How to... write for a practitioner audience Part: 3

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How to... write for a practitioner audience

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What should you write for a practitioner journal?

By this stage, you will have researched the journal for which you wish to write, established its synergy with your own work, thoroughly considered its objectives, and decided that the article which you have in mind meets the relevant criteria.

So far, so good. However, this is only the first stage in planning. There are a number of other things to consider.

What do readers want?

Focusing on the needs of the reader is very important. Your own work may be vital to you and your organization, but why would people in the wider world be interested? How might they benefit from your work? Do you have an improved way of working or have you developed a unique way of measuring business performance? If you are using technology, are you really using it in an innovative way, and if you are using it in an innovative way, what are the benefits? Always focus on:

  • what is new about your work;
  • what is generalizable;
  • what is good about it and how the benefit can be translated into something tangible from which others can learn.


A training manager of a large international company has developed a set of training materials using the Web to deliver all product-related training to the company's worldwide sites, after a strategic decision has been taken to use this method in preference to face-to-face training. She is now thinking of publishing a case study, and is considering what it is about her experience that would benefit other people. In particular, she is asking herself:

  • Was there anything new about the technology?
  • Was there anything new about the teaching strategy (she used computer-assisted assessment (CAA) and some small amounts of multimedia, both of which are tried and tested methods)?
  • Did the experiment result in real learning benefits, demonstrably greater than those that would have been achieved in face-to-face training?
  • Was the method of delivery new (in fact, several other organizations have adopted a similar method of delivery)?
  • Was there anything new about the way in which the project was evaluated?

In other words, the training manager needed to consider how her experience would offer substantial business benefits to her counterparts in other organizations. If she had, say, set up web cams in training centres at the local sites to collect data about the use of the training material, then this would have been an unusual and innovatory method of evaluating training at a distance. Use of web-based materials in themselves, especially with CAA which is tried and tested, is not particularly innovatory and therefore lessons learnt of no particular interest other than on an anecdotal level.

If you are an academic, remember that what makes a good practitioner article is not what makes a good academic one. The content of your academic paper may well be of value to the practitioner, but not in its current form. You would be better off rewriting the article and creating two articles, one for a practitioner journal and the other for an academic journal.

What do editors want? 

One of the first requirements of an editor, on reading submitted articles, is that the potential contributor should have a thorough understanding of what their journal is about, have read its overview and author guidelines. That's the minimum; however, they are also looking for something that will take knowledge forward, will make a difference, will provide inspiration to their readers about how to change their own working practice.

What type of paper should you write?

In all the author guidelines, you are asked to write a structured abstract  which will require you to place your paper under one of a number of categories (see our "How to... write an abstract" guide for more details). This should not be treated as an administrative exercise, but should be a way of structuring your article.

It is possible for an article to be of more than one type, e.g. it could be a general review and a viewpoint.

The categories are listed below, together with their relevance to a practitioner article:

  • Research. Always relevant, but include enough information to show that the methodology is robust without going into too much detail as practitioners will not want to read the minutiae of your sampling technique. If necessary, provide the detail in an appendix.
  • Viewpoint. This is a type of paper which allows for the development of opinions.
  • Technical paper. Evaluates technical products or services, or a method of analysis.
  • Conceptual paper. This is where new hypotheses are explored and is wholly theoretical, so of no real benefit to practitioners, who are more inclined to be interested in practical applications of theory. However, something that deals with a theoretical concept, such as globalization, in a way that shows practical applications, will be appealing.
  • Case study. In that this involves focusing on the particular (i.e. an organization or part of one, an industry sector or a country), then it is highly relevant to practitioners.
  • Literature review. A literature review is more associated with a research subject, and so it would be rarer for a practitioner journal to publish this sort of article.
  • General review. This type of paper gives an overview of a concept, technique or phenomenon. The review should obviously be written in a general, journalistic style, and should be on an issue which has a bearing on business, e.g. a new piece of legislation, or issue such as globalization, or a particular industry trend.

How should you approach the structure and what should you include?

We are here presupposing that you have already decided what article type(s) you are writing.

What questions will you address?

