What is a Research Design?
The way in which the researcher puts together a research study in order to answer a particular question (or set of questions), is known as a research design. Research designs are essentially a systematic plan put together which outlines the study, methods of compilation used by the researcher, a detailed look at how the study will arrive at its conclusion, and limitations faced by the researcher. A research design can incorporate qualitative or quantitative analysis, or a combination of both.
Different Types of Research Designs
There are various types of research designs that can be chosen by researchers. These are divided roughly between fixed, or quantitative designs, and flexible, or qualitative, designs.
Examples of fixed research designs: Fixed designs, also known as quantitative designs, could incorporate experimental designs (where the researcher tries to change the situation or experiences of the participants, which may lead to a changes in the outcome), non-experimental research designs (where no manipulation takes place, and examples may be correlational studies, longitudinal design and comparative research), and quasi experiments.
Examples of flexible research designs: Flexible designs, also known as qualitative designs, could incorporate case studies, ethnographic studies, and grounded theory studies.
The Purpose of a Research Design
The research design serves to provide answers to very specific questions which the researcher wants answered. A research design allows the researcher to explore or familiarize himself with a topic, especially when that topic is relatively new. In this way, the researcher's curiosity can be satisfied, the feasibility of undertaking a more extensive study can be tested, and methods used in any subsequent studies can be developed.
Research designs are also used to describe particular situations and events. The researcher will observe and then describe the study through the research design. Research designs are generally used to answer the 'why' of a situation or event.
Most research studies incorporate the three elements of exploration, description and explanation.
How to Choose the Right Research Design to Use
It is important to look at all major considerations in any research design, including budget, research questions, ethics and time restraints. Research designs for the purpose of pure science such as chemistry or astrophysics, for example, would be more quantitative in nature. However, research designs such as social sciences, biology or psychology would allow researchers to use a wide variety of methods.
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