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Understand the research process and different research approaches.
Using Information in Human Resources (5UIN)
Section A: Introduction to 5UIN
This section introduces the unit. It provides a short outline of the resources that you should be accessing with any external reading that is necessary to meet the set assessment criteria and both guided and self-directed learning hours
A.1. About this Workbook
This workbook provides content and activities including further reading to support your learning and enable you to complete your submission for the Using Information in Human Resources Unit (5UIN).
This is suitable for anyone completing the Certificate or Diploma in Human Resource Management.
The unit has 4 learning outcomes and the workbook is structured around these in 4 further sections. These guide you through relevant learning to achieve these learning outcomes. The learning activities as indicated by the icon you see here on the right will help you further your knowledge and understanding in this area of Human Resource and prepare you for the assessed elements of the unit. Understand the research process and different research approaches.
Some activities may involve further reading and will be indicated by this icon:
Others may involve research online or accessing information or discussions on the VLE and will be indicated by this icon:
Podcasts are a useful supplementary tool to aid your learning:
Completing these activities and the guided further reading will ensure the required learning hours are covered. In some cases you will be prompted to complete development activities, at other times there may be some reading or a question for reflection. You might choose to discuss or review some of the activities with your adviser or with your peers on the VLE.
As you work through you may also come across suggestions for further learning and practical tips such as links to online toolkits to use as a practitioner, where you see this icon:
The final section of this workbook includes a references list for those sources mentioned in this workbook and a list of further resources to choose from. This includes the recommended text for this unit, Studying Human Resource Management by Taylor and Woodhams and any further reading you might like to undertake to support the activities, learn more about this area, and prepare for your assessment.
A.2. Purpose and Aim of Unit
Human Resources (HR) professionals need to be able to present a viable and realistic case for improvement based on sound work-based research and an understanding of what is considered good practice. This core unit develops the skills of research and enquiry in order to enable learners to identify appropriate data sources to support an investigation into an area of HR practice and to synthesise and apply this data, to evaluate the role of HR in business and strategy formulation and implementation, and to prepare and present a business case for improvement.
A.3. Learning Outcomes for this Unit
There are 4 learning outcomes for this unit. On successful completion of this unit learners will:
1 Understand the research process and different research approaches.
2 Be able to conduct a critical review of information sources in an area of HR/business practice and analyse the findings.
3 Be able to draw meaningful conclusions and evaluate options for change.
4 Know how to deliver clear, business-focused reports on an HR issue.
A.4. Assessment Approach
See your Candidate Handbook for a description of the assessment process for the Intermediate qualifications, including the difference between formative and summative assessment.
By completing the activities and further recommended reading you will be well prepared for the assessed work you need to submit
Your assessed work needs to be submitted within the blank UIN Report template that you can download from the VLE. You can provide additional documents as part of your assessment evidence (see your Candidate Handbook for more information on this). Your completed template and assessment documents will need to be uploaded onto Onefile. The activities within the workbook are designed to assist you in working towards completing a draft submission. It is therefore important that you complete the activities in a timely manner.
Formative assessment feedback will be given on your draft submission as your adviser will give you feedback and guidance across all learning outcomes. Summative assessment feedback will be provided once your final submission has been marked. Please refer to your candidate handbook for more information about the marking process.
Section B. Identify an area of HR practice for investigation (LO2.1)
In addressing the learning outcomes of this unit ‘Using Information in Human Resources’, you will have the opportunity to investigate an area of HR practice, critically review information sources so that you are able to draw conclusions, and make recommendations to present a persuasive business case (in report format) for improvements in practice to stakeholders
B.1. HR research
“The ability to undertake good quality research which leads to relevant practical outcomes and contributes to the knowledge base of the HR profession is an important skill” (Anderson, 2013, pp100)
HR practitioners need to be able to research people management topics relevant to their business context so that they can present a persuasive case to stakeholders to embrace ideas for improvement, leading to increased organisational effectiveness.
Successfully completing a research study project will offer the HR practitioner a number of benefits which could include:
the opportunity to develop and acquire new knowledge;
further exploring relevant good practice;
discovering new areas for professional development;
relationship building and collaboration with others in carrying out their research investigations;
potentially adding value to the organisation by developing solutions for people related problems in the workplace.
According to Marchington and Wilkinson (2012), investigating and reporting on an HR issue from a business perspective is important so that HR practitioners can play a role in devising strategy and contribute to a wider change management role.
Anderson, 2013, p11 provides a useful starting point to describe research as:
“finding outthings in a systematic way in order to increase knowledge”
Anderson states that “
to undertake effective HRM, it is important that good-quality information underpins decisions and informs the actions of those involved in the employment relationship…’ so that the investigation of HR issues increases knowledge and underpins effective action.
HR research, which if undertaken in a rigorous way can lead to more effective practice than decisions based mainly on intuition, common sense, or personal preference (Anderson, 2004). For example, common sense can take many organisational situations for granted. A systematic approach to research however, makes it possible to challenge taken for granted assumptions and so generate new ways of understanding situations that form the basis for different approaches to solving complex problems (ibid). Understand the research process and different research approaches.
Identifying a research topic
Deciding on a research topic can be a challenge in itself as you may feel that you don’t know where to start, or what you would like to research or you may be in the position where you have too many ideas
You could generate potential research ideas through discussions with your manager and colleagues: identifying issues affecting the department and/or organisation; exploring changes which may occur in the future and the potential impact of forthcoming HR developments such as new Employment Legislation.
Ideas for research topics may come from within your organisation or from practice outside the organisation for example:
Internal to the organisation
What are the current or potential problems facing your department/organisation?
What changes are anticipated in the future?
What questions or issues have arisen from team meetings recently?
What are the topical issues for HR?
What changes are taking place/forthcoming?
What have you read that you would like to explore further?
What have been the topical issues in the People Management magazine
External to the organisation
/networking events over the last 6 months?
Has there been anything relevant in the national press or media recently?
Horn (2012) sets out four different strategies to help HR professionals find successful topics to research as follows:
1. Burning desire strategy
This strategy is based on an issue or problem that you have wanted to investigate for a long time.
2. Replication strategy
This is concerned with finding some published research in an area that interests you or your organisation; adjusting the scope and context and then repeating the research to fit into the context of your organisation.
3. Practical problem strategy
This may be the most common method of identifying an area of research as practical organisational problems exist everywhere. Research topic ideas could arise through issues identified by senior managers or trends emerging from organisational surveys.
4. Convenient access strategy
This strategy is developed from having the required data access to carry out research and fitting the research focus around this access. Routes to access can relate to having contacts with an organisation through current job role or through family and friends.
For the purposes of the assessment for this Unit, you need to identify an area of HR practice which you can research.
If you are still unsure about a topic to research, the following activity will help to generate some ideas:
Visit the CIPD website: www.cipd.co.uk Click on the ‘News and views’ tab. Understand the research process and different research approaches.
Read through at least 6 of the main news features that interest you, making a note of the main issues raised in the discussion threads.
Rate each of your 6 news issues against the following criteria:
Your level of interest in the topic.
Likely value to your current job role/ organisation.
Likely value to your future career development.
Feasibility of the ‘issue’ as a potential research project for you to conduct?
(adapted from Activity 2.1, Anderson 2013, p 41)
Horn (2009) as cited in Perkins and Woodhams 2013, pp101, suggests that there are several issues which the HR professional needs to consider when identifying an area of research:
Assess the current level of knowledge that surrounds their particular topic (academic literature and/or organisational procedures/norms).
Self- assess whether they have the time, resources, access, and skills required to carry out the research.
B.2. Literature Review
In order to find out more about the research topic and discover what knowledge on the topic already exists, it is necessary to undertake some background reading through a ‘literature review’. Horn (2012) sees the Literature review as part of the ‘backbone’ of a research study: without a strong and critical literature review, it is unlikely that the research will be successful. The purpose of the literature review is fourfold: to examin the context of the problem or issues; identify relevant concepts and issues as well as methods of enquiry; to position the investigation and devise a framework for the analysis of your information (Anderson, 2013, p102).
Initial reading of the literature offers a wide range of benefits including: generating further ideas for your research focus; gaining insight into previously unknown viewpoints; expanding your body of knowledge on the topic to help pin point areas of your research that you could investigate further; discover how others have addressed similar research problems and learn how other organisations have tackled similar issues.