This will provide a focus for your article, and help you determine the subsequent structure. Here are some examples:


(Referring to the example above) How can one most effectively evaluate training when this takes place on a worldwide basis?

What makes a community of practice operate successfully when it is enabled by online interactive technologies?

"The aim of the study was to explore why corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a concern for firms, what it means for them, and how it is conducted and communicated. The research questions were:

  • Why, for what purposes is CSR necessary or useful for a company? What kinds of motives, purposes or expectations regarding CSR are there?
  • What is CSR? What is its rationale and philosophy, what kinds of principles steer it, and what does it consist of?
  • How are CSR principles led and managed in practice? How are CSR programmes carried out?
  • How is CSR communicated? What kind of communication strategies do companies have? How do they mirror public relation's definitions or paradigms?"

(Elisa Juholin, "For business or the good of all", Corporate Governance, Vol. 4 No. 3)

How will you present your research?

Generally, the advice to authors, as expressed in the author guidelines, is to present any research methodology clearly but under a separate heading. It is particularly important for articles for practitioner journals that the research methodology is presented succinctly and without long references to data collection, etc.

In "Motivation and barriers to participation in virtual knowledge-sharing communities of practice", the authors describe a case study which they did on Communities of Practice in Caterpillar Inc. (see example below). They preface their description of their methodology by giving background to the organization; they then provide succinct but adequate descriptions of the design of the study and the analysis of the data. (Note that, for example, there is no justification of the sampling technique or the sampling instrument, and that the latter is not described in detail, as might be the case in a more academic article.)

Example: context and methodology of the study

The organization

The reported research project involved an in-depth case study of virtual communities of practice in a large multinational corporation, Caterpillar Inc. Caterpillar is a Fortune 100 corporation, manufacturing heavy construction and mining equipment. It employs more than 60,000 employees in close to 100 locations in more than 20 countries around the world. The company's competitive advantage depends heavily on the utilization of the professional knowledge of its employees, especially mechanical, electrical, and chemical engineers, designers, new product development personnel, equipment and material testers, and others. Therefore, it is not surprising that knowledge management (KM) has been a central concern for this company for a long time.

Initially, Caterpillar's earlier KM efforts concentrated mostly on knowledge capture and dissemination. However, in the mid-1990s the company's strategy in this area started to shift to incorporate the community of practice ideas. Caterpillar's first virtual communities of practice (or "communities of knowledge sharing", as the company employees call them) emerged in 1997. At the time of this writing, there were more than 600 online communities with more than 15,000 members worldwide. Caterpillar's communities are supported by the Knowledge Network, an Intranet-based system designed to provide an infrastructure for community functioning and supported by a group of KM technology experts, and employees of the Caterpillar corporate university. The system allows users to find subject area experts, post questions to specific experts or to the community at large, post and find knowledge entries, conduct online chats and asynchronous threaded discussions of questions and problems, and connect to numerous other online communities. Most of the communities were formed at the initiative of employees, not as a result of interventions planned by the KM group or the top executive team. Communities tend to form around specific subject matter expertise or professional activity areas, but are open to all interested employees.

A typical community includes a community manager, one or more "delegates", a number of "experts", and "subscribers". Managers are typically elected by the team, and are, usually, senior, experienced members who have earned the team's respect through a strong history of contributions to the company. "Delegates" are associate managers, who can run the community in the manager's absence, or take on certain parts of the community management duties. "Experts" are people recognized for their skills and knowledge in certain areas. They actively participate in the community by posting knowledge entries, assisting managers in reviewing new postings, and answering questions posted to the community in general or to individual experts personally. Finally, any member of the organization, interested in a communities of practice's (CoP) subject matter, can become a "subscriber" to that community.

The study design

This research project was based on a qualitative case study design, with main units of analysis being three communities of practice. These three communities were selected using the purposive sampling approach. One of the communities was among the most well-established and successful communities, with a large (more than 1,000 employees) membership, and high community "traffic" (measured by the number of postings, permanent knowledge entries, and various online activities). The other two communities were classified as less successful and struggling to establish themselves. Both had smaller memberships (several dozen people), and significantly lower levels of online "traffic".

