Basic Concepts of Research
During the last two decades and more, the socio-business environment of the world has witnessed dramatic changes in its nature and scope. Emerging from a historically economic role, the business organization has evolved in response to the social and political stigma of national public policy, explosive growth in technology, price struggle, competition of new entrants, frequent change in customers taste and desires etc. These factors and more have created new knowledge needed for the manager and new problems for social/managerial decision making.
In such a complex and uncertain environment, business managers (or social scientists) need to understand how to identify information and to find out the emerging problem to make prompt and effective decision making. The studies of research methods provide the knowledge and skills that the managers/social scientists need to solve the problems and meet the challenges of a fast-paced decision-making environment.
In recent years, exploring the research output particularly in the areas of humanities (management studies) and social sciences (economics, commerce, history, sociology, etc.) have been treated as an increasing concern among the researchers. Management is said to be in practice with the dawn of civilization. As a discipline, it is hardly a century old. Starting off as a scientific approach to the organization of things, it borrowed heavily from disciplines like economics, sociology, psychology, mathematics and statistics. Now it is a distinct body of knowledge having the potential for theory and practice. Though management in general is said to encompass the aspects like planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling, the discipline has spread itself to the specialized areas recently. Thus there are management concepts as applied to finance, production, human resources, information technology, rural management, operations and marketing. Each of these areas have grown to be a major discipline for research and teaching. In fact, there are number of institutions situated across our countries which are dealing with such issues but still lots of work have to be done.
The pre-occupation with methodology is largely peculiar to any discipline of research, particularly in humanity and social science research in India. The first staging post in the life of a young academician is to produce some evidence of creativity. Not only can the route to this be taught, but also attempts to do so take away from the spirit of independent research. On the other hand, the young researchers need to be fitted out with the basic tools of analysis. Before analyzing the definitions of research, it is worthwhile to discuss some basic concepts related to decision-making.
1.2 PROBLEMS OF DECISION-MAKING:
For a common man, decision-making problem requires a choice among alternative course of action so as to achieve the objective(s). The word ‘problem’, in a general meaning, reflects that something has gone wrong. There are numbers of alternative course of action among which choice has to made are often called in management discipline as ‘management strategy’ and in economics as ‘economic decision-making’. Presently, the business applications of economics and commerce are attracting more and more intellectuals to its fold. No wonder, the queen of social sciences has emerged as the heart of business sciences. Economics and commerce applies its traditional tools and concepts for the better and efficient management of business. Hence, the tools of applied economics and commerce are basically concerned with the application of economics in management decision-making. There is no doubt that it enables the new age managers- the managers of 21st century business enterprises to perform their role of convincing and executing complex strategies.
While managers have considerable information about the outcome for many decisions, they must frequently make decisions in situations in which the outcome of a decision cannot be known in advance. A manager may decide, for example, to invest in a new product development or to increase the level of technology or to change the price of a product and/or any other similar alternatives to increase profits and sales. Even after studying hundreds of technical reports, numbers of annual reports of different companies, available case studies in the literature etc., a manager may still not be in a position with confidence to choose the appropriate alternative(s). Managerial decision making leads to problems like: which products are to be produced?; what price is to be charged?; what quantity of the products are to be produced?; what should be the promotional expenditures?, how much would be the investment expenditures?, etc. Thus, decision making is a process of selection from a set of alternative courses of action which is thought to fulfill the objectives of the decision problem more satisfactorily than others.
Similarly, a social science researcher at the beginning of a research projects not only in a position to decide which subject area to choose (whether to choose consumer behaviour by analyzing household consumption pattern and household budget or to analyze the effectiveness of various government policies that are meant for removing poverty, unemployment, etc., and/or number of such related alternatives like dowry deaths, women empowerment, women crime, sex ratio etc.), but also what should be the subject area, what should be the methodology, what is the amount of budget available for research, how much time is available with the researcher and so on.
It is a widely accepted fact that business decision-making process has become increasingly complicated due to the over growing complexities in the business world more particularly soon after the adoption of the concept of globalization by major economics of the globe. Thus, it requires that the decision maker (s) has to follow some basic rules and processes which will help them to make efficient decisions under conditions of risk, uncertainty and complexities. Hence, decision-making problem may be defined as ‘a task of identifying the alternative courses of action among a number of alternatives available of achieving given objective(s), then to analyze all the alternatives by collecting required information and at the end choosing the best alternative to achieve the desired objective in most efficient way’.
