Chapter 5 formulating the research design
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Chapter 5 Formulating the research design. Learning outcomes. By the end of this chapter you should be able to: • understand the importance of having thought carefully about your research design; • identify the main research strategies and explain why these should not

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Chapter 5 Formulating the research design

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Chapter 5 formulating the research design

Chapter 5Formulating the research design

Learning outcomes

Learning outcomes

  • By the end of this chapter you should be able to:

  • • understand the importance of having thought carefully about your

  • research design;

  • • identify the main research strategies and explain why these should not

  • be thought of as mutually exclusive;

  • • explain the differences between quantitative and qualitative data

Learning outcomes1

Learning outcomes

  • collection techniques and analysis procedures;

  • • explain the reasons for adopting multiple methods in the conduct of research;

  • • consider the implications of adopting different time horizons for your research design;

  • • explain the concepts of validity and reliability and identify the main threats to validity and reliability;

  • • understand some of the main ethical issues implied by the choice of research strategy.

The process of research design

The Process of Research Design

  • Research choices

  • Research strategies

  • Time horizons

The process of research design1

The Process of Research Design

  • Your research question will subsequently inform your choice of research strategy, your choices of collection techniques and

  • analysis procedures, and the time horizon over which you undertake your research project.

Research strategies

Research strategies

  • Robson (2002) defined research strategy as the general approach taken in an enquiry and added that research strategies have been classified in different ways. While Saunders et al (2007) defined it as a general plan of how you will go about answering the research questions you have set.

Research design and tactics

Research Design and Tactics

The research onion

Saunders et al, (2009)

Figure 5.1 The research ‘onion’

Research design

Research design

  • Your research design will be the general plan of how you will go about answering

  • your research question(s)

Research design1

Research Design

The research design needs

  • Clear objectives derived from the research question

  • To specify sources of data collection

  • To consider constraints and ethical issues

  • Valid reasons for your choice of design

Classification of the research purpose

Classification of the research purpose

Exploratory researchis a valuable means of finding out ‘what is happening to seek new insights; to ask questions and to assess phenomena in a new light’. It is particularly useful if you wish to clarify your understanding of a problem, such as if you are unsure of precise nature of the problem . It may well be that time is well spent on exploratory research, as it may show that the research is not worth pursuing!



  • There are three principal ways of conducting explanatory research:

  • A search of the literature;

  • Interviewing ‘experts’ in the subject;

  • Conducting focus group interviews.

Descriptive studies

Descriptive studies

  • The object of descriptive research is ‘ to ‘portray an accurate profile of persons, events or situations’. This may be an extension of, or a forerunner to a piece of exploratory research or, more often, a piece of explanatory research. It is necessary to have a clear picture of the phenomena on which you wish to collect data prior to collection of data.

Explanatory research

Explanatory research

  • Studies that establish causal relationships between variables may be termed explanatory research. The emphasis her is on studying a situation or a problem in order to explain the relationship between variables. For example, that a cursory analysis of quantitative data on manufacturing scrap rates shows a relationship between scrap rates and the age of machine being operated

Research strategies1

Research Strategies

ExperimentAction research

Grounded theorySurvey

Ethnography Case study

Archival research



  • Experiment: measuring the effects of manipulating one variable on another variable

Research strategies2

Research Strategies

An experiment will involve

  • Definition of a theoretical hypothesis

  • Selection of samples from know populations

  • Random allocation of samples

  • Introduction of planned intervention

  • Measurement on a small number of dependent variables

  • Control of all other variables



  • Survey: collection of information in standardized form groups of people

Research strategies3

Research Strategies

Survey: key features

  • Popular in business research

  • Perceived as authoritative

  • Allows collection of quantitative data

  • Data can be analysed quantitatively

  • Samples need to be representative

  • Gives the researcher independence

  • Structured observation and interviews can be used

Case study

Case Study

  • Case study: development of detailed, intensive knowledge about a single ‘case’, or of a small number of related ‘cases’.

Research strategies4

Research Strategies

Case Study: key features

  • Provides a rich understanding of a real life context

  • Uses and triangulates multiple sources of data

    A case study can be categorised in four ways

    and based on two dimensions:

    single case v. multiple case

    holistic case v. embedded case

    Yin (2003)

Single case

Single case

  • A single case is often used where it represents a critical case or, alternatively, an extreme or unique case. Conversely, a single case may be selected because it is typical or because it provides you with an opportunity to observe and analyze a phenomenon that few have considered before. Inevitably, an important aspect of using a single case is defining the actual case. For many part-time students this is the organization for which they work

Multiple case

multiple case

  • A case study strategy can also incorporate multiple cases, that is, more than one case. The rationale for using multiple cases focuses upon the need to establish whether the findings of the first case occur in other cases and, as a consequence, the need to generalize from these findings. For this reason Yin (2003) argues that multiple

  • case studies may be preferable to a single case study and that, where you choose to use a single case study, you will need to have a strong justification for this choice.

