Business Research

A Practical Guide for Undergraduate and Postgraduate Students

by Jill Collis and Roger Hussey


Click here to take our troubleshooting quiz, designed to help you identify and remedy any problems you’re having.

Alternatively, take a look at the FAQs below to find the advice you need.

I can't seem to get started because I'm totally confused over what research is all about and what I'm expected to do.

Before you can start your research, you will find it useful to gain an understanding of what business research entails by implementing the following plan of action:
  • Start with the basics and read about the nature and purpose of research, focusing on the definitions of research and the different types of research (see Chapter 1).
The next steps are to:
  • Identify a research topic (see Chapter 2)
  • Identify a research problem or issue to investigate (see Chapters 5)
  • Design the project (see Chapters 3,4, and 6)
  • Collect the data (see Chapters 7 and/or 9 and/or 10)
  • Analyse the data (see Chapters 8, and/or 11 and/or 12)
  • Write up the research (see Chapter 13).

I'm ready to get started, but I'm worried about how I will manage my research project.

To manage your research efficiently and in the time available, you should try the following:
  • Find out when you will have to submit your dissertation or thesis.
  • Read about the research process, set yourself a timetable for each stage (some will overlap) and agree it with your supervisor (see Chapter 1).
  • To ensure that your time is spent efficiently, you must use your knowledge, skills and personal qualities to manage the process of the research (see Chapter 2).
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I can't find articles and other publications on my research topic and I can't write the literature review.

Planning is the key to an efficient and successful literature search and a critical review of the relevant literature. We advise you to adopt the following strategy:
  • Before you begin your search, you need to define your terms and determine the scope of your research (see Chapter 5).
  • Then you should start a systematic search (see Chapter 5).
  • You must be certain to record the references (see Chapter 5) and avoid plagiarism when writing your literature review (see Chapters 5 and 13).
  • You should take an analytical approach to reviewing the literature rather than writing a descriptive list of items you have read (see Chapter 5). By pointing out the gaps and deficiencies in the literature, you will be able to lead the reader to the research question(s) your study will address.
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I'm planning to collect qualitative research data, but I don't know when to start the analysis.

In an interpretive study, it is difficult not to start the process of analysing qualitative data during the collection stage. Therefore, this is not usually a problem once you get started. Your plan of action should be as follows:
  • As you collect the research data, you need to be clear about your choice of methodology (see Chapter 4) and issues relating to reliability and validity (Chapters 3, 8 and 9).
  • You need to ensure that your methods for capturing primary data (using equipment such as a camera, video or audio recorder) are supported by notes taken at the time (see Chapter 7 and 9).
  • If you are collecting secondary research data, you need to ensure that you have followed a systematic method (see Chapter 9).
  • While you are collecting the qualitative data, use methods for reducing the amount of material data by restructuring or detextualizing the data (see Chapter 8).

I can't decide how to analyse the data I've collected.

Deciding which method of data analysis to use is made easier when you realize that your choice is limited:
  • The first step is to consider whether you have designed your study under a positivist or an interpretive paradigm (see Chapters 3 and 4).
  • If you are a positivist, you want your research data to be in numerical form so that you can use statistical methods of analysis (see Chapters 11 and 12). You may first need to quantify any qualitative data (see Chapter 10).
  • All positivists will conduct an exploratory analysis of their data using descriptive statistics (see Chapter 11). However, postgraduate and doctoral students will need to go on to use inferential statistics (see Chapter 12).
  • Depending on their philosophical assumptions, interpretivists who have collected qualitative data can use either quantifying methods or non-quantifying methods for analysing their research data (see Chapter 8).
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HELP! I have left my writing up until the last minute and I now have nowhere near enough time to do it properly!

If you have left all or most of the writing up until the eleventh hour, you will be feeling very worried indeed. The submission date is looming and you have little to show for the work you have done. If this applies to you, we suggest the following strategy:
  • Decide on a structure of chapters and main sections within each chapter, but do not take too long over it; no more than half a day, even for a doctoral thesis. Use the sample structures given in Chapter 13 and put in as many of the subsections as you can. Work out the approximate word count you are aiming for with each chapter.
  • On your computer, open a document for each chapter and name it. Set up the page layout to the required size, margins, pagination, font, line spacing and so on. Type in the number and name of the chapter and the number and heading for each main section within the chapter.
  • Now aim for volume. Do not worry unduly about grammar, punctuation or references. You must get as many words down as possible in each of the chapters. Leave the introductory chapter and concentrate on those sections you know well. You should find that the act of writing one part will spark off other aspects which you want to include. This will entail switching from chapter to chapter. In your hurry, you may put things in the wrong places, but that does not matter.
  • When you have written approximately two-thirds of your target word count, stop and print each chapter. This will use up a lot of paper, but you are in a crisis situation and cost must come second to speed now. Put your printout in a ring binder file, using dividers to separate the chapters.
  • Read all the chapters, marking any changes on the hard copy in a bright colour as you go, adding text wherever possible as well as references and quotations from other authors. Now make these corrections and additions to the computer files and open a new file for the references/bibliography. You should find that you are now within 10% to 15% of your target number of words.
  • Print two copies and persuade a friend or member of the family to read through one and mark down any comments. We imagine that you have missed the deadline to submit draft material to your supervisor and you have been told that you must simply hand in your work by the due date for submission.
  • Meanwhile, collect all your articles and other literature together and skim through them looking for quotations, illustrations or other items you can fit into your thesis. As you have just read it, it should be easy to spot relevant items. Write each item on a separate piece of paper and insert them into your ring binder containing your copy of your latest printout.
  • When you receive your friend's comments, systematically work through your own and your friend's suggestions on your computer files, one chapter at a time, in order. Make sure you have cited your sources and included all the details in your list of references. Use the spelling and grammar check. As you finish each chapter print it off and read it.
  • Make any final changes and draw up the preliminary pages. Print the required number of copies for binding.
  • Give everyone who helped you a treat, but make sure you are never tempted to procrastinate again!