The elements of decision making process may be:
- The decision maker himself/herself
- Identification of the decision problem
- Identification of the source or the environment in which the problem exists and need solution
- Selecting some alternative courses of action among the feasible alternatives and
- The final selection of the choice of the alternatives
1.3 STEPS OF DECISION-MAKING PROCESS:
The researcher (pronounced for decision-maker who may be an executive or research team) while going for decision-making always gets confused, thinking from where to start in order to identify the alternative. Systematic inquiry of the problem is a common and fundamental threat. The process of systematic inquiry requires careful planning of an orderly investigation. But there is no hard and fast rule that the decision maker should follow all the steps in a sequence that is derived below rather he/she can choose few important ones based on their convenience and requirements of the study. Following are some fundamental steps which may help the decision maker to get the path of searching the alternatives.
1. Analyzing the objectives:
At the initial stage of going for identification of a problem the decision maker has to understand completely the mission, vision and the objective of the concerned organization i.e., he/she has to first understand what their organization wants from them (in case of business problem). For instance, if the decision-maker is associated with a private enterprise then he/she has to understand that the motto of their organization is to maximize profit or sale and/or both for achieving rapid growth. On the other hand, a public enterprise not only based on profit maximization but also is based on welfare criteria. Where as in case of social science research the research has to analyse what is the basic purpose of research? Who is the funding agency and what it wants? What the associated persons or institutions expect?, and a number of such related problems.
2. Defining the problem:
The second step, after the objective(s) been identified, is of defining or identifying the problem. Problem identification is the top most tasks in the process of decision-making. It justifies the adage that ‘a problem well defined is a problem half solved’. This adage emphasizes that an orderly definition of the problem (which ultimately leads to decision-making) gives a sense of direction to the existing problem.
3. Identifying possible alternative solutions:
The third step in the process of identifying the alternative course of action is of specifying few alternative(s) among the numbers of alternatives selected at the initial stage of research (as discussed in point 1 above). But due to a number of reasons the decision maker cannot choose all the alternatives that is possible to solve the problem rather he/she has to limit the horizon and should concentrate on a limited alternatives. This requires considering the variables that may put more impact on the problem identified. In such a way, relationship among the variables and with the problems has to be established. Here, various hypotheses can be formulated which will at the end serve as alternative solution of the existing problem.
Box-1.1: Narottam Paper Limited and Economic Recession
The ripple effects of the 2008 Global economic meltdown had begun to hurt the Rupees 2,556 crore of Narottam Paper Ltd. Like all other business houses in India, Narottam Paper Ltd., was also finding the growing tough. The general trend of soaring prices and contraction in demand had started affecting the sale of the company products. Its customers were also focusing on correcting their inventory positions (using existing stocks of materials to keep production lines and marketing activities rolling). Consequently, they were not buying much from the company. Even the investors did not like when they saw- Narottam Paper Ltd., stock fell from Rs. 63.50/- on 1 January, 2008 to a low of Rs. 12.08/- on 18 January 2009. The company was in the midst of Economic crisis.
In such a chronic situation of the company, Mr. Partha Sarathi, Managing Director of the company, realized that some strong means must be taken to extricate the company from its present crisis. To this end, Mr. Partha Sarathi held several brainstorming sessions with the company’s Research and Development team and finally, identified the focus areas on which decision is needed. The identified areas are:
- Necessity of changing company’s strategic planning policies
- Managing working capital flows
- Cutting various costs
- Paying attention to employee productivity
- Searching new market potentials
Thus from the above case study it is clear that the company in wrongly in the trap of economic recession. To combat this recession, the company had identified five alternatives. Solution of each of the five alternatives may help the company to achieve its desire objective(s).
4. Evaluating alternative course of action:
Now, among these alternatives, some alternative requires long time to execute, some may be expensive for the decision-maker to execute, some may go beyond the limit of the decision-maker and the one which satisfies all the criteria of the decision maker. Thus, the decision-maker has to collect relevant data or information on each possible alternative those satisfy all the requirements of the decision-makers, hence, are finalized to solve the existing problem. Data are regarded as the basic input to any decision-making process in both business studies and social science. The processing of data gives statistics of importance of the study. Some data may be available in form of reports published by various government departments, annual reports of the industries, thesis/research publications in various libraries of institutes/universities, etc., are called as secondary source of data. Where as, in some case the decision-maker has to collect the fresh information with the help of various tools of data collection like questionnaire, door-to-door interview, focal group discussion, field study, etc., which are called as primary source of data. The collected data are then coded and entered in computer for execution of the result. Proper tools and techniques of optimization are used for classification and analysis. Techniques such as regression analysis, multivariate analysis and operation research techniques like linear programming, simulation techniques, etc., are used to obtain a desirable solution. This solution may be one that helps the decision-maker to achieve the desired objective. Now, with this process the decision maker gets optimal solutions to all the possible alternatives that he/she has been identified in the initial stage of research.
