A research lacks direction in the absence of a clear research design. The researcher can easily deviate from what is required if he has not developed a study design. A research design or a study design is the most important aspect of the research endeavor. It encompasses the plan and the procedures that will enable you to achieve your goal. A research design makes you directional and helps you to avoid any wrong path. It defines the study type, hypothesis, objectives, research methodology and data collection as well as analysis techniques. It is an overall strategy of the research process. In research, you should know the different types of research designs and their suitability for different types of researches. Selection of a research design can only be made after careful thought and understanding of the different design types.
Considerations in selecting the research design
A research study design can be selected according to four different perspectives; Qualitative versus quantitative, basic versus applied, empirical versus non-empirical or causal versus comparative.
Qualitative versus quantitative
The debate that subjective approach is better than objective approach or the opposite has been very old. There is no perfect answer, but it is a known fact that objectivity means reliability and validity. Subjectivity in research has been criticized for lack of reliability. The two very basic approaches to research are qualitative and quantitative one. In recent years another approach to research, the mixed method research, has also been in use in research. According to this approach the study design can be either quantitative one or qualitative. A mixed method research design follows both the characteristics of quantitative and qualitative research design.
In a qualitative research design the researcher wants to get in depth information about an issue, problem, situation or phenomena. The researcher thus uses a subjective approach to data collection, analysis and evaluation. In this subjective approach he has to limit the use of strict steps and procedures. He has to understand the subject or the sample and ask in depth questions. The researcher can use any of the subjective approaches to data collection like an interview, observation or other survey data collection tools. A qualitative research design is hence more suitable for surveys, humanities research, historical research and other descriptive research types. The results of the qualitative research designs are less generalizable and therefore it is conducted in a small population. The rigorousness of the research is sometimes questionable in qualitative research design.
The quantitative research design is used in researches where the researcher wants to get more generalizable information. Quantitative research design yields information that is scientifically and empirically tested and is highly reliable. In experimental research, quantitative research design is used, it gives factual information that is based on facts and figures. The research instruments used are more structured than it is used in qualitative research design. The sample size is also taken large in order to do a valid and reliable research. Usually the researcher uses a random sampling technique in quantitative research design. In general, it could be said that a quantitative research design has rigorousness of techniques and procedures as well as generalizability.
In recent years due to the increased demand for generalizability as well as depth in the research, the researchers use another method that is mixed method research design. A mixed method research design has all the characteristics of the quantitative research design with the added advantage of the qualitative research design. In mixed method research design the researcher has more freedom to combine qualitative data collection techniques like an interview with a quantitative questionnaire. The mixed method research design has only one limitation that it is lengthy and time consuming.
Basic versus applied
In an applied research the researcher aims at finding solutions to the problems that have wider value and application. The researcher thus is concerned more with the applicability of the research findings. In a basic research the researcher is interested in developing methods, procedures and techniques to carry out different researches.
As the name suggests applied research has a wider application while basic research may or may not have wider application. While designing a study design for applied research the researcher has to think about the resources and their limitation. The researcher considers whether he can find out the solution to the research question(s) in the available timeframe and resources. This is important because the researcher is interested in applying the research to the study population and getting the results. While designing the actual study design the researcher takes several decisions about the knowledge and skills that he has. He chooses a sample size and the data collection technique that is manageable. He has to make several compromises where knowledge, skills, time or other resource limitation is concerned.
In basic research the time frame can be long and the researcher has less concern with the availability of the resources. The researcher can take as much time as possible, but he wants to discover something new that can be used to make the research procedure easy. He develops new instruments and tools of research. Pure or basic research is the fundamental research that aims at getting greater knowledge. Most of the times basic research is done by government and non-government agencies and sometimes it is sponsored by universities and other academic institutes. In deciding on the study design the researcher or the team of researchers consider the research question and its demand. Basic research, hence can use any study design, including explanatory, exploratory, experimental or descriptive.
Empirical versus non-empirical
The study designs can also be divided into empirical and non-empirical. The researcher decides about experimental or non-experimental design by considering the research questions.
In an experimental research design there is a clear hypothesis which has to be tested for acceptance or rejection. The researcher designs the research experiments and he has to take the internal and external variables into control. In experimental research designs the researcher takes rigorous control on the experiments.
In a non-experimental or non-empirical design the researcher may or may not formulate a hypothesis and it can be a descriptive research. The researcher can use any data collection tool depending on whether the research is descriptive, historical or a case study.
These are some of the basic approaches that the researcher can use to decide about the study design in the research process.