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Selecting Which Business Research Method to Use

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.
Adapted from the Field Guide to Nonprofit Program Design, Marketing and Evaluation and Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development.

Sections of This Topic Include

Overview of Research Methods
Four Levels of Research Results

Also consider
Related Library Topics

Learn More in the Library's Blogs Related to Selecting Research Methods

In addition to the information on this current page, see the following blogs which have posts related to Selecting Research Methods. Scan down the blog's page to see various posts. Also see the section “Recent Blog Posts” in the sidebar of the blog or click on “next” near the bottom of a post in the blog.

Library's Business Planning Blog
Library's Strategic Planning Blog

Before selecting the methods you will use in your research, be sure that you have read the topic Planning Your Research.

Overview of Research Methods

The following table provides an overview of the major methods used for collecting data during evaluations.


Overall Purpose



questionnaires, surveys,
when need to quickly and/or easily get lots of information from people in a non threatening way -can complete anonymously
-inexpensive to administer
-easy to compare and analyze
-administer to many people
-can get lots of data
-many sample questionnaires already exist
-might not get careful feedback
-wording can bias client's responses
-are impersonal
-in surveys, may need sampling expert
- doesn't get full story
interviews when want to fully understand someone's impressions or experiences, or learn more about their answers to questionnaires -get full range and depth of information
-develops relationship with client
-can be flexible with client
-can take much time
-can be hard to analyze and compare
-can be costly
-interviewer can bias client's responses
documentation review when want impression of how program operates without interrupting the program; is from review of applications, finances, memos, minutes, etc. -get comprehensive and historical information
-doesn't interrupt program or client's routine in program
-information already exists
-few biases about information
-often takes much time
-info may be incomplete
-need to be quite clear about what looking for
-not flexible means to get data; data restricted to what already exists
observation to gather accurate information about how a program actually operates, particularly about processes -view operations of a program as they are actually occurring
-can adapt to events as they occur
-can be difficult to interpret seen behaviors
-can be complex to categorize observations
-can influence behaviors of program participants
-can be expensive
focus groups explore a topic in depth through group discussion, e.g., about reactions to an experience or suggestion, understanding common complaints, etc.; useful in evaluation and marketing -quickly and reliably get common impressions
-can be efficient way to get much range and depth of information in short time
- can convey key information about programs
-can be hard to analyze responses
-need good facilitator for safety and closure
-difficult to schedule 6-8 people together
case studies to fully understand or depict client's experiences in a program, and conduct comprehensive examination through cross comparison of cases -fully depicts client's experience in program input, process and results
-powerful means to portray program to outsiders
-usually quite time consuming to collect, organize and describe
-represents depth of information, rather than breadth

Also consider:
Appreciative Inquiry
Survey Design

Four Levels of Research Results

There are four levels of information that can be gathered from customers or clients, including getting their:
1. reactions and feelings (feelings are often poor indicators that your service made lasting impact)
2. learning (enhanced attitudes, perceptions or knowledge)
3. changes in skills (applied the learning to enhance behaviors)
4. effectiveness (improved performance because of enhanced behaviors)

Usually, the farther your research results get down the list, the more useful is your research results. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to reliably get information about effectiveness. Still, information about learning and skills is quite useful.

For the Category of Business Research:

To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.

Also, scan the Recommended Books listed below. They have been selected for their relevance and highly practical nature.

Related Library Topics

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