5. Validation of the results:
After the course of action is finalized, now it is time to execute the action in reality i.e., called as decision-making. The process of validation of results ensures the credibility of the results. This requires constant monitoring so as to achieve the desired result. For this, the decision maker has to consult with the experienced professionals in the related area of study, consultants who are closely associated with such studies, academicians who are carrying on research in the related area(s), etc. The figure 1.1 derived shows the flow chart of the decision-making process showing how the process of decision-making moves in research.
1.4 WHAT IS A RESEARCH?
Research is a diligent enquiry and careful investigation for new knowledge through systematic, scientific and analytical approach in any branch of knowledge. Constant search and research are the guiding factors of research which helps to discover new facts (Kumar, 2002). The search for new knowledge also helps to accept or reject or modify existing fact or knowledge that is already available in the existing literature.
For a common men, the word research implies a detailed study of a subject especially in order to discover (new) information or to some it implies in search of a new finding. Where as, the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines the word as, ‘a careful investigation or inquiry especially through search for new facts in any branch of knowledge’. The Random House Dictionary of the English language defines ‘research’ as diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications etc.
The definition of research gets its real meaning with the words of Clifford Woody, who defines it as ‘research is a careful inquiry or examination in seeking facts or principles, a diligent investigation to ascertain something’.
John W. Best in his contribution titled ‘Research in Education’ opines research as ‘the systematic and objective analysis and recording of controlled observations that may lead to development of generalizations, principles, or theories, resulting in prediction and possibility ultimate control of events’.
P.M. Cook defines research as ‘it is an honest, exhaustive, intelligent searching for facts and their meaning or implications with reference to given problem. It is the process of arriving at dependable solutions to problems through the planned and systematic collection analysis and interpretation of data’. The best research is that which is reliable verifiable and exhaustive so that it provides information in which we have confidence.
M. H. Gopal opines as ‘it is essentially a systematic inquiry seeking facts through objective verifiable methods in order to discover the relationship among them and to discover from them broad principles or laws’.
K. V. Rao visualizes the concept as ‘research is an intensive and purposeful search for knowledge and understanding of social and physical phenomena. It is a method for the discovery of true values in a scientific way. It is not merely an accumulation of knowledge but a critical and scientific analysis of social facts and formulation of generalizations as a basis of action and foresight’.
The encyclopedia of Social Sciences (Mc-Million) defines research as, ‘Research refers to a critical and exhaustive investigation of experimentation having as its aim the revision of accepted conclusions in the light of new discovered facts’.
Where as, the word ‘methodology’ is the combination of two words ‘method’ which implies a particular way of doing something plus ‘logus’ the Latin word which implies ‘study’ thus, ‘methodology’ implies ‘a systematic way of studying something’.
The research method may be defined as all those methods and techniques that are used for conducting the research or search. Hence, it refers to the behavior and instrument used in selecting and conducting research techniques and research design. Some experts, who are continuously associated with research methodology since a long, have categorized the research methods in three categories. They are:
First category is one where those methods are included which relates to the collection of data or information. In the second category, different statistical techniques are used for establishing relationships between variables. Where as, the third category consists of those methods which are used to evaluate the accuracy of the results obtained.
Where as, Dhondyal (1994) defines research methodology as ‘a procedure designed to the extent to which it is planned and evaluated before conducting the inquiry and the extent to which the method for making decisions is evaluated’. According to C.R. Kothary (1990), research methodology is, ‘when we talk of research methodology we not only talk of the research methods but also considers the logic behind the methods we use in the context of our research study and explains why we are using a particular method or technique and why we are not using others so that research results are capable of being evaluated either by the researcher himself or by others’.
There exists large numbers of definitions in research literature defining the term research methodology. All the definitions are defined differently by different experts based on their need and requirements of their study. Few properties can be summarized as below:
(1) Research is a scientific process.
(2) It leads towards the solution of an existing problem.
(3) It directs towards the development of new principles of theories or modifies the existing literatures that will be helpful in predicting future occurrences.
(4) It is based upon observable experiences or empirical evidence.
