Research Design and Approaches Review

Subject: Sciences
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Study level: PhD

Research Approaches

Abductive research is an approach used to generate scientific accounts appropriate for the concrete case from everyday usual accounts or rules. Thus, in contrast to induction and deduction, abduction allows discovering particular phenomena or cases oriented first to the general rule and consequences. As a result, the abductive approach is used when it is necessary to refer to hypotheses as answers to questions that can be different at various stages of the research (Timmermans & Tavory, 2012). The abductive approach is generally used for qualitative researches in the field of social science because it allows describing and explaining the phenomenon with references to social actors’ motives and associated interpretations based on everyday rules or concepts.

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Research Strategies


Experiment as a strategy is used in the natural and social science research for the purpose of exploring the changes and causal links between certain variables. This deductive strategy is based on organizing participants in experimental and control groups and on studying how changes in independent variables can influence dependent variables. As a result of the experiment, a researcher usually collects the quantitative data and concludes about proving hypotheses or not (Hakim, 2012). Although the strategy provides concrete and measurable findings for the phenomenon examined in the highly controlled context, this strategy is not appropriate for studies in businesses and management.


The survey strategy is mostly used in an exploratory deductive research when it is necessary to collect the particular quantitative data to support certain hypotheses and examine the relationships between variables. In contrast to the experiment, there is no need to control the context, and the data is received through standardized questionnaires adopted to measure results (De Vaus, 2013). Surveys are the most common strategy in the quantitative research, and they are actively used in the spheres of business, management, and marketing. However, the researcher’s ability to understand the context of the survey influencing participants’ answers to questionnaires is rather limited.

Case Study

Case studies are usually used in exploratory inductive researches. However, there are situations when case studies depend on collecting the quantitative data. In spite of being based on the empirical investigation, case studies are conducted for the purpose of examining the particular phenomenon within the certain context. Thus, the role of the context influencing the research and process is important (Yin, 2003). Focusing on case studies, researchers usually collect the qualitative data with the help of interviews, observation, or literature review. Case studies are most effective when they are used for exploring certain process or phenomenon referred to the concrete person, organization, country, or region.

Action Research

The action research is a specific strategy of the inductive qualitative research that is used when it s necessary to explore certain organizational issues and propose actions to address the problem. Thus, the action research is based on a cycle including the stages of diagnosing, planning, taking action, and evaluating that can repeat if the results of evaluation are not satisfactory (Coghlan & Brannick, 2014). Advantages of this research are in possibilities to involve leaders in organizations in taking action, and disadvantages are in inabilities to conduct the research without the cooperation with these organizations.

Grounded Theory

Grounded theory is a strategy that is traditionally used for inductive researches based on the collection of the qualitative data to build a certain theory. Social scientists actively use this research for studies in management and examination of people’s behaviors. This strategy is most appropriate for studies when it is important to avoid logical conclusions but to refer to interpretive premises. The high reliance on interpretation in the process of building the theory is one of the strategy’s drawbacks (Suddaby, 2006). Therefore, the grounded theory is often used for a limited number of cases in psychology, sociology, and rarely in business and management.


The ethnography is a strategy of the inductive qualitative research that is traditionally used in anthropology and sociology for the purpose of understanding and explaining how subjects can see and perceive the world around them. The specifics of collecting the qualitative data with the focus on the wide context is appropriate for the limited number of studies (Atkinson, 2013). One more drawback of the research strategy is its time-consuming character. Although the ethnography provides the study of subjective visions typical of the certain category of people, it is not actively used in such areas as business and management.

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Archival Research

Archival research is an inductive strategy that is usually utilized for the purpose of extracting and studying the evidence or primary qualitative data received from archival records. Such advantages of this research as the possibility to work with a large amount of the archival information influence the areas of usage. Thus, the archival research is usually utilized for historical and administrative studies (McKee & Porter, 2012). One more advantage of this strategy is in a possibility to utilize the existing information while saving resources for the research, but the drawback is in the researcher’s bias that can influence the findings’ analysis.

