The Steinhoff Saga Management review - University of Stellenbosch Business School

January – June 2018

Why do Research?

why do research
  • Prof Charlene Gerber
  • MAY 2018
  • Tags Food for Thought, Research
10 minutes to read

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Article written by Prof. Charlene Gerber

Universities are supposedly in the field of producing knowledge. One way in which to do this is by conducting research. Research, simply stated, is the quest to solve problems. In solving problems, one would hope that some form of knowledge is created – be it contextual (e.g. an industry problem), conceptual (i.e. adding to scientific literature) or methodological (i.e. finding a creative or new way to investigate something).

In South Africa, all postgraduate degree programmes should have a research component. Often students and even faculty members debate the relevance and applicability of including a research component in professional degrees such as the MBA. The requirement by the Department of Higher Education to include a research component in all postgraduate degree programmes often leads to the question: ‘Why do research?’ A short answer is: ‘It makes you smart, that’s why.’ But often this answer does not satisfy a disgruntled student and a longer answer is mostly needed.

At the University of Stellenbosch Business School, many reasons are given for doing research. The preferred ones are discussed below.

Doing research exercises the mind

Conducting scientific research requires one to follow a logical (though not necessarily linear) process. This process is systematic and planned; it is not a random, haphazard observation of what one thinks should be done. According to theory on how to conduct research, the first step within this process is to define the research problem. In defining a research problem one would have to gather information on past research. A common misconception among scholars is that ‘past research’ refers to information on the specific practical situation with which an individual is confronted. In scientific research one would gather information on prior research relating to the concept behind the problem, and not the application or relevant context of the problem. For example, if one wanted to investigate how one can make a specific cancer treatment more affordable to patients, one would gather information on costing models, and specifically prior research pertaining to costing models in healthcare. In other words, one will acquire knowledge first. A first step in gathering information on past research would then imply searching ‘costing models’ on Google Scholar – not Google.

Doing research minimises bias

Often in business science most of the research questions (also referred to as research problems) are practical. When using the term ‘practical’, one would argue that research questions have specific relevance to a company or that the questions directly relate to a specific business situation or environment (also referred to as applied research). As a result managers dealing with a particular problem have usually been dealing with the situation for some time in some form. These managers have also been operating within environments for some time, and as a result may be too involved to have a broader perspective. This means they can be perceived as not being neutral or impartial. As scientific research requires a systematic process, managers are required to be objective.

Doing research objectively means that one should only report on the world as it is, not on how one thinks the world is, based on own beliefs, wishes or desires. By conducting research objectively (in other words, in as unbiased a way as possible), the findings and results obtained can often eliminate misconceptions, resulting in shifting beliefs, wishes and desires.

Doing research enables critical thinking

All research is provisional and is open to question and debate. The notion that research is open to question and debate is particularly true for scientific research. Questioning the norm is encouraged. Finding arguments and support for notions that challenge the norm are applauded. The only way to find support for challenging notions in scientific research is to participate in academic discourse.

Reading scientific literature (i.e. in academic peer-reviewed journals) introduces scholars to the world of scientific discussions and debate. Here the challenge is not merely to agree with a notion just because it has been published, but to be able to find reasons why something might not be true, or to find reasons why one should disagree with a stated norm. Many educational systems fail students by not teaching them how to think. Scientific research requires students to think critically about what is commonly believed within a field or discipline and then to argue their particular point of view, based on scientific evidence.

Doing research assists with seizing opportunities

Business research mostly relies on direct observation of a business environment or situation and not only pure reason. In other words, business research that is conducted in a scientific way allows for the identification of things that have possibly not been observed before or opportunities that have not been noticed before. Acquiring the skill of following a systematic and objective process enables individuals to form judgements on what can or could possibly be observed, thereby allowing for the chance to seize opportunities within business settings and environments.

Doing research necessitates reading, writing and the sharing of information

Communicating research results, conclusions and recommendations is a sought-after skill. Reading and interpreting analysed data or sheets of transcribed data are challenging. The research process requires that researchers process results obtained into a digestible format and then also to communicate them in a simple way so that any person can understand them.

Linking the results back to the initial research question is required. This means haphazard approaches to problem definition, research design and data analysis are not tolerated in the scientific process. Specifically in applied research, sharing of information obtained through conducting research systematically is crucial, be it in verbal or written form.

Doing research makes you (sound) smart

In learning how to conduct scientific research, one also needs to acquire the language associated with the field. Essentially, learning the language of research is like learning a new language. For example, commonly used words in scientific research include reliability, validity, credibility and generalisability. Using these words in research discussions or when posing questions on problem definition, prior research, research design, sampling and research implications can spark huge debates. Not addressing these and other crucial aspects can lead to even greater debates.

In conclusion

Research serves as an aid in problem-solving. Scientific research does so in a robust way, where all decisions should be justified based on evidence. Mere experience and “gut feel” are not sufficient when conducting scientific research. As a result, scientific research takes a considerable amount of dedication. However, acquiring the skill to conduct scientific research is one of the few chances we have to become critical thinkers – and society needs more critical thinkers.

 

Prof. Charlene Gerber lectures Research Methodology at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. She is also Head of MBA Research Assignments at USB and she acts as research consultant.

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