How can academic research principles and methods help businesses improve their understanding of customers and the market?
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Every entrepreneur needs to conduct research in one way or another, whether it’s looking at your customer avatar, bringing new products to market, or more.
When people think of research they often think of going to read information, whether it’s on the internet i.e. searching through Google, visiting the library, or reading essays. Research is much more than this. It is a process.
It is about: a) answering specific questions that haven’t been answered before, or at least in an obvious way, and b) testing an idea or hypothesis. When searching on Google, you are looking through things that already exist. Research is about producing something new.
Even if you are interested in a similar area, you need to bring something new or look at it from a new angle.
What you want to find out will determine how you go about the methods you will use to conduct your research. If you want to know people’s perceptions about something, your research will have to involve people. Is your research ethical? Will the people or animals you will be conducting research with be harmed in any way? Research must uphold ethical standards.
To conduct research you need to make your own enquiries into the social world. This can be done through:
· Primary data, data you acquire directly yourself, such as through interviewing people, designing or distributing questionnaires or via observation.
· Secondary data, data you acquire through other agencies, such as previous research projects or case studies, government statistics, and media reports.
The data will need to be collated and analysed. Depending on the type of data collected you can present the findings quantitatively (numbers, percentages, charts and graphs) or qualitatively (interview extracts, observations, and journal notes).
Do your findings agree or disagree with the findings that are already out there – information you already have access to? Do they answer your specific question, clarify the idea or validate your hypothesis? Do your findings present new questions or challenges?
Google is good at confirming what your research tells you
So, what is the process?
Searching on Google to amalgamate what is already out there is a useful skill, it helps a researcher to know what already exists. In academic terms this is considered a review of literature. This demonstrates that you have looked at the area around your interest to see what is already there.
It should prevent you replicating something that has already been done. This aspect may help you to answer parts of your question already without having to do any research; or it may help you refocus what questions or interrogations you want to make into the social world.
Overall, in general terms, research, particularly academic research in the social sciences and humanities, has five main elements:
1. Introduction – to introduce the topic, raise the questions that you want to answer or to outline what you want to find out.
2. Review of literature – this is where the reading takes place. This is where Google may come in to help you access information, visiting the library, accessing journals and books.
The function of this is to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the breadth of the subject area as it currently stands, but also to highlight areas within the subject matter that have not been explored. This usually relates to the research question, hypothesis or idea in the introduction.
3. Method – this section shows how one will go about answering the question and why the method chosen to answer the question is the best.
The function of this section is to demonstrate that the researcher has considered the best way to answer the question, that the choices they have made are the most suitable given the resources available.
This section is where the researcher shows their methods (e.g. observation, questionnaire) are also ethical and do not damage or harm people or animals that may be included in the research.
4. Findings & data analysis – This is where findings are presented and analysis is made. The findings and analysis are connected to the review of literature review if there are any contrasts or similarities. This is where analysis may generate a new hypothesis. Are there any patterns that you have identified?
5. Conclusion – This section is where the research question should be answered, taking the review of literature into account. You may not get a nice succinct answer and that’s fine.
Things to consider in the conclusion - Does it answer the original research question? Did the findings generate new questions? How could this research project be improved? Can future areas of research be proposed?
This is where a researcher can be reflective about the process and make suggestions about what research would be useful going forward.
As a business owner, you should be constantly evolving and looking at ways to keep your existing clients happy and attracting new clients to the market. Use the above methods and watch your results soar.