Are you “resources” or “feeling” researcher? #understandingresearchphilosophies

As researcher you are creating new knowledge. But, what is or not knowledge for you? Two main views may be adopted.

(1) The researcher who concerns on numbers and countable elements: “resources” researcher

(2) The researcher who concerns more with the feelings and attitudes of the people involved in the organization studied: “feeling” researcher

1. “Resources” researchers

The first ones are more akin to the position of the natural scientist, and for them, the reality is represented by objects that are considered to be “real”, “touchable” and “visible”, such as computers, trucks and machines. Actually, “resources” researcher´s data are presented in the form of a table of statistical data. E.g. estimated personal computers users:

Estimated personal computers users
Country Computers
USA 223,810,000
Japan 69,200,000
China 52,990,000
Germany 45,000,000
Uk 35,890,000
France 35,000,000
South Korea 26,201,000
Canada 22,390,000
Italy 21,486,000
Brazil 19,350,000

Apart from resources, the existence of such sophisticate research methods as survey, allow researchers measure also opinions and attitudes. Imaging your research aims to measure the labor satisfaction in a manufacturing company. You may perform a survey and ask such questions as below:

“Are you very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, very dissatisfied within the company?

  1. Very satisfied
  2. Somewhat satisfied
  3. Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
  4. Somewhat dissatisfied
  5. Very dissatisfied

As such, the results might be represented as below:

Level of satisfaction %
Very satisfied 40
Somewhat satisfied 35
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 20
Somewhat dissatisfied 4
Very dissatisfied 1

 

These “resources” researchers would argue that this kind of data is less open to bias and therefore more objective. They think that the object studied by the “feeling” researchers cannot be seen, measured and modified like computers, trucks and machines.

As well as nature scientist, “resources” researchers also aim that the end product can be law-like generalizations, similar to those produced by physical and natural scientist. In our example of workers satisfaction, another question of the survey questionnaire might be:

Which department do you belong to?

  1. Manufacturing department
  2. Marketing department
  3. Accounting department
  4. Logistic department

Obtaining as a result the below table and being able to make law-like generalization as: “Employed satisfaction is 20% higher among manufacturing department workers than in the rest of the department”

%

Manufacturing department Marketing department Accounting department Logistic department
Very satisfied 80 58 62 59
Somewhat satisfied 10 12 8 9
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 5 3 2 7
Somewhat dissatisfied 3 5 3 2
Very dissatisfied 2 2 5 1

2. “Feeling” researchers

But, does this data presented in statistical tables deserve more authority than those presented in a narrative by a “feeling” researcher? You may be critical of “resources” researchers view and argue that the social world of business and management is far too complex to be understood just by numbers.

“Feeling” researchers advocates that it is necessary for the researcher to understand differences between humans in our role as social actors. Before further explanations of what is a social actor, watch the below video.

This video, emphasize the importance of the context, i.e. how important is where we are to the way we behave. Many of the people passing by the famous violinist would have paid more than 100$ for attending one of his concerts, but in this precise context, not even stopped to listen to him.

At the same way, you as students might be making jokes and laughing if you were outside or in a party, but as you have been tough that in a class you are supposed to behave, you don’t make jokes. Because there is something called social norms: being in silence, raise your hands when I ask you for, say good afternoon when entering in classroom, just example of social norms that are not written anywhere but all of us know.

Following this social norms we become in social actors, and play different roles depending on the context.

What are the implications for your own research? Coming back to the example given previously about the satisfaction in a manufacturing company, you, as “resources” researcher might be content with the result and might not want to go further. However, as “feeling” researchers you might prefer to go further and try to study more closely the feelings of the workers, as well as their beliefs, values, concerns. For this reason you perform a number of in-depth interviews. After recording the interviews, listening carefully and analyzing the information, you will unlikely to represent it by statistic tables, but you will be able to perform a narrative as the one given below:

Most of the interviewed sustain that they are satisfied, but mainly thanks to the “good salaries” (Joe). But the truth is that many of them feel quite unsatisfied in terms of development, because the tasks they do are “quite boring” (Peter). On top of that, some of them think that they are satisfied with the job, but in a long term they would prefer to leave the company for doing something “more challenging” (Mary)”…

A “resources” researcher would think that this is not objective, because you analysis is affected by the context and the answer given by the worker may be biased. On top of that, the number of interviews is not enough and it is not representative of the total number of the workers.

