Business Research Methods

Question 1

  1. What is the purpose of the literature review? Bring examples to support your answer.

Answer 1

Initially, the literature review is the source of and the means by which research studies are identified and pursued. Commonly called research gaps, these serve as trigger mechanisms that provoke the curiosity of researchers into conducting a more thorough system of inquiry and investigation to seek the truth and facts about a certain problem statement or topic. Scanning and reviewing available literature enables the researcher and the reader to appreciate the conduct of a study based on the latest information available and comprehensively as possible.

This ensures that the researcher is updated in terms of theoretical as well as empirical background of the topic of the research. Here, the review of literature represents the medium by which the latest scientific inquiry on the research problem is disclosed. A form of qualitative analysis may help clarify certain issues and practices used as literature sources. (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992)

The literature review also examines recent and historically significant research studies, company data or industry reports that serve to act as basis for the proposed study. (Schindler & Cooper, 2008; p. 641). Usually, starting from a comprehensive and general perspective, modern literature review goes to the more specific studies called empirical literature considered directly related to the research problem.

Thus, this part may be used to explain the need for the proposed work to appraise the shortcomings or informational gaps in secondary data sources. Here, the research process is sustained in the chain of scientific inquiries resulting to more studies and new researches.

Further, the literature review ensures the reader whether the researcher is directly citing both theoretical literature and empirical literature through direct quotations.  paraphrasing using the writer’s own opinions and analyses. (Johnson, 1987; p. 134) Thus, the reader is well-guided in evaluating the experiences of other researchers in relation to the emergence of a new form of literature review.

The literature review and the accompanying analysis may go beyond the availability or conclusions of past studies and their data, examining the accuracy of secondary sources as well as the credibility of these sources including the appropriateness of earlier studies. As a matter of conclusion, the literature review is ended by summarizing the important components of the literature and interpreting them in terms of the problems at hand.

Further, the literature review explores published history of the research topic based on the identified variables of the study. Here, the specific environment of the study is scanned, scrutinized and correlated to identify as well as appreciate the relevance and depth of the topic under study. A literature review, like in any research paper, is systematically organized around ideas, not just as the secondary sources in the form of a relevant annotated bibliography being organized.

Here, the researcher does not just list down his sources or go into detailed discussions but explores out each one of them, one at a time.  As the topic area is read widely and selectively, considers instead what themes or issues connect one’s sources together. Do they present one or different solutions? Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? How well do they present the material and do they portray it according to an appropriate theory? Do they reveal a trend in the field as a raging debate?

An example of a literature review follows:

“…Anthony & Govindarajan (2003) asserts that the principle of management control systems also applies to the aspect of requiring the organization to enforce the rules and guidelines of compliance to avoid resource wastage as well as deviation from planned opertions, but Kaplan and Norton (2004) cautions managers that imposing too stiff controls may turn out to be unproductive in the long run and negate the very goals the organization wish to achieve. Nevertheless Simons (1997)  warns that management control systems must be tempered with relationship value with all organizational stakeholders to ensure that there is a sustainable equilibrium or leverage between controls and pre-set goals and objectives.     

Question 2.  

“The problem definition stage is perhaps more critical in the research process than the problem solution stage”. Discuss this statement in depth.

Answer 2.

Indeed, identifying the research problem is considered more pivotal than solving the problem itself.  Here, pinpointing the problem requires correctly identifying and conceptualizing the related sub-problems that will fully address  the main issue. As soon as the problem is identified, the means to resolve it becomes moot and academic. Thus, identifying the target is the first stage before solving it. Any form of solution to address the problem would depend on the main issue being resolved. (Schindler & Cooper, 2008)

For instance, for a company to adopt a strategic plan to resolve a business issue over the long term, it is necessary to identify the main problem of the entity so that the planned strategy would revolve around the main issue identified and focus on the measures that will effectively and directly address the issue. Thus, if a business performs poorly in terms of profitability, it is necessary to identify what areas are causing the substandard performance: here, the major issue could be traced to the marketing and product competitiveness or lack of adequate financial resources or its accompanying high cost or even errors or lack of skills in human judgment.

In addition, properly conceptualizing the problem statement is critical in convincing and capturing the reader’s attention to sustain and continue the interest in addressing the dilemma: if it is business, the management dilemma should be properly identified, its background and its consequences including the areas that are not being addressed. Problem statements that are broadly or improperly defined can hardly be addressed adequately in a single study. Clarity in the problem statement is critical in delineating other related problems. (Schindler and Cooper, 2008; p.640-641)

Question 3

Below are two scenarios namely A and B. For each, indicate how the researcher should proceed with the following, giving reasons:

  1. The purpose of the study
  2. The type of investigation
  3. The extent of researcher interference
  4. The study setting
  5. The time horizon for the study
  6. The unit of analysis.

Scenario A

Ms. Joyce Lynn, the owner of a small business (a woman’s dress boutique), has invited a consultant to tell her how she is different from similar small business within a 60-mile radius, in regard to her usage of the most modern computer technology, sales volume, profit margin, and staff training.

 Scenario B

Mr. Paul Hodge, the owner of several restaurants is concerned about the wide differences in the profit margins of the various restaurants. He would like to try some incentive plans for increasing the efficiency levels of those restaurants that are lagging behind. But, before he introduces this, he would like to be sure that the idea will work. He asks a researcher to help him with this issue.

