What is research design? This is a common question, especially among scholars. It is important to understand what research design is and to know how it differs from research methodology which it is mostly confused for. A research design applies to the methods as well as the procedures used during the collection of data and the analysis of measures of variables that are specified to a research problem. The design is responsible for the description of the type of research one carries out. This could either be descriptive, meta-analytic, experimental, correlational, semi-experimental or a sub-type.
Understanding what research design is is the best way to help researchers find answers to research questions since the design offers the framework that they need to use. Research methodology, on the other hand, refers to the systematic and theoretical analysis of research methods.
Research design definition by authors
Different people have defined research design differently. One thing, though, is that these definitions come down to the same thing. The following are a few ways that research design has been defined.
- It is the overall strategy chosen in the integration of various components of study in a logical and coherent manner, which ensures that the research problem is tackled sufficiently. It encompasses the collection, measuring, and analysis of data.
- In a different definition, research design has been described as a systematic study plan that is used in turning one research question or several research questions into an experimental study or a testing project.
- Research design has also been defined as a set of advanced decisions making up a master plan that specifies methods, as well as procedures that will be used to collect and analyse data.
From the above definitions, it is easy to see that a research design is based on the research questions. Its aim is to address a number of issues among them being:
- The type of questions to be studied in the research
- The relevance of the data collected
- Which data to collect
- The process of analyzing the data
What is the difference between research methodology and research design?
Different textbooks tend to have different meanings of research design as we have already seen above. Some authors tend to focus on research design as being either qualitative or quantitative methods of research, while others have the argument that research design is about the specific data collection and analysis method. You can choose to define a research design as the general outline or plan of the things that you will do to effectively find an answer to your research question.
On the other hand, research methodology refers to the specific techniques and methods that you will use to select, identify and process, as well as to analyze the information you gather concerning a topic of research. It is the methodology section of your research that will allow the reader to evaluate the study's readability and validity critically. This section tends to address crucial areas that touch on the process of how the data was generated as well as its analysis.
READ ALSO: What is research methodology in business?
Understanding research design
As already mentioned, the research design forms a systematic structure depicting the research procedure. It points out the things that will be done as well as the major parts of the research procedure. The design accounts for study samples, measurements, programs as well as testing and evaluation among other things. These components are meant to work in unison to give an answer to the research question which can either be positive or negative. As such, we need to understand the components of any typical research design. These include;
It encompasses the following:
- Design and development of research instruments
- Questionnaire development
- Survey designing
- Formulating interview
- Sample selection and designing
- Defining and finalizing variables
2. Observation of measures of data
It touches on:
- Data analysis
- Data collection
This refers to how you will conclude things. You need to mention the following:
- Deriving results
- Testing against hypothesis
- Stating limitations
What are the 4 types of research design?
With a basic understanding of what research design is, it is necessary that we look at the types of designs available for study. There are many designs, but we shall focus on the four common types. First, we shall look at a list of the various research designs available. There are basically two categories of research designs, namely qualitative and quantitative designs.
Quantitative research focuses on objectives, formal, and systemic procedures where numerical data is used to gather information of the world. It is more of a fixed design type. The types in this category of design include:
- Experimental designs
- Semi-experimental designs
- Quasi-experimental designs
On the other hand, we have qualitative research designs. These are flexible. You may have asked yourself at some point, "What is research design in qualitative design?" Qualitative research design is defined as a process of inquiry aiming at understanding the various distinct methods of inquiries that help in understanding social and human problems. Here, the researcher has the bigger picture in mind and builds it from scratch using analysis of reports, informants views, as well as his or her own observations. These are the most common qualitative research designs used in most studies:
- Descriptive research
- Research review
- Ethnographic research
- Correlational research
- Critical social research
- Ethical inquiry
- Grounded theory
- Test study
- Review design
- Analytic design
This said, the following are 4 major and most common types of research designs you will come across:
1. Exploratory design
This is a design that explores the whats and hows of the research question. As the name suggests, it is used in the formulation of a formal hypothesis with an aim of developing a more precise research question. This is the kind of research design whose aim is to help study subjects that have not been carefully studied before. Some of the methods used in the collection of data in this design include the use of secondary research, in-depth interviews, discussions, pilot studies, and use of case studies, just to mention a few. This design does not seek to produce answers to the research questions, but rather to expose the subject for further studies.
2. Descriptive design
This design is used in researches that need more in-depth answers as it tackles the how and whats of the research question with deeper insight. It is a scientific method that involves observations and the description of the subject's behavior without influencing it in any way. It is a design that helps to depict participants accurately based on the observations made on their behavior.
3. Explanatory design
This type of design focuses on answering the questions: how, why, and what. It focuses more on explaining the research subject in details. It is the plan that will help you connect cause and effect in a bid to understand the research question better.
4. Evaluation design
These are designs that will help in determining the impact of a social intervention. It is an extensive design that measures how effective a program is. It involves quasi-experiments and randomized experiments, just to mention a few.
One way or another, your research paper will force you to use one or more of the above research designs for a conclusive and well-researched paper. In case you struggled before with understanding what is research design, then by now, you have a better understanding of the same. This should make it easy for you to choose a design when working on your research project.
- Data collection methods in research
- How to write a proposal in Ghana
- How to write a letter of intent: format, tips and examples