The truth is that a “feeling” researcher do not highly focus on “representativity” and “objectivity” as “resources” researchers do, but they gain, by contrast, major deepness in their analysis and major ability to identify the smallest details of worker satisfaction.

If you are more “resources” researcher, you will likely embrace what is called the positivism, whereas if you are more “feeling” researcher, you will likely embrace interpretivism. (There are also another philosophical position called realism that will not be address here and which essence is that what the senses show us as reality is the truth. You can find more details here)

The metaphor of iceber illustrate very well the difference between both philosophies. In case of perfoming a research on a company culture, a positivist (“resources” researcher”) will aim to understant the visible part of the iceber, which corresponds with goal technology, structure, policies and proceedures, products/services and financial resources, among other, or what is called formal aspects of the organization. By contrast, a interpretativist (“feeling” researcher) will aim to undertand such questions as beliefs, attitudes and values, among others, or what is called “informal aspects of the organization.

Within this post it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that one research philosophy is “better” than another. This would miss the point. They are “better” at doing different things. When doing a research on labour satisfaction, adopting both philosophies is as possible as applying, provided that you own enough resources and skills, both a survey and in-dept interviews. For example, taking advantage of the information obtain by mean the in-depth interviews you will be able to formulate more focused questions and obtain more specific data. Coming back o our previous example, once you know that the satisfaction depends not only in salary but also in expectation and in oing interesting task, your survey questionaire could include apart from the general question on satisfaction, another kind of question as: “how satisfied are you in terms of personal development”, “…and in terms of salary…”

Finally, after reading this post you still think that choosing between one position and other is somewhat urealistic in practice, perhaps you should consider read this other post on pragmatism.

References

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

Gene Weingarten (April 8, 2007). Pearls Before Breakfast. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com

Lewis, P., Saunders, M. N. K., & Thornhill, A. (2009). Research methods for business students Pearson.

Stanley N. Herman (1970) Cultural Iceber. TRW Systems Group. Retrieved from http://sandylearningblog.wordpress.com

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Understanding research philosophies

The point of this post is not about choosing one or another philosophy for your research. Actually, you could skip this topic and begin thinking about whether you will use questionnaire or secondary data method. The point here is enhancing your understanding of the way in which we approach the study of a particular field. Bear in mind that the philosophy you assume will influence the way you answer your research question.

Although philosophy might sound very profound, this term just refers to the development of knowledge and the nature of such knowledge.

Three questions you must answer for a major understanding of the process of developing knowledge and its nature:

  1. Is your organization independent of its members? (Ontology)
  2. Are you a “resources” or “feeling” researcher? (Epistemology)
  3. What roles do our values play in our research? (Axiology)

What roles do your values play?

English: ASHS science values
English: ASHS science values (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A value is an idea what people share about what is good or bad, desireble or undesireble. Values are reflected in apparantly trivial everyday behaviors. The sociologist Robin M. Williams, Jr. (1970) identified fifteen fundamental values (in reference to american society

  1. achievement and success
  2. activity and work
  3. humanitarianism
  4. efficiency and practicality
  5. progress
  6. material confort
  7. equality
  8. freedom
  9. resignation
  10. rationality and science
  11. nationalism and patriotism
  12. democracy
  13. individuality
  14. racial and ethnic superiority

Of course, there may be many more and some of the mentioned values may be not share in all the countries and also, it may change over time.