 Answer 3.

Scenario A.

In this scenario, the research problem will focus on the competitiveness of Joyce Lynn’s boutique business within the 60-mile radius. In the process of analyzing the competitive edge of the business, the sub-problems could be charted through the effects of using modern technology and skilled labor resulting in increased volume of sales, target costing and bigger profit margin and, in addition, possibly even due to lower prices at good quality products during a specific period of time.

Here, the purpose of the study could be sustaining business profitability in the local market through use of technology and skilled labor with the 60-mile radius as the limiting market factor.  The type of investigation could be quantitative and descriptive using questionnaire for key respondents within the company to determine and identify company operational drivers along use of technology and the corresponding skills that complemented the production process. Here, documentary analysis is necessary to determine the profit margin through data from the financial and management accounting reports.

The extent of researcher intervention or interference is considered deeper as he is tasked to conduct financial analysis on confidential information to measure the revenues, the cost structure to arrive at the accurate profit margin. Using possibly percentages and cost analysis and the computational support, the setting of the study could be the production area where the skilled labor and modern technology are being utilized.

The time horizon of the study could be a period representing a fiscal year or an accounting period of about one year or depending on the purpose of the researcher which could be shorter than one year or longer as in two or three years. Thus, a period long enough to determine the average cost or profit margin and correlated with the trend in the volume of sales over a consistent period can be used as the basis of analysis to support competitiveness of the small business. Here, the aspect of consistency will be helpful in achieving a more relevant comparability of year-on-year results of operations.

Likewise, the unit of analysis could be individuals represented by the internal respondents which can be composed of the key decision makers and skilled personnel as well as customers within the market coverage area of 60 miles radius and who can validate the market competitiveness as a result of increased volume of sales, profit margin or the high quality of production output. (Trochim, 2008).

Scenario B

For this scenario, Mr. Paul Hodge could possibly conduct a form of descriptive, quantitative and qualitative research that will analyze the probable causes of varying profit margins in the other restaurants. A survey that can be conducted among employees and customers and even key decision makers as a required triangulation approach will objectively compare the performance of every restaurant and is considered necessary to zero-in on the primary cause of the low profit margin scenario in the other restaurants.

Research will confirm or indicate that low profit margins can be traced to various causes such as poor cost management, unrealistically low selling price, uncontrolled product spoilage, poor customer service resulting to unsatisfied clientele without hope of repeat business, among others. (Anthony ; Govindarajan, 2003) These conclusions and the corresponding implications can be generated through quantitative survey and qualitative interviews with respondents considered critical to the decision processes.

Thus, Mr. Hodge can assure himself that with an in-depth quantitative-qualitative research, the resulting indicators will pinpoint which factors are considered primary reasons and with possibly a number of secondary factors of inefficiency resulting to low margins. Here, the scientific inquiry may include documentary research detailing the cost components of the non-performing restaurants taken from the financial reports submitted by the other branches.

Any component of cost such as materials, labor and overhead can be specifically pinpointed as being the direct cause of the performance issue; hence, measures along this line can be instituted to answer the research problem. Here, the technique is to identify the culprit and zero-in from there.

However, it is to be noted that whether the measures as per research findings will effectively work or not will depend on the serious views and comments of the respondents insofar as the causes of variances are concerned. Appropriate analysis of the results of the surveys and interviews will somehow lead the research to its ultimate solution. (Babbie, 2002) Thus, thinking about the incentives that may be offered ahead of the research findings may preempt the results of the research and may not solve the research problem especially if it turns out that the primary cause of the low profit margin are not incentives-based but are to be attributed to other factors besides the incentive issues..

From here, the researcher can assist Mr. Hodge by undertaking an empirical study that describes, quantifies and evaluates the operational status of those low-performing restaurants based on surveys, interviews and documentary analysis. Thus, in this case research becomes a problem-solving routine that carefully evaluates the findings, analyzes the data into useful information and recommends measures to elicit appropriate decisions to finally and objectively resolve the issues. (Hayes, 1992)

Thus, in Scenario B, the purpose of the study is to explore an incentive plan to motivate its people to become more efficient and thus contribute to an increased profit margin for many of its restaurants. The type of investigation can be descriptive, quantitative and qualitative with data gathering more intensive in terms of interviews with people critical and pivotal to the attainment of goals and objectives. The study settings could be the entire restaurant network as means of comparability, for about one year or less. Here, the unit of analysis is the individual, employee as well as the customers.

Reference list

Babbie, E. (2002). The basics of social research.  2nd edition. Wadsworth Publishing.

Bogdan, R.C.  ; Biklen, S. K. (1992). Qualitative research for education. An introduction to theory and methods. 2nd edition. Boston, MA Allyn and Bacon.

Glatthorn, A.A. (1998). Writing the winning dissertation. A step-by-step guide. Thousand Oaks, CA.  Corwin Press/a Sage Publication Company.

Hayes, B. E. (1992) Measuring customer satisfaction. Development and use of questionnaire. Milwaukee Wi. ASQC Quality Press.

Johnson, J. (1987). The Bedford guide to the research process. New York. St. Martin’s Press.

Schindler, P.S. ; Cooper, D.A. (2008). Business research methods.  10th International Edition, New York, McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

  Trochim, W.M.K. (2008). Units of analysis. Research methods Knowledge Base. Viewed July 21, 2010 at website:

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