Both Anderson (2013) and Horn (2012) suggest that the most important source of data is often the academic literature on a given subject. The range of potential sources of literature are considerable and will be dependent on the subject matter and the nature of the research focus.
To get started with your literature review, you will need to explore the sources of ‘best practice’ in relation to your chosen topic area. The MacMillan Dictionary (
https:// www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/best-practice) defines ‘best practice’ as, ‘ the best, most effective way to do something’. This can cover what the leading thinkers and authorities have to say on your topic. For example, ‘leading thinkers’ would relate to authors with a particular subject expertise eg. Stephen Taylor on Resourcing and Talent Planning; Kathy Beevers and Andrew Rea on Learning and Development. ‘Leading Authorities’ would relate to professional and/or regulatory bodies such as CIPD and ACAS on HR topics and work employment issues; HSE for Health and Safety issues; OECD on labour market trends; and other professional bodies such as Ofsted which are relevant to your sector and specific research focus.
Therefore, the best practice sources that you decide to draw upon for the purposes of your research project will vary according to your subject of choice, your focus on this topic, and the industry/sector in which your organisation operates.
What you decide to read at the initial stages will depend on the nature of your research topic. However, Anderson (2013) also cautions that you should focus on credible sources and not rely on internet sites where there is no information about the author or their credentials.
Anderson (2013) notes that as the reading process underpins the planning of a research project, it is important not to delay! You can start your review of the literature as soon as you have come up with some research ideas and this reading will enable you to further clarify what it is that you want to explore in more depth through your research study.
When you start exploring topic ideas, your initial literature review will be quite wide but as you progress with exploring topic ideas, and have discussions with your manager, colleagues and adviser, you will narrow down your research topic.
According to Rowley and Slack (2004) as cited in Horn (2013, p90), there are five steps in the creation of a literature review:
Scanning the document sources
Structuring the literature review
Writing the literature review
Building the bibliography
When scanning the document sources available on a particular topic, potential sources of relevant information can include internal organisational documents and external documents such as Government Reports; Company Reports; Academic Journals, Books, Newspapers and Industry reports
Quinton and Smallbone (2006) as cited in Anderson (2013, p103) advise a filtering approach for carrying out a Literature review:
Perkins and Woodhams (2012) note that academic literature can be accessed through a variety of sources including University or public libraries, academic journals or electronic databases as well as professional associations such as the CIPD . Understand the research process and different research approaches.
Useful online databases for HR research include (Anderson, 2009):
EBSCO- branded as Business source Premier in the UK, is a good all round database, holding thousands of online resources.
Emerald- includes all the journals provided by MCB Press.
XpertR- a source of practitioner-focused HR information, articles and reports drawn from journals and online services published by Reed Elsevier.
Google Scholar- contains a wide range of academic disciplines and sources including some peer reviewed papers, theses, books and articles.
The development of digital systems has significantly increased the volume of information available which can lead to ‘information overload’ of both quality and questionable sources. To help filter some of the numerous ‘hits’ from these databases, Anderson (2013) advises on the following seven step model:
Identify key words to carry out a preliminary search.
Define the limits for the search e.g. including HR as one of your key search words so that the search stays focused in your discipline area, or limiting your search to the UK.
Target the most useful databases and those which are available to you.
Use ‘search strings’ to help extend your search by using tools such as the wildcard to enable searches of different forms of the same word.
Record your results - each database will have clear guidance on how to make effective use of their search facility.
Record your results - ensuring that you note the details of the searches you have undertaken. –Review your search terms - just to check that you haven’t missed out any relevant words which could produce important information sources.
Record referencing information - to avoid wasting time at the end of research finding references
With a potential wealth of sources available at our fingertips, it is worth adopting a strategy of identifying two or three leading and recognised authors in your chosen topic area as the chances are that other researchers will have made use of their original work. Anderson (2013) advocates a ‘search and selection process’ to identify relevant information sources. This can involve carrying out keyword search of a library catalogue (e.g. the CIPD resources facility to search academic articles) to identify the available information. From a selection of these sources, review the references section of each to identify the main authors or further sources of information that have been used.