(5) The process of search for new knowledge demands accurate observations and descriptions of the fact(s).
(6) It involves gathering new data for new purposes.
(7) It is characterized by patience and unhurried activities.
(8) It is carefully recorded and reported.
(9) It is the task of experts or specialists in the related discipline of the study.
(10) It is an intellectual task.
From the above derived definitions and more other such definitions that already exist in the literature, research methodology may be summarized as a way to systematically solve the research problem. Research methodology constitutes research methods used in context of research study and explanation of using of a particular method or techniques and the why other available techniques are not used. So that research results are capable of being evaluated either by the researcher him self or by other persons who have keen interest in the study area. Hence, research is a systematic approach consisting of enunciating the problem, formulating hypothesis, collecting the facts in relation to the problem, and reaching certain conclusions, either in the form of solution towards the concerned problem or in certain generalizations for some theoretical formulation.
1.5 OBJECTIVE OF RESEARCH:
Like that of every discussion, research is also having some basic objectives. The purpose of research is to discover answers to questions through the applications of scientific procedures. Young (1988) has analyzed some important objectives of research as follows:
- No two human beings behave equally. Human psychology is the most complicated matter to predict in the society. There are always fluctuations found in their behaviour. Hence, in order to maintain equilibrium and stability, it requires understanding the human behaviour. Thus, research helps to explore and understand human behaviour and their social life.
- Research helps in portraying accuracy in the characteristic of a particular individual, situation or a group in the society / organization and leads to designing the strategies of development.
- Test of human beings for a particular good is always changing. Thus, human nature is to search for new things. Research helps to extend, correct or verify knowledge that is either in hidden or not discovered,
- Two kinds of explanations for unexplained social phenomena,
- It helps in predicting the frequency with which a certain thing occurs or with which it is associated with something else.
- To provide new insights into organized society and its social structures.
- To test or challenge existing theories and revise them in the light of new evidence(s). Here existing theories are either tested or new theories are developed or are modified.
- To understand the organizational culture, social life, social environment, decision making process, etc., and there by to gain a greater measure of control on other human behaviour in the organizational and socially context.
1.6 FEATURES OF RESEARCH:
Every research has its specific features or characteristics. Some important features are cauterized below:
- Research gathers or collects new knowledge or data from either primary or first hand sources and secondary or already existing sources.
- The process of research is systematic and accurate.
- Research secures experts or skilled personnel’s for any investigation.
- Research is characterized as logical and objective, applying every possible test to verify the data collected and the process employed.
- There is no question of biasness in research. Research eliminates personal feelings and references from the activity. It is the process of investigating new knowledge.
- Research endeavors to organize data in quantities terms as far as possible.
- Research in some cases where the research scope is broader is time consuming.
- Research redlines courage and hard work, hence, it requires patience.
- The process of research is highly purposive and pin pointed. It generally deals with a significant problem which demands a solution.
- The process of research usually involves, a pre-determined step, formulation of one or more hypothesis, research design, methods of data or information collection and presentation of data and is carefully recoded order reported.
1.7 FACTORS REQUIRE FOR A SCIENTIFIC/ GOOD RESEARCH:
A good research follows the standards of the scientific methods. Hence a research team while executing any research work should consider following factors carefully.
- Purpose clearly defined:
The problem or the decision to be made should be clearly defined by the researcher. The decision statement should include its scope, limitations and the summery (meaning) of all words /terms that are significant to the research. The researcher should be clear about the purpose of his/her study (research) to match with the mission of his/her organization for whom the research is meant for.
2. Should be based on ethics:
Ethics is defined as a system of moral principles or rules of behaviour. While going for study, proper care should be taken at designing the research procedure i.e., the issues related to study. Safeguards against causing mental or physical harm to participants should be considered. It should not hamper religious and sensitive norms while conducting research and interacting with the respondents. For example, if the researcher has keen interest to know the behaviour of a particular group of people who are affected by HIV+. Now while interacting with these people, the researcher should ask questions very carefully in a simpler manner without causing any harm to their sentiments.
3. Research design/methodologies should clear and planned:
The research should also have clear understanding about the objective of the study. In other words, the nature of data required, the behaviour of the respondents, the procedure of data collection, sample coverage, methods of data collection, models to be used, computer software to be implemented etc., should be explained clearly.
