Research Methodology
For Students of Management Sciences


Dr. Sorab Sadri
Research Professor & Director
Alard Institute of Management Sciences
Rajiv Gandhi Infotech Park Phase II, Marunje, Pune-411 027

As a subject, Research Methodology has been the bane of the teachers and the taught alike. Teachers do not produce academic and empirical papers since many lack a firm grounding in research methodology. Students on the other hand do not relish research methodology due to three main reasons. The first is poor quality of teachers, the second is a mind bloc that creates a phobia for mathematics and the third is their preference for taking the easy way out. Computers have ushered in an era of cut, copy and paste thereby allowing students and teachers to by pass real research. Therefore, the managers that B-Schools churn out annually will enter industry with a very poor knowledge of research methodology and thus denying them the ability to analyse a problem objectively or innovating new ways of doing things. Hype, buzzwords and brouhaha will replace logic and substance. I personally believe that every student must hone their skills on research methodology if they are to make a lasting impact in the world where their only chance of survival is to thrive at the cutting edge of competition. Therefore, like all major B-Schools like the IIMs, XLRI, XIMB, MDI and FMS, we at the Alard Institute of Management Sciences take this subject very seriously. So is it any wonder that our institute credo reads we shall find a way or we shall make one. Research methodology is one subject that can best actualise this.

Some issues need to be clarified at the outset. You may call this short essay, an introduction to the subject, if you like.  However, it would be better to just leave it as a piece of friendly advice from someone who has been there and seen it.

Many scholars believe that imparting practical information about business and industry through anecdotes, case studies or just references is enough to educate the student. This is unfortunately not the case. It is very much like soft skills like oral communication, group discussion, presentation and interview techniques that can help you to go up to the final interview. That is all. After that it is your subject knowledge that will actually land you the job. So too is the case with knowledge about managerial sciences. You cannot dispense with theory and yet claim to know the subject. So, what is theory? Methodologists maintain that theory is an abstraction of reality that seeks to explain reality. If a theory does not explain reality, it is a quasi theory, a Meta theory or not a theory at all. What does this mean? This means that the distinction between theory and practice disappears and you cannot say, "such and such thing will work in theory but not in practice". What is true in practice must be true in theory too. If not it is not a theory and that is why many scholars increasingly use the terms tendency or hypothesis to replace the word theory in advanced economics.

How does theory differ in natural sciences (physics, chemistry, medicine and engineering) from social sciences (economics, politics, sociology and psychology)? For Sir Karl Raimund Popper the distinction lies in the fact that in physical sciences a theory can be falsified in that you can maintain that it is wrong based on the evidence. In social science you can at best say that a theory is refuted in that you can maintain that you disagree based on the interpretation of the evidence. This is essentially because of the mutable (ever changing) nature of social reality, which allows you to interpret the same facts differently. Hence your interpretation is often person specific, context specific and environment specific as is the case in our evaluation of an ethical dilemma. This dilemma arises out of our interpretation of facts and our assumption of truths.

Facts are not truths necessarily. A fact is a thing known to have occurred, to exist or a datum of experience often followed by an explanation. In a way, it is a piece of evidence. A truth is more fundamental. It is the quality or state of being. Hence, while facts can be verified through methodology (as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell held) all truth is relative (as Georg Hegel advocated) except the Almighty, which is the only absolute truth. Moreover, (as Emile Durkeim has added), nothing in this world is certain except death. The investigator must remember this at all times.

This brings us to hypothesis, which is a proposition made as a basis of reasoning without the assumption of its truth. Since it is a supposition that can only be the starting point of an investigation based on known facts, a hypothesis has to be validated empirically. Every hypothesis can thus be proved or disproved. Hence when a hypothesis is stated, the null (or opposite) hypothesis must be stated alongside and their notations conventionally being H. # 1 and H # 0.  Once a hypothesis has been tested and proved it becomes a theory. The process of converting a hypothesis into theory is the backbone of Research Methodology. And this process itself has a sequence known as the core methodology or method. It is called the 5 D Method, used in Human Resources Management and Organisational Development and is named after Sadri and Jayashree. A method is a sequential process whereas methodology is the science of method.

The first D stands for definition. Here the position of the investigator, the subject to be studied, the ambit of inquiry, the purpose of the study and the limitations of the investigator are stated. This is needed in the interest of clarity.

