Have a language expert improve your writing
Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, generate accurate citations for free.
- Knowledge Base
- What Is a Research Design | Types, Guide & Examples
What Is a Research Design | Types, Guide & Examples
Published on June 7, 2021 by Shona McCombes . Revised on November 20, 2023 by Pritha Bhandari.
A research design is a strategy for answering your research question using empirical data. Creating a research design means making decisions about:
- Your overall research objectives and approach
- Whether you’ll rely on primary research or secondary research
- Your sampling methods or criteria for selecting subjects
- Your data collection methods
- The procedures you’ll follow to collect data
- Your data analysis methods
A well-planned research design helps ensure that your methods match your research objectives and that you use the right kind of analysis for your data.
Table of contents
Step 1: consider your aims and approach, step 2: choose a type of research design, step 3: identify your population and sampling method, step 4: choose your data collection methods, step 5: plan your data collection procedures, step 6: decide on your data analysis strategies, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about research design.
Before you can start designing your research, you should already have a clear idea of the research question you want to investigate.
There are many different ways you could go about answering this question. Your research design choices should be driven by your aims and priorities—start by thinking carefully about what you want to achieve.
The first choice you need to make is whether you’ll take a qualitative or quantitative approach.
Qualitative research designs tend to be more flexible and inductive , allowing you to adjust your approach based on what you find throughout the research process.
Quantitative research designs tend to be more fixed and deductive , with variables and hypotheses clearly defined in advance of data collection.
It’s also possible to use a mixed-methods design that integrates aspects of both approaches. By combining qualitative and quantitative insights, you can gain a more complete picture of the problem you’re studying and strengthen the credibility of your conclusions.
Practical and ethical considerations when designing research
As well as scientific considerations, you need to think practically when designing your research. If your research involves people or animals, you also need to consider research ethics .
- How much time do you have to collect data and write up the research?
- Will you be able to gain access to the data you need (e.g., by travelling to a specific location or contacting specific people)?
- Do you have the necessary research skills (e.g., statistical analysis or interview techniques)?
- Will you need ethical approval ?
At each stage of the research design process, make sure that your choices are practically feasible.
A faster, more affordable way to improve your paper
Scribbr’s new AI Proofreader checks your document and corrects spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes with near-human accuracy and the efficiency of AI!
Proofread my paper
Within both qualitative and quantitative approaches, there are several types of research design to choose from. Each type provides a framework for the overall shape of your research.
Types of quantitative research designs
Quantitative designs can be split into four main types.
- Experimental and quasi-experimental designs allow you to test cause-and-effect relationships
- Descriptive and correlational designs allow you to measure variables and describe relationships between them.
With descriptive and correlational designs, you can get a clear picture of characteristics, trends and relationships as they exist in the real world. However, you can’t draw conclusions about cause and effect (because correlation doesn’t imply causation ).
Experiments are the strongest way to test cause-and-effect relationships without the risk of other variables influencing the results. However, their controlled conditions may not always reflect how things work in the real world. They’re often also more difficult and expensive to implement.
Types of qualitative research designs
Qualitative designs are less strictly defined. This approach is about gaining a rich, detailed understanding of a specific context or phenomenon, and you can often be more creative and flexible in designing your research.
The table below shows some common types of qualitative design. They often have similar approaches in terms of data collection, but focus on different aspects when analyzing the data.
Your research design should clearly define who or what your research will focus on, and how you’ll go about choosing your participants or subjects.
In research, a population is the entire group that you want to draw conclusions about, while a sample is the smaller group of individuals you’ll actually collect data from.
Defining the population
A population can be made up of anything you want to study—plants, animals, organizations, texts, countries, etc. In the social sciences, it most often refers to a group of people.
For example, will you focus on people from a specific demographic, region or background? Are you interested in people with a certain job or medical condition, or users of a particular product?
The more precisely you define your population, the easier it will be to gather a representative sample.
- Sampling methods
Even with a narrowly defined population, it’s rarely possible to collect data from every individual. Instead, you’ll collect data from a sample.
To select a sample, there are two main approaches: probability sampling and non-probability sampling . The sampling method you use affects how confidently you can generalize your results to the population as a whole.
Probability sampling is the most statistically valid option, but it’s often difficult to achieve unless you’re dealing with a very small and accessible population.
For practical reasons, many studies use non-probability sampling, but it’s important to be aware of the limitations and carefully consider potential biases. You should always make an effort to gather a sample that’s as representative as possible of the population.
Case selection in qualitative research
In some types of qualitative designs, sampling may not be relevant.
For example, in an ethnography or a case study , your aim is to deeply understand a specific context, not to generalize to a population. Instead of sampling, you may simply aim to collect as much data as possible about the context you are studying.
In these types of design, you still have to carefully consider your choice of case or community. You should have a clear rationale for why this particular case is suitable for answering your research question .
For example, you might choose a case study that reveals an unusual or neglected aspect of your research problem, or you might choose several very similar or very different cases in order to compare them.
Data collection methods are ways of directly measuring variables and gathering information. They allow you to gain first-hand knowledge and original insights into your research problem.
You can choose just one data collection method, or use several methods in the same study.
Surveys allow you to collect data about opinions, behaviors, experiences, and characteristics by asking people directly. There are two main survey methods to choose from: questionnaires and interviews .
Observational studies allow you to collect data unobtrusively, observing characteristics, behaviors or social interactions without relying on self-reporting.
Observations may be conducted in real time, taking notes as you observe, or you might make audiovisual recordings for later analysis. They can be qualitative or quantitative.
Other methods of data collection
There are many other ways you might collect data depending on your field and topic.
If you’re not sure which methods will work best for your research design, try reading some papers in your field to see what kinds of data collection methods they used.
If you don’t have the time or resources to collect data from the population you’re interested in, you can also choose to use secondary data that other researchers already collected—for example, datasets from government surveys or previous studies on your topic.
With this raw data, you can do your own analysis to answer new research questions that weren’t addressed by the original study.
Using secondary data can expand the scope of your research, as you may be able to access much larger and more varied samples than you could collect yourself.
However, it also means you don’t have any control over which variables to measure or how to measure them, so the conclusions you can draw may be limited.
Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.
As well as deciding on your methods, you need to plan exactly how you’ll use these methods to collect data that’s consistent, accurate, and unbiased.
Planning systematic procedures is especially important in quantitative research, where you need to precisely define your variables and ensure your measurements are high in reliability and validity.
Some variables, like height or age, are easily measured. But often you’ll be dealing with more abstract concepts, like satisfaction, anxiety, or competence. Operationalization means turning these fuzzy ideas into measurable indicators.
If you’re using observations , which events or actions will you count?
If you’re using surveys , which questions will you ask and what range of responses will be offered?
You may also choose to use or adapt existing materials designed to measure the concept you’re interested in—for example, questionnaires or inventories whose reliability and validity has already been established.
Reliability and validity
Reliability means your results can be consistently reproduced, while validity means that you’re actually measuring the concept you’re interested in.
For valid and reliable results, your measurement materials should be thoroughly researched and carefully designed. Plan your procedures to make sure you carry out the same steps in the same way for each participant.
If you’re developing a new questionnaire or other instrument to measure a specific concept, running a pilot study allows you to check its validity and reliability in advance.
As well as choosing an appropriate sampling method , you need a concrete plan for how you’ll actually contact and recruit your selected sample.
That means making decisions about things like:
- How many participants do you need for an adequate sample size?
- What inclusion and exclusion criteria will you use to identify eligible participants?
- How will you contact your sample—by mail, online, by phone, or in person?
If you’re using a probability sampling method , it’s important that everyone who is randomly selected actually participates in the study. How will you ensure a high response rate?
If you’re using a non-probability method , how will you avoid research bias and ensure a representative sample?
It’s also important to create a data management plan for organizing and storing your data.
Will you need to transcribe interviews or perform data entry for observations? You should anonymize and safeguard any sensitive data, and make sure it’s backed up regularly.
Keeping your data well-organized will save time when it comes to analyzing it. It can also help other researchers validate and add to your findings (high replicability ).
On its own, raw data can’t answer your research question. The last step of designing your research is planning how you’ll analyze the data.
Quantitative data analysis
In quantitative research, you’ll most likely use some form of statistical analysis . With statistics, you can summarize your sample data, make estimates, and test hypotheses.
Using descriptive statistics , you can summarize your sample data in terms of:
- The distribution of the data (e.g., the frequency of each score on a test)
- The central tendency of the data (e.g., the mean to describe the average score)
- The variability of the data (e.g., the standard deviation to describe how spread out the scores are)
The specific calculations you can do depend on the level of measurement of your variables.
Using inferential statistics , you can:
- Make estimates about the population based on your sample data.
- Test hypotheses about a relationship between variables.
Regression and correlation tests look for associations between two or more variables, while comparison tests (such as t tests and ANOVAs ) look for differences in the outcomes of different groups.
Your choice of statistical test depends on various aspects of your research design, including the types of variables you’re dealing with and the distribution of your data.
Qualitative data analysis
In qualitative research, your data will usually be very dense with information and ideas. Instead of summing it up in numbers, you’ll need to comb through the data in detail, interpret its meanings, identify patterns, and extract the parts that are most relevant to your research question.
Two of the most common approaches to doing this are thematic analysis and discourse analysis .
There are many other ways of analyzing qualitative data depending on the aims of your research. To get a sense of potential approaches, try reading some qualitative research papers in your field.
If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
- Simple random sampling
- Stratified sampling
- Cluster sampling
- Likert scales
- Null hypothesis
- Statistical power
- Probability distribution
- Effect size
- Poisson distribution
- Optimism bias
- Cognitive bias
- Implicit bias
- Hawthorne effect
- Anchoring bias
- Explicit bias
A research design is a strategy for answering your research question . It defines your overall approach and determines how you will collect and analyze data.
A well-planned research design helps ensure that your methods match your research aims, that you collect high-quality data, and that you use the right kind of analysis to answer your questions, utilizing credible sources . This allows you to draw valid , trustworthy conclusions.
Quantitative research designs can be divided into two main categories:
- Correlational and descriptive designs are used to investigate characteristics, averages, trends, and associations between variables.
- Experimental and quasi-experimental designs are used to test causal relationships .
Qualitative research designs tend to be more flexible. Common types of qualitative design include case study , ethnography , and grounded theory designs.
The priorities of a research design can vary depending on the field, but you usually have to specify:
- Your research questions and/or hypotheses
- Your overall approach (e.g., qualitative or quantitative )
- The type of design you’re using (e.g., a survey , experiment , or case study )
- Your data collection methods (e.g., questionnaires , observations)
- Your data collection procedures (e.g., operationalization , timing and data management)
- Your data analysis methods (e.g., statistical tests or thematic analysis )
A sample is a subset of individuals from a larger population . Sampling means selecting the group that you will actually collect data from in your research. For example, if you are researching the opinions of students in your university, you could survey a sample of 100 students.
In statistics, sampling allows you to test a hypothesis about the characteristics of a population.
Operationalization means turning abstract conceptual ideas into measurable observations.
For example, the concept of social anxiety isn’t directly observable, but it can be operationally defined in terms of self-rating scores, behavioral avoidance of crowded places, or physical anxiety symptoms in social situations.
Before collecting data , it’s important to consider how you will operationalize the variables that you want to measure.
A research project is an academic, scientific, or professional undertaking to answer a research question . Research projects can take many forms, such as qualitative or quantitative , descriptive , longitudinal , experimental , or correlational . What kind of research approach you choose will depend on your topic.
Cite this Scribbr article
If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.
McCombes, S. (2023, November 20). What Is a Research Design | Types, Guide & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved December 5, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/methodology/research-design/
Is this article helpful?
