For many students, the thesis is initially a book with seven seals. The tasks are clear: should you do research and not write a term paper and find a topic? Quite a lot of effort! In this article I would like to provide the basics of empirical research so that you can understand: What is research?

Reading tip: Find topic

There are many types of research. I am concerned with empirical social research in this article because it is the dominant mode for business informatics and economics. Empirical social research mainly deals with social and human issues (Döring and Bortz 2015). Use cases in the context of companies and society are:

  • Research into behavior
  • Research into doing
  • Exploration of coexistence
  • Exploring the experience of people.

Research means collecting data

Your goal is to scientifically investigate facts and to obtain so-called reliable knowledge. To investigate such issues, you need to collect empirical data through surveys or interviews. These are defined as:

Empirical data (“empirical data”) are specifically selected and documented information about the reality of experience with regard to the research problem. They are collected using scientific data collection methods (observation, interview, questionnaire, psychological test, physiological measurement, document analysis) using appropriate standardized or non-standardized survey instruments (observation plan, interview guide, questionnaire, measuring device, etc.). “

Döring and Bortz (2015, p. 5)

Research means evaluating data in a structured manner

You have now collected data and can use it to derive hypotheses or recommendations for action. You do this with a methodical procedure that you describe in detail from the academy. If you do that, we are talking about scientific knowledge gain. This is defined as follows:

“Scientific knowledge gain” is based in empirical sciences such as the social and human sciences on the systematic collection, processing and analysis of empirical data as part of an orderly and documented research process. “

Döring and Bortz (2014, p. 5)

Research means: collecting data cleanly and evaluating it in a comprehensible manner

Of course, the collection of data and the evaluation can always be criticized. Facts can change quickly, especially in companies, and interpretations are not always clear. Certain quality criteria must therefore be observed in research. According to Himme (2007), these are:

  • objectivity
  • Reliability
  • validity

The first criterion is objectivity. Imagine that different researchers could collect different data and interpretations on the same issue. There are two ways to do this. On the one hand, the implementation objectivity. This means the collection of data: “What is the chance that three independent people will collect the same data as you?”. The second type is the objectivity of the evaluation, i.e. the evaluation of the data: “What is the chance that three people will interpret the results of your interviews in the same way?” Objectivity is primarily about you as a researcher and your neutrality on the research question.

The second criterion is reliability. It is about the reliability of your results. How long are these stable and are they always the same with repeated measurements? Objectivity is primarily about your research method.

The validity refers to the validity and material accuracy of a measuring instrument. So does your data really provide qualified answers to the research question? The validity is primarily about your data and the evaluation.

Tip: Discuss the three criteria in your thesis and limit them if you like.

In addition to the criteria mentioned, there are of course numerous other secondary criteria. You can also define these as you like, but I recommend starting with the three in the first research work. According to Himme (2007), further examples are standardization (calibration), economy (costs) and practicability (usefulness) of the data.

2 examples of empirical research

Let me give you two examples to illustrate. In example 1, you want to use expert interviews to better understand conflicts in agile teams and derive recommendations for action. So you collect data through the interviews and evaluate them. The evaluation results in recommendations for action. Now you have to consider the following quality criteria:

  • objectivity : You must derive the recommendations for action in a clear and comprehensible manner. It is also important to limit this to the respondents.
  • Reliability : By properly documenting your research methodology and the survey process, you show a high level of reliability.
  • validity : You could have a short final discussion or evaluation of the recommendations for action by the test persons.

In example 2 you would like to find out about the software and hardware of IT service providers through an online survey. You create a questionnaire and send it to 40 IT experts. Now you have to consider the following quality criteria:

  • objectivity : Make the construction of the questionnaire and the derivation by static methods clear.
  • Reliability : Use a clear and recognized statistical method.
  • validity : Let the test persons rate the results, for example on a scale of 1-5) “agree to disagree”.


In this article I raised the question: what is research. I hope you could grasp the difference with a term paper or a journalistic article. It is about collecting data cleanly and evaluating it in a structured and comprehensible manner. This leads to reliable knowledge. In order to gain such insights, you should therefore conceive a research design in the first step.

Reading tip: Basics of a research design

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Döring, N., & Bortz, J. (2016). Scientific theoretical foundations of empirical social research BT – Research methods and evaluation in the social and human sciences. In N. Döring & J. Bortz (Eds.) (Pp. 31-79). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Himme, A. (2007). Quality criteria of the measurement: reliability, Validity and generalizability BT – methodology of empirical Research. In S. Albers, D. Klapper, U. Konradt, A. Walter, & J. Wolf (Eds.) (Pp. 375-390). Wiesbaden: Gabler.

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Dr. Dominic Lindner

I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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