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Qualitative Research in Business Research

Qualitative Research in Business Research

Qualitative research as a research method/technique is employed in various academic disciplines and non-academic contexts as well. Its aim varies depending on the disciplinary background, but basically, it examines why and how the decisions are made. It aims at discovering the primary motives and desires, through in-depth interviews for the purpose.

According to Denzin and Lincoln (2005), qualitative research is said to involve an approach that is interpretive naturalistic. In other words, it involves studying things in their natural settings and trying to make interpretation of the phenomena regarding the meaning people bring to them (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). While applying this method, the emphasis is on the natural setting as well as the points of view of those participating in the research, and also considers the researcher as a person. That is his/her position, attitude, and role in the society/ area of study. Depending on the field or discipline, approaches to qualitative research vary. For instance, ethnography is an approach that was mainly used in the field of anthropology. It emphasizes on a study of the entire culture and has been broadened into other disciplines. For instance, we can study the culture of a certain business or organization. One of the most common qualitative studies applicable in business research is case study methodology.

Case studies are used as a very popular method of qualitative research. Case study comprises of an intensive study of a social unit, which could be an individual, a family, an organization, a cultural group or an entire community. It puts more emphasis on the entire analysis of a limited number of events or conditions and how they interrelate with one another. In business research, case study research strategy can be used for analyzing and solving practical business problems, as well as for building and testing business theories. Case studies can be employed to investigate dynamic and complex processes and areas, including business networks, business-to-business marketing and exporting, and business relationship in complex business environments (Dul & Hak, 2008). Additionally, research-oriented cases are useful in illustrating a presentation at practitioner-oriented events and teaching learners with a little or no scientific background (Norman & Yvonna, 2005). The case method is one of the most effective teaching techniques or career preparations and practical application skills in the current business environment as it enables learners to examine different management situation in different cultural and economical perspectives, opening their mind by solving the problems of the actual business situations. Another key use of the case study research methodology is the “evaluation” of businesses and government programs with the aim of exploring potential reasons for their successes or failures.  Additionally, exploratory and descriptive case studies are useful in examining the development and characteristics of various phenomena with the objective of developing hypotheses of cause – effect relationships (Kothari, 2004). This method helps locate factors that account for behavioral patterns of a given unit. Instances, where case studies have been used to test the hypothesis, are in industry clusters.  However, the use of the case study research methodology for hypothesis testing is based on unique qualifications.  It is essential that the study integrates numerous cases and multiple sources to increase the generalizations of result from the data triangulation, interviews, and theories.   The number of cases ought to be a function of the complexity of the circumstances and a number of external situations.  Additionally, generalizations from the findings should be made to “theory” and not to population (Yin, 2003). For example, a researcher may be interested in understanding how companies develop brands that lead them to attain competitive advantage in the market. In this case, the researcher may decide to settle on a specific company such as Toyota or Coca-Cola to answer the research questions based on opinions of the employees within these organizations. Additionally, researchers can study how a specific business, for instance, Johnson & Johnson, managed a crisis (Tylenol crisis), to understand various crisis managements. An exploratory or descriptive case study analysis are useful in exploring organizations or programs that have little information exists regarding the workings and impacts of the organization. For instance, Alexander, Pearson, and Crosby (2003) applied a single case study of a rural-based travel agency to describe how a small business moves from the conventional business model to online models.

In circumstances where secondary or survey data exist, case studies still are beneficial because they add depth to the analysis.  Case studies reveal complexities, controversies, and causal relationships that may not be easily revealed in alternative research methodologies.  They complement statistical analysis by assisting in refining the proposed hypotheses and provide insights into how different variables affect other variables.

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