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Business Research
Preparatory Course Notes

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity”. – Dorothy Parker

SEM II 2010-2011

Module Lecturer: Justin F. Keogan

Business Research Methods


This module prepares students for the world of research; generally in research methods for a business setting
and in particular for the MSc/MBA dissertation. The various components of the dissertation process from
topic selection, literature review, research methodology, a variety of methods and research designs, data
collection and analysis, through to the reporting and presentation of the research are introduced and

S tr u c tu r e o f R e s e a r c h P r o c e s s / D is
Module Aims and Learning Outcomes
The aims of the module include:
1. To ensure that students develop an understanding of the nature, purpose and value of research;

2. Understand the variety of approaches to business research;

3. To develop students’ knowledge of both qualitative approaches in research and their understanding
A n s w e r / a d d r e s s e s r e s e a r c h q u e s tio n / h y p o th e s e s
of how these can be usefully employed in the analysis of business problems and management
4. To provide students with the skills and knowledge required to carry out a research dissertation;

5. R e s e a r c h Q u Ce os nt i to r ni b / u t i o Dn is s c u s s i o n S oy f n t h e s i s /
To ensure that students develop a research proposal that will guide and direct their MSc/MBA
H y p o t h e s is R e p o r t in g o f
On completion of this module students will:
L im it a t io n s F in d in g s F in d in g s
1. Have identified a dissertation topic with workable research questions/objectives;
2. Have identified the relevant literature and critically reviewed the most pertinent for their proposal;
F u rth er R es ea rc h
Have formulated a conceptual framework to guide the research process;
4. Have generated and evaluated an appropriate research design and method which is consistent with
their research philosophy/paradigm;

5. Have developed a comprehensive and credible dissertation proposal.

This module will be delivered over two days of lectures where the main concepts of research and research
T o p ic
methodology will be covered. Discussions and examples will be dealt with throughout the two days. Case

A n a ly s is o f
studies of research will be used as a basis for discussion and as a starting point for work on the students‟
own dissertations. In order to obtain maximum benefit from the module, and to prepare the students
S e le c t io n
effectively, students will be required to complete an exercise prior to the start of classes. This document
D ata
provides details of that exercise on the following pages. Students are expected to make constructive
contributions and to develop their proposal during the two days of lectures.

Structure of the Dissertation Process

The diagram on the following page will be used throughout the module. It essentially represents the
structure of the module and the structure and logic the MSc/MBA dissertation should follow, with considerable
overlap between stages in the diagram and chapters in the dissertation. At all stages of the development of
your proposal and your dissertation, you will be asked to explain the logic of your research based on this

L i t e r a t u r e R e s e a r c h P aR r ea sd ei ga mr c h S t Pr ra i tme ga yr y D a t a
/ M e t h o d o lo g y
R e v ie w ?D e s i g n
?M e t h o d s
?C o l l e c t i o n
?A n a l y s i s
C o n c ep tu al
F ram ew o rk © Justin F. Keogan 1
Business Research Methods

The following texts, if there are available to you, will be used as core references to your work. If these are
not available, other arrangements will be made.

COLLIS, J. and HUSSEY, R., 2009. Business Research. 3rd Ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
DENZIN, N. K. And LINCOLN, Y. S. (eds), 1994. Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks: Sage
FISHER, C. 2007. Researching and Writing a Dissertation for Business Students, 2nd Ed. London: FT Prentice
MILES, M.B. and HUBERMAN, A. M., 1994. Qualitative Data Analysis. Thousand Oaks: Sage
SAUNDERS, M., LEWIS, P., and THORNHILL, A., 2003. Research Methods for Business Students, 3 rd Ed. Harlow:
Pearson Education.
WALLACE, M. And WRAY, A., 2006. Critical Readings and Writing for Postgraduates. London: Sage.
ZIKMUND, W. G., 2003. Business Research Methods, 7th Ed. Mason (OH): Thomson-Southern Western.

Format for the 21st, 22nd and 23rd April 2011

Date and Topic Materials


Pre-arrival Completion of exercises by 20th April Topic Paper

Select Bibliography
Research Paradigm and Methodology Readings

21st April Introduction Review of topics (if submitted)

Topic selection discussion
The research process

Developing a critical approach to Critical reading class exercise

reviewing literature

22nd April Research Philosophy and Approaches Completion of research paradigm and
methodology template in class

Methodologies As above

23rd April Approaches to data collection methods Provisional selection of data collection

Approaches to data analysis methods Provisional selection of data analysis methods

Brief review of ethical issues and Proposal

planning of the dissertation
Review of proposal

Post-lectures Feedback on draft submission to

On a date to be confirmed
Submission of proposal

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Business Research Methods

Exercises to be completed before the 20th April

Exercise 1 Topic selection paper

Upon the completion of your review of the topic selection material in these notes, you are required to submit
a 500 to 600 word paper on your research topic. Ensure you include the following headings and address
1. Topic
2. Title
3. Research Question
4. Research Objectives.

