Nature of Research

Research is systematic enquiry whose goal is communicable knowledge:

  • Systematic because it is pursued according to ‘some plan;
  • An enquiry because it is seeks to find answers to questions;
  • Goal-directed because the objects of the enquiry are posed by the task description;
  • Knowledge-directed because the findings. of the enquiry must go beyond providing mere information; and
  • Communicable because the findings must be intelligible to, and located within some framework of understanding for, an appropriate audience.


When listening to the radio, watching the television or reading a daily newspaper it is difficult to avoid the term ‘research’. The results of ‘research’ are all around us. I am sure you would have heard the phrase “research shows that…” many times in your life.


A debate about the findings of a recent poll of people’s opinions inevitably includes a discussion of ‘research’, normally referring to the way in which the data were collected. Politicians often justify their policy decisions on the basis of ‘research’. Newspapers report the findings of research companies’ surveys. Documentary programs tell us about ‘research findings’, and advertisers may highlight the ‘results of research’ to encourage you to buy a particular product or brand. However, we believe that what these examples really emphasize is the wide range of meanings given to the term ‘research’ in everyday speech.


Understanding Research methods help us to be specific about research we discuss, to make sure that the research comes from a valid source and was collected and analyzed appropriately.


Walliman (2005) argues that many of these everyday uses of the term ‘research’ are not research in the true meaning of the word. As part of this, he highlights ways in which the term is used wrongly:

  • just collecting facts or information with no clear purpose;
  • reassembling and reordering facts or information without interpretation;
  • as a term to get your product or idea noticed and respected


The first of these highlights the fact that, although research often involves the collection of information, it is more than just reading a few books or articles, talking to a few people or asking people questions. While collecting data may be part of the research process, if it is not undertaken in a systematic way, on its own and, in particular, with a clear purpose, it will not be seen as research. The second of these is commonplace in many reports. Data are collected, perhaps from a variety of different sources, and then assembled in a single document with the sources of these data listed. However, there is no interpretation of the data collected. Again, while the assembly of data from a variety of sources may be part of the process of research, without interpretation it is not research.


Finally, the term ‘research’ can be used to get an idea or product noticed by people and to suggest that people should have confidence in it. In such instances, when you ask for details of the research process, these are either unclear or not forthcoming.


Based upon this brief discussion we can already see that research has a number of characteristics:

  • Data are collected systematically.
  • Data are interpreted systematically.
  • There is a clear purpose: to find things out.


We can therefore define research as something that people undertake in order to find out things in a systematic way, thereby increasing their knowledge. Two phrases are important in this definition: ‘systematic way’ and ‘to find out things’. ‘Systematic’ suggests that research is based on logical relationships and not just beliefs (Ghauri and Grønhaug 2005).


As part of this, your research will involve an explanation of the methods used to collect the data, will argue why the results obtained are meaningful, and will explain any limitations that are associated with them. ‘To find out things’ suggests there is a multiplicity of possible purposes for your research. These may include describing, explaining, understanding, criticizing and analyzing (Ghauri and Grønhaug 2005). However, it also suggests that you have a clear purpose or set of ‘things’ that you want to find out, such as the answer to a question or number of questions.



Research Methods for Business Students, 5e, 2009 – Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill


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