B.3. Establishing the focus of the research
Once the research area has been identified and background reading carried out, it is important to narrow down the scope of the research focus so that HR professionals are able to target their efforts on specific issues and gather valid information. This can then be used to add value to an organisation by achieving what the research has set out to do in the first place. Perkins and Woodhams (2012, p.101), provide a clear example of narrowing the research focus from a general term of
‘employee engagement’ to a more
specific aim of
‘investigating the impact of changing communication strategies on employee engagement’. Horn (2012), describes the statement of the research aim as a common way to express the research problem, which can then be further narrowed down into research objectives. Anderson (2013), notes that research objectives help you to express what you need to do (ask further questions) to realise your research aim, and begin with a verb that indicates what sort to activity you will undertake.
The table below provides you with some useful active verbs which will be helpful in articulating your research objectives:
Useful verbs in developing research objective
(Source: adapted from Anderson 2013, p 49)
Aims and Objectives should also:
Be presented concisely and briefly.
Specific – be precise about what you are going to do.
Measureable – you will know when you have reached your goal.
Achievable – don’t attempt too much. A less ambitious but completed objective is better than an over-ambitious one that you cannot possible achieve.
Realistic – do you have the necessary resources to achieve the objective? For example: time, IT, numeracy, skills, etc?
Time constrained – determine when each stage needs to be completed. Is there time in your schedule to allow for unexpected delays? Provide indicators of how you are going to link to literature in your research and the design of appropriate data collection methods.
Aims and objectives should not:
Be too vague, ambitious or broad in scope; though aims are more general in nature than objectives, it is the feasibility and viability of the study that needs to be demonstrated.
Repeat each other in different terms.
Be a list of things associated with the research topic.
How many aims or objectives should there be?
There is no fixed number of aims or objectives, but with regard to your HR research one clear strong aim, and three to four objectives would be a reasonable standard to follow.
Aims describe what you want to achieve. Objectives describe the steps you will take to achieve those aims.
To further help you in identifying research objectives, here are some examples from previous student research projects:
1. To investigate the effectiveness of the induction process that is currently in place at Company X.
2. To examine the current absence policy and processes in place for managing short term absence at Company X.
3. To establish the potential impact of a time and attendance system at Company X.
4. To compare and contrast Company X resourcing practices with those similar organisations to establish best practice.
5. To critically evaluate the barriers and enablers associated with absence management processes.
Aims may not always be met in full, since the research may reveal that some of the questions were inappropriate or that the circumstances of the research study have changed.
Describe the area of HR/business practice you will investigate;
Outline your research objectives;
Explain the key issues which need to be addressed;
State the reasons why it is important to carry out your research (link to the ‘best practice’ guidance you have researched relevant to your chosen topic area). Understand the research process and different research approaches.
Section C: Know how to deliver clear, business focused reports on an HR issue C.1. Formulate a business report for identified stakeholders that includes an appropriate mix of diagrammatic and narrative formats (LO4.1)
‘ HR professionals need to be able to write reports that can persuade key decision-makers
in the organisation to change and/or adopt a particular policy and practice’
CIPD Factsheet (2015): How to write a persuasive business report.
Business cases need to be structured effectively so that they communicate findings and put forward recommendations clearly (Perkins and Woodhams, 2012). Not all business reports will follow the same format but as Marchington and Wilkinson, (2012, p.447), identify ‘
they can be seen as an exercise in persuasion and the researcher needs to do everything possible to ensure its presentation maximises impact’.
The format of a business report will vary according to the aim and scope of the research (the terms of reference) and the needs of the stakeholders. Anderson (2009) as cited in Perkins and Woodhams, (2012, pp115), suggests that a key success factor in writing business reports is to have an understanding of who the readers will be and what they will be looking for. The HR practitioner will therefore need to think very carefully about the needs and expectations of the different stakeholder groups that will be reading their business report, so that they can be designed and delivered to be as effective as possible.
Once you have identified your stakeholders and their needs, you need to consider the most effective methods to inform and persuade them to embrace your ideas for change. Selecting appropriate formats in which to disseminate your research results and findings will help to increase the likelihood that your recommendations are accepted, supported, and implemented.
