The process of business research is a complicated mess of interrelated and interdependent activities running sequentially in stages but forcing the researcher to move forward and backward according to the situation. It is because research is something new to be found; it involves traversing those zones of knowledge where no one has been before; it is like moving forward by making your way without being particular about the way or path; it involves learning while doing newer things; it involves correcting yourself again and again by encountering new insights, etc. Thus, the path of process of business research is a complex one.
Process of Business Research: Step-by-Step Guide
However, a general process of business research is discussed in the later section in the form of various stages that appear as milestones in the research journey.
Sticking to these stages and aiming to drift through them is advised while keeping in view all the downstream and upstream stages, their designs, their requirements, and their input-output relation with one another and adjusting for objective correlation wherever needed. This is why the figure of the research process shows straight arrows, stage by stage, sequentially, as well as a direct connection of each stage with every other stage in forward and reverse directions.
1. Problem Formulation
It is the first stage, where the researcher declares his research topic, identifies the research questions, and lays down the objectives for the research. This step of process of business research is again a composite of three intermingled activities, i.e., the initial phase of problem recognition, the enlightened phase of problem definition, and the fully operationalized phase of problem redefinition.
i) Problem Recognition
This is the stage where the problem is first experienced by somebody, the researcher himself or his client, etc. If the problem needs a solution that lies in research, the problem is reported to the researcher with a decision that the problem needs to be researched.
At this stage of process of business research, the problem is explained in a novice way which hints at the area to be investigated, but the detailed specification of the problem and its scope needs to be clarified to anybody. For example, a marketing manager may report his problem to the researcher as it is advisable to introduce a new product into the market.
These problems are mentioned in terms of the party facing the problem. The researcher needs to work on this fundamental problem to make it workable from a researcher’s point of view.
ii) Defining the problem
The researcher starts working on the problem. He needs to increase his knowledge about the problem and its related areas. He can meet with the marketing managers, general manager, sales personnel, customers, distribution channel partners, etc. He can meet any referred specialists, technocrats, etc. He can review past sales records, complaint records, previous launch details, etc. He can run a preliminary survey at a miniature level to gain insight into the problem area and its variables.
He has to understand the dynamics of the problems entirely. For this purpose, depending on the problem type, he can study existing literature (remember literature survey). By utilizing various libraries, websites, etc., he can patiently enhance his knowledge about the problem and has sufficient experience before he ‘punctures’ or ‘penetrates’ or enters the problem for its investigation. It is one of the important step of process of business research. He knows what the problem is for its investigation. He knows what the problem of his client is.
iii) Redefining the Problem
At this stage, the researcher writes down the problem and how he would like to attack it. He tries to view the problem through and through like ‘X- Rays,’ keeping in mind the exact variables he wants to study, and tries to put the problem in such words that it becomes more amenable and workable with his research toolbox. He has to give an ‘operational’ shape to it. He does so by laying down the limits and boundaries of the scope and time of the study.
For example, he may redefine (reword) the defined problem as :
“To determine the consumer’ needs, attitudes, appeal and likelihood of purchasing the new body lotion in the market of city A.” He can further create a few research questions (objectives) relevant to the problem and thus limit the scope and boundary of the study. His objectives may be as follows:
- Assess the sizes of the market.
- To identify the competitive and substitute products in the market.
- Assess the possible uses of the product in question.
- Assess the attitude of the largest consumers towards the said product.
- To assess the preference of target consumers for the said product.
- Forecast the sales of the product in the next few years, etc.
Moreover, one should be aware the problem should be workable on certain variables, it should lay down the specific research questions/objectives, data should be available and feasible to collect within the resource constraints, and it should contribute to the existing knowledge without being a repetitive work.
2. Literature Survey
In the second stage of the Literature Survey, the researcher must extensively search and study the available literature, published or unpublished. This is required to ensure that the topic has a good knowledge base and that the problem offers good scope and challenge for further research. There may have been some previous research in the related area, which the researcher should be up-to-date about.
