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Research Design Basics: Building Blocks of Scholarly Research

Written by David Santana
Posted: October 23, 2023
Last update date: March 22, 2024
11 min read

Many factors can affect the quality of your future research project. One of the leading preparatory elements that will help you properly structure your work is choosing a research design. In this article, we will look at the basic principles of the research design strategy and:

  • Reveal the research design definition and its importance for composing your perfect paper.
  • After reading the article, you will discover the main types of research designs and see their differences.
  • We will help you define research design approaches and how to choose the right one.
  • The article provides steps in research design with instructions on how to choose the research design types.

Before you begin collecting data and analyzing it, you must decide on the main vectors of your research. Without further ado, let’s get down to defining what research design is.

Understanding Research Design

Research design is a specific layout of your future work that is based on the purposes of your research. The design is developed in such a way as to achieve the set research objectives and answer the research paper questions posed. Research design plays a role in structuring elements for your further investigation. Thanks to it, you can accurately select the necessary data collection methods that will most effectively help you study the chosen topic.

There is a direct relationship between the main elements of the study and the research design. Research questions are the factors that will be studied. A hypothesis is your intended answer that you confirm or refute as a result of the study. To logically explore research questions and formulate hypotheses, you need to choose the right research design.

Common Types of Research Designs

Due to the wide variety of fields of scientific research, there are several types of research designs. Each type performs a specific function to help the author study the topic as effectively as possible. Depending on the subject of your scientific interest, it’s necessary to select a research design that allows you to study it comprehensively. 

Descriptive Research Design

Descriptive research design involves collecting information and analyzing it to describe the phenomenon being studied. Such designs often use more quantitative research methods than qualitative ones. The purpose of this design is theoretical research, setting the stage for other studies.

Descriptive research is great for situations where little information is known about a topic and it is necessary to study it in more detail. This observational research design is good for studying the main characteristics and the distribution of a certain phenomenon. Scientists use observational methods such as the survey, the observation, and the case study. 

This kind of research is a common research design used in most scientific fields. For example, you need to find out what percentage of students undergo international internships while studying at the university. Or are you interested in what proportion of graduates of higher educational institutions will continue to work in their profession? For these purposes, you can collect information on those issues, analyze it, and present it in your descriptive research.

Experimental Research Design

The experimental research design involves two variables. The author of the study studies exactly how the independent variable affects the dependent variable by conducting various experiments. Experiments are introduced to confirm or refute a hypothesis regarding the influence of two variables.

Among the critical elements of the experimental design are independent variables, dependent variables, manipulation, control groups, random assignment, and random selection. Combining the study and analysis of key factors can establish the existence of a cause-and-effect relationship between the independent variable and dependent variable used in the research.

The experimental design is used in all areas of science; however, it is most widespread in physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, psychology, and social sciences research. It’s easy to choose a research topic for the paper, as the variety of topics the experimental research designs support is impressive. Starting with studying the influence and absence of one of the parents in the process of raising a child on his personal characteristics, and ending with studying the influence of magnetic storms on the health of people with a weak cardiovascular system.

Correlational Research Design

Correlational research methodology examines the interactions between variables without intervening or changing them. This type of educational research does not involve conducting experiments but rather statistical studies. The studied correlation shows the presence of intensity and direction of connection between variables.

If, in the course of research, it was possible to establish a correlation between two factors, this does not mean that there are causal relationships between them. That is, one variable did not necessarily cause the appearance of another, and there is no direct and obvious relevance to causation.

Correlational study designs are widely used in real life. Moreover, both positive and negative correlations are subject to study. For example, study the connection between the level of development of a country and the number of children per family. Please note that a decrease in the birth rate will not cause an acceleration in the rate of development in the country. Accordingly, we do not study cause-and-effect relationships. An even more typical example of the correlation between age and the number of wrinkles on the face.

Exploratory Research Design 

Exploratory research designs are used to form hypotheses regarding understudied topics. The objective, in this case, is a little-studied topic that is new to the researcher or that is difficult to study in depth. As you can tell from the title, this study design is preliminary, setting the stage for thorough research. This research design mostly uses qualitative research methods to collect information. In most cases, this is the basis for a short study that includes brainstorming, small studies of social networks, short surveys on the streets, and interviews with experts.

Exploratory research is great in cases where the author needs to get quick research results without in-depth study. For example, before conducting a comprehensive study of customer satisfaction with service in a store, you can conduct a short research by placing a tablet with a simple yes-or-no answer. If the majority of clients responded positively, then the researchers will conclude that there is no need to conduct a more comprehensive study.

Explanatory (Causal) Research Design

Explanatory or causal research design types answer the question of why this or that factor arose and what was the reason for its development. Choose this research design if the goal of your study is to determine the root of a phenomenon or research problem. And like exploratory research, explanatory design is the basis for further scientific work.

To understand the essence of causal research design, one must understand the differences between correlation and cause. Cause implies that one factor caused the appearance of another factor. While correlation implies a connection between two factors, it does not necessarily mean causation.

There are a wide variety of topics for research to which you can apply this research design. For example, the lack of career growth opportunities leads to a large percentage of voluntary dismissals. Distance learning during the pandemic has caused a decrease in the amount of communication between teenagers. In these topics for research, one factor caused the emergence of another; to study them further, you will have to resort to experiments. Thus, the causal research design became the basis for further development of the topic.

Cross-Sectional vs. Longitudinal Research Designs 

Cross-sectional and longitudinal research are two opposing types of collecting and processing information. In a cross-sectional study, information is collected only once. This makes the task easier for the researcher since the research takes little time, and respondents only need to be recruited once. The disadvantage of this type of research is the lack of information about the further development and changes in the phenomenon being studied. 

Longitudinal research design requires the continuous collection of information over a long period of time. The researcher monitors changes in the characteristics being studied over time. The advantages of relational and longitudinal research are the high accuracy of the information obtained, as well as the ability to analyze data and conclude the long-term effects of variables.

The most common areas for these research designs are psychology and medicine. Approximately 90% of all studies conducted in psychology use a cross-sectional design. For example, a cross-sectional study of the health status of smokers may show that only a tiny percentage of them die as a result of lung cancer. Longitudinal studies will reveal the problem that diseases of the cardiovascular system caused the deaths of a large number of smokers before they developed lung cancer.

Research Design Approaches

There are three main approaches to research: quantitative, qualitative, and mixed. Each of these research design methods uses different types of data collection and analysis. Let’s look at each research approach in detail so you can easily choose the one you need.

Quantitative Research Design

The quantitative research method requires a systematic approach to the collection and analysis of numerical data to describe it, carry out statistical analysis, study correlation, and forecast. The main types of information collection in quantitative methods are survey research methods, questionnaires, personal interviews, and focus groups. Often, such studies involve a large sample of people or subjects being studied to ensure the most accurate picture and compilation of statistics.

Quantitative research design is widely used in all scientific fields. Since the goal is a detailed collection of information, large groups of people often become study participants. A quantitative research design example in the field of social sciences is a survey among city residents about their satisfaction with the number of pedestrian streets in the city. The questions should be simple, and this enables survey researchers to cover a large range of respondents. The data obtained during this survey will be used for comparison, the study of this area, the compilation of comprehensive statistical analysis, and further study of the topic.

Qualitative Research Design

Qualitative and quantitative research methods have some important differences. Qualitative methods examine a small number of respondents or objects of study and do not use statistical methods of analysis. When using qualitative research design methods, data analysis involves interpretation to gain a deeper understanding of the research problem and study the causes, consequences, and factors that can influence the observed phenomenon.

Qualitative research design analyzes data obtained from the first person after direct dialogue or other types of interaction; study participants remain constant. The widest areas of application of qualitative research design are psychology, sociology, social sciences, and anthropology. 

This research design is often used to develop hypotheses. The main advantages of qualitative data analysis are high personalization and the ability to study people’s internal motives as a result of direct contact through interviews. Research questions for a qualitative study set the stage for further quantitative research. For example: Do you like the new park? What is missing in the new park? Would you bring your children here?

Mixed-Methods Research Design 

Mixed-methods research involves a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods to comprehensively study a chosen problem. Using both quantitative and qualitative research methods is suitable in situations where each of the approaches alone cannot cope with the solution to the research question.

By mixing different types of research designs, you can take advantage of both approaches. Qualitative research explores the issue in more depth, but the study involves a small sample of people. At the same time, quantitative research involves a large group of respondents. By combining two types of research design, you can survey a larger group of respondents while asking them more personalized questions.