Holistic case

holistic case

  • refers to the unit of analysis. For example,

  • you may well have chosen to use an organization by which you have been employed or are currently employed as your case. If your research is concerned only with the organization as a whole then you are treating the organization as a holistic case study.

Embedded case

embedded case

  • even though you are researching and are concerned with a single organization

  • as a whole, if you wish to examine also a number of logical sub-units within the

  • organization, perhaps departments or work groups, then your case will inevitably involve more than one unit of analysis. Whatever way you select these units, this would be called an embedded case study

Action research

Action research

  • Action research: the term has been used first by Lewin in 1946. It has been understood by management researchers in a variety of ways. But there are three common ideas within the literature. The first focuses on and emphasizes the purpose of the research: the management of change.

Action research1

Action research

  • The second relates to the involvement of the practitioner in the research and in particular a close cooperation between practitioners and researchers. The final theme is that action research should have implications beyond the immediate project. In other words it must be clear that the results could inform other context.

Research strategies5

Research Strategies

Action research: key features

  • Research IN action - not ON action

  • Involves practitioners in the research

  • The researcher becomes part of the organisation

  • Promotes change within the organisation

  • Can have two distinct foci (Schein, 1999) –

    the aim of the research and the needs of the sponsor

Grounded theory

Grounded theory

  • Grounded theory: Collection of data starts without the formation of an initial theoretical framework. Theory is created from data made by a series of observations.

Research strategies6

Research Strategies

Grounded theory: key features

  • Theory is built through induction and deduction

  • Helps to predict and explain behaviour

  • Develops theory from data generated by


  • Is an interpretative process, not a logico-deductive one

    Based on Suddaby (2006)



  • Ethnography: Derives from the field of anthropology. The idea is to interpret the social world the research subject inhabits and the way in which they interpret it.

Research strategies7

Research Strategies

Ethnography: key features

  • Aims to describe and explain the social world inhabited by the researcher

  • Takes place over an extended time period

  • Is naturalistic



  • It means that in adopting an ethnographic strategy, you will be researching the phenomenon within the context in which it occurs and, in addition, not using data collection techniques that oversimplify the complexities of everyday life. Given this, it is not surprising that most ethnographic strategies involve extended participant observation. However, you need to be mindful that the term naturalism also has a contradictory meaning that is often associated with positivism. Within this context it refers to the use of the principles of scientific method and the use of a scientific model within research.

Research strategies8

Research Strategies

Archival research: key features

  • Uses administrative records and documents as the principal sources of data

  • Allows research questions focused on the past

  • Is constrained by the nature of the records and documents

Research strategies9

Research Strategies

The role of the practitioner-researcher

Key features

  • Research access is more easily available

  • The researcher knows the organisation

  • Has the disadvantage of familiarity

  • The researcher is likely to their own assumptions

    and preconceptions

  • The dual role requires careful negotiation

Multiple research methods

Multiple research methods

Research choices

Saunders et al, (2009)

Figure 5.4 Research choices

Multiple research methods1

Multiple research methods

Reasons for using mixed method designs:

(Table 5.1 )

  • Triangulation

  • Facilitation

  • Complementarity

  • Generality

  • Aid interpretation

  • Study different aspects

  • Solving a puzzle

    Source: developed from Bryman (2006)

Time horizons

Time Horizons

Select the appropriate time horizon

  • Cross-sectional studies: cross-sectional studies are the study of a particular phenomenon (or phenomena) at a particular time.

  • Longitudinal studies: usually study the change and development over a period of time.

Credibility of research findings

Credibility of research findings

Important considerations

  • Reliability

  • Validity

  • Generalisability

  • Logic leaps and false assumptions

Research design ethics

Research design ethics


‘The research design should not subject the research population to embarrassment, harm or other material disadvantage’

Adapted from Saunders et al, (2009)

Summary chapter 5

Summary: Chapter 5

Research design turns a research question and objectives into a project that considers

StrategiesChoices Time horizons

Research projects can be categorised as

ExploratoryDescriptive Explanatory

Research projects may be


Summary chapter 51

Summary: Chapter 5

Important considerations

  • The main research strategies may combined in the same project

  • The opportunities provided by using multiple methods

  • The validity and reliability of results

  • Access and ethical considerations

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