It ensures that he is not going to do a repeat job. He should link his study to the previous ones as well as de-link his study to save his time and effort, and funds on repetitive work. It is one of the step of process of business research. His study should start from where the earlier studies have finished. Then only he can justify his ‘quest for new knowledge’ and ‘journey from the known to the unknown.’
A literature survey can take the researcher to various libraries of repute, like universities, government departments, websites, the earlier documentation of concerned organizations, etc. He can search his leads through the references and bibliographies of books and research papers, thus leading him from one matter to the next matter of interest. He becomes equally knowledgeable about what knowledge already exists in the form of literature or previous research. Though there is no limit to the existing literature, it depends on his quest and the available resources where he can stop. He should spend anything ‘unknown’ which is already ‘known’ to the world. Here, it is better to keep in touch with his guide also.
3. Formulation of Hypothesis
The study may or may not include testing some relevant hypothesis for its acceptance or rejection. If a hypothesis is included, it should be formulated at this stage. Further design of research has implications in sample design, data collection, analysis, etc. depending upon whether the hypothesis is included or not. The study may be called a ‘Hypothesis Testing Study’ if a hypothesis is formulated in process of business research. There is more discussion on hypotheses in other chapters regarding characteristics of a good hypothesis, various techniques of hypothesis testing, and other such details.
4. Research Design
Research Design is the conceptual framework or a map on which the fundamental research will be described. It is like the design of a structure created by an architect. The research design directly affects the research questions and objectives, i.e., the precision and confidence required and the extent of generalization sought from the research outcome. Here significant decisions are taken regarding the approach to the research, i.e., exploratory, descriptive, diagnostic, experimental, etc.
Also, what would be the type of experimental research design? It also dwells on the sample design, i.e., population, sampling unit, sample size, method of sampling, etc.; the scheme for data collection is laid down. The techniques of financial statement analysis which will be used are also envisaged. Remember, after this stage, the data collection activity practically begins. So, there are pitfalls or inconsistencies. In that case, those get highlighted during the design stage of the research and the researcher can make any amendments to the design and prepare himself with the additional resources, if any, required for embarking upon actual fieldwork. Again, he should keep consulting his guide, if he has one.
5. Data Collection
From here, the predicted search and collection of pertinent data begins. Generally, there are two types of data: primary data and secondary data. Primary data are those the researcher collects for his study, first hand, for the first time, so it is original.
The secondary data is not first-hand data but is one which some other agency/researcher has collected for some other purpose in some other context at some other time, and it may have already been processed. It may have passed through a few hands, which is not original. Both these forms of data are widely in research despite differing drastically in their characteristic method of collection and the utility of the researcher.
6. Data Analysis
The collected data is brought to the researcher in fragmented and raw form may be in the shape of filled forms, interview reports, recorded tapes, schedules, etc. from a number of different respondents. Here begins the painful task of caring, dusting, sorting, and putting the data into a form amenable to analysis. This is achieved through a series of activities like:
- Processing/Analysis, etc.
Testing hypothesis, if anyone can make use of his knowledge and expertise in the use of statistical techniques in the calculation of means, deviations, skewness, correlation, regression, various parametric and non-parametric tests, and multi-variate analysis like factor analysis, conjoint analysis, cluster analysis, discriminant analysis, etc. One can also take help from computer technology and use SPSS while performing data analysis.
7. Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendations
After carefully analyzing each piece of data versus the situation, the researcher interprets it and records his findings. From the findings, he concludes by using his judgment and connecting with other available knowledge/theories. For example, in a study of 100 people liking tea, 60 and 40 do not like tea. These are the findings. The conclusion may be: ‘majority of people like tea.’
Based upon the findings are conclusions and then he can recommend specific actions for positive improvements of the situation like, he may say, ‘as the majority of people like tea, we should promote tea instead of coffee,’ etc. While findings and conclusions are descriptive, recommendations are prescriptive in nature.
8. Report Preparation and Presentation
The report is prepared to give a permanent record of the whole research. The report becomes a critical document to be consulted by other researchers or society for its benefits.