Business research methodology is an important subject and widely written about but very little research has been done on how students actually carry out such research and how their methodological choices impact the quality of research they do. This presentation will outline an exploratory study that forms the initial stage of a larger research project. This stage of the study analysed research dissertations submitted by students (experienced managers) pursuing MSc and MPA degrees in an African partner of a UK university; for the great majority, their research was carried out within the organisation they worked for. The study analysed methods used for data collection and assessed the results obtained: it found 90% of students relying on survey questionnaires as their main or only source of empirical data. Other valid approaches were largely ignored; very little use was made of the wealth of secondary/archival data available (statistics, minutes, reports, databases etc.), even though in many cases such data would have offered more credible findings. The research findings of almost half the students included results that were misleading or incorrect and there were indications that the exclusive use of questionnaires may have limited research scope.
The research identified some common failings: ‘voting on the facts’ and ‘crowdsourcing’. ‘Voting on the facts’ occurs when a sample is asked questions which should have a clear factual answer (obtainable directly) and which many of the respondents are not equipped to address (e.g. does the organisation have a procurement manual?) ‘Crowdsourcing’ is where the researcher, rather than collecting evidence and evaluating it, asks the sample to express a judgement which they may not be equipped to make (e.g. how serious is the risk of fire in your warehouse?). The study also investigated some possible reasons for the lack of research using secondary/archival data, by looking at teaching approaches. A content analysis of popular business research methods texts found coverage of the use of secondary data very limited while quantitative analysis was almost wholly focused on primary data.
This exploratory study concludes that there are issues in the way students gather data and that this can have adverse impacts on the quality of their work and, potentially, their ability to conduct research successfully in their future careers.