The major method of data collection was based on semi-structured interviews. In addition, the researchers have collected a variety of company documentation, have visited a total of five different sites housing various work units, and familiarized themselves with the functioning of the knowledge-sharing network over the company Intranet. Interviews were conducted with a total of 30 members, including managers of three communities, community experts, community members, and managers in administrative units responsible for managing and supporting the Knowledge Network (the software system at the backbone of Caterpillar's Internet communities). The procedure for selecting participants was that of purposive sampling: the lists of community participants and documentation on frequency of their participation in the community (the number of postings and knowledge entries contributed by them; the number of times they have accessed the system, etc.), provided by the Corporate University, were used to identify groups of heavy, moderate, and light users. Subsequently, random samples were drawn from each of the groups. The selected community members were contacted by email to solicit their participation in the study. Interviews with community managers and delegates were conducted face to face. The rest of the interviews were accomplished by phone. Interviews lasted from 45 minutes to 2 hours, and were tape-recorded and transcribed.

Interviews were conducted using a semi-structured interview instrument, developed based on the review of the literature and industry reports on knowledge management, virtual teamwork, and CoP, and the information obtained from Caterpillar representatives during the initial project planning meetings. The instrument was pilot-tested in an interview with one active community delegate. The pilot test allowed the researchers to adjust several interview questions, and eliminate questions that seemed redundant.

In addition to the interview data, researchers have collected and analysed company documentation, which included: conference presentations and papers, developed by the Caterpillar employees, and describing the CoPs and KN; internally-circulated manuals for KN users; reports and statistics on KN use and CoP membership and participation levels.

Data analysis

The interview data were analysed using two methods. First, the data obtained by dichotomous questions and questions that required the respondents to provide specific numbers were analysed by calculating descriptive statistics for the sample. Second, the narratives obtained by way of open-ended questions were coded and analysed by two researchers independently using the qualitative data presentation and analysis methods (Miles and Huberman, 1994). This included coding of individual interview data to identify major themes and categories, development of summary sheets for each interview, and development of cross-case data tables.

The qualitative analysis reported here involved an iterative process. The researchers started with coding the answers to open-ended questions, which resulted in identifying categories and issues pertaining to each of the questions. For example, to answer one of the questions, "What are the barriers to employees' contributing their knowledge to virtual knowledge-sharing communities?" the researchers content-analysed not only those segments of the transcripts where a specific question about barriers was asked, but also the whole transcript, trying to find relevant discussions. Two researchers performed the coding independently. Categories generated by the individual coders were compared and discussed in research meetings between the two coders. These discussions resulted in re-coding of some data and re-analysis of relevant segments. Once a consensus was reached on categories, the two coders went back to the interview material to ascertain in how many cases various categories were present. To continue with the example of barriers, the researchers first identified several categories of barriers mentioned by different respondents, and then re-analysed the texts to see how many respondents had actually mentioned these barriers.

The iterative analysis of the interview data involved was augmented by the documentation analysis. This was accomplished by constantly referring to the information provided in the company documentation for checks and validation. For example, participants' comments on the uses of the system where compared with relevant segments of the KN manual, and their statements regarding the frequency of certain uses were verified by referring to the statistics provided by the company.

Participant checks and validation

In qualitative research, one of the methods for validating the accuracy of research findings is the use of participant checks. For this check, the researchers randomly selected eight participants, and shared with them summaries of the interview findings. Two of the participants provided a number of suggestions for changing the summaries to better reflect what they communicated to the interviewers. The rest of those contacted indicated that the summaries accurately reflected their opinions.

(Alexander Ardichvili, Vaughn Page and Tim Wentling, "Motivation and barriers to participation in virtual knowledge-sharing communities of practice",Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 7 No. 1)

In "For business or the good of all", the author uses case studies to examine the importance of corporate social responsibility in Finland (see example below). The methodology is described in just over a page. Note how the author presupposes no knowledge on the part of the reader about how interviews work as a research method, what snowball sampling is, how the data analysis is described in fairly simple terms, without long technical description of the method of analysis.

