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Data Collection (working with clients) Guide

1. Getting the Most from the Client

Primary research is the most important phase in the dissertation process. The quality of the data collected is instrumental in producing a high quality dissertation. The better the data, the easier it is to write the Findings & Analysis chapter, which together with the Literature Review tend to be the largest and most time consuming chapters. To get the most from the client in the primary research phase, keep the client informed and when unsure about any requirements, consult the client as early as possible.

2. Understanding the Client’s Limitations

The dissertation process needs to run smoothly and without delays, wherever possible. Deciding how to proceed with the primary research, including selecting appropriate research methods, should be based on a clear understanding of the client’s limitations. Such limitations reflect issues such as gaining access to firms or research participants, as well as time and money, and often, English language ability. Since you are trying to help the client perform the best research that they can within their own capabilities, it makes no sense to over-burden the client.

3. Providing Materials and Setting Deadlines

When the primary research phase begins, the client will need to receive all the research materials necessary to carry out their research smoothly. This includes any interview questions or a questionnaire, as well as associated Performa. In the event of using a questionnaire, the client should also be sent an Excel template to help them enter the data they have collected in a way that will make it easier for you to analyse. In both cases the client will be given a target for the number of interviewees (focus group participants) or questionnaires that should be returned (i.e. the size of the sample). At the same time, you need to communicate to the client the latest date that you will accept for the return of primary research data. You should leave yourself enough time to analyse the research and write the second part of the dissertation.

It may be a good idea to arrange with the client a setup of online questionnaire (where possible) on the website such as www.surveymonkey.com, which will allow you to design the questionnaire yourself and obtain the data required with minimal dependency on the client.

4. Designing the Questionnaire

Try and break the questionnaire into clear sections. These sections should help the client when using the questionnaire to conduct their research, as well as helping you when it comes to analysing the data. Whilst little advice can be given about the content of the questionnaire because this will be highly research specific, the following format could be adopted:

Title: Should be large and at the top of the page.

Introduction: Provide a brief introduction to the research. Depending on whether this is an online survey or an interviewer-led questionnaire process, the introduction is something that the research participant will read (or be read to them by the client). Research participants seldom have much time to fill out questionnaires, so the introduction should be easy to read and brief. Avoid academic ‘jargon’ and try to explain the purpose of the research in simple language, including how the data will be used. It is also important to tailor the language that you use to your audience. If they are highly educated employees within a firm, perhaps knowledge workers, or individuals in management positions, a more professional writing style would be appropriate. However, if your audience are high street customers, it is better to use more simple English (known as ‘Plain English’) because you need to cater for all levels of education. Furthermore, try to make the introduction interesting and stress the value of the research findings because this will encourage greater response rates, which is important to help the client and any later analysis of the data.

Demographics: Most consumer questionnaires (e.g. Marketing and Consumer Behaviour related dissertations) contain demographic questions, including factors such as age, gender, income, and so forth. Questionnaires conducted in firms (i.e. all areas of management) also tend to involve questions such as the position of the respondent in the firm, how long they have been with the firm (or in their current job), and so forth. Whilst the exact questions you ask should be informed by the literature and what you are trying to find out, it can help to collect such demographic data. For example, you may want to assess the impact of gender on a particular variable (e.g. the impact of gender on opportunities to gain promotion) even though you had not originally thought about making such a gender-based comparison. Even if you do not intend to make such comparisons, the collection of demographic data is important simply to ensure that your Research Methodology chapter contains a clear overview of your sample. This prevents a bland discussion of the sample being a probability-based one, or a convenience one, for example. Producing basic descriptive statistics such as frequencies, measures of central tendency and measures of spread would be appropriate in discussing the sample collected.

Questionnaire Constructs: The main body of your questionnaire will be easier to read and complete if it is divided into the main areas that you are investigating. In many cases, these sections will reflect the structure of your Literature Review. The number of these areas will depend on your research. In the case study that is provided later, the main constructs are Flexible Working and Organisational Commitment.

Thank You Message

An example questionnaire for a study examining the relationship between flexible working and organisational commitment is provided in section 6.

5. Data Collection – The Excel Template

To make the analysis of questionnaire data easier and quicker, you should provide the client with an Excel template within which they can enter their data. It should be compulsory that clients enter this data into the Excel template. It is not your responsibility to do this, nor is it the responsibility of Ivory Research. In case you omit this, the client may just send you the completed questionnaires and this will result in a significant increase in the time you will need to spend on the particular order.

This should be made clear to the client. The Excel template should include two worksheets, labelled ‘Results’ and ‘Coding’. The worksheet labelled ‘Results’ is where the client enters the data, whilst the ‘Coding’ sheet provides the information necessary for the client to enter this data in the most effective way for it to be statistically analysed. Your responsibility as a writer is to provide client with clear coding guidelines. An example Excel template for the above study is provided here.

When designing quantitative research it is extremely important to make it as easy as possible for the client to collect data. Gaining access to organisations to distribute questionnaires to managers and employees is very time consuming and can be challenging. Where possible, try and focus the study on individuals that are easier to access, such as customers in the high street. This will not only make it easier for the client, but you are more likely to get a larger sample, which can help when performing statistical analysis on the data.

Please click here to download the template for you to modify accordingly and send to client

6. Example Study

This study addresses the question:

What is the relationship between flexible working and organisational commitment?

The purpose of the study was to build on the flexible working literature, which had recently developed a number of constructs characterising flexible working in firms. Whilst it was believed that flexible working arrangements could improve organisational commitment, this had not been examined against a well tested set of flexible working constructs. By contrast, a large body of evidence had examined organisational commitment, clearly delineating its main constructs.

The questionnaire that was developed drew on the format suggestion in section 2 (title, introduction, demographics, the questionnaire constructs, thank you message) with the questionnaire constructs being based around the two main themes in the Literature Review: flexible working and organisational commitment.

6.1 Explanation of Questionnaire

The client will benefit from a simple document providing some explanation of the questionnaire. This does not need to be detailed because the questionnaire should be discussed in length in Chapter Three – Research Methodology, with the theoretical underpinnings set out in Chapter Two – Literature Review. However, if the client is yet to receive these completed chapters before starting the primary research process, such a brief can be useful. The following explanation is based on the example study.

Demographics: A number of demographic variables should be recorded (see sections 1 to 4). These include the gender and age of the respondent, as well as the time that they have spent with the firm, as well as the time they have been in their position within the firm. Whilst it is desirable to collect this information, these should not be ‘compulsory’ questions. After all, respondents may not want to divulge their age for personal reasons, or their position and tenure with the firm, which could leave them identifiable.

Flexible Working: The first main construct focuses on flexible working, using Albion’s (2004) 13 items. This particular research instrument is to be used because it has been well tested and is considered to be reliable. The items are measured based on a 5-point Likert scale, measuring the degree of agreement that respondents have with these 13 statements. Such agreement is based on a scale from 1 = strongly agree to 5 = strongly disagree. For the purposes of this example, just 8 of the items are set out.

Organisational Commitment: The second main construct focuses on organisational commitment, using Meyer and Herscovitch’s (2001) general model of commitment. This is based on three types of commitment – affective, continuance and normative – which impact upon organisational commitment (membership focus), organisational commitment (performance focus), goal commitment, and commitment to organisational change. This section draws on these three types of commitment, but only for organisational commitment (membership focus), which is the focus of the research. This includes 6 items, measured on a 5-point Likert scale. As above, the scale ranges from 1 = strongly agree to 5 = strongly disagree.

6.2 Distributed Questionnaire

A study of flexible working and organisational commitment in [Company Name]

Dear [Company Name] employee,

I am conducting research on how flexible working may affect commitment to [Company Name]. It is hoped that the research will help [Company Name] to improve its flexible working arrangements, which should result in you having a better work-life balance.

I would be very grateful if you would take the time to complete this questionnaire. It should take around 5 minutes to complete.

Thank you.

[Client name]

PART ONE – BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Please select the appropriate boxes:

Q1. Gender:   Male       Female

Q2. Age (in years): …….

Q3. Tenure (in years): …….

Q4.  Position:   Senior Manager       Manager        Shop Floor Employee

PART TWO – FLEXIBLE WORKING

Please read the following statements and then put a cross (X) in the MOST appropriate box, depending on the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statements (SA = strongly Agree, A = Agree, NA = Neither Agree Nor Disagree, D = Disagree, SD = Strongly Disagree):

SA

A

NA

D

SD

Q5 Flexible working arrangements help me balance life commitments.
Q6 I cannot afford the loss of pay associated with flexible work options that involve reduced hours.
Q7 Flexible work options do not suit me because they tend to make me feel disconnected from the workplace.
Q8 Working shorter hours would negatively impact on my career progress within the organisation.
Q9 Flexible working arrangements are essential for me in order to be able to deal with other interests and responsibilities outside work.
Q10 Flexible working arrangements are essential for me in order to be able to manage variations in workload and responsibilities.
Q11 Flexible working arrangements enable me to focus more on the job when I am at the workplace.
Q12 I would not be able to do paid work at all, if I could not use flexible work arrangements.

PART THREE – ORGANISATIONAL COMMITMENT

Please read the following statements and then put a cross (X) in the MOST appropriate box, depending on the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statements (SA = strongly Agree, A = Agree, NA = Neither Agree Nor Disagree, D = Disagree, SD = Strongly Disagree):

SA

A

NA

D

SD

Q13 Remaining a member of this organization is important to me.
Q14 I would be very happy to spend the rest of my career with this organization.
Q15 It would be costly for me to leave this organization now.
Q16 Right now, staying with this organization is a matter of necessity.
Q17 I would feel guilty if I left this organization now.
Q18 I do not feel any moral obligation to remain with my current organization (R).

