Understanding different research perspectives
Understanding different research perspectives

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Understanding different research perspectives

6 Research strategy

A research strategy introduces the main components of a research project such as the research topic area and focus, the research perspective (see Sections 1 and 2), the research design, and the research methods (these are discussed below). It refers to how you propose to answer the research questions set and how you will implement the methodology.

In the first part of this course, you started to identify your research topic, to develop your research statement and you thought about possible research question(s). While you might already have clear research questions or objectives, it is possible that, at this stage, you are uncertain about the most appropriate strategy to implement in order to address those questions. This section looks briefly at a few research strategies you are likely to adopt.

Figure 5 shows the four main types of research strategy: case study, qualitative interviews, quantitative survey and action-oriented research. It is likely that you will use one of the first three; you are less likely to use action-oriented research.

Figure 6 Main research strategies

Here is what each of these strategies entails:

  • Case Study: This focuses on an in-depth investigation of a single case (e.g. one organisation) or a small number of cases. In case study research generally, information is sought from different sources and through the use of different types of data such as observations, survey, interviews and analysis of documents. Data can be qualitative, quantitative or a mix of both. Case study research allows a composite and multifaceted investigation of the issue or problem.
  • Qualitative interviews: There are different types of qualitative interviews (e.g. structured, semi-structured, unstructured) and this is the most widely used method for gathering data. Interviews allow access to rich information. They require extensive planning concerning the development of the structure, decisions about who to interview and how, whether to conduct individual or group interviews, and how to record and analyse them. Interviewees need a wide range of skills, including good social skills, listening skills and communication skills. Interviews are also time-consuming to conduct and they are prone to problems and biases that need to be minimised during the design stage.
  • Quantitative survey: This is a widely used method in business research and allows access to significantly high numbers of participants. The availability of online sites enables the wide and cheap distribution of surveys and the organisation of the responses. Although the development of questions may appear easy, to develop a meaningful questionnaire that allows the answering of research questions is difficult. Questionnaires need to appeal to respondents, cannot be too long, too intrusive or too difficult to understand. They also need to measure accurately the issue under investigation. For these reasons it is also advisable, when possible, to use questionnaires that are available on the market and have already been thoroughly validated. This is highly recommended for projects such as the one you need to carry out for this course. When using questionnaires decisions have to be made about the size of the sample and whether and when this is representative of the whole population studied. Surveys can be administered to the whole population (census), for example to all employees of a specific organisation.
  • Action-oriented research: This refers to practical business research which is directed towards a change or the production of recommendations for change. Action-oriented research is a participatory process which brings together theory and practice, action and reflection. The project is often carried out by insiders. This is because it is grounded in the need to actively involve participants in order for them to develop ownership of the project. After the project, participants will have to implement the change.

Action-oriented research is not exactly action research, even though they are both grounded in the same assumptions (e.g. to produce change). Action research is a highly complex approach to research, reflection and change which is not always achievable in practice (Cameron and Price, 2009). Furthermore action researchers have to be highly skilled and it is unlikely that for this specific project you will be involved in action research. For these reasons this overview focuses on the less pure action-oriented research strategy. If you are interested in exploring this strategy and action research further, you might want to read Chapter 14 of Cameron and Price (2009).

It is possible for you to choose a strategy that includes the use of secondary data. Secondary data is data that has been collected by other people (e.g. employee surveys, market research data, census). Using secondary data for your research project needs to be justified in that it meets the requirements of the research questions. The use of secondary data has obvious benefits in terms of saving money and time. However, it is important to ascertain the quality of the data and how it was collected; for example, data collected by government agencies would be good quality but it may not necessary meet the needs of your project.

It is important to note that there should be consistency between the perspective (subjective or objective) and the methodology employed. This means that the type of strategy adopted needs to be coherent and that its various elements need to fit in with each other, whether the research is grounded on primary or secondary data.

Activity 7

Timing: About 15 minutes

Now watch this video clip in which Dr Rebecca Hewett, Prof Mark Saunders, Prof Gillian Symon and Prof David Guest discuss the importance of setting the right research question, what strategy they adopted to come up with specific research questions for their projects, and how they refined these initial research questions to focus their research.

