How to Find Your Research Question
Your research question can be based on the mission of your internship. What issues are managers in your department most concerned about? What decisions are most difficult to make? What new business strategies does the company plan to implement?
The business press, such as The Economist, The Wall Street Journal or reports by McKinsey or BCG, can be a rich source of inspiration. Topics discussed in these outlets move the business world, ensuring the timeliness and practical importance of your thesis.
MSI Research Priorities
The Marketing Science Institute (MSI) freqently publishes a list of research priorities. This list of “hot” topics and related research questions can broaden your perspective and inform your choice of topic.
In our first meeting, we discuss the topic of your thesis and the specific research question you would like to find an answer to.
I recommend preparing intensively for this meeting. You will be asked to explain why you believe your research question matters (and to whom) and why it deserves several months of investigation. If your research question can be intuitively answered, you need to dig deeper. Instead of asking whether X increases Y, it is usually more interesting to focus on the circumstances under which X increases Y the most. For example, instead of asking “Can social media influencers increase brand sales?”, it could be more insightful to ask “How can firms effectively use social media influencers to enhance brand performance?” and identify different factors that determine the effectiveness of influencer marketing (e.g., influencer-brand fit, number of followers etc.).
In our second meeting, we discuss the academic articles you identified and discuss how you could summarize them best.
To prepare this meeting, please create a complete list of all references you consider relevant to your topic. Your time is well invested, since you can also integrate this list into your thesis. Based on this list, I will assess the quantity and quality of the literature you like to review in detail. If necessary, I suggest removing or adding specific articles. Also, I will explain how to summarize the relevant literature efficiently. The main objective is to identify groups of articles within the larger body of literature. In other words, you need understand each article and classify it in terms of its similarities and differences to other articles. The identified grouping of articles can inform the narrative structure for your (written) review of the literature. For example, the rich literature on marketing standarization encompasses articles that deal with the cross-national standardization of (a) products, (b) advertising, (c) pricing, (d) distribution channels, (e) marketing processes, and (f) the overall marketing program. This classification could help break down a literature review into several sub-chapters, each discussing studies that focus on the same issue.
Hypotheses & Research Design
In our third meeting, we discuss the relationships you would like to study and your ideas of how to do that.
The study you conduct must needs to be guided by hypotheses. Simply put, hypotheses are statements about expected relationships between certain constructs. Hypotheses can pertain to direct relationships (e.g., X increases/decreases Y), indirect relationships (e.g., X increases/decreases Y through Z), or moderated relationships (e.g., Z strengthens/weakens the relationship between X and Y). I expect you to be familiar with the basic idea of an hypothesis, as it has been discussed in your preparatory course (review the material if need be). Based on the nature of your hypotheses, we will determine what type of research design is most suitable to test them. This decision will take into account the pecularities of your personal situation, which may facilitate or prevent the use of certain methods (e.g., in-depth interviews require access qualified interviewees).
Results & Write-Up
The final meeting is dedicated to discussing your study results and any remaining questions concerning the writing process.
In the final meeting, we have a look at the results of your study and discuss to what extent they support or refute your hypotheses. Don’t worry: There are no “right” or “wrong” results, as long as your research was designed and executed sensibly. What matters is that you describe your findings clearly and explain how they are related to your research question. A thorough discussion of findings against the background of existing research (e.g., evidence conforming or conflicting with prior findings) sets strong theses apart. We use this opportunity to answer any of your remaining questions about the write-up of your thesis (e.g., structural aspects).
Frequently Asked Questions
What You Can Expect from Your Supervisor
Assessing the status quo
I will help you to “tame” the – often large and fragmented – literature. To write a compelling literature review (i.e., what is known about your topic to date), it is necessary to structure the existing body of studies based on similarities and differences between them.
Designing your study
I will consult you on what method (e.g., experiment, survey, in-depth interviews) is most appropriate to find an answer to your research question. I will also provide you feedback on your research design (e.g., questionnaire or interview guide).
Shaping your research question
I will help you “scale” your research question adequately. Too broad research questions bear the risk of facing an overwhelming amount of literature, whereas too narrow research questions may undermine the relevance of your thesis.
What You Should NOT Expect from Your Supervisor
Managing your time
Getting started early is a key to success. Ideas need time to form and writing an academic thesis, potentially for the first time, can be very time-consuming. It is your responsibility alone to allocate sufficient time to this task and meet your milestones and final deadline.
Informing you about formalities
Every student will be provided with guidelines for writing their thesis. You are expected to read these guidelines closely. Asking questions about any aspect clearly defined in the guidelines (e.g., length of the thesis, formatting) signals poor preparation and disrespects the supervisor’s time.
Reading your thesis before submission
Writing is a lonely activity; no one but you can bring your thoughts onto paper. Your supervisor may provide you feedback on the macro-structure of your thesis, which can help structure your writing process. However, your supervisor will not read and “approve” any parts of your thesis before its submission.