Example: case study subjects

Subjects and methods

One of the most important sources of case study information is the interview. Most commonly, case study interviews are open-ended in nature, and the investigator asks the respondents for facts as well as opinions. A second type of interview is the focused interview, or theme interview, in which the subject is interviewed for a short time, an hour for example, in a conversational manner. The investigator leaves the questions rather open, allowing the interviewee to present his or her own view in his or her personal way. The aim of the study was to examine spoken argumentation as it mirrors the interviewees' own deliberations on the issue. All big companies have many kinds of published or electronic documentation that has been monitored and evaluated by different groups at different times. It is therefore important to see how people in organizations formulate their views themselves.

The units of analysis or cases were a sample of Finnish companies, which had CSR on their agenda or had taken the issue up for consideration. The subjects of the study were senior executives responsible for CSR issues in their organizations. They represented elite sources (Tuomi, 2003), which enhances the likelihood of obtaining most recent and relevant information. They were recruited on the basis of having been in the media spotlight in this context. The sources of information were Internet sites, newspaper articles and information received during the Congress of Corporate Social Responsibility held in Helsinki on 4 June 2002 by The Finnish Association of Communicators. The method known as snowball sampling proved to be a practical and efficient way of recruiting the subjects. Accordingly, the author opened the research process by making contact with a representative of Kesko, a company that has been highly profiled as a forerunner of CSR in Finland and Europe. The first interviewee recommended certain colleagues of his, who in turn recommended some of their colleagues. The number of interviewees available who have knowledge on the research theme was limited: a prominent respondent argued that he has less than ten colleagues in the world. There were eight interviewees from seven Finnish companies and one from the Finnish Business and Society, an association of Finnish companies which have committed themselves to CSR. Each individual in the case study comprises a "whole" study of its own.

Theory-oriented themes were found to be a suitable method for this study. The interview themes were: the background and history of CSR (Buchholz, 1985; Carroll, 1995; L'Etang, 1996; Pearson, 1989), motives (Aula, 2002; Grunig, 1984, 1989, 1996), contents (Panapanaan, 2001), and organization and communication (Grunig, 1984, 1989, 1996; Panteleeva, 2002). An additional challenge was to create a core category based on the thinking of the grounded theory (Strauss, 1994).

The data were analysed case by case and theme by theme. The analysis was carried out by applying Dey's method (1993). Accordingly, the analyses are reduced in a process in which the interview data are first classified into categories for comparison with the theoretical themes. The categories are then assigned to themes. The splicing and splitting operations into smaller or larger categories are done as part of the process. Finally, the categories are united to represent more general typologies.

In practice the procedure consisted of the following phases. Seven of the eight interviews were recorded and transcribed. After which they were listened to and read several times before starting the analysis. The first and the second in-depth reading of each transcript were undertaken with the tape of the interview running (O'Dwyer, 2002). Using the interview guide (themes) as a broad framework each transcript was again re-read. After the reading a mind map of every case was drawn in order to see what themes were emerging. The mind map was a significant help in identifying myriad themes and sub themes in the data.

As themes emerged within this framework, they were recorded beside the relevant section of the interview transcript using a set of intuitively derived key words for each apparent theme (Miles, 1994; Tesch, 1990). On the basis of the draft categories a detailed summary of each interview was made using a table of contents. The interviews were examined case by case and the results were put into a table consisting of nine categories. Four additional categories emerged during a careful re-reading.

At the following stage all 13 categories were entered into a summary table, where the core contents of every case and every category were recorded. This served as a "big picture" of the phenomenon and allowed categories and cases to be compared with each other and similarities and dissimilarities to be examined. The examination showed a need to combine some categories because of overlapping contents. This splicing operation produced six categories, which represented six typologies.

In order to reduce the material furthermore, some additional phases were needed. The next operation was a further splitting). The author returned to the original transcriptions subjecting the themes as well as typologies to a careful examination. The purpose was also to highlight the citations to be used in reporting the results. As a result of the examination of themes and typologies the core category emerged. This category was mirrored both by the research material and the theory.

(Elisa Juholin, "For business or the good of all? A Finnish approach to corporate social responsibility ", Corporate Governance, Vol. 4 No. 3)

In both the above articles, the findings are described in a similarly clear and direct way.

In "Motivation and barriers to participation in virtual knowledge-sharing communities of practice", the authors set out their findings according to research questions.