A “resources” or positivist researcher will probably sustain that our personal value should not affect the process of research and for this reasons you must be completly out of this process and that doing in-depth interviews the results are not credible. On the contrary, a “feeling” or interpretativist researcher would argue that unavoidably we demostrate our values at all stages. After all, choicing one topic rather than another, suggests that you think one of the topics is more important. For example, having such values as humanitarianism it wouldnt be rare if your research focus a nonprofit organization.

Your choice of philosofical approach is a reflection of your values, as is your choice of data collection techniques. For example, to conduct a study where you place great importance on data collected through interview work suggests that you value personal interaction with your respondents more highly than their views expressed through an anonymous questionnaire.

Heron suggests the possibility of writing your own statement of personal values in relation to the topic you are studying. The statement of values may be of use both to you as researcher and those parties with whom you have contact in your research. The use to you would be a result of your “being honest with yourself” about quite what your values are. This would heighten your awareness of value judgements you are making in drawing conclusions form your data. These value judgements may lead to the drawing of conclusions which may be different from those drawn by researchers with other values.

References

Williams, Robin Murphy. American society: A sociological interpretation. New York: Knopf, 1970.
Craig J. Calhoun, Donald Light, Suzanne Infeld Keller. Sociology. McGraw-Hill, 2000.
Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.

Critically review of literature in 11 steps

1. Select a language of publication

2. Select a geographical areFinda(e.g. China, Spain, Italy, Europe…)

3. Publication period (e.g. 2008-2012)

4. Choose literature type (e.g. academic journals)

5. Find keywords (e.g. “labor satisfaction”)

6. Search relevant information (e.g. in Google scholar)

7. Read a realistic number of documents (e.g. 10)

8. Summarize them in your own words

9. Relate each other

10 Criticize them

11. Suggest a new research

What is a review of literature?

A critically review of literature (CRL) is a process to account for the most relevant findings as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic.

It is important to distinguish between a CRL and a preliminary review of literature (PRL). As mentioned in previous posts, PRL just aims to help the researcher to find a gap of knowledge that hasn´t been yet cover by other works, as well as, to define the research objectives and question to address such gap. In two words, PRL aims to account for the state of the art of a specific field like, for instance, online marketing. On the other hand, a CRL goes further and describing and relating the most important finding of a particular topic in terms of theory but also methodEnglish:ology.

Here we divide a review of literature in THREE different stages:

  1. Selecting the most relevant readings on your topic
  2. Summarize the most relevant ideas, themes and theories
  3. Relate each other.

It is important to emphasize its critical character as long as the review should evaluate the merits and faults of the key literature within your area. Such critic might be done answering the below FOUR questions:

  1. Do you find inconsistent and/or unexamined the ideas generally accepted as true by the public or by experts in your field (conventional wisdom)? (Critique of tradition)
  2. Do you find improvable or inconsistent the dominant view portrayed in the literature you are reading? (critique of authority)
  3. Has the literature a effective use of language? (Critique of rhetoric)
  4. Is the information value free? (Critique of objectivity)

If are a non experienced researcher you must assume that a highly critical review of literature is just reachable for experienced researchers. For this reason, unless the literature review has clear faults, you are probably going to skip this step and just summarize and relate the most relevant ideas and at most, point out the lack of empirical data in, for instance, the country or organization you are researching on.

E.g.: Imaging you are reading literature on labor satisfaction (a sub-branch within Human Resources branch). Specifically, your review aims to identify the factors of labor satisfaction in small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). After performing a search in Google scholar using such keyword as “labor satisfaction” and “SMEs” you read the works made by two important authors, Locke and Lawler. The former considers that labor satisfaction mainly depends on personal aspects while the latter sustains that it depends on organizational ones and both have obtained empirical evidence after several research project in Europe. You, as undergraduate, are unlikely to be able to put into consideration the ideas sustained by such prestigious authors but you could, of course, contribute to the field of labor satisfaction. How? Applying those theories in your country or a specific organization. Your critic could well be, “lack of empirical data from China” or “none of these authors have conducted a research in among professor in University of Gdansk. So your research objective will consist of checking which of the two theories are right for your organization or country. Just picture for a moment how would be the title of your research: Does labor satisfaction in China depends on personal or organizational aspects?
References

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

Hart, C. (1998) Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination. United Kingdom. London: Sage ISBN 0-7619-5974-2 Set book Open University Social Science Masters. Pages 230

Lewis, P., Saunders, M. N. K., & Thornhill, A. (2009). Research methods for business students Pearson.

