Converting concepts into variables in management research

If you are using a concept in your study, you need to consider its operationalisation — that is, how it will be measured. In most cases, to operationalise a concept you first need to go through the process of identifying indicators — a set of criteria reflective of the concept — which can then be converted into variables. The choice of indicators for a concept might vary with the researcher but those selected must have a logical link with the concept. Some concepts, such as ‘rich’ (in terms of wealth), can easily be con­verted into indicators and then variables. For example, to decide objectively if a person is ‘rich’, one first needs to decide upon the indicators of wealth. Assume that we decide upon income and assets as the indicators. Income is also a variable since it can be mea­sured in dollars; therefore, you do not need to convert this into a variable. Although the assets owned by an individual are indicators of his/her ‘richness’, they still belong to the category of concepts. You need to look further at the indicators of assets. For example, house, boat, car and investments are indicators of assets. Converting the value of each one into dollars will give the total value of the assets owned by a person. Next, fix a level, based upon available information on income distribution and an average level of assets owned by members of a community, which acts as the basis for classification. Then analyse the information on income and the total value of the assets to make a decision about whether the person should be classified as ‘rich’. The operationalisation of other concepts, such as the ‘effectiveness’ or ‘impact’ of a programme, may prove more difficult. Table 5.2 shows some examples that will help you to understand the process of converting concepts into variables.

One of the main differences between quantitative and qualitative research studies is in the area of variables. In qualitative research, as it usually involves studying perceptions, beliefs, or feelings, you do not make any attempt to establish uniformity in them across respondents and hence measurements and variables do not carry much significance. On the other hand, in quantitative studies, as the emphasis is on exploring commonalities in the study popula­tion, measurements and variables play an important role.

Source: Kumar Ranjit (2012), Research methodology: a step-by-step guide for beginners, SAGE Publications Ltd; Third edition.

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