A critical comparison is presented in this essay and it relates to widely used research methods – Questionnaire, Observation and Research Interviews. The section on Questionnaire begins with a broad over view to the research method discussing the techniques and major research concerns influencing the method, before moving to the methodological strength and weakness of questionnaire.
The section on Observation and Research Interviews follows next and they are explored in a similar pattern as that of the questionnaire. Additional concerns for research are discussed in the explanation for each method.
Following the method explanation, this essay focuses the comparison of the methods based on the critical factors that has impact on these research methods. The results of the comparison are tabulated to have an easier understanding. The final section of this essay is the conclusion which comments on the suitability of three methods for a particular research type.
Questionnaire is one of the most popular data collection method used for Descriptive or Explanatory survey research. Whilst the former research is used to identify and describe variability in different processes, the latter is much used for examining relationship between variables.
Standardised nature of the data collected facilitated by easier understanding of the research questions makes questionnaire a popular and common technique for Business & Management research.
The kernel factors that needs to be considered in the design and administering of questionnaires are:
Questionnaires can be broadly classified based on the method of administration into:
Self administered questionnaires rules out the choice of selection of respondents and the reliability of the data collected becomes low with possible contamination of responses. In contrast the interviewer chooses whom he wants as respondents, records the responses directly as answered by the respondents and hence reliability is high with a lower level of contamination of responses.
A successful questionnaire is the key to answer the research questions and the design of questionnaire forms the crucial element to the success of the questionnaire. The key objective for designing a successful questionnaire must be to ensure that respondent understands the entire questionnaire in the same manner intended by the researcher. Often it is highly unlikely to get back to the same respondent for obtaining additional responses hence the design needs to be precise in the first instance before proceeding with the data collection.
Dillman (1978) has categorised the different type of information sought into the following four design variables:
Design of the individual questions decides the type of data collected and has a major contribution to the success of the questionnaire. Individual questions are broadly classified into Open and close questions. Open questions are used to obtain wide variety of responses; they are especially useful when the outcome is unlikely to be predicted. It involves written responses which makes the process more time consuming with increased response rate and less easy for comparison.
In contrast closed questions provide respondents with specific answer choices to choose thereby avoiding filling out the blank spaces and overall results in lower response rate and easier comparison. The wordings used in the questionnaire are extremely important.
The wording of a question should include clear instructions on how to complete the questionnaire, make it unambiguous, concise and should clearly reflect the objective of the research. Similarly the order and flow of questions within the questionnaire should be planned in a logical manner since it affects the response rate and the reliability of the data collected.
Pre-testing of questionnaire is required to get a feed back on clarity of information, time for completion, layout, biased questions, interpretation of the respondents etc. Number of respondents on whom the questionnaire is tested and the number of test conducted mainly depends on the research objectives, time available and financial implications.
Several approaches have been put forward by researchers for testing the reliability and validity of the data collected. The final process involved in the questionnaire is the administration of the questionnaire to maximise the response rate and to have a better access to the data collected over a period of time. Administration requirement for a questionnaire depends on the type of questionnaire.
Observation is the most common data collection technique used in Ethnographic approach to research methods. Ethnography relates to anthropology which lay emphasis on understanding the meaning that participants’ attach to their actions. This method is unique from the other data collection techniques because it focuses more on the behavioral or social aspects of the participants and has a higher “ecological validity” (Gill & Johnson, 1997) over other methods.
Researchers have suggested that this inductive approach in combination with other research methods is a valuable research tool for management research. The two types of observation detailed in this essay are Participant observation and Structured observation.
Participant observation is a qualitative analysis in which the researcher “shares experience not merely observing what is happening but also feeling it” (Gill & Johnson, 1997). In this subjective approach the researcher tags along with the participant group, communicates with the members of the group to understand the behavior of the group to answer the research objective and in the process derives a self identity.
