Whether you’re writing an academic paper or on the breach of discovery, research is crucial. It can empower new ideas and make us change course drastically. In the last 20 years, research has become a lot easier. There are now over 5 billion people online. This means that most people now have instant access to a library of resources. 

But having access to so many research materials can also be overwhelming. To be effective, research must also be structured. This means more than having a vague outline of topics. You’ll need a methodology, timeline, and more. In other words, you will need a research design.

This article will look at some of the best practices for planning your research design. 

Research design diagram

What is Research Design? 

Research design is the framework of methods and techniques you use to answer a research question. It helps you combine your work in a logical way and choose the right methodologies.

Your research question is the focal point of your paper, thesis, or dissertation. Every research design includes the following ingredients. 

  • A research methodology. 
  • Your methods for collecting data. 
  • A set of objectives. 
  • Methods for analyzing data. 
  • A research timeline. 

Importance of Research Design

Research Design will:

  • Give a deeper understanding of the problem.
  • Help you to make better decisions.
  • Highlight important elements to include in the research process.
  • Help illustrate a timeline and solution for each research problem.
  • Guide as to the accuracy and completeness of research.

7 Best Practices of Research Design 

The purpose of research design is to gain enough information to answer your research question. A common pitfall is not understanding the scope of research before beginning investigations. After all, without a properly outlined plan for research, you won’t get the information you need. 

Whatever research design you choose, ensure that you consider the following: 

1. Establish a clear outline of your research problem. 

Identify the research questions you need to ask to reach your desired outcome. How can you answer these questions, and what methods will you use? What information will you need to gather or collect?

Take the time to clearly think about your problem and the different ways you can approach it. Not only will it help you make a logical research design, but you might also come up with a new way to carry out your research. Your aims and objectives should always guide your research design.

2. Research literature. 

Investigate your options by researching literature related to your situation. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of the topic and the research already carried out. This will help you understand the data you need to answer your questions and test the hypothesis. 

You may find related studies that can help you get a feel for which methods might suit your work. You’ll be able to see if there were methods that yielded unclear or inconclusive results.

If there are studies that are too similar, literature research can also point you in a new direction for exciting results. It’s an invaluable early stage that can guide your entire design process. Skipping it can result in researching a question that has already been answered.

3. Determine the main method of Research Design and data analysis. 

There are two broad categories of research – qualitative research and quantitative research. You may use a mix of the two in your research, but it’s important to know the difference and when you should use each. 

Qualitative Research 

You’ll likely notice that the word qualitative suggests the word ‘quality.’ This form of research focuses on experiences. For example, how much a respondent enjoyed a specific meal compared to another.

For this reason, qualitative research analyzes non-numerical data (data that is made up of symbols and letters rather than numbers). In other words, research is subjective and cannot be measured numerically. 

Quantitative Research 

Similarly, the word quantitative suggests the word quantity. Unlike qualitative research, quantitative research focuses on numerical data. An example of simple quantitative research is calculating the number of people walking to work vs. those driving. 

Quantitative research can also consist of measurements such as height, width, length, and volume. 

There are two types of quantitative data: 

Discrete data: This has an exact value that cannot be subdivided. An example is the number of customers that purchased different products. This is discrete data because it’s impossible for a customer to buy half or a quarter of a product. 

Continuous data: This is the opposite of discrete data in that it can be almost any value. This could include a person’s weight or a measurement of time.

Which Should You Choose? 

The answer to this question is down to your circumstances. Consider the boundaries of your research and which research type is the best fit. Qualitative data is generally better for helping you understand people’s opinions or thoughts. Quantitative data is more useful for measuring or testing new hypotheses. 

4. Identify a target population and work on the sampling method

What will be the focus of your research? 

To answer this, think carefully about your research question. Additionally, how will you go about finding participants to provide data? 

You will need communications tools that allow you to reach out to people from different geographic areas. That may be online phone numbers from Dialpad, social media, or email. 

To choose a sampling method, you first need to identify a population. Put simply, this is the larger group of potential participants. A sample is a smaller subset from within this group that you will collect data from.


Image source ELITE Institute

Characterizing a Population

A population doesn’t have to consist of people. It can contain plants, animals, cells, books, or whatever is relevant to your research. But whatever you choose to be your population, you must consider the kind of participants that will help further your research. Should they be from a certain demographic or geographic location? Should they have a specific career or health condition? 

There are many variables to consider. Being as precise as possible is key to building a population that is useful to your research. 

5. Determine what Data Collection Methods to be used     

You won’t collect data from every person within a population. Instead, you’ll create a subset of members called a sample.

When picking a sample there are two options to choose from. These are probability sampling and non-probability sampling. 

Probability Sampling 

The goal of this form of sampling is to create a sample that is representative of the population as a whole. Let’s look at a basic example. If your population was made up of 50% men and 50% women, your sample should also be a 50/50 split. 

In probability sampling, your sample is selected at random. For instance, if your population is comprised of 100 people, a participant has a 1 in 100 chance of being chosen. This method is typically used within quantitative research, where accuracy is important. A type of probability sampling is quota sampling.

Non-probability Sampling 

In non-probability sampling, each participant is chosen specifically for your sample. This means that this form of sampling is generally not representative of your population. Some researchers will choose this method if the population is too large or the cost of random probability sampling is too high. 

Samples are selected based on the subjective judgment of the researcher. It is a less stringent form of sampling than probability sampling. As such, the accuracy of a sample is dependent on the expertise of a researcher.

There are situations where this form of sampling is useful. For example, when you want to gain responses from a specific group of people (e.g. those with a rare health condition). In this scenario, a representative sample will not yield the kind of respondents you need. 

6. Create a Plan for Data Collection

It’s important to remember that you are not restricted to one method of data collection. Many utilize different forms of collection to gather more varied data.

It’s vital that you create a plan for your data collection and test your assumptions and hypotheses. Continuous testing can help you stay on track with your research and spot any potential problems as they arise.

Developing a plan will ensure a considered and organized approach that will deliver the best outcomes. But what will you put into your plan? Let’s consider some of the different forms of data collection.


Observation methods of data collection are designed to be unobtrusive. They are meant for observing physical interactions, behaviors, and other characteristics. 

Observation doesn’t always mean watching over a sample in person. Instead, some researchers choose to monitor video recordings. Bear in mind if you choose this option, you will need strong and stable video calling software. A cloud-hosted PBX from Dialpad is a good option. 

There are two methods of observation. The first is quantitative observation. Here, variables are quantified based on numeric and statistical values. For example, you might observe the weight, height, or age of participants. 

The second form of observation is qualitative observation. This method focuses on the senses. What can be smelled, seen, or tasted during observation? A researcher will write detailed descriptions of any relevant information. 

Remember, before collecting any observation data, ensure you collect written consent from participants. While members might have given verbal consent, it’s better to be safe than sorry. To gain permission remotely, you may choose e-signature software such as UsefulPDF.


Survey accuracy diagram

Image Source

Surveys are a tried and tested approach for gaining data. There are two forms of surveys utilized by researchers. These are questionnaires and interviews.

A questionnaire can take many forms. For example, you may choose a set of close-ended questions. These come with pre-written answers to choose from. You can also select open-ended questions. These provide spaces for participants to add their own answers.

Close-ended questions are typically preferred by quantitative researchers. This is because they are better suited to providing number-based answers. Open-ended questions, on the other hand, better suit qualitative research. They offer space for participants to express their opinions and experiences.

The second method of surveying is to conduct an interview. This usually takes place online or over the phone. If your survey is being conducted locally, you may even choose to conduct an interview in person. If you’re making international calls, however, you will need to consider the factor of time zones.

An interview provides space for a participant to give detailed answers and allows ideas to be explored. Again, this is an option that is usually preferred by qualitative researchers. 

7. Choose a method for your data analysis

We have already looked at methods of data collection and these will often inform the kind of analysis that is required.

Statistical analysis, resulting from large amounts of quantitative data, may require mathematical modeling, projections, and the application of forecasts. Other forms of qualitative data collection such as interviews or focus groups may need more interpretative approaches.

As with other aspects, understanding the problem and the questions that need to be answered will suggest the most appropriate form of data analysis.

5 types of Research Design Options

Now that you have a better idea of your proffered research type, you will need to choose a design. Here, we’ll look at five different designs, each suited to a different form of research. 

Types of research design illustration

1. Correlational Research 

Correlational research focuses on connections between sets of data. When carrying out correlational research, you must not manipulate variables. Correlations should occur naturally. There are three forms of correlations: 

Positive correlation: Variables change in the same direction. For example, as energy costs increase, so too does the price of food. 

Negative correlation: Variables change in different directions. For example, as availability decreases the price of an item increases. 

Zero correlation: There is no connection between two variables. For instance, there is zero correlation between the color of hair and the amount of exercise. 

2. Descriptive Research 

As the name suggests, this form of research focuses on describing. In descriptive research, the researchers will investigate data relating to a subject. They will also lay out an interpretation or an explanation of that data, theorizing the reasons behind it.

Because this features a detailed description of underlying data, it is usually considered quantitative, although qualitative research may be used for descriptive reasons. 

3. Diagnostic Research 

Diagnostic research is the process of identifying the cause of an issue or condition. Diagnostic research is made up of three stages 

  • A problem begins.
  • The problem is diagnosed. 
  • A solution is identified. 

4. Experimental Research 

Experimental research uses a scientific approach. This takes two variables, one of which is kept constant, and the other variable is adjusted. Results are then observed and recorded. The method looks for cause and effect and draws conclusions based on these outcomes. Experimental research is useful in that it collects data to aid with decision-making. 

5. Explanatory Research 

Explanatory research may be carried out whenever a phenomenon has not been explained or researched. The goal of this form of research is to uncover exactly why an event happened. To uncover this information, research involves the study of cause-and-effect relationships. Examples of explanatory research include some of the following: 

  • Literature reviews. 
  • Experiments. 
  • Focus groups. 
  • Case studies. 
  • Interviews  

The optimal Research Design will help you to get the best results

As explored within this article, there are many options when choosing a research design. Will you choose qualitative or quantitative research? Having a carefully defined research question is key to your research. 

Which of the five research designs best correlates with your question? You can use exploratory research to give a better understanding of the issue. Confirmatory research will help you confirm theories and test hypotheses. Using a combination of both will enable you to build and test hypotheses using empirical evidence.

Choose Your Research Design Carefully 

Think carefully about each research design option. There is no ‘right’ answer, but the design you choose will determine the success of your research. You will need to choose your approach based on your own situation and desired outcomes.

What is clear though, is that you can’t just stumble upon successful research. Research is vital for success but you need to build a strategy and plan your research carefully if you are to gain maximum benefit. Choose well and you will reap the rewards