Thank you very much for helping with this research project

References

Albion, M.J. (2004) A measure of attitudes towards flexible work options, Australian Journal of Management, 29(2): 275-294.

Meyer, J.P. and Herscovitch, L. (2001) Commitment in the Workplace: Toward a General Model, Human Resource Management Review, 11(3): 299-327.

Useful templates

To make life a little easier for our writers, we have developed the following templates for communicating messages to clients. You may need to tweak the messages to fit the individual order you are working on but these should give you a good base for what information you may need to request from the client.

1. Accepting the Dissertation

It should be made clear to the client upon accepting the dissertation that the client will be expected to conduct the primary research. The following message could be used:

The dissertation can use only secondary data [in many cases] although dissertations that rely on primary data are often viewed more positively and attain higher grades. If you want to conduct primary research, we can help by preparing all the necessary interview/focus group questions or supplying you with a questionnaire that you can use. Advice will be provided alongside these interview/focus group questions or questionnaire so that you know what you are doing and why you are doing it. The primary research methods that can be used – e.g. focus groups, interviews, a questionnaire, etc. can be based on your levels of access, time and resources. For example, if you have little time and money to perform the primary research, a suitable primary research schedule can be selected using appropriate research methods. The aim is to help you get the most out of your primary research.

2. Understanding the Client’s Limitations

The dissertation process needs to run smoothly and without delays, where possible. Deciding how to proceed with the primary research, including selecting appropriate research methods, should be based on a clear understanding the client’s limitations. Such limitations reflect issues like gaining access to firms or research participants, as well as time and money and often, English language ability. Since you are trying to help the client perform the best research that they can within their own capabilities, it makes no sense to over-burden the client. As soon as you have set the research aim and/or research questions [unless these have been set for you], the following message could be sent to the client.

In order to finalise your research aim and/or research questions, as well as write the Research Methodology chapter of your dissertation, please could you let me know what time, resources and access you have to conduct primary research. For example, between what dates could you conduct primary research? How many days do you have to do this? Can you record the interview and send me typed transcript? Do you know how to put a questionnaire online? Do you have access to any firms? [if appropriate] Do you have a preferred research method (e.g. interviews or a focus group or an online questionnaire)? We can try and base the primary research around your needs.

3. Providing Materials and Setting Deadlines

When the primary research phase begins, the client will need to receive all the research materials necessary to carry out their research smoothly. This includes any interview questions or a questionnaire, as well as associated Performa. When using a questionnaire, the client will also be sent an Excel template to help them enter the data they have collected in a way that will make it easier for you to analysis. In both cases, the client should be given a target for the number of interviewees (focus group participants) or questionnaires that should be returned (i.e. the size of the sample). At the same time, you need to communicate to the client the latest deadlines that you can accept for the return of primary research data. This date should provide you with adequate time to analyse the research and write up the second part of the dissertation. Please note, that to collect 30 responses to a 20 question-questionnaire administered to high street customers for example, may take client around 14 days – please give them client sufficient time. The following messages may be useful:

For qualitative research:

Attached are the interview questions (focus group questions) that you will need to ask respondents. You will also find a Performa that helps you to understand why you are asking these questions and what you are trying to get back from the interviewee (focus group participant). Where possible, try and record the interviews and then transcribe these. This will provide for much richer data and help improve the quality of your dissertation. Try and aim to interview 30 people (or conduct 5 focus groups), but the more the better at this stage [the numbers recommended should be based on the specific nature of the research]. In order to meet your deadline, we would need to receive the data from the interviews (focus groups) by Day Month Year.

For quantitative research:

Attached is the questionnaire that you will need to use. You will also find a Performa that helps you to understand why these questions are being asked in case you are doing an interviewer-led questionnaire where you will be speaking directly to research participants. Try and aim to get 100 questionnaires completed [the number recommended should be based on the specific nature of the research]. We have also attached an Excel template for you to enter the data. This contains two worksheets labelled ‘Results’ and ‘Coding’. You will need to enter the data from the questionnaires in the worksheet labelled ‘Results’. The worksheet labelled ‘Coding’ will help you to understand how to do this. In order to meet your deadline, we would need to receive the data from the questionnaires by Day Month Year.’

4. Confirmation

Even if you are not working on the data straight away, check it as soon as possible to make sure there is nothing significant missing. Even after you have checked the data, let the client know that you will get back to them if you need anything else.

I can confirm receipt of the data. If there is anything missing or any other information that we need, we will be in touch.

5. Checking upon progress

As a writer, you are responsible to complete the work on time. Therefore, we suggest that sometime before client needs to deliver the data you drop them a quick e-mail to check on their progress. This should also help to avoid any possible delays.