The level of involvement i.e. researchers’ role as a complete participant or as an observer in the team, researchers identity in the team (overt or covert), period of involvement (short / long term) and the extent of socializing depends on the research questions that need to be answered. Working towards answering these issues, Gill & Johnson (1997) has developed the following categorisation
The observation in the first two roles is covert i.e. the identity of the researcher is not revealed to the members and the purpose of the research is hidden. The covert approach argues that behavior of people is influenced by direct observation and gaining access to the information would be difficult with people understanding the purpose of the researcher and the research objective. The major problem with covert approach is that it is inferred as “ethically defensible” (Gill & Johnson, 1997) i.e. there exists an element of deception of the people by the researcher.
The nature of observation in the last two roles is overt i.e. the identity of the researcher is revealed to the members of the group and the purpose of the research is known. In the former, researcher is a spectator and can work towards the research objective focusing on the interaction with the participant team. Whilst in the latter, researchers’ role is more of a participant and enjoys a field work relationship with the participants (Ackroyd and Hughes, 1992). Since the identity of the researcher is revealed, he works towards gaining the trust of the group and hence there is a better role clarity and working towards research objective.
Delbridge & Kirkpatrick (1994) have broadly classified the data collected through participant observation into primary, secondary and experiential. These data basically answers what happened or what was said at the time of observation. Data collection for the participant observation is done through informal discussions and questions and data analysis can be carried out simultaneously.
Structured observation unlike participant observation follows a systematic approach and has a predetermined structure in working towards the research objective. Structured observation lays a strict emphasis on quantifying the behavior of the participants’ and describes more about how things happen rather than why they happen. Data collection for structured observation can be an off the shelf design, own design or a combination of both and choice depends on the research objective.
Interview is a data collection technique used extensively in qualitative research methods wherein the researcher communicates directly with the respondents to collect valid and reliable information relevant to research objective. “Interview is a purposeful discussion between two or more people” (Kahn & Cannell, 1967).
Interview requires less writings and facilitates collection of critical data with an immediate feedback from the respondent Research Interviews are either conducted on a one-one basis where the interviewer communicates with a single respondent or a Group basis where an interviewer communicates to a group (focus group).
There are various interview methods available for research; selection of a particular type depends on the type of research (explanatory, descriptive, explanatory) and the research question that needs to be answered. Based on the level of formality and the structure, interviews are categorised into
In Semi structured interview, researcher prepares a list of questions, the number and order of questions varies with flow of the conversation between the interviewer and the respondent. On the other hand unstructured interview is carried out in informal situation in which the interviewee is entertained to respond freely about information related to the research area. This methodology is used for in depth analysis on a particular research question.
Yet another type is the Telephonic Interview which facilitates rapid collection of information at a lower cost. Since there is no personal contact between the interviewer and the respondent, the problems discussed under telephonic questionnaires applies here as well. Despite the speed and cost advantages telephonic interviews are likely to be employed in particular circumstances only.
The interviewer controls the quality of the result and hence it is important that the interviewer has the background of study; understands the purpose of the research; communicates in an understandable way, avoids deviation from the topic and has good interpretation of information collected.
For the purpose of getting better results, it is important for the interviewer to rehearse the interview before beginning the actual field work. The interviewer should identify the possible circumstances leading to a situation of a biased interview; he should clearly understand the impact of bias on the research objective and work on solutions to avoid it.
The outcome of an interview also depends on the type of questions where the question should be able to gather information on attributes like behaviors, opinions, knowledge, feelings. The exact composition of questions depends on the research objective. The sequence of questions should be planned in a way to get the respondent involved in the interview as quickly as possible and to avoid digression from the topic under discussion.
The most important phase in the interview process is the collection of required information from the respondent and the recording the collected information (making notes, recording in tapes). The major focus should be towards encouraging responses, providing transition between topics and adhering to the research questions.
An essay on the research methods would be incomplete without critical comparison of the methodologies discussed. The table formulated below identifies critical factors that affect the methodologies under consideration and draws a critical comparison between them.
The comparison based on the critical factors clearly shows that each methodology discussed has a different approach offering distinctive advantages and disadvantages. The suitability of the methodology for a particular research depends on many factors including purpose of the research. In many of the Business and Management research, the researcher face a “dilemmatic” (Mc Grath, 1982) situation having no ideal result adapting a single methodology and in all such situations Multimethod strategy is employed to tap the potential advantages of all methods to find an effective solution to the research objective.
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