Strategy Selection

Referring to the pros and cons of strategies, it is possible to determine the best ones for spheres of business and management. Experiments are not appropriate because of putting participants in certain environments. Ethnography is also inappropriate for management researches limited in time and focused on different categories of employees. Grounded theory can be used only for studying concrete phenomena, but reliance on interpretation can limit the research objectivity. Action research is not appropriate for studies non-involving implications for the change, and archival research is not suitable for studying current tendencies in business (Williams, 2011). Surveys are often appropriate, but they ignore the role of the context. Therefore, case studies are most efficient to demonstrate how contextual factors can influence issues in management.

Case studies are adopted in the field of project management because researchers focus on concrete organizations or industries and their responses to certain tendencies like sustainability. On the one hand, case studies provide information on the limited experience of several organizations (Hakim, 2012). On the other hand, case studies allow focusing on all details of the process to conclude about its effectiveness (Yin, 2003).

Research Choices and Time Horizons

Mono methods are advised when researchers focus on single data collection techniques and appropriate procedures for analysis. In a multi-method, using more than one qualitative or quantitative data collection techniques and relevant data analysis tools is accepted. In mixed methods, the use of both qualitative and quantitative data collection technique and analysis tools is possible (Williams, 2011).

Two time horizons adopted in research design are cross-sectional and longitudinal. Cross-sectional studies are conducted at a particular time, and they are recommended for both quantitative and qualitative researches. Longitudinal studies are conducted over time to explore possible changes, and they are recommended to demonstrate the development (Creswell, 2013).

Data Collection and Data Analysis

Data collection methods differ for qualitative and quantitative researches. Thus, for quantitative researches, investigators use laboratory and field experiment results, questionnaires, and records or checklists. The collection of laboratory and field study results is directly associated with conducting different types of experiments, and the data collection technique depends on the nature of an experiment and the selected size of experimental and control groups that can be rather different. Questionnaires are used for surveys because this standardized data collection tool is effective to receive the information from a large number of participants (usually, 40-60 participants in one survey). The data collected with the help of the questionnaire is most appropriate for the further statistical analysis as the main data analysis tool used for quantitative researches (Creswell, 2013). Records and checklists are also often used for collecting the quantitative data because of their standardized form and appropriateness to be filled in by many respondents.

Data collection methods for qualitative researches are different, and they include focus groups, literature review, observations, and interviews. Focus groups are typical for grounded theory and action research. The literature review is most appropriate for archival research. Observations are typical for grounded theory (30-50 participants), ethnography, and case studies. Interviews of different types (unstructured semi-structured, and structured) are usually selected for case studies, grounded theory, and ethnography. When a case study involves individuals as interview participants, the appropriate sample is about ten individuals. If a case study is based on exploring organizations and interviewing employees, the appropriate sample is 1-4 organizations with about up to 20 employees in each organization. Interviews are often used to collect data for the study of organizations and answering questions in the field of management, including project management (Hwang & Tan, 2012; Silvius & Van den Brink, 2014).

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Atkinson, P. (2013). Ethnographic writing, the avant-garde and a failure of nerve. International Review of Qualitative Research, 6(1), 19-35.

Coghlan, D., & Brannick, T. (2014). Doing action research in your own organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing.

De Vaus, D. (2013). Surveys in social research. London, UK: Routledge.

Hakim, C. (2012). Research design: Successful designs for social economics research. London, UK: Routledge.

Hwang, B. G., & Tan, J. S. (2012). Green building project management: Obstacles and solutions for sustainable development. Sustainable Development, 20(5), 335-349.

McKee, H. A., & Porter, J. E. (2012). The ethics of archival research. College Composition and Communication, 64(1), 59-68.

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Silvius, A. G., & Van den Brink, J. (2014). Taking Responsibility: The integration of Sustainability and Project Management. Advances in Project Management: Narrated Journeys in Unchartered Territory, 137(1), 1-13.

Suddaby, R. (2006). From the editors: What grounded theory is not. Academy of Management Journal, 49(4), 633–642.

Timmermans, S., & Tavory, I. (2012). Theory construction in qualitative research from grounded theory to abductive analysis. Sociological Theory, 30(3), 167-186.

Williams, C. (2011). Research methods. Journal of Business & Economics Research, 5(3), 12-25.

Yin, R. K. (2003). Case study research, design and methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing.