Research Methods

  • Post last modified:26 August 2021
  • Reading time:21 mins read

4 Research Methods

4 Major Research Methods are:

  1. Interview
  2. Observations
  3. Schedule and Questionnaire
  4. Case Study Method

Interview

Interviewing is a very effective method of data collection. It is a systematic and objective conversation between an investigator and respondent for collecting relevant data for a specific research study. Along with conversation, learning about the gestures, facial expressions and environmental conditions of a respondent are also very important.

Generally, interview collects a wide range of data from factual demographic data to highly personal and intimate information relating to a person’s opinions, attitudes, values and beliefs, past experience and future intentions.

The interview method is very important in the collection of data from the respondent who is less educated or illiterate. Personal interview is more feasible when the area covered for survey is compact. Probing is a very important part of an interview.

Types of Interview

The following are the various types of interviews:

Structured or directive interview

In this type of interview, the investigator goes to the respondent with a detailed schedule. Some questions in same sequence are asked from all respondents.

Unstructured or non-directive interview

In this type of interview, the respondent is encouraged to give his honest opinion on a given topic without or with minimum help from others.

Focused interview

This is a semi-structured interview where the respondent shares the effect of the experience to the given conditions with the researcher or investigator. It is conducted with those respondents only who have prior experience of conditions given by the investigator.

Analysis of the attitude, emotional feelings for the situations under study is main purpose behind conducting these interviews. A set of fix questions may not be required in this interview but a relevant topic is required which is known to the respondent.

Clinical interview

While a focussed interview is concerned with effects of specific experience, clinical interviews are concerned with broad underlying feelings or motivations or the course of the individual’s life experiences with reference to the research study. It encourages the interviewee to share his experience freely.

Depth interview

To analyse or study the respondent’s emotions, opinions, etc., depth interviews are conducted. This kind of interview aims to collect intensive data about individuals, especially their opinions.

It is a lengthy process to get unbiased data from the respondent. Interviewers should avoid advising or showing this agreement. Instead, the investigator has to motivate the respondent to answer the questions.

Features of Interviews

The following are some of the features of interviews

  • The interviewer and the respondent are the participants in any interview. They both are unknown to each other and so it is important for an interviewer to introduce himself first to the respondent.

  • An interview has a beginning and a termination point in the relationship between the participants.

  • Interview is not a mere casual conversational exchange. It has a specific purpose of collecting data which is relevant to the study.

  • Interview is a mode of obtaining a verbal response to questions to put verbally. It is not always face to face.

  • Success of interview depends on the interviewer and respondent and how they perceive each other.

  • It is not a standardized process.

Essentials for an Effective Interview

The following are the requirements for a successful interview:

  • Data availability: The respondent should have complete knowledge of the information required for specific study.

  • Role perception: The interviewer and the respondent should be aware of their roles in the interview process. The respondent should be clear about the topic or questions which have to be answered by him.

    Similarly, it is the responsibility of the interviewer to make the respondent comfortable by introducing himself first. The investigator should not affect the interview situation through subjective attitude and argumentation.

  • Respondent’s motivation: The respondent can hesitate to answer the questions. In this case, the approach and skills of the interviewer are very important as he has to motivate the respondent to answer or express himself.

Advantages of Interviews

The following are the advantages of the interview method:

  • In-depth and detailed information is collected.

  • The interviewer tries to improve the responses and quality of data received.

  • He can control the conditions in favour of the research study.

  • Interviews help in gathering supplementary information which can be helpful to the study.

  • Interviews use special scoring devices, visuals and materials to improve the quality of data or information collected.

  • Interviews use observation and probing by the interviewer to see the accuracy and dependability of given data by the respondent.

  • Interviews are flexible in nature.

Disadvantages of Interviews

The following are the disadvantages of interviews:

  • Interviews consume more time and cost.

  • The respondent’s responses can be affected by the way the interviewer asks the questions.

