Literature Review Chapter: Experimental Research Methods in Business

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[. . .] 123). The research approaches to which the authors refer in their definition include, for example, data collection and analysis, inference techniques, qualitative perspectives, and quantitative perspectives. When placing a mixed methods approach in the research -- as a type of research -- the authors suggest research employing mixed methods "would involve mixing within a single study; a mixed method program would involve mixing within a program of research and the mixing might occur across a closely related set of studies" (Johnson, 2007, p. 123).

As we have said, research methods can be described as fitting within any one of three research paradigms: The qualitative research paradigm, the quantitative research paradigm, or the mixed methods research paradigm. Greene (2006) further parsed research methodologies into four domains: (1) "philosophical assumptions and stances;" (2) "inquiry logics;" (3) "guidelines for practice;" and (4) "sociopolitical commitments," the latter being most appropriate for social inquiry methods, but still having applicability with regard to the larger context in which the research is conducted. When discussing methodology, researchers benefit from articulating the fundamental epistemological or philosophical assumptions that undergird a select methodology. Greene (2006) argues that the term methodology is essentially the inquiry logics that guide topic selection, the development of research questions, the standards for quality and rigor, the study purposes, and the "writing forms that guide the researcher's gaze or point-of-view." The domain of guidelines for practice include any tools, procedures, techniques that are used to conduct the research -- this is the rubber-hits-the-road stage that tells a researcher how to structure and carry out the research. Scientists and researchers would like to believe that they are above the common pressures of the larger social context in which they do their work -- but that is decidedly not the case.

There is within -- and without -- every research endeavor of any substantive scope or size a socio-political and economic context, which is characterized by the power relations, institutional commitments, and individual and institutional interests of the society in which the research is conducted. In fact, these very same pressures can determine what types of inquiry will be employed, in effect vetoing the preferences of research departments and those with expertise in research. In such cases, it is often the anticipated reception of the intended audience for the research that is the deciding factor in the way the research design is structured. This is precisely one of the tenets that Suter (2005) purports in his work on multiple methods. It is worth noting that Suter is affiliated with the National Science Foundation.

Multiple methods. Research in the areas of science and mathematics education often employs multiple methods of experimental study (Suter, 2005). When single methods are employed in science and mathematics education research, the methods most often used, according to Suter (2005) are a version of experimental design or case study. That said, multiple methods prevail in research on educational practice, and the tendency is for the research designs in this area to attempt too great a reach. Suter (2005) argues that too little attention is paid to the development of focused research questions that pursue a problem over time through sustained research effort. At issue in educational practices research is that funding sources frequently require studies of a certain magnitude and that research that addresses the funding priorities of a governmental agency. Funders can reasonably be faulted for encouraging research that overreaches and results in inconclusive outcomes. This concern is less of a problem in business research, although research conducted under the auspices of a university-affiliated business school can suffer the same limitations. An important point derived from consideration of this issue is that a primary goal of research design is to focus on "research questions that match the question with a method" (Suter, 2005, p. 180). The selection of appropriate research methods will reasonably follow.

Just as the selection of generative research questions must fit with the research methods chosen for a study, the special area of decision aid research must calculate how to best use research to solve problems and make decisions.

Decision aid research. Experimental decision aid research has applicability to a wide range of disciplines. A primary advantage of decision aid research is its usefulness as a support to understanding the outcomes of experimental research. A decision aid is quite what it sounds like -- a tool for facilitating decision-making or problem-solving that provides embedded or inherent information relevant to the decision or problem. Decision aids can consist of simple paper-based supports or computerized algorithms that transform input into useful output in the form of data (Wheeler & Murthy, 2011). Interestingly, a substantive issue with decision aids is the effect that the use of the experimental decision aid has on the user -- agreement about how to solve this problem has not solidified (Wheeler & Murthy, 2011).

Making decisions based on experiments conducted the during manufacturing process is not is an easy as employing computerized modeling strategies. To be fair, 12 years separate the two research experiments. It is entirely probable that some of the problems experienced by Schultz (1999) during his experiments in operations management could have been eliminated through the use of more powerful computer systems and more flexible computer modeling programs such as those in use today.

Research in management accounting. In the discipline of accounting, experimental research has been employed in the sub-discipline of auditing, but has not similarly utilized in management accounting. Addressing what he perceived as a scarcity of appropriate empirical research in management accounting, Schultz (1999).applied experimental methods to a study of organizational structure, feedback, and production-system performance in the field of management accounting. Schutz's research explored ways to foster coordination of interdependent tasks in a machining operation and, as such, was fundamentally a study in operations management. His study illustrated the difficulty of applying traditional empirical research methods to an in situ manufacturing operation.

From the manufacturing plant floor to the agricultural field, applied experimental research makes known its idiosyncratic challenges. For Elliott (1929), the challenges are embedded not only in the experimental research processes, but also in the comparison between experimental research paradigms and economics research paradigms.

Research in applied agricultural economics. Elliott (1929) addresses the controversial tension between economic and experimental research, the former known for the propensity to suppose that all other things are equal, the later to require rigorous demonstration that all other things are equal enough to make and qualify conclusions. Elliott argues that statistical methods have matured sufficiently to enable agricultural economists to achieve the same level of confidence regarding their research conclusions as is evident in other fields. There is a cogent elegance in Elliott's statement that the inability to control all variables in a study results in situations where "problems will arise incident thereto which will have to be solved apart from those pertaining directly to the question under study in the experiment" (1929). Thusly have scientists steadily lamented. The agricultural economics research that is the focus of Elliott's work emphasizes the returns of different approaches to agriculture, including change outs of machinery, techniques, practices, and operating units. The research outlined in Elliott's (1929) article is a harbinger of the types of inquiries carried out by agricultural extensions of universities today.

The difficulties of reconciling experimental research procedures and techniques with those of behavioral economics plague Page (2010) just as they did Elliott (1929). The blithe assumptions that are made in economics -- presumably due to the recognition that there is absolutely no way that global economic variables can be "controlled" so they must be assumed to be stabile -- that all things remaining equal do not have any impact on economic research. The economic forecast is always qualified -- in experimental research, this would be considered bad form. In experimental research, one must control for, or correct for, or weight the variables over which one has no influence. Page (2010) copes by making the wild cards* all part of the game and an expected component of the psychology of the situation. This is the beauty of behavioral economics -- it establishes a paradigm based on the belief that humans will not act rationally, and that the tendency to behave in a non-rational manner can be mediated -- and this phenomenon can be demonstrated through gaming or research psychology.

Experimental economics. Education economists may employ experimental research methods to the study of student behavior, the beliefs and preferences that form the basis for student behavior, and the success or failure of a school (Page, 2010). The purpose of the study is to learn what variables influence the persistence of educational inequalities, with particular focus on… [END OF PREVIEW]

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