Research Methods for Organizational Studies

By Donald P. Schwab | Go to book overview

Preface

This book introduces social science methods as applied broadly to the study of issues that arise as part of organizational life. These include issues involving organizational participants such as managers, teachers, customers, patients, and clients and transactions within and between organizations. The material is an outgrowth of more than 30 years of teaching research classes to master's and doctoral students at the Universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota and at Purdue University. Although these classes have been offered in management and/or industrial relations departments, students participating have come from many other programs, including industrial/organizational and social psychology, educational administration, sociology, marketing, communication arts, operations management, nursing, health care administration, and industrial engineering.

Naturally, my views about research and about what constitutes good research practice have strongly influenced the content of this book. However, experiences while teaching have had the most significant impact on the organization, emphases, and tone of the book. Many students experience anxiety when they begin a course in research methods; not all students begin such a course enthusiastically. This book aims to reduce anxiety by presenting research methods in a straight forward and understandable fashion. It aims to enhance student motivation by providing practical skills needed to cany out research activities.

Responses to the first edition have been very positive on these points. Published reviews, correspondence, and personal communications have all indicated that the first edition achieved the objective; the volume has been uniformly viewed as “student friendly.” I am particularly pleased with the unsolicited letters and e-mails received from students and instructors on this characteristic of the book.

An important aid to students is the use of an integrative model explicated in Part I of the book. I initially developed this model in a paper on construct validity (Schwab, 1980). However, the model is useful as a way of viewing empirical research generally. Its use was well received in the first edition and I continue its use throughout the second edition to explain and integrate major research activities. This model, shown as Exhibit P.1, is a powerful way to communicate key research concepts, challenges, and outcomes. The model distinguishes between empirical activities carried out at an operational level and the interpretations we make of those operations at a conceptual level. It thus illustrates the critical need for valid measurement and underscores the challenges researchers face in obtaining useful measures. The model also distinguishes between independent and dependent variables. Although not always explicitly stated in research reports, most organizational research is designed to draw causal inferences; the distinction between cause and consequence is essential for conducting research and, especially, for interpreting research findings.

By combining these two dimensions of research, the model clearly illustrates contributions and limitations of empirical research outcomes to conceptual understanding. It shows that the only outcome directly observable from empirical research is the relationship between scores (line d). All other relationships involve inferences as implied by the broken lines. Inferences are required to conclude that relationships between scores are causally or internally valid (line c).

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