Guest post by Claire Brewis, Centre for Business in Society
The key to success in academic business research – is to understand the companies you are studying. Businesses are giving you their time – you owe it to them to make that time worthwhile.
You are a researcher – why wouldn’t you find about as much as possible beforehand? As well as increasing your credibility with the business, it builds your confidence of knowing your stuff. It provides a springboard into the primary research (particularly interviews) because you already have background knowledge under your belt. If you need any more convincing, the information you have collected also provides secondary source material for your study.
There are four ways to hit the research ground running:
- Research the industry. You may be carrying out research in an industry you have been working in or you may be looking at new industries. Whichever approach you are taking, do a stock-take of the main players and their trade associations. In this amazing digital age you can easily Google industry trade bodies and associations (according to Wikipedia there are 1600 in the UK). Find out who the big players are in the industry. Find out who brings the industry players together. You might also look to see if there are local networks. Are there key conferences, exhibitions or events which you should attend? This industry research gives you context for your research and also provides a source of research contacts.
- Research the company. From the comfort of your own laptop you can find out about the companies you are researching. There are a host of sources of information from marketresearch.com, to Wikipedia and Dun & Bradstreet to the Financial Times. You can find out about the company strategy, their financial position, key products, key people, their business environment or things that might interest them. This improves your understanding of the company and potentially key people and issues for your research.
- Research the project. If the company you are researching is doing activities they are proud of, there is a good chance you can find information on these online, in news stories, awards or slide presentations of talks by key staff. Alternatively you may find projects their competitors are doing, to stimulate your research questions.
- Research the participant. By the time you get an interview set up you may be so relieved that you forget the critical research – finding out about the person you are going to see. Social media platforms such as Linked In and Twitter provide an ideal source of information on participant’s backgrounds, business interests, affiliations and priorities. It shows you are really interested in the person you are going to see and flags up key areas that you want to unpack with them.
Use these 4 steps to make your time with the business count. It will improve your credibility as a researcher, build your own research confidence and provide a fast track to the research information that you really want to know.