Stages in developing a research design

When deciding on your research design, the most effective approach is to start from the research focus that you want to investigate and for this to direct your decision making. First you will need to consider whether your research focus would best be investigated through a qualitative approach; a quantitative approach; an experimental approach; or a mixed methods approach. At this point in the design of your research it is also necessary to take into account your own skills and the available resources. For example if a quantitative approach is the most appropriate way of investigating a research question that you have identified, but you do not have a great deal of experience of statistical analysis or only have access to a limited sample, it may be unrealistic to attempt a quantitative approach and in this case you may need to consider rethinking your question.

Also you need to think about the degree of flexibility that you will build into your research design. A high level of pre-specification at an early stage is associated often with research questions in a quantitative research project, whereas qualitative research tends to have more general areas of focus that guide the research, but are open to change as initial data is gathered. The research design needs to be flexible in qualitative research to allow you to respond to the themes emerging from the data. Punch (2009) describes this process within qualitative research as the unfolding of the research question.

The diagram below summarises the stages in the process of deconstruction of the research focus which takes place as you develop your research design:

Identify your research focus and develop a central research question

Ideas from reading: Findings from research and theoretical perspectives

Develop sub-questions

Initial observations and personal reflections

Choose research methods [e.g. survey, interview, observation]

Design research tools [ e.g. questionnaire, unstructured / structured /semi-structured interview schedule, observation checklist]

Punch (2009) identifies a hierarchy showing the development of research questions within the research process:

  • research area

  • research topic

  • central research question

  • specific research questions (these are also termed sub questions)

  • data collection questions (questions used within data collection tools)

A simplified model of the research process (adapted from Punch, 2009):

  • develop research questions to articulate what you intend to research;

  • identify the data that will need to be collected to answer those questions;

  • create a research plan to enable you to collect and analyse this data by identifying the methods you will use;

  • use the data to answer your research questions.

Further reading:

See link on the University of Warwick website: Research design