Wikipedia. Conventional wisdom. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conventional_wisdom

Wikipedia. Literature review. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literature_review

Working at theory level when formulating a research

Although the main role of theory is played in more advanced research stages, such as review literature or adopting a research philosophy and approach, the truth is that its importance begins earlier than this: “it should inform your definition of research questions and objectives” (Saunders, 2009). The word theory is probably one of the most misused and misunderstood in education” (Saunders, 2009). What is in texbook is usually seen as “theories”, whereas what is happening in the “real world” is practice. Equally, in the previous post under the title #thenatureofresearch was highlighted that many managers still base their decision making on personal experience rather than in research.

But theory consists of a relationship between cause and effect that it is not only present in the research world but also in our daily life. We all attempt to solve the daily problems that we have to face up in a similar way as scientist. We all constantly make hypotheses and check them according to our experience. Why do you usually take the bus number 3 if the 12, 22 and 48 also go to your destination?. Perhaps because according to your experience, the bus 12 is the least crowded. This schemata that you have in your mind derive in a theory, in your own theory. In doing your own research it works in much the same way. Following the example given in How to turn a research idea into a research question when #formulatingaresearch about unemployment in European Union, you may develop your own theory after identify, for instance, a great relationship between unemployment rate and Gross Domestic Product evolution.

But coming back to the question that head this post, why is theory important in formulating a research, you must bear in mind that before setting such research questions as Why northern European countries registered higher unemployment rate? You must be aware of whether this question has already been answer in previous researches. Would you avoid looking up the buses bulletin board to check the prices that most suit you? In this way you will save the money and time require to check it by yourself. In much the same way, a preliminary review of literature will contribute to know whether your research question has been answer and whether you should formulate a different and not yet answered question such as, How affect unemployment rate in the different European countries in terms of suicide?, just for giving an example. In other words, to create new knowledge and to contribute to see further in your area of knowledge, you must account for the works created by other researchers.

And this idea leads us to the very famous sentence in the science world: “Stand on the shoulders of giants“. To illustrate the importance this idea, below you can see a video of a very nice tradition that take place in Terrasa (CataloniaSpain) so called “Minyons de Terrassa” In this video, a student graduate would probably be represented by the little girl who reach the top while the rest would be the preivous researchers who has worked on your topic. Not every year the little girl achieves the top. Hopefully you will.

watch?v=jHmd2G39VzU

How to write my research objectives

Objectives must always be set after having formulated a good research question. After all, they are to explain the way in which such question is going to be answered. Objectives are usually headed by infinitive verbs such as:

  • To identify
  • To establish
  • To describe
  • To determine
  • To estimate
  • To develop
  • To compare
  • To analyse
  • To collect

Returning to the example given in the previous post about Unemployment in European Union and considering the two research questions posed: (1) What has been the unemployment rate in European Union over the last decade? and (2) Why have northern European countries registered a lower unemployment rate than southern countries?; the objectives could be as follow:

1º To compare the unemployment rate among all European countries.

2º To analyse the unemployment rate evolution from 2002 to 2012.

3º To identify the factors associated with high unemployment rates.

4º To develop an explanatory theory that associates unemployment rate with other indicators such as Growth Domestic Product (GDP).

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References

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

Saunders, Mark NK, et al. Research methods for business students , 5/e. Pearson Education India, 2011. Pearson.