Research Project Methods

Introduction

Writing a research project is one of the core requirements for those who are pursuing academic excellence. A dissertation marks “the culmination of numerous hours of research and training in higher education” (Finch, 2013, p. 241). In addition, writing a research project allows a leaner to carry out independent study on a subject that has not been researched before. Therefore, this aspect adds to the body of knowledge in a given field. Institutions of higher learning are increasingly incorporating dissertations as a way of preparing students for higher education, such as the master’s level. Writing dissertations and research projects is an important avenue of advancing different skills, for example, management skills, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Furthermore, research projects enable individuals to become independent, which is a critical element of future career success. Students have the discretion to write research projects in an area that is unrelated to the previous academic writings, which were undertaken during their graduate career.

The process of writing a thesis is a challenging undertaking, which should be given serious consideration. Therefore, it is essential for students to ensure that the final dissertation paper presented adheres to the set rules and regulations (Feig & Stokes, 2013, p.32). The first step in writing a dissertation entails preparing the concept paper/research proposal for approval by the tutor. In order for a research proposal to be approved, it must meet certain requirements.

This assignment reviews various aspects that should be taken into account in order to be successful in proposing and planning a research project in a given academic or professional area. The assignment is divided into two parts. Part 1 entails analysis and evaluation of the case study titled, ‘Customer uncertainty following downsizing: the effects of extent of downsizing and open communication.’ The review will focus on demonstrating the strengths and weaknesses of the various research methodologies and data collection techniques. The second part of the assignment entails an evaluation of various research methodologies and data collection techniques, which include questionnaires, observations, and interviews. This goal will be achieved by assessing the application of these approaches in responding to the research question.

Case study analysis

Evaluation of the extent to which the study has been guided by the literature review

The case study titled, ‘Customer uncertainty following downsizing: the effects of the extent of downsizing and open communication’ has adhered to best practices used in writing a research paper. First, it is evident that the authors have selected the topic of study effectively through the identification of a research gap with regard to downsizing, which is the core area of study. Conventionally, researches seek to fill in given knowledge gaps as identified or omitted in previous studies.

Upon a thorough literature review, the authors have identified the lack of consensus on the impact of downsizing on organizational efficiency. Previous studies conducted have only focused on the impact of downsizing on the workplace by taking into account internal stakeholders, such as employees and shareholders. The impact of downsizing on customers, who are critical elements in pursuing organizational efficiency, has been broadly ignored in the previous studies. Most organizations that have implemented the concept of downsizing overlooked the relationship between downsizing and its impact on organizational stability and the level of customer satisfaction.

Through effective identification of the research gap, the authors formulated the research problem. A well-designed research problem is instrumental in conducting a particular research project. Lack of a clearly defined research question is one of the major weaknesses experienced by students when writing a research proposal (Denscombe, 2012, p.63). The identification of research gaps forms the basis upon which a particular study contributes to the existing theory [theory building]. Identifying the research gap increases the relevance of a particular study, hence the need for further scholarly inquiry.

The selected research topic should not be trivial, but it should have significant academic relevance. The findings of this study have played a crucial role in improving the theories of organizational downsizing and redesigning. The findings of this study will encourage organizations to take into account the customer dimension in the course of implementation of the downsizing strategy. The research gap and the problem identified with regard to downsizing have enabled the researchers to formulate an effective research objective. Furthermore, the study has also been conducted based on a comprehensive conceptual framework. The conceptual framework illustrates the extent to which a particular research study has taken into account diverse theoretical constructs and policy issues. A research proposal should be aimed at illuminating important issues, which increase its potential significance in a particular area of study (Macnee & McCabe, 2007, p. 63). Some of the theoretical constructs and policy issues that form the conceptual framework of this case study relate to the number of contact employees laid off, customer contact changes, level of uncertainty amongst customers, communication openness, informal ties, and product importance.

The above constructs have enabled the researchers to establish how they are linked to the level of customer satisfaction and organizational performance. This goal has been achieved through the formulation of the different research hypothesis, which the authors have tested extensively in the results section of the study. The research hypothesis should focus on establishing the relationship between the various measurable variables. Subsequently, it is critical for researchers to ensure that the formulated hypotheses are effective in guiding a particular research study in the right direction. Formulating research hypotheses is one of the critical elements in conducting scientific research.

In order to be effective in the formulation of the hypotheses, a comprehensive review of past literature has been conducted. Thus, the authors have been in a position to develop a broad understanding of how the various research variables considered in the study are related. Additionally, the study is based on a theoretical background, which is developed through a comprehensive literature review. The literature reviews have enabled the researcher to identify the various theories related to the study, for example, the uncertainty reduction theory and information economics (Harper & Thompson, 20122, p.74).