To do this you will need to consider the merits and suitability of different communication methods to determine their appropriateness in meeting stakeholder needs. For example, senior managers may expect to read the full business report before attending a presentation of the report findings and recommendations whereas colleagues may prefer to receive copies of the power point slides before attending a briefing session.
Examples of different formats which can be used to summarise and present findings:
A commonly used method to communicate research findings is the report. A report is a structured form of writing which is designed to be read quickly and accurately. The report needs to tell the reader: why, how, and when the research was carried out; the key findings; and recommendations.
A typical report structure is outlined below:
The title should indicate clearly the focus of the report. It should be brief and, if
possible, generate interest in the importance of the report’s content.
This is a brief summary of the report, no longer than one page, which is designed to help the reader decide whether they wish to read the full report. Although it is the first thing to be read, it should be written last and should include:
The purpose of the report;
How the topic was investigated;
An overview of the findings;
The key recommendations.
Table of contents
This shows how the report is structured and indicates the page numbers of the main elements. You should also include a list of charts and diagrams (where appropriate) and any appendices.
Introduction (terms of reference)
The purpose of the introduction is to set the scene and explain the significance of the topic to the organisation. A brief explanation of the organisational context can highlight the key drivers that are influencing the business and demonstrate a rationale for the report. The introduction should also outline the aims and objectives of the study. The aim clarifies what the report is trying to achieve while the objectives are more specific and show how the issue will be addressed. The introduction can also outline the scope of the report including any boundaries or constraints that may apply or affect the progress of the study. Understand the research process and different research approaches.
Main body- methods/findings/analysis
This section must explain what you did to gather the information that you are presenting. You should explain the approach used (such as questionnaires, interviews, and so on), why you took this approach, and how you decided what sample of people to include in any surveys that you undertook. You should also demonstrate an
awareness of alternative methods, the suitability of primary and secondary data
sources to your investigation, ethical considerations, and any logistical problems you may have encountered.
You should consult and make reference to texts on research methods to justify why your chosen approach was suitable and, therefore, why the resulting findings are robust enough to base business decisions on them.
Your results should be presented as clearly as possible so that they are easily understood and accessible to the reader. Graphs, charts and diagrams can be used to identify the key findings. In this section you should also analyse and interpret the results by drawing on the research you have collected and explaining its significance. You should also suggest explanations for your findings and outline any issues that may have influenced the results.
This section draws together the main issues identified in the report and should refer back to the aims and objectives – has the report achieved what it set out to do? This section should not include any new material.
The recommendations should be actionable and feasible in the organisational context. You should show what needs to be done and why. It is advisable that you prioritise the recommendations that are likely to achieve the greatest effect. The implementation plan should give some indication of timescales and cost implications.
It’s acceptable to give a choice of approaches in the recommendations. If you do this ensure that the costs and benefits of each approach are explained, so that the reader can make an informed decision about which approach to choose. You might also make a recommendation that further research is carried out. If you do this, explain what the benefits of the additional research would be.
At the end of your report you should list of all the publications and other material that you have quoted or made reference to in the report. This enables the reader to follow up on issues of particular interest but is also essential to avoid plagiarism. You should apply the Harvard style of citation and referencing.
These should include additional material that is related to the study but not essential to read. If used, they should be signposted in the main report and should be clearly numbered.
Don’t use the appendices as a ‘dumping ground’ for lots of documents that have vague relevance to the topic. Only include material in appendices if it really adds value to the report.
Source: Adapted from the CIPD (2015) Factsheet:
How to write persuasive business reports
NB When presenting your completed business report on your research investigations, you will need to follow the structure outlined in the UIN Report Template
Section D: Research process and methods (LO1.1, LO2.1 and LO2.2)
D.1. Summarise the key stages of the research process and compare and contrast different data collection methods
The research process
A good starting point when tasked with carrying out a piece of research is to review the key stages of the research process as shown on the next page:
Anderson (2013) has produced a ‘roadmap’ which is structured around these 4 components and illustrated on the next page.
Research Project Roadmap
Source: Anderson, 2009, as cited in Taylor and Woodhams, 2012, p103
Although not all research projects will include all the above steps, the ‘roadmap’ is still a useful tool as it covers the main stages which need to be followed, and can be tailored to suit individual research projects. According to Perkins and Woodhams (2012), the skills needed to undertake a research project are similar to those required for project management where the key research stages are broken down into smaller tasks. This information could be transferred to a project management monitoring tool such as a Gantt chart. This would enable the planning of key project tasks against projected timings (building in additional time for anticipated problem areas) which in turn could be used as a reference point to monitor progress.