Apart from identifying an area that you have an interest in researching, you are required to specify what it is
you want to find out and why. Try and identify the business discipline and academic area(s) that your topic
relates to or which has relevance to what you want to find out.

You need to be prepared to discuss this with your peers and the lecturer in class.

Exercise 2 - Select bibliography

Along with Exercise 1, you are required to submit a sample bibliography of twenty good quality sources,
books and peer reviewed journals, which represent key literature to the topic being researched (an example
of this is provided in Appendix 1). Web sites and non-peer reviewed publications are not recommended.

The articles should relate to the following:

• Relevant research completed to date
• Identify the gaps in the literature or research knowledge
• Theory/models/frameworks related to the topic or research objectives

In the note that accompanies the sample bibliography, you need to indicate what the literature that you have
identified does in relation to your research objectives. Your answers need to be supported. Some of the
articles should contribute to the development of the conceptual framework that you will use in your research.

The sample bibliography should be completed in strict adherence to the Harvard Citation and Referencing
System as illustrated below:

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Format for a book

AUTHOR, Initials, YEAR. Title of the book (in italics). Edition (if not the first). City of Publication: Publisher
MINTZBERG, H., 1989. Mintzberg on management : inside our strange world of organizations. New York:
Free Press.

Format for a peer review journal (périodique académique)

AUTHOR, Initials, YEAR. Title of the journal article. Title of the journal (in italics). Volume number (Issue
Number), Pages.
BIRKINSHAW, J., HAMEL, G. AND MOL, M.J., 2008. Management Innovation. Academy of Management
Review. 33(4), 825-845.

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The MSc/MBA dissertation is likely to be the largest piece of academic work you will do in your lifetime. It is
important that you choose well so that you can increase your chances of successfully completing it. Because
you will spend so much time working on it, it is important that you chose a piece of research that you are
interested in in order to sustain your interest when motivation may run low. The following sections, along
with the class sessions, will help you to choose and refine your topic into a researchable dissertation.

Ins p irat io n fo r to p ics

There are a number of sources you can use for inspiration; business trends that you are aware of from
attending lectures, a chat with a lecturer in your favourite subject, newspaper and magazines and
observations from everyday life. The following table outlines some ideas from business trends:


Areas to look for some topics

New technologies Find out what’s happening in the area of new technologies and how they might
impact on business
Open source There is a lot of talk about the “open source” business model; is it just hype or
will it influence the way we do business?

Green economics What opportunities exist in business in addressing environmental issues?

Greening the supply chain type research?

Ethical business What impact is ethical trading (Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Forestry
Stewardship Council, etc) having on traditional business models?

Old chestnuts with a new What problems are being faced in businesses that have not been the subject of
twist research (perhaps in a particular context such as industry or country)?

Globalisation What it means for various sectors/industries, how they are being prepared,
what their response is, etc.

These are very general but may provide you with a start that can be funnelled into a researchable topic with
some investigation and reading. The next table, still quite general, goes further and provides some ideas
about business related problems that may spark off further ideas that can be developed and refined. It might
be useful to brainstorm with a class colleague and come up with some ideas. After this you need to ensure
that the topic is worthy of further consideration. Start the process off by continuing on to criteria for topic

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Examples of business research problems
Research topic Research problem or issue
Professional In profession dominated sectors, which is more appropriate; professions in
management management or professional managers?
Internal company Is there a message-media correlation when it comes to effective internal
communication communications in a company?
Environmental issues To what extent are companies using the concept of the supply chain to improve
in manufacturing the environmental credentials in Ireland?
Workplace diversity To what extent socio-economic status influence acceptance of workplace
diversity among Irish people?
Workplace diversity To what extent are stereotypes of various nationalities held among the Irish
Entrepreneurialism What are the key contextual factors that give rise to entrepreneurs?
Financial management To what extent does the “bottom line”, profit, determine decisions in small and
medium sized businesses/family businesses?
Corporate social What factors influence small and medium sized companies in Ireland to develop
responsibility a greater sense of corporate social responsibility?
Consumer behaviour The barriers and facilitators to household purchasing of environmentally friendly
products in Ireland
Consumer behaviour The barriers and facilitators to household purchasing of ethical products in
Negotiating What are the behavioural prerequisites for negotiating on both sides of the deal
for Indian and Irish business managers?