The research hypothesis should be simple and scientific, as this aspect makes a particular study to be more specific. Moreover, the hypothesis should clearly illustrate the implications of testing the various relationships established. Consequently, the research hypothesis forms the basis upon which the research assesses the relationship amongst the various inferences. Lack of a research hypothesis makes a particular study to be unfocused (Ungar & Liebenberg, 2009, p. 62). In summary, it is evident that this study has been designed and conducted in accordance with the issues identified in the literature review. The research topic, research objective, and hypothesis have been based on the research problem and the gaps identified through the literature review.

Strengths and weaknesses of the study

This study has largely depended on qualitative data collection methods by gathering data using qualitative research methods. Data collection was achieved by conducting an experiment, which involved research participants who were carefully selected. The effectiveness of the study is also evidenced by the view that the authors have integrated the concept of snowball sampling approach. Through sampling, this study has eliminated bias successfully. Furthermore, the adoption of the questionnaire as the core data-collection instrument has enabled the researcher to gather a substantial amount of data.

Despite the above strengths, one of the major weaknesses of this study is that some of the respondents were employees, who were asked to take up the role of customers of a firm intending to implement downsizing. This aspect limited the effectiveness of the study in collecting the relevant data. The researchers should have considered real customers as the research respondents in order to develop a better understanding of the research variables.

Reliability, credibility, and validity

In the process of conducting the study, the authors have observed the elements of reliability, credibility, and validity. The validity of a study can be assessed by determining the extent to which the various types of validity have been taken into account in the study (Chilisa & Preece, 2005, p. 66). These types of validities include construct validity, internal validity, external validity, and statistical conclusion validity. In this study, statistical validity is evidenced by the determination of the extent to which the various research variables are related.

The study has taken into account the relationship between downsizing and customer satisfaction. Furthermore, internal validity was established by determining the causes of the relationship amongst the various research variables under investigation. This goal has been achieved by conducting an experimental study involving the contact employees’ layoffs and customer contact changes as the independent variables.

On the other hand, construct validity is evidenced by the determination of the cause and effect of the constructs involved in the study. Finally, external validity entails an evaluation of whether the findings of a particular study can be generalized in different settings. Additionally, the validity of the research study is evidenced by the application of the confirmatory factor analysis model. Furthermore, the reliability of the study is also seen through the incorporation of the concept of triangulation by determining the extent to which the research variables are correlated. Moreover, the reliability of the study is proved by the determination of the variation. The study has also been checked for the elements of bias when measuring and testing the various research variables. Integration of the above measures has improved the validity and reliability of the study significantly.

Application of data collection techniques

The reliability, credibility, and validity of a particular research study are greatly influenced by the extent to which researchers collect relevant data from the field. The data collection method varies depending on the research design adopted (Marshall & Rossman, 2011, p.21). In addition, the data collection method varies depending on whether the study is qualitative or quantitative. Therefore, it is imperative for researchers to integrate effective data collection methods, which differs depending on the nature of the study (Zikmund & Babin, 2007, p.74). Some of the qualitative data collection methods used include questionnaires, observations, and interviews. This section illustrates the application of the above data collection methods in answering the following research question.

Research question – what is the impact of customer service training on the level of customer satisfaction? In order to gather sufficient research data, the researcher will adopt a qualitative research design. The choice of research design arises from the exploratory nature of the study. Subsequently, the study will rely on primary methods of data collection, which include questionnaires, interviews, and observation.

Questionnaires

This data collection method entails designing a number of questions, which are issued to the selected respondents. The questionnaires are distributed to the respondents directly or are sent by email. This aspect means that the questionnaires are self-administered in nature. The decision to utilize the self-administered questionnaires is informed by the need to maintain the confidentiality of the research participants, which is a fundamental element in increasing the rate of participation to a particular research study. The selected respondents will be required to answer the questions outlined in the questionnaire form and return them to the researcher in time (Phillips & Stawarski, 2008, p.71). In an effort to gather sufficient data on the relationship between customer service training and the level of customer satisfaction, the researcher will collect relevant data using questionnaires.

The questionnaires will be designed effectively and distributed to a number of employees and customers, who will be selected as the research respondents. The questionnaire designing process will focus on the elements of relevance, completeness, and accuracy. One of the issues that will be taken into account in the questionnaire designing process is grammatical correctness of the questions and no ambiguities. Moreover, the researcher will ensure that the questionnaires are simple and clean by organizing the questionnaires into sub-sections. Therefore, the likelihood of increasing the ease with which the respondents understand and respond to the questions will increase (Metzger & Flanagin, 2008, p.86).

The questionnaires will be structured effectively by integrating both open-ended and close-ended questions. Using open-ended questionnaires will provide the respondents with the discretion in responding to the research questions. On the other hand, the close-ended questionnaires will enable the researcher to achieve a high degree of precision in responding to the research questions (Murthy & Bhojanna, 2008, p.101). Additionally, using close-ended questionnaires will enhance the effectiveness with which the data collected from the field will be analyzed through coding.

