Last week I wrote about the importance of defining the problem; it will take time and you need to ask questions to find out what the exact problem is. If you start research with all good intentions but gather the wrong data, the results will not give the correct knowledge to inform the client about how to deal with their problem. Setting up your research might take up 60% of the time you have allocated for the whole study. Especially when you do quantitative research, the set-up of the research with defining the problem, deciding on the theoretical framework, developing good so-called 'knowledge questions' for your central research question & sub questions, and developing operational models is not done in a couple of weeks. Perhaps even (more than) 2 months..
So what to write about this week? I'm not sure... I'm stuck... like my students; I do not know what to do next. Perhaps I try to go to fast to write about the next phase, as I am serious when I write that you should allocate a lot of time to define the problem. You need to read ejournals to see what has been written about the subject, study research reports to see what is already done, look for statistics in existing databases, find theories, do preliminary research through interviewing some experts, and talk talk talk to people. Explain what you want to do and do not stop talking until you can explain in 1 minute what the problem is, what the research objective will be with the central research question.
It is easier said than done. Especially when you are working alone (which is usually the case); you are convinced you are on the right track, but at the moment someone asks you a question, you get lost... Happy that you finally pinpointed the problem, and with one remark or one question it's all out of the window. One day it all sounds good and the next day you are not sure. Research is process; it is a journey in which you have to take a lot of decisions. The problem is probably big and you will find out there is no way that you can solve the problem with your research. If you think you can, my advice is to think again. You do not do research to solve problems; you do research to gather information. You do not write a marketing plan, but you collect data that can help writing a marketing plan. The management problem is always a big issue with many actors and factors, it is up to you to find out what you can do in the given time; what people can give you information?
That brings us to the big question of a management question or a knowledge question. A management question is often massive and not researchable. You cannot find the answer, even if you have 4 years, a budget and staff to help you. If you want to know which marketing strategy suits a company best to reach its goals, you can try different marketing strategies and than compare them. This can take years and by the time you are finished, there are new trends, new policies, changes in the economic situation of the country (world), new managers etc. and you can start all over. Do yourself a favour and go for a question that you answer in the given time with the given (none probably) resources. Who is the research population that can give useful information that the client can use to develop their own strategy?
A nice example is a student who actually wanted to find out what the best marketing strategy was for his client. He read in literature on marketing that it is cheaper to focus on retention, to keep existing customers and try to get them to spend more money instead of trying to find new customers. His next step was to read more on retention and found that customer satisfaction is one the most important drivers for existing customers to come back and spend more money. And you can ask existing customers whether they are satisfied with the service, location (place), product, prices. You can collect data though asking the existing customers resulting in beautiful information for the client to use when they want to develop new marketing strategy.
Defining the problem takes time, a lot of time. You can use some instruments for this, like the DESTEP to analyse the (macro) environment of the client; use the 5 forces of Porter for the branche analysis (meso); and use SWOT to look into the organisation (micro level). Do not forget APA (or HRS) when you are using sources!
Do not forget to write down what sources you have used; when reading a book or ejournal, write down the paragraphs and pages that were interesting; make sure you keep a list from the start with as many details as possible. You might discard the book or ejournal at this stage, but perhaps you want to use it later and you want to make it as easy as possible to find it back. Start with your reference list (in APA, HRS or other validated ways to cite sources) from day 1, as a bibliography has to be included in every research report. Takes notes, make a logbook, save all sources in a dropbox; don't loose it! The amount of time I have lost trying to find back that one paragraph that I dismissed the first time I read but decided I wanted to use it at a later stage. It has frustrated me many times and too often I never found back this brilliant quote or perfect chapter. I recommend to be more organised than I am ;)
Anyway, in the future I will write about DESTEP, Porter's 5 forces, SWOT, the marketing Ps, APA - there are many models to help you. Abbreviations that can guide you when you do research or want to start a new business (which involves a lot of research as well).