Other students also liked, guide to experimental design | overview, steps, & examples, how to write a research proposal | examples & templates, ethical considerations in research | types & examples, what is your plagiarism score.
- How it works
How to Write a Research Design – Guide with Examples
Published by Alaxendra Bets at August 14th, 2021 , Revised On October 3, 2023
A research design is a structure that combines different components of research. It involves the use of different data collection and data analysis techniques logically to answer the research questions .
It would be best to make some decisions about addressing the research questions adequately before starting the research process, which is achieved with the help of the research design.
Below are the key aspects of the decision-making process:
- Data type required for research
- Research resources
- Participants required for research
- Hypothesis based upon research question(s)
- Data analysis methodologies
- Variables (Independent, dependent, and confounding)
- The location and timescale for conducting the data
- The time period required for research
The research design provides the strategy of investigation for your project. Furthermore, it defines the parameters and criteria to compile the data to evaluate results and conclude.
Your project’s validity depends on the data collection and interpretation techniques. A strong research design reflects a strong dissertation , scientific paper, or research proposal .
Step 1: Establish Priorities for Research Design
Before conducting any research study, you must address an important question: “how to create a research design.”
The research design depends on the researcher’s priorities and choices because every research has different priorities. For a complex research study involving multiple methods, you may choose to have more than one research design.
Multimethodology or multimethod research includes using more than one data collection method or research in a research study or set of related studies.
If one research design is weak in one area, then another research design can cover that weakness. For instance, a dissertation analyzing different situations or cases will have more than one research design.
- Experimental research involves experimental investigation and laboratory experience, but it does not accurately investigate the real world.
- Quantitative research is good for the statistical part of the project, but it may not provide an in-depth understanding of the topic .
- Also, correlational research will not provide experimental results because it is a technique that assesses the statistical relationship between two variables.
While scientific considerations are a fundamental aspect of the research design, It is equally important that the researcher think practically before deciding on its structure. Here are some questions that you should think of;
- Do you have enough time to gather data and complete the write-up?
- Will you be able to collect the necessary data by interviewing a specific person or visiting a specific location?
- Do you have in-depth knowledge about the different statistical analysis and data collection techniques to address the research questions or test the hypothesis ?
If you think that the chosen research design cannot answer the research questions properly, you can refine your research questions to gain better insight.
Step 2: Data Type you Need for Research
Decide on the type of data you need for your research. The type of data you need to collect depends on your research questions or research hypothesis. Two types of research data can be used to answer the research questions:
Primary Data Vs. Secondary Data
Qualitative vs. quantitative data.
Also, see; Research methods, design, and analysis .
Need help with a thesis chapter?
- Hire an expert from Research Prospect today!
- Statistical analysis, research methodology, discussion of the results or conclusion – our experts can help you no matter how complex the requirements are.
Step 3: Data Collection Techniques
Once you have selected the type of research to answer your research question, you need to decide where and how to collect the data.
It is time to determine your research method to address the research problem . Research methods involve procedures, techniques, materials, and tools used for the study.
For instance, a dissertation research design includes the different resources and data collection techniques and helps establish your dissertation’s structure .
The following table shows the characteristics of the most popularly employed research methods.
Step 4: Procedure of Data Analysis
Use of the correct data and statistical analysis technique is necessary for the validity of your research. Therefore, you need to be certain about the data type that would best address the research problem. Choosing an appropriate analysis method is the final step for the research design. It can be split into two main categories;
Quantitative Data Analysis
The quantitative data analysis technique involves analyzing the numerical data with the help of different applications such as; SPSS, STATA, Excel, origin lab, etc.
This data analysis strategy tests different variables such as spectrum, frequencies, averages, and more. The research question and the hypothesis must be established to identify the variables for testing.
Qualitative Data Analysis
Qualitative data analysis of figures, themes, and words allows for flexibility and the researcher’s subjective opinions. This means that the researcher’s primary focus will be interpreting patterns, tendencies, and accounts and understanding the implications and social framework.
You should be clear about your research objectives before starting to analyze the data. For example, you should ask yourself whether you need to explain respondents’ experiences and insights or do you also need to evaluate their responses with reference to a certain social framework.
Step 5: Write your Research Proposal
The research design is an important component of a research proposal because it plans the project’s execution. You can share it with the supervisor, who would evaluate the feasibility and capacity of the results and conclusion .
Read our guidelines to write a research proposal if you have already formulated your research design. The research proposal is written in the future tense because you are writing your proposal before conducting research.
The research methodology or research design, on the other hand, is generally written in the past tense.
How to Write a Research Design – Conclusion
A research design is the plan, structure, strategy of investigation conceived to answer the research question and test the hypothesis. The dissertation research design can be classified based on the type of data and the type of analysis.
Above mentioned five steps are the answer to how to write a research design. So, follow these steps to formulate the perfect research design for your dissertation .
Research Prospect writers have years of experience creating research designs that align with the dissertation’s aim and objectives. If you are struggling with your dissertation methodology chapter, you might want to look at our dissertation part-writing service.
Our dissertation writers can also help you with the full dissertation paper . No matter how urgent or complex your need may be, Research Prospect can help. We also offer PhD level research paper writing services.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is research design.
Research design is a systematic plan that guides the research process, outlining the methodology and procedures for collecting and analysing data. It determines the structure of the study, ensuring the research question is answered effectively, reliably, and validly. It serves as the blueprint for the entire research project.
How to write a research design?
To write a research design, define your research question, identify the research method (qualitative, quantitative, or mixed), choose data collection techniques (e.g., surveys, interviews), determine the sample size and sampling method, outline data analysis procedures, and highlight potential limitations and ethical considerations for the study.
How to write the design section of a research paper?
In the design section of a research paper, describe the research methodology chosen and justify its selection. Outline the data collection methods, participants or samples, instruments used, and procedures followed. Detail any experimental controls, if applicable. Ensure clarity and precision to enable replication of the study by other researchers.
How to write a research design in methodology?
To write a research design in methodology, clearly outline the research strategy (e.g., experimental, survey, case study). Describe the sampling technique, participants, and data collection methods. Detail the procedures for data collection and analysis. Justify choices by linking them to research objectives, addressing reliability and validity.
You May Also Like
Find how to write research questions with the mentioned steps required for a perfect research question. Choose an interesting topic and begin your research.
Repository of ten perfect dissertation research question examples will provide you a better perspective about how to create dissertation research questions.
Here we explore what is research problem in dissertation with research problem examples to help you understand how and when to write a research problem.
Ready to place an order?
Useful links, learning resources.
Splash Sol LLC
- How It Works
- Research toolkit
7 simple steps to efficient research design with example
Professor dawid hanak.
- July 15, 2022
- No Comments
Wondering where to start your research project? Here are 7 steps to research design that you can apply today!
As we explained last week, Motivated Academics are curious to brainstorm and test new research ideas . But once you come up with your research idea and develop your hypothesis, how do you know what type of research design to use so that you collect reliable data? That’s where research design comes into the academic picture!
I want to emphasise one thing – the generation of new research ideas is one of the most crucial aspects that you will need to learn as an academic. Each research project and scholarly paper depends on your ideas. But great ideas without efficient research design process and research execution are just that – great ideas without meaningful outputs.
That’s why Motivated Academics are eager to TEST their innovative concepts and ideas to make sure these bring tangible benefits to the economy, society and environment we all live in.
How do you test your ideas then? Well, that’s what research design is for!
What is research design?
Let me first define what’s research design. According to Oxford Reference, a research design is “a detailed proposal relating to a defined piece of [research] endeavour, which includes a definition of a problem, subject, or hypothesis for investigation; the background and context to the investigation; the proposed means and methods of the investigation; the work plan and timetable; details of the proposed investigators, management arrangements, and quality control procedures; and a table of costs.”
This definition was originally presented for archaeological endeavours and activities, but I believe it can be extended to any research area. At the end of the day, it is all about defining the design of a scientifically sound method that will allow you to produce a sufficient amount of data to test your hypothesis.
How to design your research in 6 simple steps?
Now that you know what research design is, let me share a simple 7-step framework that will help you develop a well-planned research design. I’ll try to support this research design with example where possible.
Step 1: Reflect on your hypothesis
The hypothesis you’ve developed for your research includes a piece of crucial information about your research question and variables that you want to evaluate.
Therefore, your research design should start by reflecting on your research hypothesis. You should be able to answer the following questions:
- what variables or parameters you should investigate?
- what information do you need to collect in your research to test your hypothesis?
- how much data do you need to test your hypothesis?
This information is crucial in the next step.
Step 2: Decide on research approach
Now there are two main approaches to your research approach: qualitative approach or quantitative approach.
The qualitative approach aims to characterise the relationships between the dependent and independent variables using mathematical tools to correlate the observations from your data. This usually generates quantitative data that are numerical and help you evaluate different case studies.
The quantitative approach aims to characterise the relationship between the dependent and independent variables using observations and non-mathematical data (pictures, recordings, text, transcripts, interviews, focus groups) to draw insights and conclusions.
You can also use mixed methods that combine both qualitative and quantitative approaches. With this approach to research, you can get more comprehensive answers to your research problem and you can deduct more informed conclusions.
Step 3: Select the type of research design
Wondering what are 4 types of research design? Here is the answer.
For quantitative research design, you can use experimental design, quasi-experimental design, correlational design, and descriptive design for your quantitative research. Here’s a brief overview of these research design types:
An experimental design seeks to determine a cause and effect correlation of variables that you study. Your experimental research design usually involves independent and dependent variables, and you are trying to understand how the change in the independent variable influences the dependent variables. The samples you use are often randomised. Your experiments are usually performed in a controlled environment.
A quasi-experimental design is similar to the experimental design, but it relies on pre-existing groups (non-randomised samples). Your experiments are usually performed in a natural environment.
A correlational design focuses on determining whether a correlation exists between the variables under question and how strongly these are correlated. It heavily relies on a statistical analysis of your data.
A descriptive design relies on understanding the characteristics of a single sample, such as averages and standard deviations. This type of design may not need a hypothesis as usually, you are focusing on understanding the existing data.
For qualitative research design, the most commonly used types of research design include case study, ethnography, grounded theory, and phenomenology.
Case study design aims to understand and explain the experience of a defined sample via direct observation and interaction with that sample. The focus is placed on the description of the experience.
Ethnography design aims to describe the characteristics of a selected culture. This is achieved via a selection of variables and characteristics to consider in the study and data collection via literature review, culture immersion, direct observation and interaction with subjects. The outcome is the description of culture.
Grounded theory design aims to discover the problems and challenges in society and how members of society deal with these. It involves an iterative process of “formulation, testing and re-development of propositions until a theory is developed” . The data is collected via interviews or observations. The outcome is a new theory that is supported with data.
Phenomenology design aims to describe the experiences from the individuals perspective. It aims to understand the feelings and experiences with regard to a specific phenomenon. Usually, there are no defined steps in terms of the data collections to allow space for creativity. The outcome is the understanding of the subject’s point of view and structural explanation of the specific phenomenon.
Step 4: Define your population and sampling method
Once you decided on the research design process that will provide the best set of data to test your hypothesis, it’s crucial to define the amount of data, aka. population, and sampling method.
I often find that researchers tend to generate way too much data, which makes it difficult to decide what data to include in your chapter or research article.
Therefore, it’s crucial to decide the characteristics of the population you want to study at the outset of your research to maintain focus. For example, your population can be characterised by a specific demographic or comprise a given set of technologies.
Once you understand what data you need to collect to test your hypothesis, you need to decide how this data will be sampled. This is in particular important when you’re dealing with large populations, e.g., people in a specific country, and it is impossible to get data on all of them. Instead, you will collect data based on a representative sample of that population. But let’s leave a discussion like this for our further articles.
To sample data from your population, you can use two main sampling methods.