Interviews

The exploratory nature of this study will make it possible for the researchers to incorporate different types of interviews in the data collection process. The interviews will be both open-ended and structured in nature. The structured interviews will be conducted using a well-designed interview form. Two main types of open-ended interviews, which include the panel survey and focus group interviews, will be undertaken. Focus group interviews are conducted by selecting experts on the selected area of study. On the other hand, the panel survey interviews are conducted through a random selection of interviewees from the target population (Conway, 2009, p.93).

The focus group interviews will be comprised of 10 experts on customer service training and customer satisfaction. These experts will be selected from the target population. They will provide the researcher with enough information on the relationship between the two research variables being investigated. Thus, the researcher will formulate a number of key questions related to the research question. Extra attention will be given to specific responses. Furthermore, the researcher will be in a position to gauge the experience of the focus group respondents in the interviewing process. One of the benefits of using interviews in conducting this study is that the researcher will be in a position to ask a follow-up question in order to seek further clarification on the response obtained. Furthermore, the researcher will share the major issues and themes with the respondent in order to obtain confirmation.

On the other hand, the survey will be conducted through a random selection of customers from the field. The selected respondents will be informed on the purpose of the study, coupled with how the confidentiality of information will be ensured. The panel survey interviews will be conducted over the phone in order to minimize the cost of the study. A recording machine, such as a tape recorder, will be used to record the respondents’ response to the questions asked. Additionally, data will be recorded and stored in written form. Subsequently, it will be relatively easy to retrieve the responses for further analysis. In order to gather a substantial and relevant data, effective listening skills will be integrated. Moreover, the researcher will avoid dichotomous questions, which entail questions with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. This aspect will ensure that the respondent is not constrained or intended to answer the question in a particular direction. Additionally, the interviewing form will be designed effectively by incorporating the open, key, ending, introductory, and transition questions (Pellissier, 2007, p.48). Using this strategy will enable the researcher to investigate different aspects related to the main issues under investigation.

Observation

Data will also be conducted using observation, which entails collecting data from the field by watching the behavior of the research variables. Observation mainly occurs in natural settings. Data collection through “observation can be covert whereby the response are unaware that they are observed or overt whereby the respondents know that they are observed” (Kothari, 2005, p.86). In the process of collecting data relevant to the research question, this study will adopt covert and overt methods of observation. The decision to adopt covert observation arises from the need to minimize the likelihood of influencing the respondents. Subsequently, the target population will behave naturally, hence increasing the outcome of the study.

Observation will also be undertaken through direct and indirect methods. Direct observation occurs in a situation whereby the researcher and respondents interact with each other. The researcher will communicate with the selected respondents in their decision-making and purchasing process. This aspect will provide the researcher with an opportunity to understand the customers’ behavior, hence their level of customer loyalty (Maxwell, 2005, p.35). Through such interaction, it will be possible for the researcher to make a deduction on the level of customer satisfaction.

Direct observation will also be conducted by interacting with the selected employees. The interaction will be aimed at determining the knowledge and experience of customer service. Furthermore, the interaction will also serve in generating insight on the extent to which investment in customer service training contributes to the improvement in the effectiveness with which they undertake various customer service activities. Checklists and recording sheets will be used in gathering the relevant data. A comprehensive research guide will be developed. The guide will outline the most important behaviors that the researcher expects to identify during the observation process (Fischer, 2005, p.98). Additionally, data will be collected by compiling field notes on what is observed during the data collection process.

Conclusion

Compiling a research project is one of the requirements in pursuit of educational excellence. Writing dissertation equips one with important intellectual skills due to the extensive reading undertaken. However, thesis writing can be a challenging venture if the necessary steps are not followed.

The first step entails planning and proposing the research project. This phase entails effective selection of the research topic, formulation of the research problem, and the research objectives. These aspects can only be achieved if the researcher has conducted a comprehensive literature review in order to identify potential research gaps and problem. Failure to identify a research gap may affect the effectiveness with which the research project adds knowledge to the existing theory. Therefore, it is imperative for the researcher to ensure that the study conducted is of significance to the target audience.

The analysis of the case study titled ‘Customer uncertainty following downsizing: the effects of extent of downsizing and open communication’ shows that the authors have adhered to the best practices involved in writing a thesis paper through effective identification of the research gaps and research problem. Subsequently, the findings of the study are relevant to the existing downsizing and organizational restructuring theories. In addition, the findings add to the available literature on the topic. The validity and reliability of the study have also been tested using effective methodologies. The authors have relied on primary methods of data collection, which include interviews and questionnaires. Subsequently, the study has been in a position to gather data from the natural setting. This aspect has increased significantly the relevance and credibility of the data collected. In summary, one can argue that the choice of data collection method used has a remarkable influence on the credibility of a study.

Reference List

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