Once you have decided on your research topic you will need to determine the methods to be used and the types of data required to fulfil your research aim.
Methodology is the study of how research is done, how things are discovered and how knowledge is gained. In other words, methodology is about the principles that guide research practices. Methodology therefore explains the rationale for using certain research methods.
Research methods are the tools, techniques or processes that you will use in your research. These might be, for example, surveys, interviews, focus groups, or participant observation.
Positivist and interpretivist understandings of research
Before deciding on your research methods, it is important to determine the most appropriate way to conduct your research.
Positivist researchers emphasise the importance of an objective ‘scientific’ method (Remenyi et al., 1998 as cited in Anderson., 2013, p55). The researcher’s role is therefore, to collect facts and then determine the relationship between one set of facts to another set. The data that is collected – quantitative data – can be counted and is analysed using statistically valid techniques which produce quantifiable conclusions.
To undertake research based on positivist principles would, for example, involve a structured process whereby you first evaluate what is already known about your research topic. On this basis you would then formulate a hypothesis and gather data to test whether the hypothesis proves true or false (Anderson, 2004).
In contrast, interpretivist researchers, focus on accessing and understanding individual’s perceptions of the world. They see social phenomena as the product of shared understandings and meanings, which are not always predictable or rational. According to Cresswell (1994) cited in Anderson (2004
‘The less quantifiable and the subjective interpretations, reasoning and feelings of people (qualitative data) are seen as a more relevant line of enquiry in order to understand and explain the realities of HR situations. The focus on interpretivist research, therefore, is not so much on facts and numbers but on words, observations and meanings.’
Summary of the advantages and disadvantages of positivism and interpretivism
Economical collection of large amount of data.
Gives theoretical focus from the start.
Researcher able to keep control of the process.
Easily comparable data.
Helps understand how and why.
Let’s the researcher adapt process to cope with changes.
Good at understanding social processes.
Inflexible – can’t change
direction once started.
Often doesn’t discover the meaning people attach to the results.
Data collection can be time consuming.
Data analysis is difficult.
Researcher has to live with the uncertainty that clear patterns may not emerge.
Generally perceived as ‘less
Primary and secondary data collection methods
According to Perkins and Woodhams (2012), when undertaking a research project, HR professionals need to collect and review data relevant to their chosen area of HR practice investigation. This will involve reading around their topic area to identify what is already known before collecting new information. There are different types of data which can be used in research projects as follows:
Primary methods: ‘new’ information which has been collected ‘first hand’ for the research study (usually developed and presented by the researcher) e.g. questionnaires, interviews, focus groups and participant observation.
Secondary methods: existing information that has been gathered by others e.g. Information available in textbooks, reports, and surveys.
Read through the sample chapters ‘ Searching for relevant literature’ from Understand the research process and different research approaches.
Developing and Applying Study Skills by Donald Currie, 2005.
What is the difference between primary and secondary research?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of primary and secondary methods of data collection?
NB The main focus of this Unit is on secondary sources of information but you may wish to collect primary research data as part of your research investigations. The following section will be useful for supporting any future research projects where you may be required to carry out primary research methods.
Qualitative and Quantitative data
According to Anderson, 2013, HR research data can be found in a variety of places such as interviews, focus groups, responses to questionnaires and test results. The type of data that researchers gather to address their research questions will vary depending on the research approach they are following. For example, if a positivist approach is adopted, then the focus will be on collecting facts (quantitative data), whereas for the interpretivist approach, the focus would be on data based on exploring the meanings and experiences of people in different situations (qualitative data).
Qualitative data: refers to data which has been generated through words e.g. opinions, or reasons given for leaving an organisation in an exit interview.
Quantitative data: refers to data which has been generated through statistical methods and which can be counted (numbers) e.g. trends in short term absence given in numbers or percentages over a set period of time.
