Doing your Business Research Project


John Beech

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    Let's face it – nobody ever met the prospect of doing an undergraduate business project with squeals of delight!

    That's not to say that you won't be delighted when you finish it, both in the sense ‘Thank goodness I've finished!’, and in the sense ‘Hey, I'm really proud of that!’. The aim of this book is to ease you towards those two particular pleasure zones, especially if your starting point is one of uncertainty, dread or downright fear.

    Just as the business project is very different from any other assessment you have undertaken – for a start, you get to write the question, which is more of a hindrance than a help – this book recognises that it needs to be different from other textbooks too.

    The key differences are:

    • Because everybody's project is different in terms of its content, this book is partly a workbook, for you to customise by writing things in, so that it will help you with your project.
    • You may well have some lectures to support you in doing your project, but the chances are that for most of the time you will be working on your own. The book has been written in a deliberately ‘easy access’ style, because it will be your companion in the wee small hours of the night as you are hunched over your laptop, bashing away with a lot of hesitation, unable to ‘ask the lecturer afterwards’.
    • To make it an easy read, I've adopted a style of writing that is more like the spoken word. It's rather less dry than you may be used to in a normal textbook, and it's not a style that you should copy in your project. But I think that one of the problems with normal textbooks is that they are too dry. While I'm serious all the time, that doesn't mean there won't be any moments of lighter relief – nothing exactly LMFAO you understand, an uncomfortable experience in any case I would imagine, and one that I wouldn't wish on you.

    It's also different from most other books covering the same subject in another very significant way. It doesn't assume you are destined to get a First with the minimum of effort, just by being naturally gifted. It assumes you are no direct threat to Bill Gates or Richard Branson just yet, but that you are a pretty regular undergraduate student, reasonably intelligent (after all, you wouldn't have got into university if you weren't), and that you want the basics of how to complete a good, if not brilliant, project. It will certainly help you do a brilliant project if there is one inside you currently struggling to get out.

    Maybe you are dreading doing the project. What you have to do, and how you have to do it, may seem daunting. Perhaps you feel you don't actually have a project in you trying to escape. With the help of this book, you should be able to find that project, grow it into something a lot better than half decent, and hand in something which you can genuinely feel proud of. The project will probably be the longest thing you will ever write, so give it your best shot. This book will help you do exactly that.

    Two key points to remember when doing your project:

    • Learning to do research is very much about learning a particular way of thinking. Doing research is about questioning why or how something has happened or happens, working out a logical way of finding the answer, gathering evidence to support an answer in a systematic way, and finally coming to a logical conclusion – the only possible answer to your original question.
    • Research is rarely dramatic or earth shattering, but is about adding to the body of knowledge in even a small way. You become the first person to know something for certain, which is in its own way satisfying. It doesn't necessarily happen overnight – the researchers who invented the transistor had been working at their research for quite a few years before making the major breakthrough.

    The book has been developed from twenty years of experience of supervising and supporting students in writing undergraduate business projects, Masters business dissertations, and Doctoral theses, at De Montfort University and Coventry University, and also at the University of Applied Sciences, Kufstein, Austria, where I am a Visiting Professor, and the Russian International Olympic University in Sochi, where I am an International Professor. I have a debt of gratitude to the students I've supervised and taught, who have made me think more deeply about the best way to explain everything to do with research projects. Over the years there have been the Good, the Bad, and even the Ugly, but all of them have unknowingly contributed indirectly to this book. It is to them it is dedicated.

    How to use this Book

    This book is very different from the kind of book you are used to. This should not be completely surprising, as the project is very different from the kind of coursework assessments that you are used to.

    What you will be used to in a piece of assessment is being asked a question or set a task by your lecturer, for which you then, typically, have to prepare an essay or a report. Because everyone has been given the same piece of assessment, everyone will produce broadly similar essays or reports. The project is essentially different – most obviously because not only do you get to choose the topic of the project, you have to choose the topic.

    As a result, while every project follows the general scheme of things in doing research, each project is highly individual in its content. Someone marking projects will obviously see both strong similarities in the format of every project and also the highly individual subject matter of each individual project.

    This book aims to help all of you doing a project by taking you through the common process, while at the same time getting you to move forward in developing your own highly personal and individual content. Throughout the book there are write-in boxes where you can apply what you have been studying to your specific project. The boxes include reflective exercises to develop your understanding and practice of research skills, and write-in tasks which will form the basis of the design for your project.

    I recommend that you first read through the book once from beginning to end before you start to create your project. Don't write anything into the boxes; leave this to the second working through the book. It does no harm to think about what you might want to write into the boxes, but don't actually write anything in, and don't let the boxes and exercises distract you from getting this first broad overview of what the book is about.

    This will give you a good general overview of what you will need to do in order to get your project up and running. It will provide a basis for writing a project proposal if your university requires you to hand one in. It will raise lots of questions in your mind, which might worry you a little. Don't worry! This is perfectly normal, and is a situation that everyone who has ever done a project will have faced. What you need to do is then work in a systematic way, facing these troubling questions in a particular order.

    As you work your way through the book you will come across certain key words. The first time they appear, they will be printed in bold, and a box explaining them will be nearby. They are all printed together in the glossary, which begins on page 163.

    So, once you have completed this first ‘non-stop’ run through the book, you should then begin to work your way through again from the beginning, chapter by chapter, doing the exercises and filling in the boxes as you go. This will establish the basis for doing your own project.

    Once you are up and running, you can return to the book as a handbook at any time.

    To summarise:

    • First read through – read all the way through; don't stop and do the exercises or fill in the boxes.
    • Second read through – read through again, chapter by chapter; do stop and do the exercises or fill in the boxes; stop and reflect as you finish each chapter; aim to start each further chapter as a new work session.
    • Downloadable copies of the various checklists and templates are available free from the SAGE website at
    • When you find it necessary, go back and dip in to specific chapters as ‘revision’, or ‘read ahead’ out of interest.


    John Beech

    Key to Icons

    These icons are used throughout the book. Make sure you are clear what they stand for.

    Remember, wherever space has been left in a box you should write your response in. In this way you will customise this workbook towards your own individual project.

  • Appendix

    Contact Log with your Supervisor

    You are strongly advised to keep this log of contact with your supervisor. It is not implied that ten meetings are the norm; ten would be unusual and excessive even though in some circumstances ten might be necessary! In the outcome column, you should note any decisions reached and any specific targets for you to accomplish before your next meeting.

    Keep this log until you receive your mark, i.e. after any possibility of being asked to attend a Viva.



    In the context of your research project, an aim is a middle-level member of the research design hierarchy. Aims are derived from the central research question, and lead on to research objectives. See page 75.


    In the context of your research project, to analyse is to break down a problem systematically in order to understand it better.

    Analytical tool:

    A device which can be used to help you analyse a situation. Unlike a theoretical framework, it may lack rigorous testing based on evidence.


    see Input bias

    Central research question (CRQ):

    The one overall question that encapsulates what you are trying to find out by doing your research.

    Confidence interval:

    A measure of the accuracy of a survey, normally expressed as a plus-or-minus figure. See page 85.

    Confidence level:

    An estimate of how well the sample taken in a survey actually reflects the whole population. By convention, researchers normally seek a 95 per cent confidence level. See page 85.


    In this context, ‘contribution’ refers to a contribution to the body of knowledge, in other words, a new piece of knowledge (normally quite a small one) which is the outcome of research.


    Systematically gathered bits of information. ‘Data’ is actually the plural of ‘datum’, but most people don't use the word ‘datum’ any more.


    Conducting the gathering of secondary data. This can be conducted either at a desk in the office, using internet resources, or in a library, using good old books and journals. See also ‘Fieldwork’.


    The study of knowledge. A good detailed explanation can be found at


    The principles of what is right and what is wrong.


    The gathering of primary data. This cannot be achieved by sitting in your office space or in a library, so to gather primary data you have to go out ‘into the field’, meaning into the organisation(s) you are researching. See also ‘Deskwork’.

    Functional fixedness:

    Seeing a management issue from the perspective of one management function (e.g. marketing, HRM or finance) only. In other words, marketing people tend to see any management problem as a marketing problem and then look for marketing solutions.

    Gap (in the body of knowledge):

    Something which nobody knows (yet!).


    see Phenomenological

    Input bias:

    Bias which arises from the way you made your choice when sampling was inadvertently non-random.


    see Phenomenological


    An iterative process is one which reaches its intended goal through repetition, typically by finding better and better approximations. See Figure 1.1.

    Literature review:

    A systematic and critical account of academic research which has already been published. See Chapter 6.


    The systematic overall design of your research.


    The research tools that are used to gather your data, such as questionnaires or interviews.


    In this context, ‘research objective’ as opposed to ‘personal objective’. The lowest and most specific layer of the research design hierarchy, research objectives are derived from aims. See page 75.


    A consistent set of thoughts and practices which together may be seen as a way of viewing the world. Scientists, for example, talk of Einstein overthrowing the older Newtonian paradigm when he produced his Theory of Relativity. There are two major research paradigms – positivist and phenomenological.


    ‘Phenomenological’ is, for our purposes, a word used as a label for the word-based, qualitative, arts-oriented research paradigm.


    The passing off of someone else's work as your own, either deliberately and wilfully (a form of cheating), or accidentally, through failure to cite and reference properly.


    The total number in the group you are researching.


    ‘Positivist’ is, for our purposes, a word used as a label for the number-based, quantitative, science-oriented research paradigm.


    A systematic series of actions carried out in a particular order to achieve an ultimate goal.


    A self-contained piece of work. Throughout this book the word is used in the specific context of an undergraduate research project.


    Pertaining to words. Qualitative data is often referred to as ‘soft data’. Qualitative research is more appropriate in researching complex situations which are unlikely to produce precise solutions.


    Pertaining to numbers. Quantitative data is often referred to as ‘hard data’. Quantitative research is more appropriate in researching straightforward situations which are likely to produce precise solutions.

    Quota sampling:

    Choosing who or what makes up your sample so that in total they reflect the population. For example, if half the population is female, then you construct a sample which is 50 per cent female.

    Random sampling:

    The process of identifying specifically who or what will constitute your sample by choosing them randomly.


    The references which you include at the end of your research project is a list of books, journal articles, websites, etc., which are cited in the main text. It does not include resources which you consulted but have not cited.


    The extent to which you would get the same data if you carried on repeating your data-gathering.


    A systematic process for adding to the body of knowledge through an evidence-based approach.


    The group within the population you are measuring, from which you actually gather data.


    In the context of your research project, to synthesise is to build up answers systematically to research questions once analysis has been conducted.

    Theoretical framework:

    An evidence-based framework, tried and tested by an academic, which can be applied in other circumstances.


    The topic of your research project is the context (in particular, the industry sector and the business function, such as marketing or finance) in which it is embedded.


    The extent to which your data actually reflects the real world you are trying to measure.


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