4. The Researcher should be a skilled expert:
The person involved in the research should be an expert in the concerned field of study. He/She should be clear about the procedure, objectives, methodologies and techniques of research. They should be capable enough to handle the respondents. The behaviour of the researcher should be calm and saver. Necessary care should be taken in case where the study is based on some sensitive issues. The researcher should have a clear command on the sample area, the language, the mature of the respondents. The most important requirement is that they should have enough patience and keen interest in the study.
5. Unbiased analysis of results:
There should be no biased decision after getting the results of study. No question of sympathy, kindness, relationships, etc., should be involved in the research process. No political interferences should be there in the process of analysis of the study.
For example Mr. X is doing some research work (let it be a Ph. D) under the guidance of Mr.Y and they are relative. Now, if they do the research work in normal process it may take several years and it may have some value addition in the shape of outcome of the study. But, since Mr. X is Mr. Y’s relative, the basic objective of such research may be only getting a degree. Thus they will try to finish the work very early without doing a proper work. In such cases Mr. X may be awarded the degree but the result may not have any value addition to the existing literature.
6. The conclusions should be justified:
The conclusion should be specific and to the point as per the purpose of study. The objective(s) derived and hypotheses formulated at the beginning of the study and conclusion drawn at the end of study shows the gap between “What was to be done and what you performed”. This helps in gap analysis. The exact findings should be represented without biasness. The validity of the conclusions should be specified.
7. Scope for further research:
The research procedures used should be described in sufficient details and there should be ample scope for the other researcher for further research, if necessary. The limitations of the study should be clearly mentioned. Problem identification is the top most tasks in the process of decision-making. As it is a known fact that, solution of one problem, gives birth to a number of related other problems, thus, the researcher should clearly mention about the limitations of the study. The limitation may be in the form of limited or small sample, less budget, less time span, parameters that have been identified are less in quantity, the study is narrow in scope, methodology chosen may be purposive, etc.
1.8 TYPES OF RESEARCH:
Researches are of various types. It is basically categorized on the nature of work. Professor R. Panneerselvam has classified some important types of research as follows:
1. Exploratory Research:
Exploratory research is the fundamental one and is of an initial research type which the researcher carried out at the initial stage of study. In other words, here the researcher analyses the data and explores the possibility of obtaining as many relationships as possible between different variables without knowing their end-applications. A general study is conducted without having any specific objective(s) of study. Here a number of hypotheses are developed for an existing problem.
There are three sources from which exploratory research develops in the mind of a researcher. They are survey of literature, experience survey and study of existing case(s).
a. Survey of Literature:
The very beginning phase of searching a problem is the survey of literature. Survey of literature is the study, involves collection of available literatures in the required area of research where the researcher has limited experience, and critical examination and comparison of the above materials is needed for better understanding of the concept. This research also helps the researchers to update with the past data, data sources and results, which are useful for related researcher in future. Some examples of survey of literature are searching a problem from available journals, books, periodicals, reports published by different government and non-government agencies etc.
b. Experience Survey:
Experience survey gathers the experiences of skilled specialists in terms of their skill, expertise and knowledge. Hence this survey is the survey of experiences of experts/specialists in a particular field which acts as a data base for future research. These expertises have been developed over a period of time or through some other related studies. Some of the examples of the experience survey are materials planning, demand forecasting, man power planning, union / state government budget analysis, investment decisions analyzing the employment and unemployment situation etc.
c. Study of case(s):
This is a special kind of study oriented to have insight into research topics. This kind of study is mainly case study oriented. It lays emphasis on reviewing the available real story cases in the literature. Based on the available real case histories, a researcher can proceed in his/her own research study. Two real case stories which are based on effective service facility provided by two multinational companies to gain customer loyalty are analysed in Box-1.2 and Box-1.3 below.
Box-1.2: IFB’s Home Demo
IFB Industries Limited has been adopting the strategy of home demo to build a good will among its customers. Mr. Satyanarayan has purchased a micro-oven of this company in the month of November, 2008. Soon after the purchase, one sales manager came to him to his house and explained the couple about a number of operations of the microwave with live demos. He has spent more than 20 minutes with the couple and made them aware about a number of functions, instructions, procedures regarding the handling of micro-wave with life demos. This is how IFB is attracting the customer by providing them some service satisfactions at their door step.
By identifying such more real life experiences, the researchers can develop some new studies based on the similar line.
Box-1.3: Whirlpool’s Marketing Research Strategy
Whirlpool of India Limited is giving considerable emphasis on marketing research. The company strategy shows that it believes in planning research in advance. Even though this process seems to be difficult in reality, but for achieving its objective, the company is maintaining complete