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Research Onion | Detailed Explanation With Examples

Research Onion | Detailed Explanation With Examples

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Research Onion by Saunder

Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill presented research onion model in their book “Methods for Business Students” back in 2007. Research onion model was initiated for students. Specially to help them with writing a dissertation. Because it breaks down all of the methodologies for writing an organized paper.

What Is Research Onion?

The research onion gives step by step interpretation. To many different decisions and steps. That you would have to make and take while writing a dissertation. Because along with giving a structure to the paper in a well-organized manner. It also helps to develop a research onion methodology for the paper. Which could be for any project (dissertation, thesis, essay or any other formal paper).

You must have seen an onion. It has multiple skins before it reaches its end. Same as that, the term “The Research onion.” Has been named after that. Because it is a multi-layered process. Where a person in detail studies about various steps that goes in research methodology.

It is very useful because it can easily be adapted to any kind of research onion methodology. And can be utilized in several different contexts. In this blog you will read all about the significance of Saunders research onion.

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Research Onion Layers

The onion research is a 6-layer process and just like a regular onion. You would have to peel one layer of skin at a time. Which will gradually take you more and more close. To research methodology in the development process.

Here are all 6 layers:

  • Research Philosophy.
  • Research Approach.
  • Research Strategies.
  • Choices.
  • Time Horizon.
  • Technique & Procedures.

Research Philosophy

Research philosophy is the very initial layer of the onion. But do you know what this is? Don’t worry we are here to assist you through. The research philosophy is the foundation of any kind of study that inclines to the belief set of research. The research philosophy can be explained. Either in between from an “Ontological” or “Epistemological” perspective. If this is your first time encountering these terms then let us explain these to you.

Ontology raises the questions of what we know and what we don’t know. In simple words ontology is the study of existence. It also leans towards the fact. If things exists or not along the lines of classification of things that exists.

Example Of Research Philosophy

  • What is reality?
  • What is existence?

Epistemology on the other hand. It is all about observing and understanding. If in ontology a question gets raised. Then in epistemology a person must expand knowledge to come with up with. The variable answer to those questions. They come in very handy in the writing process.

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The 3 main research philosophies that manoeuvre on different ontological and epistemological suppositions are:

  • Positivism.
  • Interpretivism.
  • Pragmatism.

Research Philosophy: Positivism

Research philosophy positivism stage stands for the perspective. That there is knowledge that could be studied outside the box. Which technically means that study could only be done objectively and cannot be included of personal perspectives. The researchers do no elaborate. Which sets positivism apart from it because it more of an objective.

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Research Philosophy: Interpretivism

Interpretivism emphasizes the thoughts and ideas. Which are wandering inside an individual mind. In regards of cultural and social factors. An individual can significantly play a vital role in study with interpretivist philosophy.

Research Philosophy: Pragmatism

Pragmatism aims at the research from more of practical approach. Pragmatism is used to highlight the investigation and the tools. Which were used for this purpose pragmatism is used. Where knowledge and study are not consolidated. Pragmatism is included of research involvement and subjectivity. Which is very useful for students. When making their conclusions on premises of decisions been made. By the student in the writing process.

Research Approach

When a student has picked a methodology that is most suitable for their topic. The research onion will take you to the second layer of the onion research. Which is research approach. Where a student must fastidiously pick appropriate research. This step starts with hypothesis development on the premises of literature review. Which has been analyzed by the person doing his or her research. Then run some tests on the hypothesis to be sure. If it fits in particular context. This is deductive approach on the other hand. The inductive approach incepts with observations. Which researcher uses to propose a new theory.

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Research Strategies

After the approach step. The students are supposed to invent the strategy of the study. The research onion proposes that strategies could be consisted of. (Experimental research, surveys, action research, interviews, study of cases and systematic literature review). The strategy is chosen on the basis of required data for the research.

Choices Of Methods

If you want to conduct variable research, for the topic or project. Then the research onion recommends couple of methods. Which could be helpful for you. (Multi-method, mono method and mixed method). Are significant choice of method. which would be beneficial for conducting research.
The multi method is a vast range of research methods. Which utilizes more selection of methods. The mono method is used for utilizing only one method for the study purpose. The mixed method is the method of using two or more for the study.

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Time Horizon

Time horizon refers to the research time frame. If you have been given an assignment to write about. How one thing evolves over time or which event had taken place on which date in history. For this type of particular topics. You would have to choose in between 2 methodological approaches enlisted below:

  • Method 1: cross sectional
  • Method 2: longitudinal

Cross Sectional

Cross sectional method is used to collect the data from one point in time. Where all of the information had stockpiled at one certain period of time. Through cross sectional. You would not have to accumulate data over specific time period of days weeks months or years.


If you want to write an assignment for a topic. Which has been evolved with time. Use the longitudinal method, set a time frame for research of days, weeks, months and even years. Furthermore, collect all of the relevant data that goes into the topic. This method is beneficial for ongoing progression and alterations.

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Data Collection & Analysis

The Final layer of the research onion. This is where it gets more practical and showcases the techniques. Which one person has used with which procedures. This layer of the onion highlights. The purposes of the research and their ways. Through premises of which they had been conducted. At this stage student also have to make a choice between either primary or secondary data. Along the lines of which type of a data you will collect and which data methods you will use. Quality or quantitative data which materials you will be using for study and the type of data analyzation you are going to use.

On thing you should be considerate of in this layer. Is to make sure that all of data comes in correct alignment with the other layers of the research onion.

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