Appendix 2 contains a number of titles of past students’ dissertation on the GDC catalogue.

Crit e ri a fo r re s e arch to p ics fo r t he d is se rt at io n

Remember that the research question or objective you choose has to investigate something new. Something
about it has to be new; the topic, the context, the sector, the theory, the methods, the methodology, etc.

Transforming an idea into a researchable question

While it may not be possible to answer all of the following questions at this stage, but it may be worth
considering them as they may help in focusing your research topic:

▶ What are the concepts / variables you want to investigate?

▶ How do they relate to each other?
▶ How can you gather information about them?
▶ What theory will help you to understand them?
▶ What are the principal academic theories, frameworks, models, etc. relevant to this topic?
▶ What are the key journals related to this area?
▶ Who are the key writers that have published significant and considerable research on the topic?

Characteristics of a good research topic

The following are some characteristics of a good research topic:
▶ It is of interest to you and a potential supervisor and of value to others
▶ Access to

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o Literature and data

o To companies and people, contacts (depends on sensitivity of issue)
▶ Achievable:
o In time available
o With available resources and own capabilities
▶ Scope – not too ambitious, nor too narrow

Characteristics of a bad research topic

▶ No interest in topic
▶ No reasonable access to sources of data - due to confidentiality (e.g. marketing strategy, etc.)
▶ Topic is too broad / general / vague
▶ No clear academic focus (objectives)

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Appendix 1 – Sample of literature review structure

This literature review structure is related to a dissertation proposal on the following topic:

An Evaluation of the Impact of the Performance Management Development System on the Quality
of Service Provided in the Revenue Commissioners

Structure of the chapter – link to research objectives and next chapter on research design


• Corporate governance context for better performance management re corporate governance in
general (Cadbury Code, 1992)
• Review of Irish public services (OECD, 2008; Department of An Taoiseach 2008; Ireland 2008)
History and Background of Management Reform in the Public Sector
• Reviews of Devlin Report (1969)
• White Paper, Serving the Country Better (Ireland 1985)
• Strategic Management Initiative (Ireland, 1996; Better Government 2009))
• Review of strategic management reform – (Keogan and McKevitt, 1996 and 1998)
Renewed Emphasis on Quality Customer Service
• Consumer versus citizen debate (Barrett, 2009)
• Review of implementation of QCS – (Butler, 2002)
Renewed emphasis on Performance Management
• PA Consulting report (2002)
• Principles of good practice for performance management (Nykodym, 1996)


Performance Management in Public v Private Sectors
• Main differences between public and private sectors - Rainey (1997)
• Move from public administration to public management - (Dunleavy and Hood, 1994; Niskanon, 1973)
• Fad of reform in public sector management - (Brunsson, 1989).
• Performance management in the public sector domain – (Stewart & Walsh 1994; Camarata and
Camarata 2000; Greiling 2006; O’Longnecker and Nykodym 1996)
• Argument for the use of private sector type performance measures in the public sector – (Itner and
Larcker 1998; Pollitt 1996)
• Functions of performance measurement - Kanter & Summers (1987)
Review of models and approaches
• Emphasis on measurement rather than management - Radnor and Maguire (2004)
• Need to for emphasis on long term goals and objectives of the organisation - (Radnor, 1999)
• Justification for emphasis on processes are the in public sector organisations (Clarke, 1994)
• Process measurement in public sector – (Morrill, 1996)
• Relationship between work satisfaction and quality outcomes - (Coop 2003)

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• Issues in performance measurement between production and service environments (Anderson et al,
• Problems with experience of using performance measures in the public sector – (Bird 2003; Clarke
• Reviews of use of performance measurement systems in other countries USA (Grealing, 1999),
Greece (Sotirakou & Zeppou, 2006), Finland (Rantanen et al 2007), New Zealand (Coop, 2003 and
2006), UK (Sanderson, 2001; and Taylor, 1998)
• Use of Balanced Scorecard (Kaplan & Norton 1992) in the public sector - (Drury 2007; Brignall and
Modell, 2000; Greatbanks and Tapp 2007)
• Use of SERVQUAL in public services (Foster & Newman, 1998; Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry,
1988; Carman, 1990; Landrum, Prybutok, Kappelman, & Zhang, 2008)
Conceptual Framework
• Unique challenge of performance in the public sector (Allison, 1982; Behn, 1985; Gregory, 1999;
Controller and Auditor General Report, 2002; Cunningham and Harris, 2001).
• Diversity of stakeholder needs re performance measurement in public sector - (Brignall and Modell,
2000; Lawton et al., 2000; Wisniewski and Olafson, 2004; Wisniewski and Stewart, 2004).
• Reviewing functions of performance measurement in strategic implementation – (Kanter & Summers
1987; Keogan and McKevitt, 1998)


Anderson, E.W., Fornell, C. & Rust, R.T., 1997. Customer satisfaction, productivity, and profitability:
Differences between goods and services. Marketing Science, 16(2), 129.

