The nature of research

In our second week´s lecture we had the pleasure of welcome five new students. After a brief introduction of themself we went over a few reminders of the past class, such as the main course objective. Bear in mind: “Learning how to collect relevant information for your own research project”. And I emphasized the word “relevant“, because in the so called “Information society” with such search tool as Google, collecting information is frankly easy, but other thing is selecting the most suitable for your research (click here to know more about this semester´s objectives. Bellow you can see the second week lecture structure´s main points:

  1. How to distinguish between a true research & bogus research?
  2. Types of research
  3. What things make management and business research different?
  4. Stages of Research process

Taking into account the great presence that the word research has reached in today´s society in the radio, television or newspaper, as well as the fact that in many occasions it doesn´t refer to research in the true meaning of the word (remind: “finding out information in a systematic way”) distinguishing between a true and bogus research becomes crucial to collect data for our own research. And for doing that I purpose you to ask three main questions. A true research should fetch “Yes” in the bellow questions:

  • Is the only interest finding out information?
  • Has the information been collected and interpreted systematically?
  • Has the research a clear purpose?

For a better understanding we have applied these questions on a example of a research under the title of” “What people really think about public smoking?” As long as a tobacco association is behind this report we should at least be prudent when sourcing the data provided. Secondly, assuming that “systematically” means using a method and providing appropriate details on it, as well as not having biased the answer, we finally considered it as a non-systematic research, since just a few lines were devoted to explain the method used and on top of that the questionnaire is not provided.

Despite it could be a bogus research, we should admit that it has a clear purpose, which is clearly visible in the title, it is, explains what people think about some particular issue, in this case, public smoking. Hopefully, your research will have a so clear purpose too. Although instead of explaining you could prefer comparing, criticizing or analysing, among other purposes.

Moving on the next point, it is also crucial to know the different types of research because it is probably going to be one of your first choices. Apart from the different types we have according to the discipline you are involved in, for example, economic, sociology, management (this is yours), or political sciences; the most elemental difference is between Pure or basic and applied research.

A research under the title “How to increase effectiveness of small business“, basic or applied? What about “Apple´s Ipod sales have decreased 20% last year. What is the reason for this decrease?” There are many differences between both, but probably the most relevant is regarding its application. The basic one aims to produce new knowledge, regardless whether it is useful in a short term, while applied one usually aims solving problems of particular organizations. Coming back to our example, basic or applied? Great, you got it. But, wait a second, what is a organization. Ok, Apple is one, Toyota another one. Yes sure, Google too. But those are just one type of organization. What about a university, a school, cultural association, government, family? Yes, why not. Our class? Yes, although we have just met. In management world there is a tendency to consider organization as a company, but organization may be many things, it is just about a group of people sharing rules and roles. Here we have another important question for you research, which organization is your research about?

Coming back to the basic/applied point. It seems that most of you prefer applied. So you are probably one of those that wonder “what is theory (basic) research for”, “is it really useful” Before Edison  invented the bulb, he had likely been asked these questions too. Perhaps some friend of him could have suggested that “why do you want to invent a new way to illuminate our houses when we already have candles” He was actually right, but could you imaging lead our lesson without electric light? In other words, although basic research findings might not have an immediate application, it could become, in a long term, essential. Therefore, a research under the title “How to increase effectiveness of small business” might not be useful for your neighbourhood bakery, but it could definitively change this industry in the future.

However, such as many authors suggest, although there are important difference between basic and applied research, it doesn´t mean that they are in conflict. In other words, it is about a basic-applied continuum rather that a categorical. It means that in a scale from 1 to 10, where “1” means completely basic and “10” completely applied, your research project might lay on 5.

In 2001, Hodgkinson et al, wanted to go further and suggest taxonomy for considering the relevance of a research, resulting in four quadrants. When a research is relevant in terms of theory and methodology and at the same time it is relevant in a practical meaning (it is applied) it is called pragmatic sciences. In the contrary situation would be puerile science (see “for beginners”). When the research has high theoretical and methodological relevance but low practical relevance, it is considered as pedantic science (in Spanish, “pedante”, in Italian “pedante” and in Chinese 迂) while populist sciences present the opposite characteristics, low practical relevance and high theoretical relevance.

As bachelor students, which quadrant you belong to? Probably to puerile one, right? And struggling to be in populist. This is your challenge, isn´t it?

Look out! Many of the papers you will find will likely belong to pedantic quadrant, or at least those in established scientific journals, hence make a good selection of your reading and not overestimate its complexity, you could save long time (Watch out, the fact that many researches are pedantic doesn´t mean they are boring or useless, it just means that are made for very specific and specialized intellectual circles and that you lack of many concrete concepts to understand them)

Moving on to the third point of our second week lesson, there are three things that make management and business research (M&B research) different and that you should take into account for you project. First it is its tansdisciplinary character. What does it mean? Despite many authors put into consideration whether Management is a science or not, the true is that it usually takes knowledge from many other discipline which is, at the same time, an advantage, provided that this provide many insights. Thinking over your own research, don´t discard draw up other disciplines like economic or sociology when looking for information.

On the other hand, management research is usually much related to decision making. It is very often crucial for successful manager´s decisions. Although many managers still base their decisions on personal experience (Rousseau, 2006), the truth is that in a more and more complex society and organizations, research-based decision making turn out to be essential. And there are many successful cases which are proving it and encouraging other organizations to adopt this strategy. As the one that came out in the movie Moneyball that changed the rules of baseball management. See bellow the official movie trailer.

Last but not least, B&B research must have relatively high practical relevance, i.e., in a basic-applied continuum, it should lay closer to applied, which doesn´t mean that you can rid of the theory, which is actually an essential factor when researching.
Finally, we went also over the research process and, concretely, over research stages, which actually matches with the chapters of our textbook and hence with our next lessons. Here is the result of activity completed by you ranking the different stages. Taking for granted that you wish to do research (at least to pass this course), in the next lecture we will go over the second stage which deals with how to formulate and clarify your research topic. Until then you can start reading my personal blog post on how to find a dissertation topic.

References

Becker, H. S. (2007). Writing for social scientists: How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article University of Chicago Press.

Camino, J. R. (2011). Cómo escribir y publicar una tesis doctoral ESIC Editorial.

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