Research Design

Developing sub-questions that can be researched: Operationalization

Operationalization is the process of translating a research idea, (which may focus on an abstract theme), into something that can actually be researched in practice (Cohen, et al. 2011). This process can be subdivided into five stages:

This process of operationalisation can be subdivided into five stages:

  • Stage 1: starting from your central research focus, identify the factors that could have an impact on the focus you want to study within your education context.

  • Stage 2: begin to frame research questions to explore these factors.

Wording your research questions

Comparing wording of questions used in qualitative and quantitative research

Developing a central research question or statement

After identifying an initial focus the development of an overarching questinon to direct the research can be viewed as a process consisting of the following elements (adapted from O’Leary, 2004):

Reading to develop research questions

reading to develop RQs

Carrying out reading of related research and theory on your question can result in:

  • questions becoming more specific

  • change of focus for your research

Why develop research questions?

Prior to starting your research it is essential that you go through a process of developing a clear and useful research question. This process may take some considerable time and effort on your part, however it is well worth it, as without a clearly defined research question you can waste a great deal of time carrying out research that you ultimately find is not particularly useful. The central research question or purpose statement is the foundation of the research, and if the research is built on a strong foundation i.e.

Developing your central research focus

In order to identify a relevant and useful research question it is first necessary to define an initial research focus. It is essential to select an area of research that interests you as this will help to maintain your motivation, in what is a long and rigorous process. In addition the relevance of the research focus needs to be considered in relation to how it links to current policies, research and developments in education (Menter, Elliot, Hulme, Lewoin, and Lowden, 2011).

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.

Developing your Research Design

Your research design is a plan for your research project and it enables you to identify the most appropriate research approach and methods to investigate your research focus. An overview of the stages involved in preparing a research design is included here:

  • converting your research focus into a purpose statement, research question or hypothesis

  • identifying the variables or factors you need to measure or explore (see the section on Developing indicators), which will impact on the type of data you collect

An introduction to data analysis

When you have collected your data it is necessary to analyse it in order to draw out what the data tells you in relation to your research questions. The approach you use to analyse your data will depend on whether a qualitative or quantitative approach was used to gather the data, although there are overlaps such as the use of coding of survey data. To develop your understanding of different approaches for analysing data gathered using qualitative and quantitative approaches, it is recommended that you read about these and the links below will provide you with a starting point:

Narrative research

Researchers engaged in narrative approaches seek to analyse the stories or accounts of individuals or groups. Different approaches can be used to analyse these accounts, for example structural analysis focuses on structure of narratives at both the text and cultural level.

Sources of further information:

Narrative approaches in qualitative research





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