A management question or decision triggers the need for information. In other situations, a controversy arises, a major commitment of resources is called for, or conditions in the environment signal the need for a decision. Such events cause managers to reconsider their purposes or objectives, define a problem for solution, or develop strategies for solutions they have identified.
The Research Questions
Once the researcher has a clear statement of a manager’s question, he must translate into a research question: a fact-oriented, information gathering questions. There are probably many different ways to address any management problem. This is the point at which the insight and expertise of the researcher come into play. It is also the point at which the manager’s decision is most important. A choice of wrong research for the right problem can be dangerous.
QUESTION REVISION: FINE-TUNING
The term fine-tuning might seem like rather odd usage for research, but it creates an image that most researchers come to recognize. Fine-tuning the question is precisely what a skillful practitioner must do after the exploration stage. At this point, a clearer picture of the problem begins to emerge. After a preliminary review of the literature, a brief exploratory study, or both, the project begins to crystallize in one of two ways: (1) it is apparent the question has been answered and the process is finished or (2) a different question has appeared than the one originally addressed. The research question does not have to be materially different, but it will have evolved in some fashion. This is not cause for discouragement. A refined question will have better focus and move the research forward with more clarity than the old one.
DESIGNING THE STUDY
The design of the study is the blueprint for fulfulling objectives and answering questions. Selecting a design may be complicated by the availability of a large variety of methods, techniques, procedures, protocols, and sampling plans. For example, you may decide on a secondary data study, case study, survey, experiment, or simulation. If a survey is selected, should it be administered by mail, computer, telephone, oral personal interview? Should all relevant data be collected at one time of at regular intervals? What kind of structure will the questionnaire or interview guide possess? What question wording should be employed? Should the responses be scaled or open-ended? How will reliability and validity be achieved? Will characteristics of the interviewer influence responses to the measurement questions? What kind of training should the data collectors receive? Is a sample or a census to be taken? What types of sampling should be considered? These questions represent only a few of the decisions that have to be made when just one method is chosen.
Another step in planning the design is to identify the target population and select the sample. We must determine how many people to interview and who they will be; what events to observe and how many there will be; or how many records to inspect and which ones. A sample is a part of the whole population carefully selected to represent that population. When researchers undertake sampling studies, they are interested in estimating one or more population values and/or testing one or more statistical hypotheses.
RESOURCES ALLOCATION AND BUDGETS
Data collection requires substantial resources but perhaps not as big a part of the budget as clients would expect. Employees must be paid, training and travel must be provided, and other expenses are incurred, but this phase of the project often takes no more than one-third of the total research budget. The geographic scope and the number of observations required do affect the cost, but much of the cost is relatively independent of the size of the data gathering effort. Thus, a guide might be that (1) project planning, (2) data gathering, and (3) analysis, interpretation, and reporting each share about equally in the budget.
A pilot test is conducted to detect weaknesses is design and instrumentation and provide proxy data for selection of probability sample. It should therefore draw subjects from the target population and simulate the procedures and protocols that have been designated for data collection. If the study is a survey to be executed by mail, the pilot questionnaire should also be mailed. If the design calls for observation by an unobtrusive researcher, this behavior should be practiced. The size of the pilot group may range from 25 to 100 subjects depending on the method to be tested, but the respondents do not have to be statistically selected. In very small populations or special applications, pilot testing runs the risk of exhausting the supply of respondents and sensitizing them to the purpose of the study. This risk is generally overshadowed by the improvements made to the design by a trial run.
Data as the facts presented to the researcher from the study’s environment. Data may be further characterized by their: (1) abstractness, (2) verifiability, (3) elusiveness, and (4) closeness to the phenomenon.
Data are edited to ensure consistency across respondents and to locate emissions. In the case of survey methods, editing reduces errors in the recording, improves legibility, and clarifies unclear and inappropriate responses.
ANALYSIS AND INTERPRETATION
After collecting the data, we still need to analyze it. Data analysis usually involves reducing accumulated data to a manageable size, developing summaries, looking for patterns, and applying statistical techniques. Scaled responses on questionnaires and experimental instruments often require the analyst to derive various functions, and relationships among variables are frequently explored after that. Further, we must interpret these findings in light of the client’s question, with theory-building research, determine if the results are consistent with out hypotheses and theories.
REPORTING THE RESULTS
Finally, it is necessary to prepare a report and transmit the findings and recommendations to the client for the intended purpose of decision making. The style and organization of the report will differ according to the target audience, the occasion, and the purpose of the research. In applied research, communication of the results may cover a range of actions from a conference call, a letter, a written report, or an oral presentation – and sometimes all of them. Reports should be developed from the client’s perspective. The sophistication of the design and sampling plan or the esoteric software used to analyze the data may have helped to establish the researcher’s mind. Thus, the researcher must accurately assess the manager’s needs throughout the research process and incorporate this understanding into the final product.