  • The respondent may refuse to answer some personal questions which are relevant to the study.

  • Recording and coding of data during the interview process may sometimes be difficult for the interviewer.

  • The interviewer may not have good communication or interactive skills.

Interview Process

The following are the stages in an interview process:

Preparation

The interviewer needs to make certain preparations to make an interview successful. The interviewer should keep all the copies of the schedule or guide ready. They need to prepare the lists of respondents with their addresses, contact number and meeting time.

They should prepare themselves with all the approaches and skills required to conduct an interview. They should prepare themselves to face all adverse situations during the interview. If the interviewer is not doing such planning, they can fail to collect the right information from respondent.

Introduction

The interviewer is not known to the respondent. Therefore, the interviewer must introduce himself first to every respondent. In the introduction, the interviewer should tell about himself, his organization details and the purpose of his visit.

If the interviewer knows someone who the respondent is familiar with, then he can use that person’s reference to make the respondent more comfortable. The following are some steps which help in motivating the respondent:

  • The interviewer should introduce himself with a smiling face and always greet the respondent.
  • He should identify and call the respondent by name.
  • He must describe how the respondent is selected.
  • He should explain the purpose and usefulness of the study.
  • He should focus on the value of the respondent’s cooperation.

Developing report

It is important for an interviewer to develop a rapport with the respondent before starting the interview. By doing this, a cordial relationship is established between them. It helps the interviewer understand the inherent nature of the respondent which helps in building a rapport and the discussion can be started with some general topic or with the help of a person who is commonly known to both of them.

Carrying the interview forward

After establishing a rapport, the skills of the interviewer are required to carry the interview forward. The following are some guidelines that should be followed:

  • Start the interview in an informal and natural manner.

  • Ask all the questions in the same sequence as in the schedule.

  • Do not take an answer for granted. It is not necessary that an interviewee will know all answers or will give all answers. The interviewer has to create interest for answering questions.

  • The objective of the question should be known to the interviewer to ensure that the correct information is collected for research study.

  • Explain the question if it has not been understood properly by the respondent.

  • Listen to the respondent carefully with patience.

  • Never argue with the respondent.

  • Show your concern and interest in the information given by the respondent.

  • Do not express your own opinion for answers of any question in the schedule.

  • Continue to motivate the respondent.

  • If the respondent is unable to frame the right answer, the interviewer should help him by providing alternate questions.

  • Ensure that the conversation does not go off track.

  • If the respondent is unable to answer a particular question due to some reasons, drop the question at that moment. This question can be asked indirectly later on.

Recording the interview

Responses should be recorded in the same sequence as they are given by the respondent. The response should be recorded at the same time as it is generated. It may be very difficult to remember all the responses later for recording them.

Recording can be done in writing but there may be some problems if the writing skills of an interviewer are not good. Hence, the use of electronic devices like tape recorders can help in this purpose. The interviewer should also record all his probes and other comments on the schedule, but they should be in brackets to ensure that they are set off from response.

Closing the interview

After the interview is over, the interviewer must thank the respondent for his cooperation. He must collect all the papers before leaving the respondent. If the respondent wants to know the result of the survey, the interviewer must ensure that the results are mailed to him when they are ready.

Editing

At the end, the interviewer must edit the schedule to check that all the questions have been asked and recorded. Also, abbreviations in recording should be replaced by full words.

Problems Faced in an Interview

The following are some of the main problems faced in an interview:

Inadequate response

Kahn and Cannel laid down five principal symptoms of inadequate response. They are given as follows:

  • Partial response in which the respondent gives a relevant but incomplete answer.
  • Non-response in which the respondent remains silent or refuses to answer the questions.
  • Irrelevant response in which the respondent’s answer is not relevant to the question asked.
  • Inaccurate response in which the reply is biased.
  • Verbalized response problem which arises because of the respondent’s failure to understand the question.

