Design and Conduct of Research in Tax, Law and Accounting

Phil Lignier (Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia)

Accounting Research Journal

ISSN: 1030-9616

Article publication date: 19 July 2011



Lignier, P. (2011), "Design and Conduct of Research in Tax, Law and Accounting", Accounting Research Journal, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 94-96.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Design and Conduct of Research in Tax, Law and Accounting by Margaret McKerchar is an introductory guide to the designing and conducting of research in a variety of business related contexts including business law, taxation law and accounting. The book is primarily aimed at an audience of students undertaking Higher Degree Research (HDR) and early career researchers in these disciplines. It is conceived to help the reader acquire the necessary skills to design and conduct robust research with a particular focus on assisting researchers in making sound choices so that they effectively address their research objectives. The book is structured into three parts.

In Part I “Getting started”, the reader is provided with background information about what research is about and with an initiation to the research process. The introduction chapter explores the reasons for undertaking research in general and describes the specific challenges of doing research in the disciplines of tax, accounting and law. The overview of the research process from inception to completion will be particularly helpful to new researchers. We are also reminded of how the successful completion of an HDR project often depends on finding the “right” supervisor. HDR candidates are also confronted with the task of writing a sound research proposal before they can enrol in their degree. New researchers will find some very useful general principles about how to conduct a review of the literature around a particular issue, how to identify a research problem and then develop a research proposal. McKerchar uses examples of her own research in the tax area and shows how to identify the gap in knowledge that will be the subject matter of the research.

Part II deals with research design. A good design requires a good grasp of the various research frameworks and an understanding of the relationship between research framework and research design (including methodology and methods). This part provides an excellent overview of the different research perspectives including positivism, critical realism and non‐positivism and their ontological and epistemological assumptions. The choice of an appropriate research paradigm or methodological approach should flow from the research frameworks. The two main research paradigms (quantitative and qualitative) and the related research methodologies are covered in detail. Legal research is identified as a separate approach because of its unique methodological features. In line with other authors like Cresswell, McKerchar treats mixed methodology as a distinct approach rather than as a compromise between the two main quantitative and qualitative paradigms. The reader will find detailed descriptions of the various qualitative methodologies; however the review of purely quantitative methodologies is much more succinct.

The next level in the development of the research design is the adoption of particular research methods. The book focuses on three specific methods: experiments, surveys and interviews. Interviews are described in more detail suggesting that the author may be particularly comfortable with this method, although surveys are also well covered. Readers will find very useful practical hints about how to design a questionnaire and how to plan and conduct interviews. Of much interest is the comprehensive description of the focus groups methodology which is widely used in business research.

Part III covers all aspects of implementing and conducting the research including working in the field, analysing the data and writing conclusions. A full chapter focuses on the particular challenges of working in the field. After being introduced to fieldwork and field research, the reader is made aware of what are essential skills when conducting field research. Real life research examples also explain and illustrate the particular challenges of field research, for instance, how important it is to plan for the research, but also to be prepared to the fact that things rarely go according to plan. There is also some very useful advice on note‐taking while working in the field, and how these notes may be successfully refined into analysable data.

The chapter on analysing data covers both quantitative and qualitative analyses. In the quantitative analysis section, the emphasis is on the importance of coding the data. There is also a brief outline of the different types of statistical analysis. A reader without statistical knowledge may need to refer to specialised texts on quantitative analysis as it would not be possible to describe these methods in full in a generalist book about research method.

The qualitative analysis process is described far more comprehensively, in particular, the data coding stage which must precede the analysis itself. An example of data reduction and data display in the form of a matrix will give the reader a concrete idea of how such a matrix can be constructed. Also included is a useful discussion on the advantages and limitations of Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Systems (CAQDAS). This chapter on analysing data concludes by reflecting on how quantitative and qualitative analysis techniques can complement and enrich each other in a mixed methods research approach.

The author appropriately points out that the writing stage is probably the most challenging stage for most researchers. It is emphasised that the main principles guiding the writing of research conclusions should be alignment and consistency. From a practical point of view, this means that conclusions must be linked to the data analysis. If a deductive approach is used, the data will either support or not support the argument contained in the research hypotheses. If inductive analysis is used, the conclusions are drawn from the data analysis. Conclusions should also be aligned with the design of the research. For example, if a quantitative approach is used, it is expected that the conclusion chapter will discuss the result of statistical analysis and initial hypotheses. Finally, it is also crucial to remember to link the conclusion to the purpose of the research. It is easy to get side‐tracked, and sometimes research purposes may have to be redefined in view of the findings. Conclusions should always be qualified, that is, weaknesses and limitations should be honestly acknowledged. The broad recommendation given here is that researchers should approach this stage of the research, accepting that some conclusions may not match or may even contradict their initial assumptions.

The book concludes on the importance of writing as a way of communicating research, and of publishing in the pursuit of an academic career. “If it is not written, it is not research” McKerchar reminds us.

Although there are quite a number of publications on research design and research methodology, this book has the advantage of covering the whole research process in one volume. It is relatively short (just under 300 pages) and written in plain but elegant English. More importantly for accounting and business law researchers, it is one of the few books addressing the specific issues confronting researchers in law and tax. Researchers with an inclination towards purely quantitative approaches may find that McKerchar shows a little too much her preference for qualitative and mixed design methodologies. However, Design and Conduct of Research in Tax, Law and Accounting was conceived as a guide to the overall research process not as a textbook on specific methodologies. In this respect, it meets its objectives and it is a welcome addition to the literature on research methods.

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