Quantitative Research ( source: Fitzgerald and Buchanan 2004)
“Quantitative research stems from a positivistic approach to research. The research measures taken will be on some numerical basis, if only by frequency counting or categorising. Researchers claim that this rigorous analysis of data based on statistical testing is necessary in the interest of objectivity, clarity of thought and replicability.
Without this, it is argued, research is open to vagueness and subjectivity. Quantitative researchers argue that this type of research is more rigorous and produces more reliable data.
Further arguments in support of quantitative research methods are that a large sample can be reached and it is less expensive than qualitative research. There is also less influence of interpersonal factors and less interviewer bias when interpreting the results. Respondents also have more chance of remaining anonymous and are, therefore, more likely to be honest when dealing with sensitive areas. Positivists, who favour this method of research, argue that it is necessary to use it to back up what is otherwise, only an unsupported casual observation”.
Examples of quantitative research methodology:
Survey (e.g. questionnaires)
When to use quantitative research ( source: Fitzgerald and Buchanan 2004 )
“It is appropriate and useful to use a quantitative approach in a wide range of circumstances. Some examples are when:
You wish to count a phenomena in a field.
Prior research has isolated and described key variables, which can then be assessed or measured with greater rigour or detail.
Measuring variables and verifying existing theories or hypotheses or questioning them.
However, often collections of statistics and number crunching are not the answer to understanding meanings, beliefs and experience, which are better understood through qualitative data”.
This is the study of naturally – occurring (unquantifiable) phenomena (such as employees’ actions, what they say etc. and of subjective experience.
When to use qualitative research ( source: Fitzgerald and Buchanan 2004)
Similar to quantitative approaches, you may adopt a qualitative research approach in a number of situations. One specific reason is an exploratory study in order to understand a new area of study before using quantitative methods (e.g. a questionnaire). In these circumstances, because there is little or no prior research it is necessary for the researcher to maintain an open mind in identifying key variables. You may also decide to use a qualitative approach for depth of description, in order to illuminate data collected via quantitative methods. You will however, mainly adopt a qualitative approach if you want to understand meanings, look at, describe and understand experience, ideas, beliefs and values.
an area of study that would benefit from qualitative research would be that of identifying employees’ learning styles and approaches to study, or reasons for employee motivation which are described and understood subjectively. Examples:
We cannot however, always neatly categorise methods under the headings of quantitative or qualitative. For example, the interview is generally regarded as qualitative approach. Where data is produced from an in depth interview it will be qualitative in nature, but an interview can also generate quantitative data. Researchers will not always stick rigidly to one type of approach; they will usually select a research method(s) depending on its suitability to the subject of enquiry.
Quantitative and Qualitative Interviews.
Source: Anderson, V. (2012)
Research Methods in HRM, London, CIPD
However, generally speaking you will find that those who take a positivistic approach to research will utilise quantitative methods, such as a survey. Those who favour an intepretivistic approach will rely mainly on the qualitative methods such as interviews, observations etc.
Data validity and reliability
Regardless of the approach adopted to carry out the research, the data needs to be relevant and trustworthy. Anderson (2013) advises that the final research design must meet these two basic criteria to ensure credibility:
Reliability-the generation of trustworthy, fair and objective data which, if repeated, would generate similar results. For example, how easy is it to understand how raw data have been collected and analysed? Would these methods produce the same results in a similar study e.g. would the same data be generated if the interviews were carried out by different researchers?
Validity- the instruments used to generate data need to be appropriate to the research study/question i.e. they measure what they are supposed to measure. For example, what assurance can be made that other factors have not influenced the data. For example if the research study concerned the performance management process, how trustworthy would the data be generated from respondents who had recently been subject to disciplinary procedures?
Research approaches and design
There are four basic research designs which can be used by HR professionals carrying out their general research investigations. Each design is appropriate in different situations (Perkins & Woodhams, 2012) as follows:
1. Cross sectional
Data can be gathered through surveys or interviews with individuals or groups - useful where researchers are aiming to uncover patterns or make comparisons between groups or scenarios. The advantages are that it can be cheap to organise and administer by providing the scope for a broad coverage; can be undertaken within a relatively short timeframe; and produce a high volume of information. The downsides are that depth can be sacrificed for breadth, and the impact of the quality of the interview questions on the reliability and representativeness of the data.
