of experimentation allows investigation of changes in one variable, such as productivity, while
manipulating one or more variables, perhaps social rewards or monetary rewards, under controlled
conditions. Ideally, experimental control provides a basis for isolating causal factors, because outside
(or exogenous) influences do not come into play.
Research Methods STA630
An experiment controls conditions so that one or more variables can be manipulated in order to test a
hypothesis. In the laboratory experiments, compared with the field experiment, it is possible to create
controlled conditions for the manipulation of one or more variables and see its effect on the dependent
variable by holding the extraneous factors constant.
Observation techniques: Observation can be non participant or participant. In many situations the
objective of a research project is merely to record what can be observed for example the number of
automobiles that pass the proposed site for a gas station. This can be mechanically recorded or observed
by any person. This is an unobtrusive study without a respondent's direct participation. In participant
observation studies, the researcher takes part in the day to day activities, interviews them, and makes
observations. Such a study generates qualitative data and lasts for a long duration.
Communication analysis: It is also called content analysis which means gathering and analyzing thee
content of the text. The content refers to words, meanings, pictures, symbols, ideas, themes, or any
message that can be communicated. The text is anything written, visual, or spoken that serves as a
medium of communication. It includes books, newspapers, advertisements, speeches, official
documents, films or videotapes, photographs, articles of clothing, or works of art.
Case study: It is an in-depth analysis of a unit which could be an individual person, a couple, a group,
or an organization. It is more like a clinical analysis in retrospect; starting from the effect and tracing
the reasons back in time. The researcher takes the history of the situation and makes use of any other
relevant information about the case to identify the factors leading to the present situation.
Focus group discussions: It is a discussion of an issue by 6-12 persons with a moderator for 1-2 hours.
The issue can be a public concern, a product, a television program, a political candidate, or a policy.
Focus groups are useful in exploratory research or to generate new ideas for hypotheses, and the
interpenetration of results. It produces qualitative information which may compliment the quantitative
Researchers try to evaluate different research designs and select the most appropriate one that helps in
getting the relevant information. There is no one best research design for all situations.
7. Data Collection, Data Processing, and Analysis
Data collection is integral part of the research design, though we are dealing it separately. Data
collection is determined by the research technique selected for the project. Data can be collected in a
variety of ways, in different settings field or lab and from different sources. It could include
interviews face to face interviews, telephone interviews, computer-assisted interviews, and interviews
through electronic media; questionnaires that either personally administered, sent through mail, or
electronically administered; observation of individuals and events which could be participant or non
Once the fieldwork has been completed, the data must be converted into a format that will answer the
research questions and or help testing the hypotheses. Data processing generally begins with the editing
and coding of thee data. Editing involves checking the data collection forms for omissions, legibility,
and consistency in classification. The editing process corrects problems such as interviewer errors prior
to the data are transferred to a computer. Coding may be the assigning of numbers or symbols before it
goes to the computer. The computer can help in making tables and the application of different statistics.
Analysis is the application of reasoning to understand and interpret the data that have been collected.
The appropriate analytical technique is to be determined by the research design, and the nature of the
Research Methods STA630
8. Testing the Hypotheses; Answering the Research Questions
The analysis and interpretation of the data shall be the means to testing the formulated hypotheses as
well as finding answers to the research questions. In case of applied research, the research should be
helpful in finding solutions to the problems of the organization or society. Making recommendations
may also be part of this process.
9. Report Writing
The research report should communicate the research findings effectively. All too often the report is a
complicated statement of the study's technical aspects and sophisticated research methods. If the study
has been conducted for a business management, often the management is not interested in detailed
reporting of the research design and statistical findings but wants only the summary of the findings.
Research is only as good as the applications made of it. Nevertheless, the research report becomes a
historical document, a record that may be referred to in later studies. In case of research for academic
purposes the research findings become part of the body of knowledge, and the research may producing
research papers for publication in professional journals.
The report has to be presented in the format as it may have been part of thee terms of reference if it is a
sponsored study. In case of a dissertation the Universities have some standardized styles which have to
be followed. Similarly the research papers have to be prepared in accordance with the format specified
by the professional journals.
The graphic presentation of the research process may be like this:
The Research Process
Broad area of
identified and labeled
Research Methods STA630
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