Interviewer’s biasness, refusal, incapability to understand questions

An interviewer can affect the performance of an interview with his own responses and suggestions. Such biasing factors can never be overcome fully, but their effect can be reduced by training and development techniques.

Non response

Some respondents out of the total respondents fail to respond to the schedule. The reasons for this non response can be non availability, refusal, incapability to understand questions, etc.

Non availability

Some respondents are not available at their places at the time of call. This could be because of odd timings or working hours.

Refusal

Some respondents refuse to answer the questions. There can be many reasons for this, such as language, odd hours, sickness, no interest in such studies, etc.

Inaccessibility

Some respondents can be inaccessible because of various reasons such as migration, touring job, etc.


Observations

Observation can be defined as viewing or seeing. Observation means specific viewing with the purpose of gathering the data for a specific research study. Observation is a classical method of scientific study. It is very important in any research study as it is an effective method for data collection.

Characteristics of Observation Method

The following are the characteristics of the observation method of data collection:

  • Physical and mental activity: Eyes observe so many things in our surroundings but our focus or attention is only on data which is relevant to research study.

  • Observation is selective: It is very difficult for a researcher to observe everything in his surroundings. He only observes the data which is purposive for his research study and meets with the scope of his study. The researcher ignores all the data which is not relevant to the study.

  • Observation is purposive and not casual: Observation is purposive as it is relevant to a particular study. The purpose of observation is to collect data for the research study. It focusses on human behaviour which occurs in a social phenomenon. It analyses the relationship of different variables in a specific context.

  • Accuracy and standardization: Observation of pertinent data should be accurate and standardized for its applications.

Types of Observation

Different concepts define the classification of observations.

With respect to an investigator’s role, observation may be:

  • Participant observation
  • Non-participant observation

With respect to the method of observation, it can be classified into the following:

  • Direct observation
  • Indirect observation

With reference to the control on the system to be observed, observation can be classified into the following:

  • Controlled observation
  • Uncontrolled observation

Participant observation

In participant type of observation, the observer is an active participant of the group or process. He participates as well as observes as a part of a phenomenon;

For example, to study the behaviour of management students towards studying and understanding marketing management, the observer or researcher has to participate in the discussion with students without telling them about the observation or purpose. When respondents are unaware of observations, then only their natural interest can be studied.

Non-participant observation

In non-participant observation, the observer does not participate in the group process. He acknowledges the behaviour of the group without telling the respondents. It requires a lot of skills to record observations in an unnoticeable manner.

Direct observation

In direct observation, the observer and researcher personally observe all the happenings of a process or an event when the event is happening. In this method, the observer records all the relevant aspects of an event which are necessary for study.

He is free to change the locations and focus of the observation. One major limitation of the method is that the observer may not be able to cover all relevant events when they are happening.

Indirect observation

Physical presence of an observer is not required and recording is done with the help of mechanical, photographic or electronic devices;

For example, close circuit TV (CCTV) cameras are used in many showrooms to observe the behaviour of customers. It provides a permanent record for an analysis of different aspects of the event.

Controlled observation

All observations are done under pre-specified conditions over extrinsic and intrinsic variables by adopting experimental design and systematically recording observations. Controlled observations are carried out either in the laboratory or the field.

Uncontrolled observation

There is no control over extrinsic and intrinsic variables. It is mainly used for descriptive research. Participant observation is a typical uncontrolled one.

Prerequisites of Observation

The following are the prerequisites of observation:

  • The conditions of observation must provide accurate results. An observer should be in a position to observe the object clearly.

  • The right number of respondents should be selected as the sample size for the observation to produce the desired results.

  • Accurate and complete recording of an event.

  • If it is possible, two separate observers and sets of instruments can be used in all or some observations. Then the result can be compared to measure accuracy and completeness.

Advantages of observations

The following are the advantages of observations:

  • It ensures the study of behaviour in accordance with the occurrence of events. The observer does not ask anything from the representatives, he just watches the doing and saying of the sample.