2. Case study
This method involves using methods such as interviews and observation to carry out a detailed investigation into a scenario. The advantages are that this method allows for a more in depth study of specific issues and that the focus can be on particular groups to unravel trends. The limitations include that it can generate large amounts of qualitative data which relate to only one scenario and possible researcher bias.
3. Action research
The approach is concerned with specific problem solving inside an organisation where the focus is to understand and promote change. This involves planning, taking action and then observing the effects of that action. The limitations of this approach are that it can be a time consuming process with a narrow focus on the specific research setting and that data generated can be descriptive rather than analysing the influences on actions taken. The skills of the researcher/s may also impact on the quality of the data generated.
This approach involves examining data from different countries, cultures or organisations in order to achieve a better understanding through comparing contrasting cases or situations. According to Perkins and Woodhams (2012) ‘
comparative research often uses standardised surveys or interviews to collect data in different settings, allowing researchers to compare and contrast findings’.
Anderson (2013) states that a key advantage of comparative research to the HR practitioner is that it ‘ …
contributes knowledge about HRM practices and frameworks in a range of situations, taking into account specific histories and contexts. In addition it encourages practitioners and academics to take a wider perspective of HR issues by reconsidering the extent to which assumptions about HR theory and practice are appropriate in different situations’.
A key drawback to this research design is the difficulty administering, organising and making valid comparisons where there may be data access issues and language barriers.
It will be clear from the previous sections that the use of any particular approach or technique to collect data needs to be carefully considered. The researcher has to give reasons for their choice of method in order to justify it.
The concept of sampling also needs to be considered before deciding on particular data collection method as it will impact on the validity and reliability of the research study. The concept of sampling is described by Horn (2012) ‘
as being concerned with choosing the participants to be involved in a study’. You will only be focusing on secondary data sources.
Anderson (2013) defines sampling as the
‘deliberate choice of a number of people to represent a greater population’. For example, sampling can be applied where there are large numbers of potential respondents for a research study, and there are insufficient number of researchers to interview them all. In order to make effective use of resources and minimise the volume of data generated, it would be appropriate for the researcher to choose to interview a proportion of the employees to make the data collection process more efficient and effective.
The main concern with selecting a sample is to ensure that the ‘sample’ is representative
If you were tasked to design the methods to carry out a research study on ‘
the use of social media in recruitment’, which of the above approaches would you use and why? How could you identify a representative sample?
of the group as a whole i.e. that the sample reflects the characteristics of that group.
and secondary data) and how useful is this type of data for research purposes?
Assess the suitability of these methods for your own research focus and business context?
easoning of the findings.
Presenting your data analysis in visual formats will support the conclusion making process
i.e. diagrams, mind maps, tables, graphs, tables etc. as it will be easier to identify patterns, trends and correlations.
Conclusions provide a summary of the main features of the analysis and consider the implications for the area of research under investigation. No new information should be included here.
It is important when drawing conclusions to be focused on the original research aim and not to be tempted to go ‘off piste’ as you have unravelled new interesting information in the course of your research.
The following questions will help you reach conclusions:
Are my conclusions relevant to my research aim and objectives?
Do the conclusions flow logically from the information collected?
Do my conclusions show appreciation of all the key issues?
Evaluating options for change
Once you have drawn conclusions from the data collected, you will be able to develop recommendations for improvements in practice relevant to your research aim. It is likely that as a result of your research you will have a number of possible actions or options.
Techniques to help you explore different options include:
Force Field Analysis to explore the forces for/forces against option.
Cost Benefit Analysis to explore the extent to which benefits outweigh costs.
Stakeholder Analysis to explore how the option meets the needs of key stakeholders.
Risk analysis to explore the risks associated with each option.
SWOT analysis to explore the advantages and disadvantages for each option.
Access the MindTools website for further guidance on these decision making techniques:
Once the possible options for change have been assessed, you will be able to develop justifiable recommendations for improvements in practice. By exploring options, you will be able to present a stronger and more persuasive business case for change.
Consideration also needs to be given to whether the action proposed is capable of being implemented within the organisational context as well as taking into account financial, resource and time implications. Understand the research process and different research approaches.
The template for recommendations developed by Anderson (2013) is a useful framework for thinking through the actions you could recommend that follow from your conclusions