Probabilistic sampling relies on using random methods to generate data, usually involving some sort of mathematical representation of the population you evaluate. It allows you to truly understand the correlations and characteristics of the population via thorough statistical analysis.
Deterministic sampling, aka, non-probabilistic sampling, relies on non-random selection of the sample and is usually easier to perform. However, it is subject to bias depending on how your sample is selected.
Step 5: Select data collection method
Now that you know what data you need to collect, it is important to decide how exactly you are going to collect your data. This is one of the most crucial aspects of the research design process, as you will actually decide what kind of tools you will use in your research.
At this stage, it is crucial to distinguish between the primary data and secondary data.
The former focuses on collecting new data via surveys, questionnaires, interviews, observations, mathematical modelling and so on.
The latter uses the data that has already been published in the literature. Therefore, the collection of the secondary data largely relies on literature review, database search, raw data mining and so on.
Step 6: Design your data collection process
We’re almost there! So you know what methods you’re going to use, what parameters to measure, and how to sample them. Now it’s time to determine the minimum amount of data necessary for your research.
Remember, you only need to generate a sufficient amount of data that is necessary to prove or disprove your hypothesis. Oversampling will neither give you more additional information nor improve the accuracy of your results – it will just consume more of your time during the data collection period.
To determine the minimum amount of data necessary for your research, you may use rules of thumb in your area (i.e. 3 repetitions of the same experiment), Taguchi design or fractional factorial design.
I feel that it is important to mention that you also need to develop a data management plan as early as possible in your research. This is especially true during questionnaire design or qualitative design, as you need to make sure you properly deal with the sensitive data and adhere to your funder’s data management requirements.
Importantly, when you decide on the amount of data to collect, your research design must have the following characteristics:
- Objectivity: the research methods you use in your work should allow you to objectively test your hypothesis. This means that your results should be free from bias and should not include subjective opinions. This is difficult to achieve, as we tend to promote our interests. We also make assumptions in our work. Therefore, for others to understand what you did and why you did it, it is essential to explicitly state the assumptions and approach of your work. It is important to ensure that your work could be replicated by other researchers so that they could verify your results and conclusions, and built on your research
- Repeatability: the research method you use in your work should be reliable and accurate. This means that whenever you conduct similar research under similar conditions using the same method, your results should be similar and lead to the same conclusions. This is especially true for statistical and experimental work, so your research design must include a sufficient number of observations to allow for uncertainty analysis. This is to ensure that your results are representative and not influenced by the research design. This is also important for any sort of computational or analytical research, where you develop models or correlations to represent the system or concept that you analyse. Why? Well, you need to make sure that the methods you used are valid, which means these represent the actual system accurately.
- Validity: the research method that you select needs to support you in testing and verifying your hypothesis, and subsequently answering your research questions. Your methods should help you to produce and analyse your data objectively to draw conclusions in the context of your hypothesis and research question. When selecting methods ask yourself what kind of data you’ll need to test your hypothesis.
- Generalisation: finally, it is important that you select the appropriate size of your test sample so that the analysis you do is representative and can be generalised to the entire population, not just the sample that you’re considering. For example, if you’re analysing whether sharing research via social media increases the visibility of your profile, you should include at least 100, or in ideal case 1000, researchers in your study so that you could generalise the findings.
Step 7: Develop approach to data analysis
Now that you’ve designed the data collection process, it’s time to decide how you are going to analyse your data. You can do it by using the qualitative and quantitative data analysis tools, following the research design approach you selected in Step 2.
For the qualitative data analysis, you’ll use your statistical analysis skills including descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, and hypothesis testing.
Descriptive statistics will help you to understand the characteristics of your data, especially in terms of statistical distribution, the central tendency of data and variability of data. The inferential statistics will help you understand the relationships between your data, and generalise the characteristics of the population based on your sample. Finally, using hypothesis testing you can understand whether the correlations you derived are statistically significant.
For qualitative data analysis, you may consider using thematic analysis or discourse analysis. The former focuses on the understanding the data content and its wider implications to determine key themes. The latter focuses on contextualising the data and is commonly used to understand the communication patterns.
Of course, other qualitative and quantitative tools do exist. You would usually find these via a comprehensive literature review of your research field .
Now you understand why research design is a crucial aspect of each research project, especially at the early stage of your PhD degree.
Having a clear path to the delivery of your research will reduce the anxiety and uncertainty associated with your work. Follow the 7-step process outlined in this article to develop your research design!
But there is one thing that I want to share with you here that helped me to successfully complete my PhD and publish my work in top journals. When you follow your initial research design process, you’ll generate new ideas and avenues – don’t be worried to pivot from your initial plan as you go through your project.
Always follow the most exciting ideas, as long as they are consistent with the main objective of your project!
What kind of research do you pursue? Qualitative or quantitative?
Join Motivated Academic's newsletter
Get a weekly newsletter with newest information, promotions and extra tricks! Get ebook 25 ways to share your research for free!*
Are Hidden Feelings of Fraudulence Stealing Your Confidence in Academia? How to Finally Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Bouncing back after academic paper rejection: how to revise and resubmit.
How to motivate yourself when writing a research article?
Like this article.
Leave a comment
Struggling with writing?
Paper Writing Masterclass is the only solution to your problem.
Learn a proven step-by-step path and start publishing your work in the best journals in your area!
Submission received, thank you!
+61 272 520 888
15% discount on first order.
How to write a strong research design.
- Research Designs Definition
- Research Design Format
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Discussion of theories and hypotheses
- 3. Methodology
- 4. Conclusion
- 5. References
- How to Write a Research Design
- Step 1. Create an overview of the approach
- Step 2. Consider the limitations
- Step 3. Assess the best type of research design
- Step 4. Choose the sample demographics
- Step 5. Choose a data collection technique
- Step 6. Discuss all the aspects of the methodology
- Step 7. Write the introduction, theoretical discussion and conclusion
- Types of Quantitative Research Design
- Research Design Example
- 2. Discussion of theories
- Get Help with Research Design from CustomEsayMeister
A research design is a framework of a research’s overall methodology. Researchers create a research design paper to map out their plans and have a guideline that they will follow throughout their study. The paper is a document that contains information regarding the data collection and analysis process. The document should help researchers answer research questions and ensure a smooth flow of the process. Researchers may write the document as a standalone paper or a section of a dissertation proposal .
A research design format includes an introduction, a discussion of theories and hypotheses, methodology, conclusion, and references. Individuals can follow this format whether they are writing a standalone paper or a part of a dissertation proposal.
The introduction of a research design paper is similar to most academic essay introductions . The section should introduce the topic of the paper. This means providing a definition and background information about the topic that can act as a hook for the paper. The introduction should also state the significance of the research.
This section of the research design paper contains an extensive discussion on the theories and other factors related to the research questions. The researchers should also state their hypotheses in this section. They should identify the main ideas of their paper and how it affects the study. The researchers should also indicate the factors that they will utilize in the data collection process. For example, research regarding distance learning will involve factors like teaching methods and computer literacy. The researchers should then discuss these factors and state that they will take them into account during the data collection.
The methodology section will contain the most important content of the paper. Here, the researchers will discuss their overall methodology. This will involve a discussion about the type of research design, the scope of their research, measurement tools, analysis process, and data collection technique. The researchers can add more subsections depending on the nature of their study and their chosen methodology.
The conclusion will simply summarize the document and state additional information that the researchers did not discuss in the previous sections. If an individual is writing the paper for a project proposal, they may not need to include a conclusion. However, some instructors may still require the conclusion. Students should verify this with their instructors to avoid issues with their format.
The reference section is where the writer will list all the sources they used for the document. This should include the sources that individuals used in the theoretical discussion section and other discussions. Similar to the conclusion, a research design for a proposal will not require a reference list. This is because proposals and other papers will have a designated reference list at the end of the document. Only a standalone research design paper should include a reference list.
Need a paper? I can help!
Researchers can use different types of approaches which can be qualitative or quantitative. The approach will depend on the researchers’ preference and topic. To create an overview of the approach, researchers should assess if their study will allow them to use qualitative or quantitative methods. They may also take into account the purpose of the study. This will help them decide how the data collection process will proceed. The researchers can read previous studies and find out the common method that other experts in the fields have used.
Once the researchers have an overview of their approach, they should then consider the limitations of their study. This means identifying their timeline, data accessibility, research skills, instructor approval, and other similar factors. Assessing the limitation is an important process to avoid making major revisions in the paper. The researchers should ensure that their initial approach is feasible and that they have the necessary skills to perform it.
After considering the limitations and creating an overview of their approach, the researchers should be able to choose the best type of research design for their study. There are several types under the qualitative and quantitative approaches. The different types will suit certain studies and provide varying data. Aside from these approaches, the researchers should also consider if they require primary or secondary data.
Once the researchers chose a type of research design, they can then begin to identify their demographics. The demographics will be the group of subjects that the researchers will use to retrieve data. A demographic can be a group of people, animals, plants, places, objects, and other feasible subjects. The researchers will choose their demographics based on their approach and data collection method.
After deciding on a demographic, the researchers can then choose a data collection method. There are various data collection methods such as surveys, interviews, questionnaires, experiments, observations, reading books, and others. A study’s data collection technique will depend on the research design type and the demographics.
For quantitative approaches, the researchers may use questionnaires, surveys, controlled observations, polls, and interviews to collect data. These methods allow the researchers to gather quantifiable information. For a qualitative approach, researchers can utilize interviews, observations, gathering secondary data, and focus groups. These methods focus more on gathering unquantifiable information.
Once the researchers have identified their preferred approach, demographics, and techniques, they can then proceed with discussing all these aspects in the paper. They should discuss all these aspects in the methodology section of the paper. They can designate a specific subsection for each aspect to have a better structure for the document.
The methodology section is the middle section of a research design paper, however, it is best to write it first since it contains most of the important parts of the document. The researchers can create a draft for the initial writing of the paper and revise it once they complete the whole document.
After the researcher has written the most important parts of the paper, they can then begin constructing the rest of the document. The paper will begin with an introduction that will provide background information and state the significance of the study. The theoretical discussion will contain extensive arguments and explanations about the topic as well as the hypotheses. The conclusion will be a summarization of the whole paper.
Researchers use quantitative research designs when they aim to collect measurable data. The approach focuses on sampling, measuring the number of responses, and experimenting. Quantitative research design types include descriptive, correlative, quasi-experimental, and experimental types.
- Descriptive. Researchers can use the descriptive design to describe characteristics, trends, means, and other measurable quantities. Studies that aim to quantify a similar factor among a specific demographic will benefit from the descriptive type.
- Correlative. A correlative design aims to assess a quantifiable relationship between different variables. The correlative type is perfect for studies that focus on comparing two or more samples.
- Quasi-experimental. Researchers use a quasi-experimental design to quantify a cause-and-effect relationship between different samples. Studies that focus on a single group will benefit from this type.
- Experimental. The experimental design also aims to quantify a cause-and-effect relationship. However, it involves having an experimental group and a controlled group. This design type is good for any study that aims to assess a causal relationship.
Researchers studying behaviors commonly use a qualitative approach in their studies. These types of studies often collect subjective data which are unquantifiable and require qualitative analysis. Qualitative research design types include ethnographic, narrative, grounded theory, case study, phenomenology, and hermeneutics.
- Ethnographic. In ethnography, the researcher directly interacts with the respondents in their natural environment or community. The researcher will take note of their observations and first-hand experiences.
- Narrative. In a narrative design, the researcher writes a narrative about the respondent’s life experiences. Researchers use this type if they are studying the life and behavior of a specific individual.
- Grounded Theory. The grounded theory design aims to establish or modify a theory. The method requires the researcher to analyze qualitative data and develop a new perspective regarding the topic.
- Phenomenology. In phenomenology, the researcher aims to understand an event or phenomenon through the experiences of an individual. Researchers often use this method when studying unusual behavior or events.
- Hermeneutics. The hermeneutics design focuses on interpreting the meaning behind words, art, culture, events, and ideas. Researchers studying subjective topics should use the hermeneutic approach in their study.
Below are some example sections for a research design paper. The example sections should help individuals better understand the structure of the document. It is important to note that some professors may provide specific instructions that can change the document’s format.
“The paper will focus on the issue of financially unstable students failing to meet distance learning requirements. Distance learning requires students to use devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Most of these devices are expensive and unaffordable for financially unstable students. This study is necessary to help address this significant issue that can affect the lives of students and future professionals…”
“Students from families with financial constraints are often less tech-savvy and would find it difficult to navigate in an online learning environment (Dhawan, 2020). Some students from these types of families may also fail to afford the necessary device and services for e-learning…”
“ Main Hypothesis: Students with financial constraints are more likely to drop out of e-learning environments due to their limitations.”
“ Type of research design: The proponents will conduct a quantitative study to assess the dropout rate of students with financial constraints. The proponents will utilize a quasi-experimental design and use online surveys…”
“ Scope of the research: The proponents will focus on students that recently dropped out of e-learning environments. The sample students will be from four different e-learning programs…”
“ Measurement tools and data collection technique: The proponents will distribute online surveys to the respondents which will contain questions that will assess the reason behind the dropouts. The study will retrieve primary data from the respondents…”
“The proponents will use quantitative research to retrieve primary data from students who recently dropped out of e-learning programs. The study will assess the reason behind the dropouts which may include financial constraints, computer illiteracy, motivation, and parental influence…”
We work 24/7 and we are affordable (from $13.95/page). Our writers, managers and support agents all have been involved in academic ghostwriting for years. We can assist even with the most difficult writing assignment under time constraints.
A research design paper can be a standalone document or a part of a longer project proposal. This can make writing the paper difficult since the format can change depending on the writer’s purpose. To make academic life easier, students should consider hiring professional writers from CustomEssayMeister. Hiring professional help will make any writing process less stressful. It will also provide students with free time that they can use to rest or allocate for other academic tasks. Our variety of writers can write simple descriptive essays as well as complex papers on differential association . So order a paper in CustomEssayMeister today and make your academic life stress-free.
more in Writing Guides / Research Methods
- How to Evaluate Sources Jul 12, 2018
- Mixed Methods Research: Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Design Jul 29, 2018
- The Types of Dissertation: Quantitative Versus Qualitative Study Jul 29, 2018
Let’s get your assignment done!
Writing about Quantitative Research in Applied Linguistics pp 11–24 Cite as
Writing about Research Design
- Lindy Woodrow 2
The focus of this chapter is on writing about research design. This includes identifying the variables of the study, the research approach, research questions and methods of collecting data. The research design of a project is very important. This is one of the primary concerns of a reader when evaluating a research text. In writing about quantitative research, there needs to be evidence and often justification of the design of the research project. This chapter includes the following sections:
Methods and methodology
Research questions and hypotheses
Types of design
Writing about methodology
- Research Design
- Journal Article
- Quantitative Research
- Purpose Statement
- Mixed Method Research
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution .
- Available as PDF
- Read on any device
- Instant download
- Own it forever
- Available as EPUB and PDF
- Compact, lightweight edition
- Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
- Free shipping worldwide - see info
- Durable hardcover edition
Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout
Purchases are for personal use only
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
Dörnyei, Z., & Taguchi, T. (2010). Questionnaires in second language research: Construction, administration and processing (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
Field, A., & Hole, G. (2003). How to design and report experiments . London: Sage.
Sunderland, J. (2010). Research questions on linguistics. In L. Litosseliti (Ed.), Research methods in linguistics , pp. 9–28. London: Continuum.
Sources of examples
Levine, G. S. (2003). Student and instructor beliefs and attitudes about target language use, first language use and anxiety: Report of a questionnaire study. Modern Language Journal , 87(3), 343–364.
CrossRef Google Scholar
Peng, J. E., & Woodrow, L. J. (2010). Willingness to communicate in English: A model in Chinese EFL classroom context. Language Learning , 60(4), 834–876.
Ryan, S. (2008). The ideal L2 selves of Japanese learners of English . PhD, University of Nottingham.
Sachs, G. T., Candlin, C. N., Rose, K. R., & Shum, S. (2003). Developing cooperative learning in the EFL/ESL secondary classroom. RELC Journal , 34(3), 338–369.
Schoonen, R., van Gelderen, A., Stoel, R., Hulstijn, J., & de Glopper, K. (2011). Modeling the development of L1 and EFL writing proficiency of secondary school students. Language Learning , 61(1), 31–79.
Serrano, R. (2011). The time factor in EFL classroom practice. Language Learning , 61(1), 117–145.
Tode, T. (2003). From unanalyzed chunks to rules: The learning of English copula be by beginning Japanese learners of English. International Review of Applied Linguistics , 41(1), 23–53.
Zhong, H. (2008a). Vocabulary size development : Research proposal. Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney.
Zhong, H. (2008b). Vocabulary size development: A study on Chinese high school students . MEd dissertation, University of Sydney, Sydney.
Authors and affiliations.
University of Sydney, Australia
You can also search for this author in PubMed Google Scholar
© 2014 Lindy Woodrow
About this chapter
Cite this chapter.
Woodrow, L. (2014). Writing about Research Design. In: Writing about Quantitative Research in Applied Linguistics. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230369955_2
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230369955_2
Publisher Name : Palgrave Macmillan, London
Print ISBN : 978-0-230-36997-9
Online ISBN : 978-0-230-36995-5
eBook Packages : Palgrave Language & Linguistics Collection Education (R0)
Share this chapter
Anyone you share the following link with will be able to read this content:
Sorry, a shareable link is not currently available for this article.
Provided by the Springer Nature SharedIt content-sharing initiative
- Find a journal
- Publish with us
- Skip to main content
- Skip to primary sidebar
- Skip to footer
- Solutions Industries Gaming Automotive Sports and events Education Government Travel & Hospitality Financial Services Healthcare Cannabis Technology Use Case NPS+ Communities Audience Contactless surveys Mobile LivePolls Member Experience GDPR Positive People Science 360 Feedback Surveys
- Resources Blog eBooks Survey Templates Case Studies Training Help center
Home Market Research Research Tools and Apps
Research Design: What it is, Elements & Types
Can you imagine doing research without a plan? Probably not. When we discuss a strategy to collect, study, and evaluate data, we talk about research design. This design addresses problems and creates a consistent and logical model for data analysis. Let’s learn more about it.
What is Research Design?
Research design is the framework of research methods and techniques chosen by a researcher to conduct a study. The design allows researchers to sharpen the research methods suitable for the subject matter and set up their studies for success.
Creating a research topic explains the type of research (experimental, survey research , correlational , semi-experimental, review) and its sub-type (experimental design, research problem , descriptive case-study).
There are three main types of designs for research:
- Data collection
- Data Analysis
The research problem an organization faces will determine the design, not vice-versa. The design phase of a study determines which tools to use and how they are used.
The Process of Research Design
The research design process is a systematic and structured approach to conducting research. The process is essential to ensure that the study is valid, reliable, and produces meaningful results.
- Consider your aims and approaches: Determine the research questions and objectives, and identify the theoretical framework and methodology for the study.
- Choose a type of Research Design: Select the appropriate research design, such as experimental, correlational, survey, case study, or ethnographic, based on the research questions and objectives.
- Identify your population and sampling method: Determine the target population and sample size, and choose the sampling method, such as random, stratified random sampling , or convenience sampling.
- Choose your data collection methods: Decide on the methods, such as surveys, interviews, observations, or experiments, and select the appropriate instruments or tools for collecting data.
- Plan your data collection procedures: Develop a plan for data collection, including the timeframe, location, and personnel involved, and ensure ethical considerations.
- Decide on your data analysis strategies: Select the appropriate data analysis techniques, such as statistical analysis , content analysis, or discourse analysis, and plan how to interpret the results.
The process of research design is a critical step in conducting research. By following the steps of research design, researchers can ensure that their study is well-planned, ethical, and rigorous.
Research Design Elements
Impactful research usually creates a minimum bias in data and increases trust in the accuracy of collected data. A design that produces the slightest margin of error in experimental research is generally considered the desired outcome. The essential elements are:
- Accurate purpose statement
- Techniques to be implemented for collecting and analyzing research
- The method applied for analyzing collected details
- Type of research methodology
- Probable objections to research
- Settings for the research study
- Measurement of analysis
Characteristics of Research Design
A proper design sets your study up for success. Successful research studies provide insights that are accurate and unbiased. You’ll need to create a survey that meets all of the main characteristics of a design. There are four key characteristics:
- Neutrality: When you set up your study, you may have to make assumptions about the data you expect to collect. The results projected in the research should be free from research bias and neutral. Understand opinions about the final evaluated scores and conclusions from multiple individuals and consider those who agree with the results.
- Reliability: With regularly conducted research, the researcher expects similar results every time. You’ll only be able to reach the desired results if your design is reliable. Your plan should indicate how to form research questions to ensure the standard of results.
- Validity: There are multiple measuring tools available. However, the only correct measuring tools are those which help a researcher in gauging results according to the objective of the research. The questionnaire developed from this design will then be valid.
- Generalization: The outcome of your design should apply to a population and not just a restricted sample . A generalized method implies that your survey can be conducted on any part of a population with similar accuracy.
The above factors affect how respondents answer the research questions, so they should balance all the above characteristics in a good design. If you want, you can also learn about Selection Bias through our blog.
Research Design Types
A researcher must clearly understand the various types to select which model to implement for a study. Like the research itself, the design of your analysis can be broadly classified into quantitative and qualitative.
Qualitative research determines relationships between collected data and observations based on mathematical calculations. Statistical methods can prove or disprove theories related to a naturally existing phenomenon. Researchers rely on qualitative observation research methods that conclude “why” a particular theory exists and “what” respondents have to say about it.
Quantitative research is for cases where statistical conclusions to collect actionable insights are essential. Numbers provide a better perspective for making critical business decisions. Quantitative research methods are necessary for the growth of any organization. Insights drawn from complex numerical data and analysis prove to be highly effective when making decisions about the business’s future.
Qualitative Research vs Quantitative Research
Here is a chart that highlights the major differences between qualitative and quantitative research:
In summary or analysis , the step of qualitative research is more exploratory and focuses on understanding the subjective experiences of individuals, while quantitative research is more focused on objective data and statistical analysis.
You can further break down the types of research design into five categories:
1. Descriptive: In a descriptive composition, a researcher is solely interested in describing the situation or case under their research study. It is a theory-based design method created by gathering, analyzing, and presenting collected data. This allows a researcher to provide insights into the why and how of research. Descriptive design helps others better understand the need for the research. If the problem statement is not clear, you can conduct exploratory research.
2. Experimental: Experimental research establishes a relationship between the cause and effect of a situation. It is a causal research design where one observes the impact caused by the independent variable on the dependent variable. For example, one monitors the influence of an independent variable such as a price on a dependent variable such as customer satisfaction or brand loyalty. It is an efficient research method as it contributes to solving a problem.
The independent variables are manipulated to monitor the change it has on the dependent variable. Social sciences often use it to observe human behavior by analyzing two groups. Researchers can have participants change their actions and study how the people around them react to understand social psychology better.
3. Correlational research: Correlational research is a non-experimental research technique. It helps researchers establish a relationship between two closely connected variables. There is no assumption while evaluating a relationship between two other variables, and statistical analysis techniques calculate the relationship between them. This type of research requires two different groups.
A correlation coefficient determines the correlation between two variables whose values range between -1 and +1. If the correlation coefficient is towards +1, it indicates a positive relationship between the variables, and -1 means a negative relationship between the two variables.
4. Diagnostic research: In diagnostic design, the researcher is looking to evaluate the underlying cause of a specific topic or phenomenon. This method helps one learn more about the factors that create troublesome situations.
This design has three parts of the research:
- Inception of the issue
- Diagnosis of the issue
- Solution for the issue
5. Explanatory research : Explanatory design uses a researcher’s ideas and thoughts on a subject to further explore their theories. The study explains unexplored aspects of a subject and details the research questions’ what, how, and why.
Benefits of Research Design
There are several benefits of having a well-designed research plan. Including:
- Clarity of research objectives: Research design provides a clear understanding of the research objectives and the desired outcomes.
- Increased validity and reliability: To ensure the validity and reliability of results, research design help to minimize the risk of bias and helps to control extraneous variables.
- Improved data collection: Research design helps to ensure that the proper data is collected and data is collected systematically and consistently.
- Better data analysis: Research design helps ensure that the collected data can be analyzed effectively, providing meaningful insights and conclusions.
- Improved communication: A well-designed research helps ensure the results are clean and influential within the research team and external stakeholders.
- Efficient use of resources: reducing the risk of waste and maximizing the impact of the research, research design helps to ensure that resources are used efficiently.
A well-designed research plan is essential for successful research, providing clear and meaningful insights and ensuring that resources are practical.
QuestionPro offers a comprehensive solution for researchers looking to conduct research. With its user-friendly interface, robust data collection and analysis tools, and the ability to integrate results from multiple sources, QuestionPro provides a versatile platform for designing and executing research projects.
Our robust suite of research tools provides you with all you need to derive research results. Our online survey platform includes custom point-and-click logic and advanced question types. Uncover the insights that matter the most.
FREE TRIAL LEARN MORE
MORE LIKE THIS
Path to Purchase: What is it, Stages, + Data Analysis
Dec 5, 2023
The Ultimate Soccer Experience — Tuesday CX Thoughts
Unveiling the Best Data Collection App of 2023 | QuestionPro
Dec 4, 2023
Exploring Top 12 Net Promoter Score Tools To Boost Loyalty
- Academic Research
- Artificial Intelligence
- Brand Awareness
- Case Studies
- Consumer Insights
- Customer effort score
- Customer Engagement
- Customer Experience
- Customer Loyalty
- Customer Research
- Customer Satisfaction
- Employee Benefits
- Employee Engagement
- Employee Retention
- Friday Five
- General Data Protection Regulation
- Insights Hub
- Market Research
- Mobile diaries
- Mobile Surveys
- New Features
- Online Communities
- Question Types
- QuestionPro Products
- Release Notes
- Research Tools and Apps
- Revenue at Risk
- Survey Templates
- Training Tips
- Video Learning Series
- What’s Coming Up
- Workforce Intelligence
- USC Libraries
- Research Guides
Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper
- Types of Research Designs
- Purpose of Guide
- Design Flaws to Avoid
- Independent and Dependent Variables
- Glossary of Research Terms
- Reading Research Effectively
- Narrowing a Topic Idea
- Broadening a Topic Idea
- Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
- Academic Writing Style
- Choosing a Title
- Making an Outline
- Paragraph Development
- Research Process Video Series
- Executive Summary
- The C.A.R.S. Model
- Background Information
- The Research Problem/Question
- Theoretical Framework
- Citation Tracking
- Content Alert Services
- Evaluating Sources
- Primary Sources
- Secondary Sources
- Tiertiary Sources
- Scholarly vs. Popular Publications
- Qualitative Methods
- Quantitative Methods
- Using Non-Textual Elements
- Limitations of the Study
- Common Grammar Mistakes
- Writing Concisely
- Avoiding Plagiarism
- Footnotes or Endnotes?
- Further Readings
- Generative AI and Writing
- USC Libraries Tutorials and Other Guides
Before beginning your paper, you need to decide how you plan to design the study .
The research design refers to the overall strategy and analytical approach that you have chosen in order to integrate, in a coherent and logical way, the different components of the study, thus ensuring that the research problem will be thoroughly investigated. It constitutes the blueprint for the collection, measurement, and interpretation of information and data. Note that the research problem determines the type of design you choose, not the other way around!
De Vaus, D. A. Research Design in Social Research . London: SAGE, 2001; Trochim, William M.K. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006.
General Structure and Writing Style
The function of a research design is to ensure that the evidence obtained enables you to effectively address the research problem logically and as unambiguously as possible . In social sciences research, obtaining information relevant to the research problem generally entails specifying the type of evidence needed to test the underlying assumptions of a theory, to evaluate a program, or to accurately describe and assess meaning related to an observable phenomenon.
With this in mind, a common mistake made by researchers is that they begin their investigations before they have thought critically about what information is required to address the research problem. Without attending to these design issues beforehand, the overall research problem will not be adequately addressed and any conclusions drawn will run the risk of being weak and unconvincing. As a consequence, the overall validity of the study will be undermined.
The length and complexity of describing the research design in your paper can vary considerably, but any well-developed description will achieve the following :
- Identify the research problem clearly and justify its selection, particularly in relation to any valid alternative designs that could have been used,
- Review and synthesize previously published literature associated with the research problem,
- Clearly and explicitly specify hypotheses [i.e., research questions] central to the problem,
- Effectively describe the information and/or data which will be necessary for an adequate testing of the hypotheses and explain how such information and/or data will be obtained, and
- Describe the methods of analysis to be applied to the data in determining whether or not the hypotheses are true or false.
The research design is usually incorporated into the introduction of your paper . You can obtain an overall sense of what to do by reviewing studies that have utilized the same research design [e.g., using a case study approach]. This can help you develop an outline to follow for your own paper.
NOTE : Use the SAGE Research Methods Online and Cases and the SAGE Research Methods Videos databases to search for scholarly resources on how to apply specific research designs and methods . The Research Methods Online database contains links to more than 175,000 pages of SAGE publisher's book, journal, and reference content on quantitative, qualitative, and mixed research methodologies. Also included is a collection of case studies of social research projects that can be used to help you better understand abstract or complex methodological concepts. The Research Methods Videos database contains hours of tutorials, interviews, video case studies, and mini-documentaries covering the entire research process.
Creswell, John W. and J. David Creswell. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches . 5th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2018; De Vaus, D. A. Research Design in Social Research . London: SAGE, 2001; Gorard, Stephen. Research Design: Creating Robust Approaches for the Social Sciences . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2013; Leedy, Paul D. and Jeanne Ellis Ormrod. Practical Research: Planning and Design . Tenth edition. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2013; Vogt, W. Paul, Dianna C. Gardner, and Lynne M. Haeffele. When to Use What Research Design . New York: Guilford, 2012.
Action Research Design
Definition and Purpose
The essentials of action research design follow a characteristic cycle whereby initially an exploratory stance is adopted, where an understanding of a problem is developed and plans are made for some form of interventionary strategy. Then the intervention is carried out [the "action" in action research] during which time, pertinent observations are collected in various forms. The new interventional strategies are carried out, and this cyclic process repeats, continuing until a sufficient understanding of [or a valid implementation solution for] the problem is achieved. The protocol is iterative or cyclical in nature and is intended to foster deeper understanding of a given situation, starting with conceptualizing and particularizing the problem and moving through several interventions and evaluations.
What do these studies tell you ?
- This is a collaborative and adaptive research design that lends itself to use in work or community situations.
- Design focuses on pragmatic and solution-driven research outcomes rather than testing theories.
- When practitioners use action research, it has the potential to increase the amount they learn consciously from their experience; the action research cycle can be regarded as a learning cycle.
- Action research studies often have direct and obvious relevance to improving practice and advocating for change.
- There are no hidden controls or preemption of direction by the researcher.
What these studies don't tell you ?
- It is harder to do than conducting conventional research because the researcher takes on responsibilities of advocating for change as well as for researching the topic.
- Action research is much harder to write up because it is less likely that you can use a standard format to report your findings effectively [i.e., data is often in the form of stories or observation].
- Personal over-involvement of the researcher may bias research results.
- The cyclic nature of action research to achieve its twin outcomes of action [e.g. change] and research [e.g. understanding] is time-consuming and complex to conduct.
- Advocating for change usually requires buy-in from study participants.
Coghlan, David and Mary Brydon-Miller. The Sage Encyclopedia of Action Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2014; Efron, Sara Efrat and Ruth Ravid. Action Research in Education: A Practical Guide . New York: Guilford, 2013; Gall, Meredith. Educational Research: An Introduction . Chapter 18, Action Research. 8th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2007; Gorard, Stephen. Research Design: Creating Robust Approaches for the Social Sciences . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2013; Kemmis, Stephen and Robin McTaggart. “Participatory Action Research.” In Handbook of Qualitative Research . Norman Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, eds. 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2000), pp. 567-605; McNiff, Jean. Writing and Doing Action Research . London: Sage, 2014; Reason, Peter and Hilary Bradbury. Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2001.
Case Study Design
A case study is an in-depth study of a particular research problem rather than a sweeping statistical survey or comprehensive comparative inquiry. It is often used to narrow down a very broad field of research into one or a few easily researchable examples. The case study research design is also useful for testing whether a specific theory and model actually applies to phenomena in the real world. It is a useful design when not much is known about an issue or phenomenon.
- Approach excels at bringing us to an understanding of a complex issue through detailed contextual analysis of a limited number of events or conditions and their relationships.
- A researcher using a case study design can apply a variety of methodologies and rely on a variety of sources to investigate a research problem.
- Design can extend experience or add strength to what is already known through previous research.
- Social scientists, in particular, make wide use of this research design to examine contemporary real-life situations and provide the basis for the application of concepts and theories and the extension of methodologies.
- The design can provide detailed descriptions of specific and rare cases.
- A single or small number of cases offers little basis for establishing reliability or to generalize the findings to a wider population of people, places, or things.
- Intense exposure to the study of a case may bias a researcher's interpretation of the findings.
- Design does not facilitate assessment of cause and effect relationships.
- Vital information may be missing, making the case hard to interpret.
- The case may not be representative or typical of the larger problem being investigated.
- If the criteria for selecting a case is because it represents a very unusual or unique phenomenon or problem for study, then your interpretation of the findings can only apply to that particular case.
Case Studies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Anastas, Jeane W. Research Design for Social Work and the Human Services . Chapter 4, Flexible Methods: Case Study Design. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; Gerring, John. “What Is a Case Study and What Is It Good for?” American Political Science Review 98 (May 2004): 341-354; Greenhalgh, Trisha, editor. Case Study Evaluation: Past, Present and Future Challenges . Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing, 2015; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Stake, Robert E. The Art of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1995; Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research: Design and Theory . Applied Social Research Methods Series, no. 5. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2003.
Causality studies may be thought of as understanding a phenomenon in terms of conditional statements in the form, “If X, then Y.” This type of research is used to measure what impact a specific change will have on existing norms and assumptions. Most social scientists seek causal explanations that reflect tests of hypotheses. Causal effect (nomothetic perspective) occurs when variation in one phenomenon, an independent variable, leads to or results, on average, in variation in another phenomenon, the dependent variable.
Conditions necessary for determining causality:
- Empirical association -- a valid conclusion is based on finding an association between the independent variable and the dependent variable.
- Appropriate time order -- to conclude that causation was involved, one must see that cases were exposed to variation in the independent variable before variation in the dependent variable.
- Nonspuriousness -- a relationship between two variables that is not due to variation in a third variable.
- Causality research designs assist researchers in understanding why the world works the way it does through the process of proving a causal link between variables and by the process of eliminating other possibilities.
- Replication is possible.
- There is greater confidence the study has internal validity due to the systematic subject selection and equity of groups being compared.
- Not all relationships are causal! The possibility always exists that, by sheer coincidence, two unrelated events appear to be related [e.g., Punxatawney Phil could accurately predict the duration of Winter for five consecutive years but, the fact remains, he's just a big, furry rodent].
- Conclusions about causal relationships are difficult to determine due to a variety of extraneous and confounding variables that exist in a social environment. This means causality can only be inferred, never proven.
- If two variables are correlated, the cause must come before the effect. However, even though two variables might be causally related, it can sometimes be difficult to determine which variable comes first and, therefore, to establish which variable is the actual cause and which is the actual effect.
Beach, Derek and Rasmus Brun Pedersen. Causal Case Study Methods: Foundations and Guidelines for Comparing, Matching, and Tracing . Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2016; Bachman, Ronet. The Practice of Research in Criminology and Criminal Justice . Chapter 5, Causation and Research Designs. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press, 2007; Brewer, Ernest W. and Jennifer Kubn. “Causal-Comparative Design.” In Encyclopedia of Research Design . Neil J. Salkind, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2010), pp. 125-132; Causal Research Design: Experimentation. Anonymous SlideShare Presentation; Gall, Meredith. Educational Research: An Introduction . Chapter 11, Nonexperimental Research: Correlational Designs. 8th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2007; Trochim, William M.K. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006.
Often used in the medical sciences, but also found in the applied social sciences, a cohort study generally refers to a study conducted over a period of time involving members of a population which the subject or representative member comes from, and who are united by some commonality or similarity. Using a quantitative framework, a cohort study makes note of statistical occurrence within a specialized subgroup, united by same or similar characteristics that are relevant to the research problem being investigated, rather than studying statistical occurrence within the general population. Using a qualitative framework, cohort studies generally gather data using methods of observation. Cohorts can be either "open" or "closed."
- Open Cohort Studies [dynamic populations, such as the population of Los Angeles] involve a population that is defined just by the state of being a part of the study in question (and being monitored for the outcome). Date of entry and exit from the study is individually defined, therefore, the size of the study population is not constant. In open cohort studies, researchers can only calculate rate based data, such as, incidence rates and variants thereof.
- Closed Cohort Studies [static populations, such as patients entered into a clinical trial] involve participants who enter into the study at one defining point in time and where it is presumed that no new participants can enter the cohort. Given this, the number of study participants remains constant (or can only decrease).
- The use of cohorts is often mandatory because a randomized control study may be unethical. For example, you cannot deliberately expose people to asbestos, you can only study its effects on those who have already been exposed. Research that measures risk factors often relies upon cohort designs.
- Because cohort studies measure potential causes before the outcome has occurred, they can demonstrate that these “causes” preceded the outcome, thereby avoiding the debate as to which is the cause and which is the effect.
- Cohort analysis is highly flexible and can provide insight into effects over time and related to a variety of different types of changes [e.g., social, cultural, political, economic, etc.].
- Either original data or secondary data can be used in this design.
- In cases where a comparative analysis of two cohorts is made [e.g., studying the effects of one group exposed to asbestos and one that has not], a researcher cannot control for all other factors that might differ between the two groups. These factors are known as confounding variables.
- Cohort studies can end up taking a long time to complete if the researcher must wait for the conditions of interest to develop within the group. This also increases the chance that key variables change during the course of the study, potentially impacting the validity of the findings.
- Due to the lack of randominization in the cohort design, its external validity is lower than that of study designs where the researcher randomly assigns participants.
Healy P, Devane D. “Methodological Considerations in Cohort Study Designs.” Nurse Researcher 18 (2011): 32-36; Glenn, Norval D, editor. Cohort Analysis . 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Levin, Kate Ann. Study Design IV: Cohort Studies. Evidence-Based Dentistry 7 (2003): 51–52; Payne, Geoff. “Cohort Study.” In The SAGE Dictionary of Social Research Methods . Victor Jupp, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2006), pp. 31-33; Study Design 101. Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library. George Washington University, November 2011; Cohort Study. Wikipedia.
Cross-sectional research designs have three distinctive features: no time dimension; a reliance on existing differences rather than change following intervention; and, groups are selected based on existing differences rather than random allocation. The cross-sectional design can only measure differences between or from among a variety of people, subjects, or phenomena rather than a process of change. As such, researchers using this design can only employ a relatively passive approach to making causal inferences based on findings.
- Cross-sectional studies provide a clear 'snapshot' of the outcome and the characteristics associated with it, at a specific point in time.
- Unlike an experimental design, where there is an active intervention by the researcher to produce and measure change or to create differences, cross-sectional designs focus on studying and drawing inferences from existing differences between people, subjects, or phenomena.
- Entails collecting data at and concerning one point in time. While longitudinal studies involve taking multiple measures over an extended period of time, cross-sectional research is focused on finding relationships between variables at one moment in time.
- Groups identified for study are purposely selected based upon existing differences in the sample rather than seeking random sampling.
- Cross-section studies are capable of using data from a large number of subjects and, unlike observational studies, is not geographically bound.
- Can estimate prevalence of an outcome of interest because the sample is usually taken from the whole population.
- Because cross-sectional designs generally use survey techniques to gather data, they are relatively inexpensive and take up little time to conduct.
- Finding people, subjects, or phenomena to study that are very similar except in one specific variable can be difficult.
- Results are static and time bound and, therefore, give no indication of a sequence of events or reveal historical or temporal contexts.
- Studies cannot be utilized to establish cause and effect relationships.
- This design only provides a snapshot of analysis so there is always the possibility that a study could have differing results if another time-frame had been chosen.
- There is no follow up to the findings.
Bethlehem, Jelke. "7: Cross-sectional Research." In Research Methodology in the Social, Behavioural and Life Sciences . Herman J Adèr and Gideon J Mellenbergh, editors. (London, England: Sage, 1999), pp. 110-43; Bourque, Linda B. “Cross-Sectional Design.” In The SAGE Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods . Michael S. Lewis-Beck, Alan Bryman, and Tim Futing Liao. (Thousand Oaks, CA: 2004), pp. 230-231; Hall, John. “Cross-Sectional Survey Design.” In Encyclopedia of Survey Research Methods . Paul J. Lavrakas, ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), pp. 173-174; Helen Barratt, Maria Kirwan. Cross-Sectional Studies: Design Application, Strengths and Weaknesses of Cross-Sectional Studies. Healthknowledge, 2009. Cross-Sectional Study. Wikipedia.
Descriptive research designs help provide answers to the questions of who, what, when, where, and how associated with a particular research problem; a descriptive study cannot conclusively ascertain answers to why. Descriptive research is used to obtain information concerning the current status of the phenomena and to describe "what exists" with respect to variables or conditions in a situation.
- The subject is being observed in a completely natural and unchanged natural environment. True experiments, whilst giving analyzable data, often adversely influence the normal behavior of the subject [a.k.a., the Heisenberg effect whereby measurements of certain systems cannot be made without affecting the systems].
- Descriptive research is often used as a pre-cursor to more quantitative research designs with the general overview giving some valuable pointers as to what variables are worth testing quantitatively.
- If the limitations are understood, they can be a useful tool in developing a more focused study.
- Descriptive studies can yield rich data that lead to important recommendations in practice.
- Appoach collects a large amount of data for detailed analysis.
- The results from a descriptive research cannot be used to discover a definitive answer or to disprove a hypothesis.
- Because descriptive designs often utilize observational methods [as opposed to quantitative methods], the results cannot be replicated.
- The descriptive function of research is heavily dependent on instrumentation for measurement and observation.
Anastas, Jeane W. Research Design for Social Work and the Human Services . Chapter 5, Flexible Methods: Descriptive Research. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; Given, Lisa M. "Descriptive Research." In Encyclopedia of Measurement and Statistics . Neil J. Salkind and Kristin Rasmussen, editors. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2007), pp. 251-254; McNabb, Connie. Descriptive Research Methodologies. Powerpoint Presentation; Shuttleworth, Martyn. Descriptive Research Design, September 26, 2008; Erickson, G. Scott. "Descriptive Research Design." In New Methods of Market Research and Analysis . (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017), pp. 51-77; Sahin, Sagufta, and Jayanta Mete. "A Brief Study on Descriptive Research: Its Nature and Application in Social Science." International Journal of Research and Analysis in Humanities 1 (2021): 11; K. Swatzell and P. Jennings. “Descriptive Research: The Nuts and Bolts.” Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants 20 (2007), pp. 55-56; Kane, E. Doing Your Own Research: Basic Descriptive Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities . London: Marion Boyars, 1985.
A blueprint of the procedure that enables the researcher to maintain control over all factors that may affect the result of an experiment. In doing this, the researcher attempts to determine or predict what may occur. Experimental research is often used where there is time priority in a causal relationship (cause precedes effect), there is consistency in a causal relationship (a cause will always lead to the same effect), and the magnitude of the correlation is great. The classic experimental design specifies an experimental group and a control group. The independent variable is administered to the experimental group and not to the control group, and both groups are measured on the same dependent variable. Subsequent experimental designs have used more groups and more measurements over longer periods. True experiments must have control, randomization, and manipulation.
- Experimental research allows the researcher to control the situation. In so doing, it allows researchers to answer the question, “What causes something to occur?”
- Permits the researcher to identify cause and effect relationships between variables and to distinguish placebo effects from treatment effects.
- Experimental research designs support the ability to limit alternative explanations and to infer direct causal relationships in the study.
- Approach provides the highest level of evidence for single studies.
- The design is artificial, and results may not generalize well to the real world.
- The artificial settings of experiments may alter the behaviors or responses of participants.
- Experimental designs can be costly if special equipment or facilities are needed.
- Some research problems cannot be studied using an experiment because of ethical or technical reasons.
- Difficult to apply ethnographic and other qualitative methods to experimentally designed studies.
Anastas, Jeane W. Research Design for Social Work and the Human Services . Chapter 7, Flexible Methods: Experimental Research. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; Chapter 2: Research Design, Experimental Designs. School of Psychology, University of New England, 2000; Chow, Siu L. "Experimental Design." In Encyclopedia of Research Design . Neil J. Salkind, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2010), pp. 448-453; "Experimental Design." In Social Research Methods . Nicholas Walliman, editor. (London, England: Sage, 2006), pp, 101-110; Experimental Research. Research Methods by Dummies. Department of Psychology. California State University, Fresno, 2006; Kirk, Roger E. Experimental Design: Procedures for the Behavioral Sciences . 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2013; Trochim, William M.K. Experimental Design. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006; Rasool, Shafqat. Experimental Research. Slideshare presentation.
An exploratory design is conducted about a research problem when there are few or no earlier studies to refer to or rely upon to predict an outcome . The focus is on gaining insights and familiarity for later investigation or undertaken when research problems are in a preliminary stage of investigation. Exploratory designs are often used to establish an understanding of how best to proceed in studying an issue or what methodology would effectively apply to gathering information about the issue.
The goals of exploratory research are intended to produce the following possible insights:
- Familiarity with basic details, settings, and concerns.
- Well grounded picture of the situation being developed.
- Generation of new ideas and assumptions.
- Development of tentative theories or hypotheses.
- Determination about whether a study is feasible in the future.
- Issues get refined for more systematic investigation and formulation of new research questions.
- Direction for future research and techniques get developed.
- Design is a useful approach for gaining background information on a particular topic.
- Exploratory research is flexible and can address research questions of all types (what, why, how).
- Provides an opportunity to define new terms and clarify existing concepts.
- Exploratory research is often used to generate formal hypotheses and develop more precise research problems.
- In the policy arena or applied to practice, exploratory studies help establish research priorities and where resources should be allocated.
- Exploratory research generally utilizes small sample sizes and, thus, findings are typically not generalizable to the population at large.
- The exploratory nature of the research inhibits an ability to make definitive conclusions about the findings. They provide insight but not definitive conclusions.
- The research process underpinning exploratory studies is flexible but often unstructured, leading to only tentative results that have limited value to decision-makers.
- Design lacks rigorous standards applied to methods of data gathering and analysis because one of the areas for exploration could be to determine what method or methodologies could best fit the research problem.
Cuthill, Michael. “Exploratory Research: Citizen Participation, Local Government, and Sustainable Development in Australia.” Sustainable Development 10 (2002): 79-89; Streb, Christoph K. "Exploratory Case Study." In Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Albert J. Mills, Gabrielle Durepos and Eiden Wiebe, editors. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2010), pp. 372-374; Taylor, P. J., G. Catalano, and D.R.F. Walker. “Exploratory Analysis of the World City Network.” Urban Studies 39 (December 2002): 2377-2394; Exploratory Research. Wikipedia.
Field Research Design
Sometimes referred to as ethnography or participant observation, designs around field research encompass a variety of interpretative procedures [e.g., observation and interviews] rooted in qualitative approaches to studying people individually or in groups while inhabiting their natural environment as opposed to using survey instruments or other forms of impersonal methods of data gathering. Information acquired from observational research takes the form of “ field notes ” that involves documenting what the researcher actually sees and hears while in the field. Findings do not consist of conclusive statements derived from numbers and statistics because field research involves analysis of words and observations of behavior. Conclusions, therefore, are developed from an interpretation of findings that reveal overriding themes, concepts, and ideas. More information can be found HERE .
- Field research is often necessary to fill gaps in understanding the research problem applied to local conditions or to specific groups of people that cannot be ascertained from existing data.
- The research helps contextualize already known information about a research problem, thereby facilitating ways to assess the origins, scope, and scale of a problem and to gage the causes, consequences, and means to resolve an issue based on deliberate interaction with people in their natural inhabited spaces.
- Enables the researcher to corroborate or confirm data by gathering additional information that supports or refutes findings reported in prior studies of the topic.
- Because the researcher in embedded in the field, they are better able to make observations or ask questions that reflect the specific cultural context of the setting being investigated.
- Observing the local reality offers the opportunity to gain new perspectives or obtain unique data that challenges existing theoretical propositions or long-standing assumptions found in the literature.
What these studies don't tell you
- A field research study requires extensive time and resources to carry out the multiple steps involved with preparing for the gathering of information, including for example, examining background information about the study site, obtaining permission to access the study site, and building trust and rapport with subjects.
- Requires a commitment to staying engaged in the field to ensure that you can adequately document events and behaviors as they unfold.
- The unpredictable nature of fieldwork means that researchers can never fully control the process of data gathering. They must maintain a flexible approach to studying the setting because events and circumstances can change quickly or unexpectedly.
- Findings can be difficult to interpret and verify without access to documents and other source materials that help to enhance the credibility of information obtained from the field [i.e., the act of triangulating the data].
- Linking the research problem to the selection of study participants inhabiting their natural environment is critical. However, this specificity limits the ability to generalize findings to different situations or in other contexts or to infer courses of action applied to other settings or groups of people.
- The reporting of findings must take into account how the researcher themselves may have inadvertently affected respondents and their behaviors.
The purpose of a historical research design is to collect, verify, and synthesize evidence from the past to establish facts that defend or refute a hypothesis. It uses secondary sources and a variety of primary documentary evidence, such as, diaries, official records, reports, archives, and non-textual information [maps, pictures, audio and visual recordings]. The limitation is that the sources must be both authentic and valid.
- The historical research design is unobtrusive; the act of research does not affect the results of the study.
- The historical approach is well suited for trend analysis.
- Historical records can add important contextual background required to more fully understand and interpret a research problem.
- There is often no possibility of researcher-subject interaction that could affect the findings.
- Historical sources can be used over and over to study different research problems or to replicate a previous study.
- The ability to fulfill the aims of your research are directly related to the amount and quality of documentation available to understand the research problem.
- Since historical research relies on data from the past, there is no way to manipulate it to control for contemporary contexts.
- Interpreting historical sources can be very time consuming.
- The sources of historical materials must be archived consistently to ensure access. This may especially challenging for digital or online-only sources.
- Original authors bring their own perspectives and biases to the interpretation of past events and these biases are more difficult to ascertain in historical resources.
- Due to the lack of control over external variables, historical research is very weak with regard to the demands of internal validity.
- It is rare that the entirety of historical documentation needed to fully address a research problem is available for interpretation, therefore, gaps need to be acknowledged.
Howell, Martha C. and Walter Prevenier. From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods . Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001; Lundy, Karen Saucier. "Historical Research." In The Sage Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods . Lisa M. Given, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), pp. 396-400; Marius, Richard. and Melvin E. Page. A Short Guide to Writing about History . 9th edition. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2015; Savitt, Ronald. “Historical Research in Marketing.” Journal of Marketing 44 (Autumn, 1980): 52-58; Gall, Meredith. Educational Research: An Introduction . Chapter 16, Historical Research. 8th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2007.
A longitudinal study follows the same sample over time and makes repeated observations. For example, with longitudinal surveys, the same group of people is interviewed at regular intervals, enabling researchers to track changes over time and to relate them to variables that might explain why the changes occur. Longitudinal research designs describe patterns of change and help establish the direction and magnitude of causal relationships. Measurements are taken on each variable over two or more distinct time periods. This allows the researcher to measure change in variables over time. It is a type of observational study sometimes referred to as a panel study.
- Longitudinal data facilitate the analysis of the duration of a particular phenomenon.
- Enables survey researchers to get close to the kinds of causal explanations usually attainable only with experiments.
- The design permits the measurement of differences or change in a variable from one period to another [i.e., the description of patterns of change over time].
- Longitudinal studies facilitate the prediction of future outcomes based upon earlier factors.
- The data collection method may change over time.
- Maintaining the integrity of the original sample can be difficult over an extended period of time.
- It can be difficult to show more than one variable at a time.
- This design often needs qualitative research data to explain fluctuations in the results.
- A longitudinal research design assumes present trends will continue unchanged.
- It can take a long period of time to gather results.
- There is a need to have a large sample size and accurate sampling to reach representativness.
Anastas, Jeane W. Research Design for Social Work and the Human Services . Chapter 6, Flexible Methods: Relational and Longitudinal Research. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; Forgues, Bernard, and Isabelle Vandangeon-Derumez. "Longitudinal Analyses." In Doing Management Research . Raymond-Alain Thiétart and Samantha Wauchope, editors. (London, England: Sage, 2001), pp. 332-351; Kalaian, Sema A. and Rafa M. Kasim. "Longitudinal Studies." In Encyclopedia of Survey Research Methods . Paul J. Lavrakas, ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), pp. 440-441; Menard, Scott, editor. Longitudinal Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002; Ployhart, Robert E. and Robert J. Vandenberg. "Longitudinal Research: The Theory, Design, and Analysis of Change.” Journal of Management 36 (January 2010): 94-120; Longitudinal Study. Wikipedia.
Meta-analysis is an analytical methodology designed to systematically evaluate and summarize the results from a number of individual studies, thereby, increasing the overall sample size and the ability of the researcher to study effects of interest. The purpose is to not simply summarize existing knowledge, but to develop a new understanding of a research problem using synoptic reasoning. The main objectives of meta-analysis include analyzing differences in the results among studies and increasing the precision by which effects are estimated. A well-designed meta-analysis depends upon strict adherence to the criteria used for selecting studies and the availability of information in each study to properly analyze their findings. Lack of information can severely limit the type of analyzes and conclusions that can be reached. In addition, the more dissimilarity there is in the results among individual studies [heterogeneity], the more difficult it is to justify interpretations that govern a valid synopsis of results. A meta-analysis needs to fulfill the following requirements to ensure the validity of your findings:
- Clearly defined description of objectives, including precise definitions of the variables and outcomes that are being evaluated;
- A well-reasoned and well-documented justification for identification and selection of the studies;
- Assessment and explicit acknowledgment of any researcher bias in the identification and selection of those studies;
- Description and evaluation of the degree of heterogeneity among the sample size of studies reviewed; and,
- Justification of the techniques used to evaluate the studies.
- Can be an effective strategy for determining gaps in the literature.
- Provides a means of reviewing research published about a particular topic over an extended period of time and from a variety of sources.
- Is useful in clarifying what policy or programmatic actions can be justified on the basis of analyzing research results from multiple studies.
- Provides a method for overcoming small sample sizes in individual studies that previously may have had little relationship to each other.
- Can be used to generate new hypotheses or highlight research problems for future studies.
- Small violations in defining the criteria used for content analysis can lead to difficult to interpret and/or meaningless findings.
- A large sample size can yield reliable, but not necessarily valid, results.
- A lack of uniformity regarding, for example, the type of literature reviewed, how methods are applied, and how findings are measured within the sample of studies you are analyzing, can make the process of synthesis difficult to perform.
- Depending on the sample size, the process of reviewing and synthesizing multiple studies can be very time consuming.
Beck, Lewis W. "The Synoptic Method." The Journal of Philosophy 36 (1939): 337-345; Cooper, Harris, Larry V. Hedges, and Jeffrey C. Valentine, eds. The Handbook of Research Synthesis and Meta-Analysis . 2nd edition. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2009; Guzzo, Richard A., Susan E. Jackson and Raymond A. Katzell. “Meta-Analysis Analysis.” In Research in Organizational Behavior , Volume 9. (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1987), pp 407-442; Lipsey, Mark W. and David B. Wilson. Practical Meta-Analysis . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2001; Study Design 101. Meta-Analysis. The Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library, George Washington University; Timulak, Ladislav. “Qualitative Meta-Analysis.” In The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Data Analysis . Uwe Flick, editor. (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2013), pp. 481-495; Walker, Esteban, Adrian V. Hernandez, and Micheal W. Kattan. "Meta-Analysis: It's Strengths and Limitations." Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine 75 (June 2008): 431-439.
- Narrative and non-textual information can add meaning to numeric data, while numeric data can add precision to narrative and non-textual information.
- Can utilize existing data while at the same time generating and testing a grounded theory approach to describe and explain the phenomenon under study.
- A broader, more complex research problem can be investigated because the researcher is not constrained by using only one method.
- The strengths of one method can be used to overcome the inherent weaknesses of another method.
- Can provide stronger, more robust evidence to support a conclusion or set of recommendations.
- May generate new knowledge new insights or uncover hidden insights, patterns, or relationships that a single methodological approach might not reveal.
- Produces more complete knowledge and understanding of the research problem that can be used to increase the generalizability of findings applied to theory or practice.
- A researcher must be proficient in understanding how to apply multiple methods to investigating a research problem as well as be proficient in optimizing how to design a study that coherently melds them together.
- Can increase the likelihood of conflicting results or ambiguous findings that inhibit drawing a valid conclusion or setting forth a recommended course of action [e.g., sample interview responses do not support existing statistical data].
- Because the research design can be very complex, reporting the findings requires a well-organized narrative, clear writing style, and precise word choice.
- Design invites collaboration among experts. However, merging different investigative approaches and writing styles requires more attention to the overall research process than studies conducted using only one methodological paradigm.
- Concurrent merging of quantitative and qualitative research requires greater attention to having adequate sample sizes, using comparable samples, and applying a consistent unit of analysis. For sequential designs where one phase of qualitative research builds on the quantitative phase or vice versa, decisions about what results from the first phase to use in the next phase, the choice of samples and estimating reasonable sample sizes for both phases, and the interpretation of results from both phases can be difficult.
- Due to multiple forms of data being collected and analyzed, this design requires extensive time and resources to carry out the multiple steps involved in data gathering and interpretation.
Burch, Patricia and Carolyn J. Heinrich. Mixed Methods for Policy Research and Program Evaluation . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2016; Creswell, John w. et al. Best Practices for Mixed Methods Research in the Health Sciences . Bethesda, MD: Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, National Institutes of Health, 2010Creswell, John W. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches . 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2014; Domínguez, Silvia, editor. Mixed Methods Social Networks Research . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014; Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. Mixed Methods Research: Merging Theory with Practice . New York: Guilford Press, 2010; Niglas, Katrin. “How the Novice Researcher Can Make Sense of Mixed Methods Designs.” International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches 3 (2009): 34-46; Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Nancy L. Leech. “Linking Research Questions to Mixed Methods Data Analysis Procedures.” The Qualitative Report 11 (September 2006): 474-498; Tashakorri, Abbas and John W. Creswell. “The New Era of Mixed Methods.” Journal of Mixed Methods Research 1 (January 2007): 3-7; Zhanga, Wanqing. “Mixed Methods Application in Health Intervention Research: A Multiple Case Study.” International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches 8 (2014): 24-35 .
This type of research design draws a conclusion by comparing subjects against a control group, in cases where the researcher has no control over the experiment. There are two general types of observational designs. In direct observations, people know that you are watching them. Unobtrusive measures involve any method for studying behavior where individuals do not know they are being observed. An observational study allows a useful insight into a phenomenon and avoids the ethical and practical difficulties of setting up a large and cumbersome research project.
- Observational studies are usually flexible and do not necessarily need to be structured around a hypothesis about what you expect to observe [data is emergent rather than pre-existing].
- The researcher is able to collect in-depth information about a particular behavior.
- Can reveal interrelationships among multifaceted dimensions of group interactions.
- You can generalize your results to real life situations.
- Observational research is useful for discovering what variables may be important before applying other methods like experiments.
- Observation research designs account for the complexity of group behaviors.
- Reliability of data is low because seeing behaviors occur over and over again may be a time consuming task and are difficult to replicate.
- In observational research, findings may only reflect a unique sample population and, thus, cannot be generalized to other groups.
- There can be problems with bias as the researcher may only "see what they want to see."
- There is no possibility to determine "cause and effect" relationships since nothing is manipulated.
- Sources or subjects may not all be equally credible.
- Any group that is knowingly studied is altered to some degree by the presence of the researcher, therefore, potentially skewing any data collected.
Atkinson, Paul and Martyn Hammersley. “Ethnography and Participant Observation.” In Handbook of Qualitative Research . Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, eds. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994), pp. 248-261; Observational Research. Research Methods by Dummies. Department of Psychology. California State University, Fresno, 2006; Patton Michael Quinn. Qualitiative Research and Evaluation Methods . Chapter 6, Fieldwork Strategies and Observational Methods. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002; Payne, Geoff and Judy Payne. "Observation." In Key Concepts in Social Research . The SAGE Key Concepts series. (London, England: Sage, 2004), pp. 158-162; Rosenbaum, Paul R. Design of Observational Studies . New York: Springer, 2010;Williams, J. Patrick. "Nonparticipant Observation." In The Sage Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods . Lisa M. Given, editor.(Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), pp. 562-563.
Understood more as an broad approach to examining a research problem than a methodological design, philosophical analysis and argumentation is intended to challenge deeply embedded, often intractable, assumptions underpinning an area of study. This approach uses the tools of argumentation derived from philosophical traditions, concepts, models, and theories to critically explore and challenge, for example, the relevance of logic and evidence in academic debates, to analyze arguments about fundamental issues, or to discuss the root of existing discourse about a research problem. These overarching tools of analysis can be framed in three ways:
- Ontology -- the study that describes the nature of reality; for example, what is real and what is not, what is fundamental and what is derivative?
- Epistemology -- the study that explores the nature of knowledge; for example, by what means does knowledge and understanding depend upon and how can we be certain of what we know?
- Axiology -- the study of values; for example, what values does an individual or group hold and why? How are values related to interest, desire, will, experience, and means-to-end? And, what is the difference between a matter of fact and a matter of value?
- Can provide a basis for applying ethical decision-making to practice.
- Functions as a means of gaining greater self-understanding and self-knowledge about the purposes of research.
- Brings clarity to general guiding practices and principles of an individual or group.
- Philosophy informs methodology.
- Refine concepts and theories that are invoked in relatively unreflective modes of thought and discourse.
- Beyond methodology, philosophy also informs critical thinking about epistemology and the structure of reality (metaphysics).
- Offers clarity and definition to the practical and theoretical uses of terms, concepts, and ideas.
- Limited application to specific research problems [answering the "So What?" question in social science research].
- Analysis can be abstract, argumentative, and limited in its practical application to real-life issues.
- While a philosophical analysis may render problematic that which was once simple or taken-for-granted, the writing can be dense and subject to unnecessary jargon, overstatement, and/or excessive quotation and documentation.
- There are limitations in the use of metaphor as a vehicle of philosophical analysis.
- There can be analytical difficulties in moving from philosophy to advocacy and between abstract thought and application to the phenomenal world.
Burton, Dawn. "Part I, Philosophy of the Social Sciences." In Research Training for Social Scientists . (London, England: Sage, 2000), pp. 1-5; Chapter 4, Research Methodology and Design. Unisa Institutional Repository (UnisaIR), University of South Africa; Jarvie, Ian C., and Jesús Zamora-Bonilla, editors. The SAGE Handbook of the Philosophy of Social Sciences . London: Sage, 2011; Labaree, Robert V. and Ross Scimeca. “The Philosophical Problem of Truth in Librarianship.” The Library Quarterly 78 (January 2008): 43-70; Maykut, Pamela S. Beginning Qualitative Research: A Philosophic and Practical Guide . Washington, DC: Falmer Press, 1994; McLaughlin, Hugh. "The Philosophy of Social Research." In Understanding Social Work Research . 2nd edition. (London: SAGE Publications Ltd., 2012), pp. 24-47; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Metaphysics Research Lab, CSLI, Stanford University, 2013.
- The researcher has a limitless option when it comes to sample size and the sampling schedule.
- Due to the repetitive nature of this research design, minor changes and adjustments can be done during the initial parts of the study to correct and hone the research method.
- This is a useful design for exploratory studies.
- There is very little effort on the part of the researcher when performing this technique. It is generally not expensive, time consuming, or workforce intensive.
- Because the study is conducted serially, the results of one sample are known before the next sample is taken and analyzed. This provides opportunities for continuous improvement of sampling and methods of analysis.
- The sampling method is not representative of the entire population. The only possibility of approaching representativeness is when the researcher chooses to use a very large sample size significant enough to represent a significant portion of the entire population. In this case, moving on to study a second or more specific sample can be difficult.
- The design cannot be used to create conclusions and interpretations that pertain to an entire population because the sampling technique is not randomized. Generalizability from findings is, therefore, limited.
- Difficult to account for and interpret variation from one sample to another over time, particularly when using qualitative methods of data collection.
Betensky, Rebecca. Harvard University, Course Lecture Note slides; Bovaird, James A. and Kevin A. Kupzyk. "Sequential Design." In Encyclopedia of Research Design . Neil J. Salkind, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2010), pp. 1347-1352; Cresswell, John W. Et al. “Advanced Mixed-Methods Research Designs.” In Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social and Behavioral Research . Abbas Tashakkori and Charles Teddle, eds. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2003), pp. 209-240; Henry, Gary T. "Sequential Sampling." In The SAGE Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods . Michael S. Lewis-Beck, Alan Bryman and Tim Futing Liao, editors. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2004), pp. 1027-1028; Nataliya V. Ivankova. “Using Mixed-Methods Sequential Explanatory Design: From Theory to Practice.” Field Methods 18 (February 2006): 3-20; Bovaird, James A. and Kevin A. Kupzyk. “Sequential Design.” In Encyclopedia of Research Design . Neil J. Salkind, ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2010; Sequential Analysis. Wikipedia.
- A systematic review synthesizes the findings of multiple studies related to each other by incorporating strategies of analysis and interpretation intended to reduce biases and random errors.
- The application of critical exploration, evaluation, and synthesis methods separates insignificant, unsound, or redundant research from the most salient and relevant studies worthy of reflection.
- They can be use to identify, justify, and refine hypotheses, recognize and avoid hidden problems in prior studies, and explain data inconsistencies and conflicts in data.
- Systematic reviews can be used to help policy makers formulate evidence-based guidelines and regulations.
- The use of strict, explicit, and pre-determined methods of synthesis, when applied appropriately, provide reliable estimates about the effects of interventions, evaluations, and effects related to the overarching research problem investigated by each study under review.
- Systematic reviews illuminate where knowledge or thorough understanding of a research problem is lacking and, therefore, can then be used to guide future research.
- The accepted inclusion of unpublished studies [i.e., grey literature] ensures the broadest possible way to analyze and interpret research on a topic.
- Results of the synthesis can be generalized and the findings extrapolated into the general population with more validity than most other types of studies .
- Systematic reviews do not create new knowledge per se; they are a method for synthesizing existing studies about a research problem in order to gain new insights and determine gaps in the literature.
- The way researchers have carried out their investigations [e.g., the period of time covered, number of participants, sources of data analyzed, etc.] can make it difficult to effectively synthesize studies.
- The inclusion of unpublished studies can introduce bias into the review because they may not have undergone a rigorous peer-review process prior to publication. Examples may include conference presentations or proceedings, publications from government agencies, white papers, working papers, and internal documents from organizations, and doctoral dissertations and Master's theses.
Denyer, David and David Tranfield. "Producing a Systematic Review." In The Sage Handbook of Organizational Research Methods . David A. Buchanan and Alan Bryman, editors. ( Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2009), pp. 671-689; Foster, Margaret J. and Sarah T. Jewell, editors. Assembling the Pieces of a Systematic Review: A Guide for Librarians . Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2017; Gough, David, Sandy Oliver, James Thomas, editors. Introduction to Systematic Reviews . 2nd edition. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2017; Gopalakrishnan, S. and P. Ganeshkumar. “Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis: Understanding the Best Evidence in Primary Healthcare.” Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care 2 (2013): 9-14; Gough, David, James Thomas, and Sandy Oliver. "Clarifying Differences between Review Designs and Methods." Systematic Reviews 1 (2012): 1-9; Khan, Khalid S., Regina Kunz, Jos Kleijnen, and Gerd Antes. “Five Steps to Conducting a Systematic Review.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 96 (2003): 118-121; Mulrow, C. D. “Systematic Reviews: Rationale for Systematic Reviews.” BMJ 309:597 (September 1994); O'Dwyer, Linda C., and Q. Eileen Wafford. "Addressing Challenges with Systematic Review Teams through Effective Communication: A Case Report." Journal of the Medical Library Association 109 (October 2021): 643-647; Okoli, Chitu, and Kira Schabram. "A Guide to Conducting a Systematic Literature Review of Information Systems Research." Sprouts: Working Papers on Information Systems 10 (2010); Siddaway, Andy P., Alex M. Wood, and Larry V. Hedges. "How to Do a Systematic Review: A Best Practice Guide for Conducting and Reporting Narrative Reviews, Meta-analyses, and Meta-syntheses." Annual Review of Psychology 70 (2019): 747-770; Torgerson, Carole J. “Publication Bias: The Achilles’ Heel of Systematic Reviews?” British Journal of Educational Studies 54 (March 2006): 89-102; Torgerson, Carole. Systematic Reviews . New York: Continuum, 2003.
- << Previous: Purpose of Guide
- Next: Design Flaws to Avoid >>
- Last Updated: Oct 10, 2023 1:30 PM
- URL: https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide