Research Methods

Research methods is a broad term. While methods of data collection and data analysis represent the core of research methods, you have to address a range of additional elements within the scope of your research.

The most important elements of research methodology expected to be covered in business dissertation at Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD levels include research philosophy, research approach, methods of data collection, sampling and ethical considerations.

Let’s look briefly at each of them separately.


1. Research philosophy

Research philosophy is associated with clarification of assumption about the nature and the source of knowledge. All studies are based on some kind of assumptions about the world and the ways of understanding the world. There is no consensus among philosophers about the most appropriate ways of understanding the world; therefore, you are expected to clarify the philosophy you have chosen to understand your research problem.

Positivism and phenomenology are the two main contrasting research philosophies related to business studies. Positivism is an objective approach which relies on facts and quantitative data. Phenomenology, on the contrary, takes into account subjective human interests and focuses on meanings rather than hard data. You have to specify in your dissertation which philosophy you are following.

You can read more about research philosophy here.


2. Research approach

Research approach can be divided into two, inductive and deductive categories. If you decide to find answer to specific research question(s) formulated in the beginning of the research process, you would be following an inductive approach. Alternatively, if you choose to achieve research objective(s) via testing hypotheses, your research approach can be specified as deductive. The choice between the two depends on a set of factors such as the area of study, research philosophy, the nature of the research problem and others.

You can read more about research approach here.


 3. Research design

Research design can be exploratory or conclusive. If you want merely explore the research problem and you do not want to produce final and conclusive evidences to the research problem, your research design would be exploratory.  Conclusive research design, on the contrary, aims to provide final and conclusive answers to the research question. Conclusive research be further divided into two sub-categories.

You can read more about research design here.


4. Data collection methods

There are two types of data – primary and secondary. Primary data is a type of data which never existed before, hence it was not previously published. Primary data is collected for a specific purpose, i.e. they are critically analyzed to find answers to research question(s). Secondary data, on the other hand, refers to a type of data that has been previously published in journals, magazines, newspapers, books, online portals and other sources.

Dissertations can be based solely on the secondary data, without a need for the primary data. However, the opposite is not true i.e. no research can be completed only using primary data and secondary data collection and analysis is compulsory for all dissertations.

Primary data collection methods can be divided into two categories: qualitative and quantitative.

The main differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods can be summarized in the following points:

Firstly, the concepts in quantitative research methods are usually expressed in the forms of variables, while the concepts in qualitative research methods are expressed in motives and generalizations.

Secondly, quantitative research methods and measures are usually universal, like formulas for finding mean, median and mode for a set of data, whereas, in qualitative research each research is approached individually and individual measures are developed to interpret the primary data taking into account the unique characteristics of the research.

Thirdly, data in quantitative research appears in the forms of numbers and specific measurements and in qualitative research data can be in forms of words, images, transcripts, etc.

Fourthly, research findings in quantitative research can be illustrated in the forms of tables, graphs and pie-charts, whereas, research findings in qualitative studies is usually presented in analysis by only using words.

The following table presents the main differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods:

Characteristic Quantitative research Qualitative research
Type of data Phenomena are described numerically Phenomena are described in a narrative fashion
Analysis Descriptive and inferential statistics Identification of major schemes
Scope of inquiry Specific questions or hypotheses Broad, thematic concerns
Primary advantage Large sample, statistical validity, accurately reflects the population Rich, in-depth, narrative description of sample
Primary disadvantage Superficial understanding of participants’ thoughts and feelings Small sample, not generalizable to the population at large


The most popular qualitative methods of data collection and analysis in business studies are interviewsfocus groupsobservationcase studies, games and role playing etc.

Popular quantitative methods of data collection and analysis, on the other hand, include correlation analysisregression analysis, mean, mode and median and others.


 5. Sampling

Sampling is a principle that specifies the conditions and guides the process of selecting the members of population to participate in the study and to contribute as sources for primary data. The choice of sampling method determines the accuracy of research findings, reliability and validity of the study and has immense implications on the overall quality of the study.

You can read more about sampling here.


 6. Ethical Considerations

Regardless of your choice of research methods, you are obliged to address ethical aspects of writing a dissertation in a proactive manner. Here you have to state that you have avoided misconducts during that research process and your dissertation is free from contradictions on ethical grounds and this statement must be true.

You can read more about ethical considerations here.


Research methodsMy e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Dissertation in Business Studies: a step by step assistance offers practical assistance to complete a dissertation with minimum or no stress. The e-book covers all stages of writing a dissertation starting from the selection to the research area to submitting the completed version of the work within the deadline.


John Dudovskiy