The second D stands for diagnosis. The investigator must diagnose the internal environment of business and the external environment of business using qualitative and quantitative techniques. Just as a doctor uses the thermometer, the stethoscope and the blood sample test to determine what kind of fever you have so too the investigator uses a set of methods to arrive at a finding. Cross-referencing of data is very important and so is correlation.

The third D stands for design and here the investigator makes the research design i.e. how the study will proceed. This is the stage from where the pilot study is launched within a restricted physical domain and when the environment is controlled.

The fourth stage is called development. Based on the results of the pilot study the hypothesis are reformulated and the direction of the inquiry is finalised. Here the investigator develops the study itself and collection of facts begins only to be followed by their systematic documentation.

The fifth stage is called delivery when the study analyses the facts and arrives at a conclusion, which has some social, political, economic or technological significance. The delivery stage is also called actualising the findings or implementing the intervention.

However, Jayashree talks of a sixth of Hidden D, which stands for data and documentation. So important is data and documentation that it needs to be singled out. Indians traditionally do not maintain data and often massage existing data. Both practices are scientifically untenable.

Now let us look at an axiom. It is a widely accepted principle usually used in investigations. Every investigator consciously or otherwise must take care that these axioms are followed scrupulously. This leads us to examine a fallacy. Quite simply this is a mistaken belief based on unsound assumptions e.g. the earth is the centre of the universe.

There are four axioms borrowed from the Economic Science and increasingly used in both Management as well as Social Science Research. These are:

i. The fallacy of composition . What is true of a part is not necessarily true of the whole.

ii. The fallacy of accident. What is true of the whole is not necessarily true of the part.

iii. The acceptance of post hoc sed non-proctor hoc. Any occurrence after an event is not necessarily because of the event.

iv. Understanding that correlation does not amount to causation. Because two variables are statistically correlated, it does not follow that one causes the other or is caused by it.

One must never forget that mathematics is a language albeit a scientific language just as music is an artistic language. These days no subject can be excelled in without the use of mathematics and hence it cannot be wished away as some so called practical thinkers seem to do. Moreover, here the homily of the great grammarian George Bernard Shaw must be remembered when using statistical analysis of data. He said that statistics is akin to a blind man looking for a black cat in a dark room that does not exist.

Unfortunately, many people who claim to be into doing serious research over use statistics to the point of stupidity or do not use statistics at all, rely on intuition and thereby miss the wood for the trees. The first characteristic can be found amongst people who specialise in subjects like econometrics and psychometrics and that confuse between statistics as a means to with statistics as an end of any investigation. The second tendency can be found amongst people who claim to know something about media and communications research when all they have done is looked at data somewhat logically but often cursorily without using any statistical instruments. Their innate confusion and inaccuracy springs from the fact that they can never have all the facts at their disposal and yet think they are being objective without realising that the very claim of being objective is by its essence a subjective judgement. Objectivity is like a rainbow it can be approximated with the use of scientific methodology. That is all.

Management is concerned with people and production of value. In that respect, it is only a factor of production. Management is concerned with the science of decision-making and the art of decision executing. Hence, we use linear logic in decision-making but dialectical or circular logic in decision executing.  This is important especially in dealing with case studies.

A case study can be any of these:

i. A case history or a chronological statement of events.

ii. A case analysis when data is given to enable one to conclude there from and arrive at a theoretical construct.

iii. A case example when events and data are given to enable one to convert a theoretical construct into practical situations.

Whatever it may be, teachers and students of management who seem to swear by the fact that what is needed is just practical knowledge and not theory are making a grave blunder. They must never forget the advice of Aldous Huxley, who held that without theory facts shall continue to fall on the plains of human ignorance. Finally, let the student and teacher introduce himself or herself to the concept of Praxis, which is nothing but the process of converting theory into practice. So to conclude, reality cannot be understood without praxis and a scientifically sound research methodology is the basis of arriving at Praxis. Without a sound knowledge of research methodology the executive will be taking decisions based purely on enlightened guesswork. He would be like a passer by who just throws a stone at a tree and hopes that a fruit will fall. Do you, dear reader, want to be one of those? Think hard and decide for yourself.

The author is a product of the Xavier Labour Relations Institute and the London School of Economics and Political Science. Presently he is Research Professor and Director of the Alard Institute of Management Sciences, Rajiv Gandhi Infotech Park Phase II, Marunje, Pune 411 027.

Dr. Sorab Sadri
Research Professor & Director
Alard Institute of Management Sciences
Rajiv Gandhi Infotech Park Phase II, Marunje, Pune-411 027

Source: E-mail November 14, 2005


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