Example: case study findings


The study results are presented below, grouped according to the four research questions.

R1. What are the reasons for employees' willingness to contribute their knowledge to virtual knowledge-sharing communities of practice?

The interviews suggest that the majority of respondents view their knowledge as a public good, belonging not to them individually, but to the whole organization. This finding corresponds to what McLure and Faraj (2000) found in their study of online communities. When such perception exists, knowledge exchange is motivated by moral obligation and community interest, not by a narrow self-interest. The study participants pointed out two entities to which they feel this moral obligation: the organization as a whole, and their professional community of engineers (e.g. some have indicated that it is in the nature of engineering community to share knowledge, to work jointly on finding solutions for complex problems). The willingness to share was often credited by the interview participants to the organization's culture, which encourages mutually supportive relationships between employees.

Another set of reasons for contributing knowledge was associated with various self-based considerations. First, employees felt the need to establish themselves as experts (e.g. through gaining the formal expert status by contributing to the community, or through gaining an informal recognition through multiple postings and contributions to the community). Second, several managers and experts felt that they had reached a stage in their lives when it was time to start giving back, sharing their expertise, mentoring new employees; and they felt that the participation in the community provided them with this opportunity.

R2. What are the barriers to employees' contributing their knowledge to virtual knowledge-sharing communities?

Both the interview respondents' answers, and all other evidence (collected through the document analysis and on-site visits and meetings) point to the absence of a major barrier to knowledge sharing, often sited in the literature, and variously defined as "information hoarding", or as "knowledge as an individual's private asset and competitive advantage" mentality (McLure and Faraj, 2000). Thus, the majority of participants (55 per cent) believed that there was a strong evidence of employees' willingness to share, and only a small minority (less than 10 per cent) believed that some employees are not willing to share because of the "information hoarding" reasons. The most important barriers to sharing, identified by this study, did not have anything to do with selfish attempts to hoard the information. Rather, participants indicated that, in many cases, people are afraid that what they post may not be important (may not deserve to be posted), or may not be completely accurate, or may not be relevant to a specific discussion. There was an element of a "fear to lose face", and of a fear to let the colleagues down, to mislead them. A related barrier was: "People are not always clear on what information should be posted". Here the participants were referring to their need for more clear directions for distinguishing between acceptable and not acceptable postings.

Furthermore, new employees often feel intimidated about posting because they do not believe they have "earned the right" to post on a company-wide system. Both new and experienced employees are also concerned that what they have to say might not be important or relevant enough to post. Many users fear possible criticism or ridicule of what they might post. This last group is concerned that they may receive responses belittling the importance of their contributions. Some are concerned that questions they might post deal with matters to which they should already know the answer.

Another important set of barriers was associated with the way the knowledge network is organized and managed. First, the process of getting knowledge entries approved by managers is time consuming (under the KN usage guidelines, CoP managers need to verify accuracy of knowledge entries before allowing their posting on the system). Second, security and confidentiality considerations lead to self-imposed censorship. Some users solve the security dilemma by employing old techniques of knowledge sharing – mailing files to individual coworkers in response to their questions posted on the system, giving information over the telephone, linking to personal websites – rather than posting on the KN.

R3. What are the reasons for employees' willingness to use virtual knowledge-sharing communities of practice as a source of new knowledge?

To address this question, two related issues were analysed: uses of the system, and perceived benefits of it. When discussing uses, the majority of respondents (62 per cent) view the system as a kind of encyclopedia, which is always available and can be consulted when needed. More than 50 per cent have also indicated that the system is a useful problem-solving tool: participants can post questions about a specific problem they encounter and get specific solutions from other members. In addition, 35 per cent of respondents indicate that the system is used to obtain help with specific problems from individual experts (This use is different from the "Use as a problem-solving tool" category. In the first case, members post a question on the system and may get numerous answers from a variety of people; in the latter case, they use the system to pinpoint specific experts and ask the question directly of them).