  • The data collected by observation defines the observed phenomenon as they occur in their natural settings.

  • When an object is not able to define the meaning of its behaviour, observation is best method for analysis; for example, animals, birds and children.

  • Observation covers the entire happenings of an event.

  • Observation is less biased as compared to questioning.

  • It is easier to conduct disguised observation studies as opposed to disguised questioning.

  • The use of mechanical devices can generate accurate results.

Disadvantages of observations

The following are the limitations of observation:

  • Past studies and events are of no use to observation. For these events and study, one has to go through narrations, people and documents.

  • It is difficult to understand attitudes with the help of observation.

  • Observations cannot be performed by the choice of the observer. He has to wait for an event to occur.

  • It is difficult to predict when and where the event will occur. Thus, it may not be possible for an observer to reach in every event.

  • Observation requires more time and money.

Use of observation in business research

Observation is very useful in the following business research purposes:

  • Buying behaviour of customer, lifestyles, customs, interpersonal relations, group dynamics, leadership styles, managerial style and actions.

  • Physical characteristics of inanimate things like houses, factories, stores, etc.

  • Movements in a production plant.

  • Flow of traffic, crowd and parking on road.

Schedule and Questionnaire

Primary data can be collected with the help of emails and surveys. The respondents receive the questionnaires from the researcher and are asked to fill them completely and return them to the researcher. It can be performed only when the respondents are educated.

The mail questionnaire should be simple and easy to understand so that the respondents can answer all questions easily. In mail questionnaires, all the answers have to be given and recorded by the respondents and not by the researcher or investigator, as in the case of the personal interview method. There is no face-to-face interaction between the investigator and respondent and so the respondent is free to give answers of his own choice.

Importance of questionnaires

A questionnaire is a very effective method as well as research tool in any research study. It ensures the collection of a diversified and wide range of scientific data to complete the research objectives. The questionnaire provides all the inputs in the form of relevant data to all statistical methods used in a research study.

Types of Questionnaire

The following are the various categories of questionnaires:

  • Structured or standard questionnaire Structured or standard questionnaires contain predefined questions in order to collect the required data for research study.

    These questions are the same for all the respondents. Questions are in the same language and in the same order for all the respondents.

  • Unstructured questionnaire In unstructured questionnaires, the respondent has the freedom

Process of Data Collection

The researcher prepares the mailing list by collecting the addresses of all the respondents with the help of primary and secondary sources of data. A covering letter must accompany every questionnaire, indicating the purpose and importance of the research and importance of cooperation of the respondent for the success of the research study.

Advantages of Questionnaires

The following are the advantages of questionnaires:

  • Low cost
  • Wide reach and extensive coverage
  • Easy to contact the person who is busy
  • Respondent’s convenience in completion of questionnaire
  • More impersonal, provides more anonymity
  • No interviewer’s biasness
  • Accuracy

Disadvantages of Questionnaires

The following are the disadvantages of questionnaires:

  • Low response by respondent
  • Low scope in many societies where literary level is low
  • More time requirement

Preparation of an Effective Questionnaire

While preparing a questionnaire, the researcher must focus on some key parameters to prepare it. These key parameters are as follows:

  • Proper use of open and close probe
  • Proper sequence of questions
  • Use of simple language
  • Asking no personal question in which the respondent is hesitating to answer
  • Should not be time consuming
  • Use of control questions indicating reliability of the respondent

Collecting Data through Schedule

This method is very similar to the collection of data through questionnaires. The only difference is that in schedule, enumerators are appointed. These enumerators go to the respondents, ask the stated questions in the same sequence as the schedule and record the reply of respondents.

Schedules may be given to the respondents and the enumerators should help them solve the problems faced while answering the question in the given schedule. Thus, enumerator selection is very important in data collection through schedules.

