Scientific Vs. Unscientific Methods in Business Research

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Business research requires both hard data and the human touch that tells you what feels correct.
Business research requires both hard data and the human touch that tells you what feels correct. (Image: Dynamic Graphics Group/Dynamic Graphics Group/Getty Images)

Business schools teach a nonscientific approach to business research, while practitioners in the field favor a scientific approach. Which should you use? Probably both. You need to know the advantages and disadvantages to each so you can conduct effective research. You also need to remain aware of when you are being scientific and when you are being unscientific, so that you can determine your confidence level in your findings. Business is both a science and an art. Success demands as much intuition as knowledge.

Case Studies or Data?

You may choose your research approach based on the question you research. Examples: If your question is something like, "What age group buys new technology?" you may choose to use the scientific approach of gathering hard data on demographics and purchasing habits. If your question is something like, "What technical features does the consumer consider user-friendly?" you will examine the history of technical features and gauge consumer reaction. In the first case, you use measurable data. In the second, you use case studies.

Statistics give you numbers, case studies give you stories.
Statistics give you numbers, case studies give you stories. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Advantages of Scientific Business Research

Scientific research offers logical, measurable results any other researcher can replicate. The researcher can have confidence in the findings because they are objective. For example, if you find that 75 percent of all shoppers buy more when a store is well-lit, you have hard data to take to management so they can make sound decisions.

Disadvantages of Scientific Business Research

Numbers may not tell the whole story, especially when measuring the behavior of people. The scientific approach most likely describes what people are doing, not why they do it. You could miss a vital consideration. For example, if you find that 75 percent of customers buy more when a store is well-lit, it may be due to the improved morale of customer service staff. You might overlook other factors that could boost morale and simply brighten the lights, when what is needed is friendlier personnel.

Numbers quantify results, but may overlook the human factor.
Numbers quantify results, but may overlook the human factor. (Image: Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Advantages of Nonscientific Business Research

Using case studies and anecdotal reports provides you with a description of the human decision-making process. This approach gets inside the heads of the people affected by your company, whether those are customers, clients, employees or managers. You will get the "why" of human behavior, while the scientific approach gives you the how.

When you stop treating people like numbers, you gain insights into what drives their decisions.
When you stop treating people like numbers, you gain insights into what drives their decisions. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Disadvantages of Nonscientific Business Research

Case studies and anecdotes provide subjective information that leaves results open to question. You may find it difficult to convince management that your research is reliable. This type of research is hard to measure, and, therefore, may not be accurate. If someone checks your work, they may have trouble verifying your results.

People may lie or mislead when responding to surveys, questionnaires and feedback requests.
People may lie or mislead when responding to surveys, questionnaires and feedback requests. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

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