An additional 28 per cent of participants use the system as a tool for keeping informed of general developments in their profession, or in the specific professional area within their company. A total of 35 per cent of respondents found the system to be a useful tool for managing the work of various study and professional interest groups. These groups post notices of meetings, meeting minutes, seminar agendas and summaries. Interviewees use the KN to both post this information regarding their events and to retrieve it from the other groups; 24 per cent of respondents believe that the system is a useful tool that can replace or complement some of these meetings, by allowing to conduct threaded discussions, Q&A sessions.

The top two benefits mentioned (38 per cent each) were the system:

  1. helps new people to more quickly integrate themselves into their new place of work and become productive faster; and
  2. provides various geographically dispersed units with a place to work together, and to communicate better.

Two additional benefits, "access to best practices", and "access to a lessons learned database", received the third and fourth places as most often mentioned, respectively.

Other relatively often mentioned benefits were:

  • "timeliness of the information" (the system allows to get the same information that one could have obtained from other sources, but provides this information quicker, thus saving a lot of time);
  • "an easy link not only to one's own community, but to other related communities and topics";
  • "increased efficiency of one's work" (since the system integrates in one place features of the e-mail, websites, and user listservs);
  • "the system's ability to provide benefits beyond specific solutions to immediate problems" (it was pointed out that a solution generated in a discussion of a specific problem of one group of people may end up helping many other people in the future);
  • "the system provides a space for jointly generating new knowledge, not just capturing the existing knowledge" (a discussion of somebody's question leads not just to a posting with a solution that some other member may already have, but to a generation of a new solution or a method in the course of idea exchange).

R4. What are the barriers preventing employees from using virtual knowledge-sharing communities as a source of new knowledge?

Two main groups of barriers for using the CoPs were mentioned by the participants. First, it was pointed out that "membership in a tight-knit, face-to-face group makes KN redundant". Members of such informal groups rely more on each other than on KN. As people build up time with the company, they begin to form their own networks of contacts and support. The interviews indicate that some of these networks could be construed as CoPs. For many people, these networks are their preferred method of working and knowledge sharing. When problems or issues arise, many individuals turn to their existing communities rather than the KN. Some participants have pointed out that there needs to be recognition on the company's part that these types of personal networks and CoPs are not going to be replaced by an online KN system, and that the task is not to figure out how to fit the existing CoPs into the KN, but rather how to make sure that the KN supports the existing CoPs.

The second group of barriers to using the system was comprised of those related to the nature of problems that require solutions. Some respondents indicated that some process-oriented problems are hard to duplicate thus making finding a solution on the KN difficult. Others indicated that, in some cases, they need a quick and accurate solution, and with the KN there is a danger of getting lots of answers, some of which may not be accurate and require additional time for verification.

(Alexander Ardichvili, Vaughn Page and Tim Wentling, "Motivation and barriers to participation in virtual knowledge-sharing communities of practice", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 7 No. 1)

In "For business or the good of all", the author sets out findings according to them – motives, content, management, communication.

Example: case study results


The answer to the question of companies' motives was given by the themes concerning evolution, management and leadership, competitiveness, and anticipation of the future. Quantitatively evaluated, the motives for CSR seemed to be equally internal and external, but in all cases the objective was the efficiency and profitability of the company.

The big companies participating in this study have a long tradition in the economic history of Finland, spanning many generations. All of them have gone through a long process of evolution with respect to cooperation with society and the environment. They have experience of facing up to others' expectations as well as benefiting from their own special position.

We've been a major employer in many localities for centuries and responsibility has been carried out for ever. I mean that we haven't had any written policies to date, although the company has taken care of the employees' families' well-being: schooling, accommodation, support of local sports and cultural activities.

The cooperation between companies and society has thus a long tradition in Finland, forming a continuum up to the present time. Although big companies no longer face social challenges in the domestic markets, benevolent actions are increasingly being demanded in new market areas in developing countries and transition societies. In the case of welfare states, companies seem to be unsure of their role. It proved to be self-evident that big companies have to comply with the law, but the extent to which they ought to participate in the development of society remained an unanswered question.

The major and an overwhelming motive for CSR proved to be long-term profitability, which was tightly linked with company efficiency. These two conceptions were significantly close to each other, representing almost the same thing. When a long-term orientation proved to be the most significant attribute of the phenomenon, the author made a decision in favor of profitability, which could be seen as a consequence of efficiency. Thus, long-term profitability emerged as the core category, and thus represented the key finding of the study. Profitability is a reasonable justification for global companies, but a long-term orientation means that they have to take a long-run perspective in order to earn their legitimacy and license to operate.