Difference between schedule and questionnaire

Both questionnaire and schedule are popular methods of data collection. The following are the main differences between questionnaire and schedule:

  • A questionnaire is generally sent to the respondents through mail, but in case of schedule, it is sent through enumerators.
  • Questionnaires are relatively cheaper mediums of data collection as compared to schedules. In the case of questionnaires, the cost is incurred in preparing it and mailing it to respondent, while in schedule, more money is required for hiring enumerators, training them and incurring their field expenses.
  • The response rate in questionnaires is low as many people return it without filling. On the other hand, the response rate in schedules is high because they are filled by enumerators.
  • In collecting data through questionnaires, the identity of the respondent may not be known, but this is not the case when it comes to schedules.
  • Data collection through questionnaires requires a lot of time, which is comparatively very less in case of schedules.
  • Generally, there is no personal contact in case of questionnaires, but in schedules, personal contact is always there.
  • The literacy level of the respondent is very important while filling questionnaires, but in schedules, the literacy level of the respondent is not a major concern as the responses have to be recorded by enumerators.
  • Wider distribution of questionnaires is possible but this is difficult with schedules.
  • There is less accuracy and completeness of responses in questionnaires as compared to schedules.
  • The success of questionnaires depends on the quality of questions but success of a schedule depends on the enumerators.
  • The physical appearance of questionnaire matters a lot, which is less important in case of schedules.
  • Observation method cannot be used along with questionnaires but it can be used along with schedule.

Case Study Method

We explore and analyse the life of a social chapter or entity, whether it be a family, a person, an institution or a community, with the help of a case study. The purpose of case study method is to identify the factors and reasons that account for particular behaviour patterns of a sample chapter and its association with other social or environmental factors.

Generally social researchers use case study method to understand the complex social phenomenon and to identify the factors related to this phenomenon.

Case study provides the clues and ideas to a researcher for further research study. By adopting case study method, a researcher gets to know about happenings in the past, which could be related to the research studies and analyse the problem with better perspectives.

Assumptions of case study method

The assumptions made in a case study method are as follows:

  • Case study depends on the imagination of the investigator who is analysing the case study. The investigator makes up his procedure as he goes along.
  • History related to the case is complete and as coherent as it could be.
  • It is advisable to supplement the case data by observational, statistical and historical data, since these provide standards for assessing the reliability and consistency of the case material.
  • Efforts should be made to ascertain the reliability of life history data by examining the internal consistency of the material.
  • A judicious combination of techniques of data collection is a prerequisite for securing data that is culturally meaningful and scientifically significant.

Advantages of Case Study Method

Key advantages of the case study method are as follows:

  • Provides the basis for understanding complex social phenomenon and all related factors affecting the social phenomenon.
  • Provides clues and ideas for exploratory research. When the researcher is not able to get a fair idea about the research, past happenings mentioned in a case study help the researcher get clues and ideas.
  • Case study helps in generating objectives for exploratory research.
  • It suggests the new courses of inquiry.
  • Case study helps in formulating research hypothesis.

Disadvantages of Case Study Method

Some important disadvantages of case study method are as follows:

  • Reliability: Data collected through case study may not be reliable or it can be difficult to verify the reliability of data in the current scenario.
  • Adequacy: Data collected through case studies may not be adequate for research work as data is not pertinent to the research conditions.
  • Representative: Data presented by case studies represents the happenings with unknown circumstances to a researcher. Hence, it cannot be the true representation of events to a researcher.

Case study as a method of business research

A detailed case study helps the researcher identify the reasons behind business related problems. As it can be possible that that particular incident has happened in past, so the current issues can be sorted out, by referring to the same case.

In depth analysis of selected cases is of particular value to business research when a complex set of variables may be at work in generating observed results and intensive study is needed to unravel the complexities.

The exploratory investigator should have an active curiosity and willingness to deviate from the initial plan, when the finding suggests a new course of enquiry, which might prove more productive. With the help of case study method, the risk can be minimized in any decision-making process.

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