Download this video clip.Video player: b865_2015k_vid005-640x360.mp4
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I think it's essential to have the right question set for the project, the right research question. You need to know ahead of time what it is you're trying to find out, because otherwise you're going to be asking and answering the wrong question. And when it comes to making recommendations, coming to making conclusions, they're not going to be relevant and clear, because you're won't have said the right research question in the first place. The whole research process should flow out of the research question, so that's why it's so central.
For me, a good research question is essential for a research project. And I would argue it's probably the most difficult thing for anybody to do. It's easy to come up with a question, but the time you need to spend refining it and getting it clear so you can see how that question is grounded in the literature and will actually help you do more than just describe – because remember, you need to be actually explaining as well as describing – is really crucial.
So there are a few little tips to think about this. And one of the most crucial ones is the way you word that question. Questions that start with the word ‘why’ actually force you to explain. So they're really helpful. Questions that start with ‘what’ force you only to describe, so they're less useful. That's not to say you shouldn't be doing description, but remember, you should be explaining as well. So a question which has the word ‘why’ in becomes really helpful.
However, you're not going to get your question right first go. And your question is actually going to metamorphose over time as you read more of the literature and as you do your research and start to understand your topic better. So what I would suggest is work hard and get a clear question grounded in the literature, which is probably a ‘why’ question or perhaps a ‘to what extent’ question, and sometimes a ‘how’, but definitely not a ‘what’ question. And then as you read more, refine that question.
By that I mean you can make incremental changes, but it would be very worrying if your question changed from, say, something in marketing and ended up in something in operations research, especially given your doing a human resources masters. So you need to keep focus. The idea is working up a question and than narrowing the focus down.
I think the issue of having the right research question in relation to student work is actually a bit more complex than it appears, especially for qualitative research. And I'm speaking as an expert in qualitative research. So for qualitative research, unlike quantitative research, you might have a much broader research question to start with. And in fact, the research question may narrow as you go along.
So it's good to have some sort of broad research question at the start, because it helps you to think about it what literatures you should be looking at, what kinds of questions you want to ask people. But you might find in the process of doing the research that that question becomes more focused, or it might even change quite a lot in relation to what you hear from the participants in the research. You might decide, well, actually, what I thought initially was interesting is not. And I should be looking at this particular issue. So you might actually move a bit, in terms of your research question.
So important to have one, but be prepared to perhaps change it. And this is where it's entirely different from quantitative research. You really wouldn't dare go with that at all. For quantitative research, you decide what your question is. You decide what your hypotheses are, and you test them. And anything else is cheating.
First of all, it's got to be one which is doable, in terms of posing an opportunity to undertake realistic research, rather than ground theory. Ground theory is all very well in its place, but students have to be realistic about what they can achieve. So first of all, it has to be something which can be defined, contained, but which has a proper question behind it. And I think it's important to differentiate between saying, I'm interested in psychological contract breach, and something which is more like a research question which says, what impact does attribution of causes of psychological contract breach have on the consequences?
You've narrowed it down. You focused it. It becomes researchable at that point. So I think you've got to tie it down into something which is doable and realistic and sufficiently narrow.
The second thing, of course, is access. And you've got to find somewhere where you can test out your question and your research. Now, sometimes it's going to be quite easy. So if you take the example I've just given you, you can probably use a critical instant approach with all sorts of people. All of us have had our psychological contracts breached at various times. All of us have reached conclusions about the consequences of that.
So you could almost do that with friends and relations, so to speak. Much better of course to do it in an organisational context where you can follow through the consequences understand why people felt more or less strongly about the impact of the breach and whether that influenced their attitudes and behaviour. So you need to think about the access question in the broader sense.
And then the third issue, I suppose, is being able to, if it's going to be a good project, relate it a bit to literature and be sufficiently enthusiastic to want to understand how what you're doing relates to what's been done before and also to what is going to be useful in an organisational context. You may have some ideas which you think are great, which actually derive from the literature.
If the organisation thinks they're a complete waste of time, and they have no interest in it at all, somehow you have to learn to compromise a bit. And so you may want to reshape what you're doing a little bit to fit in with what the organisation wants. Maybe if you give them what they want, they'll let you ask the questions you want. It's a matter of being able to negotiate.
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