Long-term profitability seemed to be based on three "pillars", as the much-used CSR model is, but with different contents. The new pillars of CSR that emerged from this study proved to be, first, responsibility as an employer and linking CSR to more efficient management and leadership of the company. The top management's commitment was decisive in advancing CSR thinking and operations, and its very intention was shown to be combined with the company's values.

I initiated the idea in September 2000, and the top management found time for a small seminar in December. There I was given the go-ahead to prepare it, and in January 2001 we had quite a big seminar, and so it began. I think it started at the moment when the top management became committed to it.

Although moral and ethical questions were present in the conducting of business, the importance of corporate values emerged above them. An interesting finding was that companies in a global cluster expected or demanded, in addition, that their suppliers adopt the same or corresponding values and take responsibility into account. A prevalent hypothesis in the big companies seemed to be that awareness and knowledge of its values leads to desirable behavior and operations. These companies had made a significant effort to educate their employees and partners in their values and their implementation.

This is based on our values ... Our CEO repeats that when values are internalized we don't need manuals ... people know how to act right ... The CEO talks about the personnel's well-being and the balance between work and home ... We have a principle that we operate in the same way both in Finland and elsewhere.

Second, a factor supporting long-term profitability proved to be increased competitiveness, which can only be achieved by demonstrating the company to be a good corporate citizen. This pillar emerged as the strongest of the three and may articulate the role of external pressure. According to an often-heard comment, the signal for starting to reflect on CSR arise out of stakeholders' questions or concerns, or from competitors' CSR resolutions or communication. The importance of competitiveness was clearly revealed in talk about stakeholder awareness and dialogue, general risk management as well as media publicity risk management, differentiation from competitors, and ideas concerning brand value, corporate image and reputation.

We are on rather vulnerable ground when we are pressured by the opinions of consumers that – sorry to say – get worked up by these activist associations.

It is these watchdogs who use rather strong language in putting on pressure, for example because of the inequity of international trade.

An interesting point of view emerged in connection with environmental questions. All the respondents stated these to be "in a good state of health" and that they no longer needed special effort. However, during the period of this study three of the case companies were responsible for environmental disasters, which attracted national publicity.

The case companies seemed to have done their homework well, as these big companies had analysed their stakeholders and started global dialogues with them. All of them had years of experience in communicating with their domestic and northern European stakeholders.

Look, I'll tell you how we managed our dialogue in South America. We invited specialists in every CSR area, and it was amazing that 26 out of 27 said "yes". We had people from universities, associations and others. We mixed them into teams where we had our own representatives in order to make them understand what it means. First we brainstormed in order to make lists of important issues ... We got perhaps 20 issues, after that we asked them to define their priorities and at last to reflect on best practices, targets and concrete acts ... Perhaps the main point was that the stakeholders as well as we got to learn.

In terms used by McIntosh et al. (2003), a transition from CSR to corporate citizenship seems to be going on in the case of the present sample of Finnish companies. At least the respondents emphasized that an important reason for their CSR orientation was to convince their stakeholders of their good citizenship and their intention to show themselves to be both public and private entities.

A notable finding within the framework of communication research was the contradictory attitude found towards the role of responsibility for the company's image or reputation. Some companies seemed to consider the image affect essential while some considered reputation to have little or nothing to do with competitiveness or efficiency. In addition, the "factor" reputation was conflicting, partly because of the companies' different operational environments. Some companies valued high visibility as an aspect of good corporate citizenship while others found it unnecessary, focusing only on customers' "real" experiences. Instead, ratings in the major indices proved to be important.

Third, a significant supporter for long-term profitability within the framework of CSR proved to be anticipation of and preparation for the future. This variable has much in common with the two previous ones, leadership and competitiveness, but its importance emerged in such a noteworthy way in the data that it deserves a category of its own. In global markets and intercultural contexts business risks are huge compared with domestic or nearby markets, demanding greater focus on local conditions, culture and policies. But domestic markets constitute challenges as well, and companies want to be aware of stakeholders' expectations and attitudes, changes and plans on the societal level as well as social trends in order to address their focus in essential issues.