Barrett, P., 2009. Debate; customers versus citizens- does the language matter? Public Money and
Management, 29(2), 81-83

Better Government 2009, What are the main features of the Performance Management Development
System? Available at: http://www.bettergov.ie/index.asp?IocID=144&docID=50

Bird, S.M., Cox, D., Farewell, V.T., Goldstein, H., Holt, T. & Smith, P.C. 2005. Performance Indicators: good,
bad and ugly. Royal Statistical Society, 168(1), 1-27

Brignall, S. & Modell, S., 2000. An institutional perspective on performance measurement and management in
the ‘new public sector’. Management Accounting Research, 11(3), 281-306.

Cadbury Code, 1992. The Report of the Committee on the Financial Aspects of Corporate Governance: The
Code of Best Practices, London: Gee Professional Publishing London

Camarata, J.B., & Camarata M.R., 2000. Towards an integrated model: performance measurement in not-for-
profit organizations. Centre for Business Performance, Cranfield School of Management

Carman, J.M., 1990. Consumer perceptions of service quality: an assessment of the SERVQUAL dimensions.
Journal of Retailing, 66(1), 33–55.

Clarke, L., 1994. The Essence of Change, London: Prentice Hall Trade.

Department of the Taoiseach, Customer Action Plans for the Public Service, Dublin: Department of the

Department of the Taoiseach, Quality Customer Service Initiative. Available at:

Department of the Taoiseach, (2008). Report of the Organisational Review Programme: Pilot Phase. Dublin:
Stationary Office.

Department of the Taoiseach, (2008). Transforming public services: citizen centred - performance focused.
Dublin: Stationary Office.

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Devlin, L. St. J. (Chairman), 1969. Report of Public Services Organisation Review Group 1966-1969. Dublin:
Stationery Office – Summary.

Drury, C., 2004 Management and Cost Accounting

Foster, G. & Newman, K., 1998. What is Service Quality When ‘Service’ Equals Regulation? The Service
Industries Journal, 18(4), 51.

Greatbanks, R. & Tapp, D., 2007. The impact of balanced scorecards in a public sector environment: Empirical
evidence from Dunedin City Council, New Zealand. International Journal of Operations & Production
Management, 27(8), 846 - 873.

Greiling, D., 2006. Performance measurement: a remedy for increasing the efficiency of public services?
International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 55(6), 448 - 465.

Ireland. Dept. of the Public Service. 1985. Serving the country better, (Dublin): Stationery Office. Available at:
http://openlibrary.org/b/OL2753490M/Serving-the-country-better [

Ireland, 2008. Government Statement on Transforming Public Services. Dublin: Stationary Office.

Ireland, 1985. Serving the country better a White Paper on the Public Service: laid by the Government before
each House of the Oireachtas, Dublin: Stationery Office, 1985 - Summary

Ireland, 1996. Delivering Better Government. Dublin: Stationary Office. Available at:

Itner, C.D. and D.F. Larcker, 1998 Innovation in Performance Management Trends and Research Journal of
Management Accounting, (10) 205-238

Kanter, R.M., & Summers, D., 1997 Doing Well While Doing Good: dilemmas of performance measurement in
non-profit organisations and the need for a multiple –constituency approach. Harvard Business Review

Kaplan, R.S. & Norton, D. P., 1992. The Balanced Scorecard—Measures That Drive Performance. Harvard
Business Review, 71-79.

Landrum, H. et al., 2009. Measuring IS System Service Quality with SERVQUAL: Users’ Perceptions of Relative
Importance of the Five SERVPERF Dimensions. Informing Science: the International Journal of an
Emerging Transdiscipline, 12.

McKevitt, D., Lawton, A., 1994. Public sector management,

Modell, S., 2004. Performance Measurement Myths in the Public Sector: A Research Note. Financial
Accountability & Management, 20(1), 39-55.

O’Longnecker, C.,& Nykodym, N., 1996. Public Sector Performance Appraisal Effectiveness: A Case Study,
Public Personnel Management, 25(8), 151

OECD, 2008. Review of the Irish Public Service. Paris: OECD.

Pollitt, C., 1996. Beyond the Managerial Model: the Case for Broadening Performance Assessment in
Government and the Public Services, Financial Accounting Management, 2 (3), pp155-70

Radnor, Z. & McGuire, M., 2004. Performance management in the public sector: fact or fiction? International
Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 53(3), 245 - 260.

Rantanen, H. et al., 2007. Performance measurement systems in the Finnish public sector. International
Journal of Public Sector Management, 20(5), 415 - 433.

Sotirakou, T. & Zeppou, M., 2006. Utilizing performance measurement to modernize the Greek public sector.
Management Decision, 44(9), 1277 - 1304.

Storey, J. & K Sisson, 1993. Managing Human Resources and Industrial Relations

Treanor Aileen, Strategic Management Initiative. Available at:


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Wisniewski, M. & Stewart, D., 2004. Performance measurement for stakeholders: The care of Scottish local
authorities. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 17(3), 222-233

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Appendix 2 – Some examples of previous dissertations titles at GCD

Defining Corporate Social Responsibility within the Irish Corporate Context

An Exploration of Franchising Strategy in the Professional Education and Training Industry in China

The Success of Foreign Retailers in Dalian: Are There Any Lessons for Domestic Retailers?

Succession Planning in Family Businesses: Developing a Feasible Model for Succession Planning in
an Irish Context

The Impact of Internet Based Information Search in Chinese Car Consumers Purchase Decision

Comparative Review of the Attitude of Corporate Customers to Banking Services Delivery

Channels Offered By both Global and Domestic Banks in Shanghai

An Analysis of the Commitment; Motivation and Performance of International Workers in Ireland

Issues Influencing Consumer Behaviour in Ireland in Terms of Ethical Purchasing: The Case of Fair
Trade Labeled Products

Work Life Balance: Exploring Issues in Family Businesses in Ireland

Exploring the Implications of the Implementation of RFID in the Irish Retail Sector

An Investigation in to the Effectiveness of the Marketing and Promotional Strategies of Chinese

Restaurants in Dublin

Interest Free Islamic Banking and Finance: Investigating Coping Mechanisms with a Changing
Global Business Environment

Improving Product Quality in the Chinese Toy Manufacturing Sector through Employee Motivation
Techniques: An Assessment of the Problem

Doing Business In China: Assessing the extend of preparedness of Irish business people for
conducting business in China

HRM in the Indian IT Sector: Assessing the application of the organizational culture concept in the
design of HR practices the impact on employee commitment, retention and performance

A Study on the Difference in the Motivational Factors for National and Non-National Employees in
the Irish Retail Sector

Chinese Entrepreneurs in Ireland: An exploration of preparedness for and support provided when
establishing a business

Internet Banking Is a Key Success Factor to Improve Customer Services in Banking Industry of

An analysis of service and product quality and influences on customer satisfaction in the Chinese
banking industry

An Examination of Quality Management Practices in Small to Medium Sized Businesses within the

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Chinese Medical Device Industry

A comparative evaluation of entrepreneurship characteristics in the Cameroon in an international


Quality Management in the Services Sector: An Exploration of the Implementation of Quality in the
Irish Small and Medium Sized Companies

An exploration of extramural company activities and the influence they have on productivity,
employee retention and interdepartmental communication

Irish Consumers' Spending Attitudes towards Renewable Energy

The Value of MBA Programmes to Graduates' Careers: An Exploration from the Graduate

The Effects and Sustainability of a Cloud Computing Strategy within the Irish Manufacturing Sector

A Study of the effects of Word-of-mouth. The media mix for Brand Awareness in the Fashion retail
market in Ireland

Devising an optimal strategy for NAMA in resolving the enforced Irish assets in their portfolio? A
Policy Delphi study to determine the optimum strategy for the workout process

Exploring leadership approaches and their impact on employees’ satisfaction and job related
performance: a cross-cultural analysis of Ireland and Dubai

Determining if trade liberalisation is consistent with encouraging and contributing to sustainable

human development: A Policy Delphi Approach

The adoption of renewable energy as a cost reduction strategy for Irish manufacturing small to
medium enterprises

An Exploratory Case Study on the effectiveness of Social Network Sites: The case of Facebook and
Twitter in an Educational Organisation

An exploration of multi-domain cultural influences on interaction and service related performance

among a small work group: The case of Irish Rail Employees

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