Product Information:-

  • Journals
  • Books
  • Case Studies
  • Regional information

How to... conduct empirical research

Options:     Print Version - How to... conduct empirical research, part 2 Print view

The research question

The starting point for your research should be your research question. This should be a formulation of the issue which is at the heart of the area which you are researching, which has the right degree of breadth and depth to make the research feasible within your resources. The following points are useful to remember when coming up with your research question, or RQ:

  1. The RQ should arise from your research stream, or topic of interest. This may come from:

    • your doctoral thesis;
    • reading the relevant literature in journals, especially literature reviews which are good at giving an overview, and spotting interesting conceptual developments;
    • looking at research priorities of funding bodies, professional institutes etc.;
    • going to conferences;
    • looking out for calls for papers;
    • developing a dialogue with other researchers in your area.

  2. To narrow down your research topic, brainstorm ideas around it, possibly with your colleagues if you have decided to collaborate, noting all the questions down.

  3. Come up with a "general focus" question; then develop some other more specific ones.

  4. Having come up with your RQs, check that:

    • they are not too broad;
    • they are not so narrow as to yield uninteresting results;
    • will the research entailed be covered by your resources, i.e. will you have sufficient time and money;
    • there is sufficient background literature on the topic;
    • you can carry out appropriate field research;
    • you have stated your question in the simplest possible way.

Let's look at some examples:

Bisking et al. examine whether or not gender has an influence on disciplinary action in their article (Management Decision, Volume 41 Number 10) and come up with the following series of inter-related questions:

  1. Given the same infraction, would a male leader impose the same disciplinary action on male and female subordinates?
  2. Given the same infraction, would a female leader impose the same disciplinary action on male and female subordinates?
  3. Given the same infraction, would a female leader impose the same disciplinary action on female subordinates as a male leader would on male subordinates?
  4. Given the same infraction, would a female leader impose the same disciplinary action on male subordinates as a male leader would on female subordinates?
  5. Given the same infraction, would a male and female leader impose the same disciplinary action on male subordinates?
  6. Given the same infraction, would a male and female leader impose the same disciplinary action on female subordinates?
  7. Do female and male leaders impose the same discipline on subordinates regardless of the type of infraction?
  8. Is it possible to predict how female and male leaders will impose disciplinary actions based on their respective BSRI femininity and masculinity scores?

Motion et al. examined co-branding in  (European Journal of Marketing, Volume 37 Number 7/8) and came up with the following RQs:

RQ1: What objectives underpinned the corporate brand?

RQ2: How were brand values deployed to establish the corporate co-brand within particular discourse contexts?

RQ3: How was the desired rearticulation promoted to shareholders?

RQ4: What are the sources of corporate co-brand equity?

Note, the above two examples state the RQs very explicitly; sometimes the RQ is implicit:

Qun G. Jiao, Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie are library researchers who examined the question: "What is the relationship between library anxiety and social interdependence?" in a number of articles, see (Library Review, Volume 51 Number 2).

Or sometimes the RQ is stated as a general objective:

Ying Fan describes outsourcing in British companies in  (Marketing Intelligence & Planning, Volume 18 Number 4) and states his research question as an objective:

The main objective of the research was to explore the two key areas in the outsourcing process, namely:

  1. pre-outsourcing decision process; and
  2. post-outsourcing supplier management.

or as a proposition:

Karin Klenke explores issues of gender in management decisions in  (Management Decision, Volume 41 Number 10).

Given the exploratory nature of this research, no specific hypotheses were formulated. Instead, the following general propositions are postulated:

P1. Female and male members of TMTs exercise different types of power in the strategic decision making process.

P2. Female and male members of TMTs differ in the extent in which they employ political savvy in the strategic decision making process.

P3. Male and female members of TMTs manage conflict in strategic decision making situations differently.

P4. Female and male members of TMTs utilize different types of trust in the decision making process.

Sometimes, the theoretical underpinning (see next section) of the research leads you to formulate a hypothesis rather than a question:

Martin et al. explored the effect of fast-forwarding of ads (called zipping) in  (Marketing Intelligence & Planning, Volume 20 Number 1) and his research explores the following hypotheses:

The influence of zipping
H1. Individuals viewing advertisements played at normal speed will exhibit higher ad recall and recognition than those who view zipped advertisements.

Ad repetition effects
H2. Individuals viewing a repeated advertisement will exhibit higher ad recall and recognition than those who see an advertisement once.

Zipping and ad repetition
H3. Individuals viewing zipped, repeated advertisements will exhibit higher ad recall and recognition than those who see a normal speed advertisement that is played once.