We cannot stay to wait for what consumers expect us to do but we have to know it about two to four years beforehand in order to turn round and prepare our activities in that direction. And of course we try to respond to those expectations when consumers expect us to do so.

Fourth, issues absent from the insights of Finnish companies' representatives must also be reported. Companies practising corporate responsibility have been criticized for using philanthropic actions to gain sympathy, while in fact they have been engaged in image-building (L'Etang, 1996). The findings of the present study suggest that charity and philanthropy do not play a role in the Finnish approach to corporate responsibility. Such activities appeared to be irrelevant in the Nordic societies; on the contrary, respondents reported that this charitable work is neither necessary nor even appropriate for companies paying taxes and fulfilling their obligations to society. Neither was a consensus found on the position of CSR in image-building or reputation management; instead, respondents placed more stress on risk avoidance.

(Elisa Juholin, "For business or the good of all", Corporate Governance, Vol. 4 No. 3)

Note that both the above two examples, while avoiding lengthy descriptions of methodology, are still written in a fairly academic fashion, with use of research questions and other methodological terms. Other authors present the research methods as of secondary importance to the findings. For example, "A simple M&A model for all seasons" (Sam Rovit et al., Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 32 No. 5) discusses the findings of a survey by Bain and Co. on mergers and acquisitions. Although the survey was very thorough – a 15-year longitudinal study of 1,600+ companies in the USA, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Japan doing 11,000+ deals plus interviews with senior executives – the main focus of the article is on the results, with the methodology being described in a note at the end of the article.

Presenting case studies

A case study for a practitioner journal can be presented in a descriptive way. For example, the journal Measuring Business Excellence requires that case studies specify:

  1. Background and content
  2. Objectives, i.e. what the author was trying to do
  3. The salient events
  4. The results, and how they were obtained
  5. The implications for others involved in business excellence studies.

The actual detail of the methodology is probably less important than a description of the background, the reasons for reporting the case study, what happened, and the results reported in terms of their interest for other businesses.

The first two of the following examples are both written by management consultants and the research methodology is consultancy based rather than academic in the true sense of the word; there are few references to other studies. The third example, although written by academics and drawing on PhD-based research, locates the main interest in the tool rather than the research itself. The third example, although PhD-based research is introduced, locates the main interest of the research in the highly practical account of WePMS:

  • "Rip the band-aid off quickly: why 'fast, focused, and simultaneous' works best in corporate transformations" (Stan Pace, Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 30 No. 1) looks at rapid implementation of change programs, comparing them favourably with slower ones. It uses a multiple case analysis based on Bain and Co's investigation of 21 successful corporate transformations. The methodology is briefly described as "interviews with the senior executives [of the changing companies]" and the main focus is on the results, which are described in terms of key themes, with a lot of examples.
  • "Strategy development for the real world: a metro newspaper has nowhere to grow and lots of 'new media' competition" (John Sterling, Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 30 No. 1) is written by a strategic management consultant and looks at the stages of a strategic review of a newspaper publishing company: the methodology used, FOCUS, is that developed by the consultants.
  • "Implementing a Web enabled performance management system" (Trevor Turner et al., Measuring Business Excellence, Vol. 8 No. 2) first describes the steps in a corporate performance improvement cycle used by researchers, and also looks at a web-based performance management system (WePMS), including discussing some doctoral research which evaluates it. The main focus of the article, however, is on the WePMS, the research is presented to back up comments on its its effectiveness and in terms of the results.

Other article types

Literature reviews may be valid but only if they relate to a topic of considerable importance for business. "The balanced scorecard and intangible assets: similar ideas, unaligned concepts" (Bernard Marr and Chris Adams, Measuring Business Excellence, Vol. 8 No. 3) is, in fact, a literature review.

Theoretical with application to practice is a review of some real-world phenomenon, such as a performance measurement tool or a new piece of legislation, with a worked example or a real life case study, or a model which can be applied to practice.

Both these papers offer tools of analysis for business:

A technical paper may look at a particular business technique: