Write your research design

How to collect your data? How many participants to be involved in our study? How to choose them? How the information and data collected are to be analysed? What are the considerations to take into account when making these decisions?


Write your research design

What is a research design?

A research design is the arrangement of conditions for collection and analysis of data in a manner that aims to combine relevance to the research purpose with economy in procedure.

As such, research designs may be split into the following parts:

  • the sampling design which deals with the method of selecting items to be observed for the given study;
  • the observational design which relates to the conditions under which the observations are to be made;
  • the statistical design which concerns with the question of how many items are to be observed and how the information and data gathered are to be analysed; and
  • the operational design which deals with the techniques by which the procedures specified in the sampling, statistical and observational designs can be carried out.

What are the considerations for a good research design?

A research design appropriate for a particular research problem, usually involves the consideration of the following factors:

  • the means of obtaining information;
  • the availability and skills of the researcher and his staff, if any;
  • the objective of the problem to be studied;
  • the nature of the problem to be studied; and
  • the availability of time and money for the research work.

What are the main research designs?

Experimental design


Experimental designs, whether conducted in the laboratory or the field, are designed to test cause–effect relationships. They do so by controlling all variables, other than the cause, then manipulating the cause to introduce it as a treatment, and then comparing the effect on the dependent variable (the effect). What the researcher is comparing is the change in the dependent variable in the treatment group with the change in the dependent variable in the control group, to whom nothing is done. The main characteristics of experiments are control and manipulation.

When to use the experimental design

  • When the researcher want to determine whether a variable or a treatment causes some changes or outcomes to occur.
  • Where the researcher has control on the independent variables.
  • Where the experimental material is homogeneous, e.g., laboratory materials.

Quasi-experimental design


Quasi-experimental designs are designs that also provide the researcher with the opportunity to assess the effects of interventions or manipulations. However, they are not true experiments due to the fact that they do not occur in completely controlled environments. Although the researcher may manipulate the independent variable (the experimental treatment), there are likely to be other changes occurring that are not being manipulated. Therefore, manipulation may occur in quasi-experiments (e.g., experiments in organizations); however, the level of control is weaker than in a true experiment.

When to use the quasi-experimental design

  • When the researcher want to determine whether a variable or a treatment causes some changes or outcomes to occur.
  • Where the researcher does not have full control on the independent variables, e.g., organization settings.
  • Where the experimental material is not homogeneous, e.g., groups of people.

Correlational field study (survey) designs


Correlational field study (survey) designs are designs that aim to assess the extent of the relationships (correlations) between the independent variables and dependent variable(s).  Unlike an experimental design, a correlational field study (survey) is less able to make strong causal inferences. The interpretation is usually correlational in nature.

The variables are selected to help answer a research question, to test hypotheses, and are usually chosen based on a theory or theories. To collect data, these designs may use questionnaires, interviews (face-to-face and telephone) and/or observation.

When to use correlational field study (survey) designs

Use correlational field study (survey) designs to:

  • examine the extent to which the dependent variable and each independent variable are related;
  • test a theory that includes not just the independent variables (influences) and dependent variables (outcomes), but also perhaps mediator variables (transmitters) or moderator variables (conditions under which the relationship exists);
  • test the hypotheses/research questions on a large sample of people;
  • examine real-life settings and use people (e.g., employees) facing those situations every day; and
  • test questions when there is a solid literature base (i.e., theory, empirical studies) from which to choose the variables to measure in the survey.

Case study research designs


A research case study is an empirical inquiry into a social or human problem. It begins with a research question and involves the collection of data to analyze and to answer that research question. Research case studies necessarily seek to generate, elaborate, or test theory. They enhance understanding through theory development that can occur within an in-depth investigation of one case situation, or across in-depth investigation of multiple cases.

When to use case study research designs

  • When the organizational processes are complex;
  • when the situations are unique;
  • when you want to explore informal, secret, illicit, or unusual processes;
  • when events involve large-scale change, such as the implementation of new methods and techniques; and
  • when you seek a dynamic, as opposed to static, approach.

Action research designs


Action research is an approach which combines action (e.g., interventions) and research (e.g., diagnosis) to develop understanding and knowledge about a social system. The aim of action research sought to an understanding of a social system and an opportunity to change that system. The process works in a cycle, with enough data gathered and analyzed at each stage to derive action and understanding for that stage only. Understanding leads to action; and once action has taken place, new data are generated for analysis to generate the next lot of action. Reflection is used in each stage of the process to consider what has occurred at each step. The process is cyclical, with each cycle resulting in a new cycle. The short cycles are Plan, Act, Observe, and Reflect, after which the process begins again.

When to use Action research designs

  • When a researcher, practitioner, or social change activist wish to improve understanding of their practice related to a real problem;
  • when a situation requires flexibility; and
  • when a situation is too ambiguous to frame a precise research question, action research is used as a preliminary or pilot research.


Kothari, C.R. (2004). Research Methodology: Methods and Techniques, 2nd ed. New Delhi: New Age International (P) Ltd., Publishers.

Tharenou, P., Donohue, R., and Cooper, B. (2007). Management Research Methods. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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