Research Procee or Methodology

The Research Process or Methodology

The research process or methodology is the approach to the entire study – it is the master plan. It is the blueprint for achieving your objectives, one of which is the production of the dissertation. Irrespective of the research you are going to conduct, there are several fundamental stages you will have to go through. The diagram below is a simplified, traditional and highly structured view of the research process.
1. Identify terms or reference
2. Survey past work
3. Plan your approach
4. Collect the data
5. analyze the data
6. Discuss your findings
7. Preset your findings
The diagram shows the systematic nature of the research process. Unfortunately it is not quite so straightforward as many of the stages overlap and there is much ‘looping back’ to previous stages.
This simplified diagram does not show the underpinning theoretical issues and questions that have to be addressed. The following diagram shows the different aspects to be considered under each section.

Research Proposal
A difference between a dissertation and almost any other piece of work is that you have to decide on a topic and the title. You start with a blank sheet. This, for most students, is daunting, troublesome and challenging. So where do you begin?
You begin with the ‘research proposal’. This is the document which sets out your initial ideas and thinking and shows, to a certain extent, how much thinking you have devoted to the issue. The research proposal form specifies the need for:
topic and title
a research question or hypothesis (not both)
a review of some literature associated with the title
some indication of how you are going to collect the primary data
a time plan
a bibliography of the literature consulted in putting the proposal together.
The key point about any research is that it has to concern something that you are interested in. Motivation in undertaking research rises and falls. If you have no or little interest to start with, then it will be difficult to lift that interest should you encounter problems and a drop in motivation later on. In the following sections, we consider each aspect of the proposal in more detail.
Topic and title
Where does the inspiration for your dissertation topic come from? There are various sources but the most common, from which this interest may arise, are:
personal experience
something someone has said
something you have read
something you have studied
something you have not studied
your career aspirations.
What is an acceptable topic? Basically any topic is acceptable but:
it must be in the area of your major pathway
it has to be suitable for the level of study
there has to be a literature base which discusses the various theories (concept and model are alternative words for theory) that underpin your topic.
Start by identifying the general topic area; then have a conversation with yourself that narrows the topic down – to something that is more focussed – and then come up with main aim or purpose of the dissertation.

If you have more than one topic in mind
Perhaps you have more than one area in mind – if so, you should go through the above process with all of them to help you decide.
Refining the aim – getting the title
Having stated your aim in one sentence, you now need to think about it in more detail to refine your ideas and thinking. Hopefully at the end of this you will have a short, succinct title. To do this you need to have a conversation with yourself. For the example on motivation this conversation may run as follows:
Here is how I see the issue. ‘Increased or enhanced motivation leads to increased productivity.’But what are you referring to when you say ‘increased or enhanced motivation’? What actually happens in the workplace when motivation is increased? Or put it another way, what causes motivation to be enhanced? Possible answers are changes in the job design, management or leadership style, organisational structure or reward system. Why not change your statement?
Right! ‘Changes (improvements) in job design, leadership style, organisational structure, reward systems and so on, cause increased productivity.’Well, this statement appears to be true, but surely it only happens when the individuals in question have the ability to carry out the prescribed tasks in ways that are expected. Why not qualify it?
OK. ‘Changes (improvements) in job design, leadership style, organisational structure, reward systems and so on, cause increased productivity when the individuals have the relevant ability (competencies).’That is better, but by now you should be aware of some of the managerial implications of your chosen line of research. You can see various new lines of research beginning to open even before you have completed the design of your research. So, you have now got the flexibility to direct your enquiry along the lines you find most interesting and appealing.Why not go back to the original point of focus? Motivation and motivational factors are about individuals and the outcome of motivation is satisfaction. Since your research idea is on workplace satisfaction your concerns are with job satisfaction. Why not give this interpretation of the issue?
Right. ‘Changes (improvements) in job design, leadership style, organisational structure, reward systems and so on lead to job satisfaction which causes increased productivity when the individuals have the relevant ability (competencies).’That looks even better, but couldn’t you shorten the statement?
‘Job satisfaction causes increased productivity.’That is short and sweet. What about your conclusion?

‘Increased job satisfaction causes increased productivity, given the right conditions.’
A nice short title!Notice the title does not begin with:‘An investigation into …’or‘An analysis of …’The very fact you are undertaking research implies you are investigating or analysing. Also the title is short – aim for a maximum of 12 words in your title.
As you can see from this activity, a diverse range of factors determines job satisfaction. There are many examples of this in the workplace. One example, relating to organisational factors, might be the effects on job satisfaction of a major hotel rebuilding programme. A feeling of lack of involvement or knowledge of what is happening may lead to a lot of resentment; moreover, building workers and noise can have a very disruptive effect on the daily work of a busy hotel.
A dissertation would not cover all of these possibilities. It would probably concentrate on one or two at the most. The above list shows there are at least 10 potential dissertations in this area. It is important that you narrow down your topic to a very specific aspect for investigation. You are looking for depth not breadth.
Research questions
Whereas the aim or purpose statement explains the general direction of the study and is summarised by your title, the research questions (or hypotheses) expand on this by providing detail. This is a critical stage in your research, even though it appears early in the process.
If you do not ask the appropriate questions you will not be able to collect suitable data and arrive at sensible conclusions. By research questions we do not mean the detailed questions you might use in interviews or questionnaires, but questions which identify the general nature of research or issue you wish to focus on.
At the proposal stage we want the core or key question, or, to put it another way, we want a ‘grand tour’ question. After further reading you might identify another key question, but remember, the more core questions that you have, the more work you will need to do.
A core research question should imply:
an explanation of some phenomenon
a relationship between variables
a comparison between variables
The types of questions that produce explanations and relationships may begin with:
This list is only for illustrative purposes and is not exhaustive. There are many other possibilities. A point to note, and one that is often ignored by students, is that a question ends in a question mark.
Another example is:
The purpose of the dissertation is to investigate whether mature students gain a better level of degree than younger students.
Degrees: by age and classification
Research question:
Do younger and older students differ in the level of degree attained?
In the above example, the researcher does not know if there is a difference between younger and older students and is interested in determining this. However, suppose the researcher knows there is a difference (from other research) and wants to find out why there is a difference. The aim of the dissertation and main research question will change, even though the title remains the same.

The purpose of the dissertation is to investigate whether mature students gain a better level of degree than younger students.
Degrees: by age and classification
Research question:
Why do younger and older students differ in the level of degree attained?
An alternative way of posing a research question is to state a hypothesis (plural hypotheses). A hypothesis is a proposition about the area that you are studying and is expressed as a statement of fact or what you believe to be true. You then try to find out whether the statement is true or false.
A ‘good’ hypothesis is:
based on current knowledge and understanding (facts, theory)
compares two variables
can be tested by the collection and analysis of data.
A hypothesis is worded such that it implies that the two variables are independent of each other. Strictly this is called the null hypothesis. If we consider the example on the type of degrees obtained by younger and older students, we can state the (null) hypothesis as:
There is no difference in the level of degree obtained by younger and older students.
Younger and older students do not differ in the level of degree attained.
This hypothesis is then tested by trying to disprove it by saying, ‘let us look for evidence that would show the hypothesis to be incorrect’. In this example this means trying to show that there is a difference in the level of degree obtained. If we could find sufficient evidence to show a difference we would reject the null hypothesis:
There is no difference in the level of degree obtained by younger and older students
in favour of the alternative hypothesis:
There is a difference in the level of degree obtained by younger and older students.
Of course, if you show there is a difference it introduces the questions, ‘What is the difference and why?’
The notion of a hypothesis is a difficult one and may not be necessary for your research. However, it is a good exercise to try to phrase your research in this way as it helps to clarify your ideas.
Another type of hypothesis is a statistical hypothesis. These hypotheses tend to be used when researchers are dealing with large amounts of numerical data. Also theoretical statistical tests are used to prove or disprove the null hypothesis. Such hypotheses are unlikely to concern you as you will be handling smaller amounts of data.
Preliminary literature review
For the research proposal, you are required to write an essay that identifies the main underpinning concepts/theories/models that are relevant to your topic/title/research question. This essay – the preliminary literature review – is a much smaller version of the actual literature review that would be found in your dissertation, but provides a starting point that you can use for development.
Primary data collection
As with the literature review you are being asked in the proposal to do something that you have not yet covered in great detail. In particular, you have to try to identify how you are going to collect your primary data.
Time planning
You have now thought and written about the:
core research question or hypothesis
preliminary literature review and bibliography
primary data collection
The penultimate stage of the proposal is to produce a time plan of what you are going to do and when. The plan should be detailed and include all the tasks necessary to complete your dissertation. Remember these are not discrete – many of the tasks have to be thought about in advance and overlap with other activities. They also take a lot longer than you actually think. For example, it is no good thinking that the literature review will take four weeks. You have to spend time finding material, reading the material, writing a draft, submitting it to your supervisor, giving him or her time to read it, get feedback, and redraft based on the comments.
Students often underestimate how long data analysis and evaluation takes. At undergraduate level it should take a minimum of four weeks. Many students, because of poor planning, or things going, wrong find themselves short of time towards the end of the dissertation and rush the analysis and evaluation. This often negates all the good work that may have gone before.
A number of approaches are possible in preparing a time plan. The basic method is to list the weeks from the commencement of the dissertation to the submission and slot in the detail. In this way you can identify holidays and other times when you may not be able to work on the dissertation. You can also identify milestones and key dates.
Assessment of the proposal
By now you have almost completed the proposal. The final step is to reflect on your proposal. You probably are very tempted to put in the final full stop and not look at it again! However, you need to reflect and re-assess what you have written.
Remember that you have to convince the supervisors who assess your proposal that you know what you are talking about, that you have given sufficient thought to the proposal and that you have devoted some effort to it. To do this, you need to ask the same questions the supervisors ask when assessing your proposal:
Is the title clear and concise?
Is the core research question appropriate and answerable?
Does the preliminary literature review draw on authors from both textbooks and journals?
Is it up-to-date?
Is it sufficiently detailed?
Is it descriptive or does it include discussion and debate?
Is it written in a fluent, easy-to-read style?
Is the proposed primary data collection reasonable at this stage?
Is the time plan detailed and feasible?
Is the bibliography correct?
Has the proposal been spell-checked? Is it grammatically correct?
Does it look professional?
Hand in the proposal. Well done!

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