A research variable is a characteristic of a subject (person, organization, country, region, etc.) that can be measured or observed. The variable can take different values, i.e. it varies. They can vary from one group to another, from one organization to another organization (or person) and sometimes they can vary even within the same organization over time. Examples of quantitative variables are height, weight, income.
In economic sciences, the variables take numerical values (they are quantitative). In other social sciences they can be qualitative (or categorical because they refer to categories of something). In other words, an entity can be a variable even if it does not have a number assigned. For example, in educational sciences, “classroom settings” or “student-teacher ratio” are considered categorical (qualitative) variables (Trochim, 2006). Other typical examples of qualitative variables are: gender, payment method, social status.
An attribute is a specific value for a variable. For instance, the variable “satisfaction” (as in “How satisfied are you with this product?”) can have five attributes:
1 = very satisfied
2 = somehow satisfied
3 = neutral
4 = satisfied
5 = totally dissatisfied
Variables can be independent and dependent. An independent variable is the variable that can be changed by the researcher. An independent variable will cause, influence, or affect an outcome. Thus, the independent variable will determine the value of dependent variable. The dependent variable is the variable that depends on the independent variable. The dependent variables are outcomes, effects of the independent variables. Usually, the researcher tries to explain or predict the dependent variable.
Examples of dependent and independent variables in business and economics:
Dependent variable: Sales
- Customers’ demographics (i.e. age, occupation, gender, family income, etc). The age of the clients, their gender, occupation, income, are factors that influence needs and wants, and therefore will influence sales. “Sales” represent the variable that is influenced (dependent on) “customers’ demographics” (independent variable).
- Store location. A store located in a populated area may attract more clients. Similarly, a store located in a shopping mall or nearby a city parking may have higher sales. In this example, “sales” are a again a variable that depends on the variable “location” (independent).
Creswell, J.W. (2014). Research Design. Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches. 4th edition. USA: SAGE Publications, Inc.