Moreover, the use of various data collection methods ensures the higher reliability of the information obtained. This way, you can study the research problem in detail and conduct a trend analysis.

Let’s imagine that you are going to study the problem of the lack of a high-speed train that connects cities in the south of Spain. Using mixed methods, you should conduct a survey: Would it be more convenient for you to get to a neighboring city by train? (Qualitative) How often do you travel to a neighboring city? (Quantitative)

How to Choose Research Design: A Step-by-Step Guide 

Now that you know about all the possible research designs and methodologies, it is time to determine which one is suitable for your academic work. Our experts have compiled a list of research paper writing guidelines to provide you with an action plan. Follow these steps to quickly and accurately determine your research design.

Step 1: Define Your Research Objectives 

The objectives of your research project guide the direction of your study. Setting your goals correctly will help you establish research priorities. The objectives define the research question that will be explored during the study. They must be specific and unambiguous so as not to misguide you in the course of research. 

Here is an example of a well-defined research objective in linguistics: To determine the main social and cultural elements that impact the formation of teenagers’ slang.

Step 2: Formulate Research Questions 

The next step is to formulate a research question based on the purpose of the study. Mandatory requirements for a research question are that it should be moderately short and clearly describe the author’s further actions. Remember that the research problem generally entails the course of the research process and needs to be resolved. So don’t make it too difficult or too easy.

Step 3: Determine Your Research Paradigm

There are three main research paradigms: positivism, postpositivism, and constructivism. To select a research paradigm, you need to examine the three key factors of ontology, epistemology, and methodology. The paradigm gives an understanding of the angle from which the issue will be studied and helps to more logically evaluate the information received.

Positivists see the world as a logical structure that can be assessed and understood. Post-positivists pay attention to ambiguities, seeking objectivity through the study of dual factors. Constructivists believe that there are multiple realities and that human behavior is such a complex concept that it cannot be predicted.

Step 4: Identify Your Data Type and Sources 

Information is usually divided into two large groups: numerical and categorical. Numerical information is always presented in the form of numbers and is quantitative. Categorical information is always qualitative. It’s identified by names or labels.

There are two main sources of data collection: internal and external. Information obtained from internal sources is called primary data. It’s withdrawn within the company’s own statistics. Information obtained from external sources is called secondary data. It provides a broader outlook on the research problem. 

Depending on the type of information source you choose, select the necessary data collection methods such as observation, surveys, personal interviews, studying documents and reports, and so on.

Step 5: Select the Appropriate Research Design 

The next equally important step is to determine the correct research design. Descriptive design, Correlational design, Historical research design, Experimental design, Observational research, Diagnostic research design—which one is most suitable for you? Your choice depends on the objectives of your research. Based on the research question, choose the design that will most effectively cope with the study.

Let’s say you need to study the areas of responsibility of employees in the marketing department. A descriptive research design is ideal for this purpose. This type of research will allow you to collect basic information regarding the topic without going into detailed research and obtain the necessary information for compiling statistics.

Another example would be research in psychology on how colors can affect appetite. For a full-fledged study, choose an Experimental research design. During the study, you will conduct a series of experiments to find out the cause-and-effect relationships and reactions between the dependent and independent variables.

Step 6: Consider Practical Constraints 

The author must act within the boundaries of practical and ethical possibilities when planning different types of research papers. Practical limitations include different ethical and practical difficulties. Among others, there are limited resources such as time, budget, access to certain information, human resources, and the availability of necessary tools for data analysis. Also, before conducting research, ethical factors such as anonymity, voluntary participation, confidentiality, and the potential for harm should be considered.

Step 7: Pilot Testing 

Pilot testing is a type of previous research that is conducted to test the selected sampling method for the research design process. For example, before launching a full-scale study, you can ask a limited number of respondents to answer questions to check their correctness and the format of the data obtained.

Step 8: Seek Expert Advice 

As a lack of experience could lead you to miss out on important elements of your research project, seeking professional research paper help is always a good idea. An expert can assess the situation with a fresh look, highlighting factors that should be added and which should be eliminated, giving you research design examples to follow.

You’re Ready to Choose the Proper Research Design 

We understand how difficult it is to keep many requirements in mind when choosing the required study design. With a proper research methods knowledge base, you’ll be able to select the most efficient of the research design types. We wish you success in writing scientific projects and are always ready to come to your aid in difficult situations.

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