Research Design

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Created by: Team English -, Last Updated: June 7, 2024

Research Design

From broad assumptions to comprehensive methods of data collection, analysis, and interpretation, research plans and procedures involve various decisions and approaches which are essential in order to carefully study a specific topic. That’s why researchers should use the suitable procedures of inquiry or research designs and certain research methods of data collection, analysis, and interpretation. However, what is a research design? In this post, we will explain the main purpose of research designs, different types of research designs, steps on how to effectively write a systematic research design, the research design format and research design examples.

Research Design Definition

Research design is a crucial element when conducting a research work. Along with research approaches and research methods, research designs represent a clear perspective about research. So, these components demonstrate information in a successive way: from extensive constructions of research to the narrow procedures of methods. 

What Is a Research Design?

A research design is a type of inquiry within wide-ranging approaches in the research field such as qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches. It significantly provides a certain direction for procedures in a specific research study. Also known as strategies of inquiry, there are numerous research designs accessible to many researchers that significantly guide them towards advanced data analysis and assist them in examining complex models. 

Research Design Examples

Research Design Examples

1. Experimental Design

  • Example: A pharmaceutical company tests a new drug by giving it to one group and a placebo to another under controlled conditions to observe the effects on illness recovery rates.

2. Quasi-Experimental Design

  • Example: A school implements a new teaching method in some classes but not others and compares the academic performance of students across these classes to assess the method’s effectiveness.

3. Cross-Sectional Design

  • Example: A market research company surveys 1,000 smartphone users at one point in time to determine consumer preferences for mobile phone brands.

4. Longitudinal Study

  • Example: A university research project tracks the same group of students from enrollment through graduation to study changes in their academic performance and social behaviors over the years.

5. Case Study

  • Example: A business analyst conducts a detailed study on a single company that successfully pivoted its business model during a financial downturn, to understand the strategies and factors that led to its recovery.

6. Comparative Study

  • Example: A researcher compares the healthcare systems of two countries to evaluate the impact of policy differences on patient outcomes.

7. Correlational Study

  • Example: A psychologist studies the relationship between social media usage and self-esteem by measuring both variables among a group of teenagers.

8. Ethnography

  • Example: An anthropologist lives within a remote tribe for a year to observe and report on their cultural practices and social interactions.

9. Phenomenology

  • Example: A study focuses on a group of survivors from a natural disaster, exploring their personal experiences and emotional responses to understand their coping mechanisms.

10. Grounded Theory

  • Example: Researchers collect data from various startups to develop a theory about the key factors that contribute to entrepreneurial success in the tech industry.

11. Content Analysis

  • Example: A media studies student analyzes the portrayal of gender roles in a decade’s worth of TV commercials to track changing societal attitudes.

12. Action Research

  • Example: A community development organization collaborates with residents to identify and address urgent neighborhood problems, using feedback to guide project adjustments.

13. Narrative Research

  • Example: A historian interviews WWII veterans to compile their war experiences into a book that explores personal narratives from the conflict.

14. Survey Research

  • Example: A non-profit organization conducts a nationwide survey to gather data on public opinion regarding climate change.

15. Experimental Auction

  • Example: An economist uses an experimental auction to determine how much consumers are willing to pay for organic versus non-organic produce.

16. Simulation

  • Example: Engineers use computer simulations to predict the impacts of earthquake stress on building structures.

17. Field Experiment

  • Example: A biologist observes behavioral changes in wildlife introduced to a newly established nature reserve compared to those in an undisturbed control area.

18. Meta-Analysis

  • Example: A medical researcher combines data from several studies on drug efficacy to provide stronger evidence of its benefits and side effects.

19. Cohort Study

  • Example: Public health officials follow a cohort of smokers over 20 years to study the long-term health outcomes compared to non-smokers.

20. Archival Research

  • Example: A scholar accesses old political documents and speeches to analyze patterns of rhetoric used by leaders during critical historical events.

Main Purpose of Research Designs

The main purpose of research designs is to guide you in terms of analyzing various complex models and articulating new procedures for conducting any types of research fields like in social science research. Medical researchers, field researchers, academic researchers, scientific researchers, academic  researchers and other kinds of researchers use research designs to properly conduct their research projects as they consciously structure their research work in order to answer the key research questions which guide the overall research study and the appropriate hypothesis. Additionally, a research design provides essential information about the parts of the research study methods like data collection, instrumentation selection, participant recruitment and analysis.

Types of Research Designs

Case Study Research Design

As an in-depth study of a specific research issue, a case study research design is commonly used to narrow down a very far-reaching field of research into one or a few easily researchable examples. It is a beneficial type of research design  for testing whether a certain theory and model really applies to phenomena in the real world. So, it means that researchers  who are using a case study design can implement a variety of research methodologies and depend on multiple collections of sources to examine a research problem.

Descriptive Research Design

A descriptive research design is a type of research design that assists in providing answers to the key questions of what, when, who, where, and how related with a  specific research problem. However, it does not conclusively ensure answers to why questions. Being used to acquire important details about the current status of the phenomena, this research design clearly describes what exists based on the variables or conditions in a particular situation. So, this means researchers use this research design to observe a certain subject matter in a completely natural and constant natural environment. Additionally, it acts as a pre-cursor towards more quantitative research designs.

Causal Research Design

Researchers use a type of research design called causal design to measure what kind of impact a certain change will have on current norms and assumptions.  It is used to narrow down the cause and effect relationship easily by ensuring that both variables are not influenced by any force other than each other. A causal research design is used to maintain accuracy in the variables and determine the exact impact that a particular variable has on another variable. Applying this research design also explores the connection between two matters. 

Correlational Research Design

When it comes to setting up the statistical pattern between two clearly interconnected variables, researchers use a type of research design called correlational research design as it refers to a non-experimental method in research work that conducts studies on the relationships between two variables by utilizing statistical analysis. This is a fundamental research design in order to test specific relationships between categorical or quantitative variables without the manipulation of an independent variable. Simply, correlational research aims at observing and measuring historical patterns between two variables. 

Cross-Sectional Research Design

A cross-sectional research design is used by researchers to collect data only once and examine a certain population at a single point in time by having a slice or cross-section of a particular group and variables being documented for each participant. Researchers and other investigators measure the outcome and the exposures in the participants of the research study at similar time. The participants in a cross-sectional research study are simply chosen according to the exclusion and inclusion criteria being established for the study. Also, this type of research design is important for carrying out population-based surveys and assessing the prevalence of certain matters like diseases in clinic-based samples. 

Diagnostic Research Design

Composed of major research phases such as problem inception, problem diagnosis and problem solution, a diagnostic research design is a type of research design used by researchers to make a clear evaluation of a certain problem or phenomenon’s cause. If the researchers need to fully understand the factors and other essential aspects that are generating concerns and issues inside the company or organization in detail, they should use a diagnostic research design. Carrying out a diagnostic research design allows them to know exactly the time when the issue appears, the underlying cause of the issues, potential influences of the issue which lead to its worsening, and the effective solutions for the issue. 

Factorial Research Design

Researchers use a factorial research design to investigate the major effects of two or more individual  independent variables in a simultaneous way, and to allow them to recognize interactions among variables. When the effects of one variable differ based on the levels of another variable, an interaction is made and these interactions can only be recognized when the variables are combined and investigated. If you need to yield valid conclusions over a wide array of experimental conditions, use a factorial research design to estimate the effects of a factor based on various levels of the other factors.

Historical Research Design

A historical research design is a type of research design that provides a fundamental context for understanding our modern society while informing global concepts like foregin policy development. Researchers use this research design to guide them when it comes to analyzing the past events, developing new concepts, examining the previous information or events to test their validity, and formulating logical decisions that impact our society, economy, and culture. Typically, they collect, verify and synthesize evidence from the past to build facts that defend or refute a hypothesis. Thus, a historical research design involves the comprehensive study and analysis of data about past events, developments and other experiences. 

Action Research Design

In order to promote iterative learning, comprehensive evaluation and improvement, many researchers and other professionals use action research design especially teachers, professors and other key individuals working in schools or in the education sector. With this design, they can collect sufficient information about current programs and outcomes so that they are able to analyze the collected information, develop a cohesive plan to improve it, collect changes after a new plan is carried out, and produce conclusions based on the improvements. So, professionals who use an action research design focus on operational or technical, collaboration, critical reflection, and transformative change of their own process of taking action and conducting research. 

Legal Research Design

A legal research design is commonly used by researchers working in the legal sector as they carefully identify and retrieve information which are crucial to support in their legal decision-making process. Legal researchers develop a research plan, consult primary and secondary sources, expand and update primary law and analyze and organize results. There are two types of legal research: doctrinal or non-empirical research and non-doctrinal or empirical methods. 

Longitudinal Research Design

Use a longitudinal research design if you need to investigate similar individuals repeatedly so that you can determine any changes that might happen over a period of time. Researchers apply this type of research design in order to observe and gather adequate data on a number of variables without trying to affect those variables. Most generally used in economics, epidemiology and medicine, longitudinal research design is also used in social sciences and other scientific fields. It is also the opposite of a cross-sectional research design. Implementing this design can help researchers to follow their subjects in real time and allow repeated observations of the same individual over time.

Marketing Research Design

In marketing research design, business professionals such as project managers, content marketing specialists, sales and marketing experts and brand managers use marketing research questionnaires to collect information and clearly understand the intended audience or target market of a business firm or an organization. This type of research design will significantly assist them in developing industry and market analysis and designing worthwhile products, enhancing user experience, and designing an effective marketing strategy that fully engages quality leads and elevates conversion rates.

Narrative Research Design

If you need to focus on studying a specific person, you may use a narrative research design which refers to writing narratives about the experiences of individuals, telling a life experience, and explaining the meaning of the individual’s experience. Several types of narrative research design are analysis of narrative projects, collecting background information from narrative interview report, interviews and re-storying, oral history and journals and storytelling, and letter writing. To conduct narrative research, researchers need to code narrative blocks, group and read by live event, create nested story structure codes, examine the structure of the story, make comparisons and tell the main idea of the narrative research.

Experimental Research Design

As a blueprint of the research procedure, an experimental research design is used by researchers to allow them to manage and control over all aspects that may influence the outcome of an experiment. Performing a research work with this type of design helps researchers to determine or predict what may happen. Often used where there exists a time priority in a cause and effect relationship, an experimental research design is also applied when there is a consistency in a cause and effect relationship, and if there is a great magnitude of correlation. Plus, it enables researchers to provide the highest level of evidence for single studies.

Observational Research Design

In several cases where the researchers have no control over the experiment being conducted, they use an observational research design to draw a conclusion after making a comparison of subjects against a control group. With this type of research design, you can gather a depth of information about a specific behavior, show interrelationships among multidimensional aspects of group interactions, and generalize your results to real life situations. If you need to discover what kind of variables may be crucial before utilizing other research methods, use an observational research design.

Exploratory Research Design

An exploratory research design is a type of research design which is integral when it comes to investigating a specific and unclear research issue. Researchers use this research design to have an in-depth understanding of a research problem and its context prior to the further development and execution of the research process. So, an exploratory research design acts as a groundwork to facilitate research work while it manages other research concerns which have not been sufficiently investigated in the last years.  

Retrospective Research Design

When the outcome of interest has already taken place at the period the research study is started, researchers use a type of research design called retrospective research design which enables them to formulate ideas about potential associations and thoroughly examine possible relationships without causal statements. It is a very feasible research design in terms of scope, resources, and time. However, it cannot yield causal effects due to the absence of random assignment and random selection. Still, researchers can use this design because it is less expensive to conduct and can be used immediately.

Cohort Research Design

If you need to conduct a study over a time period which involves members of a population that the subject originated from, and united by some similarity, you must use a cohort research design as it guides you in analyzing the statistical occurrence within a specialized subgroup which is united by similar characteristics linked to the research problem. Researchers are able to measure possible causes prior to the result having taken place and show that these causes preceded the result. Also, it can provide clear insight into effects over time and is linked to a wide range of diverse cultural, economic, social, and political changes. 

Meta-Analysis Research Design

Considered as an evidence-based resource with confirmatory data analysis, a meta-analysis research design is used by researchers to create statistical significance with studies that have conflicting outcomes, to generate a more appropriate estimate of effect magnitude, to bring a more in-depth analysis of risks, safety data and advantages, and to analyze subgroups with individual members that are not significant statistically. Researchers systematically integrate essential qualitative and quantitative study data from various selected research studies to draw out a single conclusion that provides greater statistical effect.

Quantitative Research Design

A quantitative research design is a type of research design used by researchers to explore and investigate how many people act, feel, think or feel in a specific manner. As the major research design in the social sciences and other fields, it is generally aimed at developing strategies, and techniques with the use of numeric patterns or a range of numeric data. Social scientists, communication researchers and other professionals bring knowledge and set up a clear understanding about certain matters in the social environment and other fields. Simply, this type of research design depends on data that are being observed or measured.

Qualitative Research Design

When it comes to understanding various concepts, experiences or opinions, researchers use a qualitative research design through a collection and in-depth analysis of non-numerical data like a, text or video. Also, they use this type of research design to collect comprehensive insights into a problem or form new ideas for their research study. Generally used in the humanities and social sciences like anthropology, education, health sciences and others, qualitative research design is used to clearly understand people’s experiences and focus on meaningful data interpretation. 

AspectQualitative ResearchQuantitative Research
DefinitionFocuses on understanding concepts and phenomena.Focuses on quantifying variables and statistical analysis.
ObjectiveTo gain a deep understanding of underlying reasons and motivations.To quantify data and generalize results from sample to population.
Data TypeNon-numeric, descriptive data (e.g., text, video).Numeric data that can be measured.
MethodologyOpen-ended questions, interviews, observations, and content analysis.Surveys, experiments, and statistical analysis.
Data AnalysisThematic analysis, content analysis, narrative analysis.Statistical analysis, mathematical models.
OutcomeProvides depth and detail.Provides breadth and generalizability.
Sample SizeTypically smaller, focused on depth.Typically larger, focused on representativeness.
FlexibilityHigh flexibility in methods and interaction with subjects.Structured and less flexible methodology.
Time and CostTime-consuming and often less expensive.Quicker but can be more expensive due to large data requirements.
ExamplesEthnographic research, in-depth interviews.Surveys with large sample sizes, clinical trials.

Mixed Method Research Design

A mixed methods research design is a type of research design when the researchers and other professionals collect, analyze, and mix both quantitative and qualitative research and methods in a single study so that they can easily understand a certain research problem. To execute this design properly, you need to understand both quantitative and qualitative research. Some major types of mixed method research design are triangulation design, embedded design, and explanatory design. 

Research Design Writing

Looking at the long list of types of research designs in this post may be overwhelming for you. It is possible to get lost from these details because these classifications are made up from various disciplines with highlighted diverse elements of research designs and many other aspects in research. Your research questions might lead you to try creating a theory and then selecting the right research design for your study. What research study would you use in that case? How will you outline your research design? 

Research Design Elements

Hypotheses and Objectives

  • Hypotheses are testable predictions about the relationships between variables.
  • Objectives define the purpose of the study and what the research aims to achieve.


  • Independent variables are manipulated to observe their effect on dependent variables.
  • Dependent variables are the outcomes measured in the experiment.
  • Control variables are kept constant to ensure that any changes in the dependent variable are due to the independent variable.


  • Population and Sample: The population is the entire set of individuals relevant to the research question, while the sample is a subset of the population that is studied.
  • Sampling Methods: Methods like random sampling, stratified sampling, or convenience sampling dictate how participants are chosen from the population.

Data Collection Methods

  • Qualitative methods such as interviews, observations, and focus groups gather non-numerical data.
  • Quantitative methods such as surveys, experiments, and secondary data analysis gather numerical data.

Study Design Types

  • Descriptive studies describe characteristics of the population or phenomena being studied.
  • Analytical studies investigate the relationships between variables.
  • Experimental designs manipulate variables to determine cause-and-effect relationships, often using control and experimental groups.

Data Analysis Techniques

  • Statistical Analysis: Techniques vary depending on the nature of the data and may include descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, regression analysis, etc.
  • Qualitative Analysis: Methods like thematic analysis or content analysis are used to interpret textual data.

Ethics and Reliability

  • Ethical Considerations: Ensuring the confidentiality, consent, and welfare of participants.
  • Reliability and Validity: Strategies to ensure that the study can be replicated and that the results truly represent what they are supposed to measure.

Research Design in Research Methodology

Research design in research methodology refers to the blueprint or framework that guides how a research project is conducted, aiming to ensure the validity and reliability of the findings. It encompasses the overall strategy and methods chosen to integrate the different components of the study in a coherent and logical manner, effectively addressing the research questions. Research design outlines the procedures for collecting, measuring, and analyzing data. It is pivotal in determining the type of evidence gathered and how it is interpreted. Types of research design include experimental, correlational, descriptive, and qualitative designs, each suited to different kinds of research questions and objectives, influencing how researchers select participants, define variables, and structure the overall study. This design process is crucial for aligning the methodology with the study’s goals, thereby enhancing the robustness and integrity of the results.

Research Design in Qualitative Research

Research design in qualitative research involves structuring the approach to explore complex phenomena by focusing on the meanings, concepts, characteristics, and descriptions of the subject matter. Unlike quantitative research, which seeks to quantify variables, qualitative research design is more flexible and adaptive, often evolving as the study progresses. It typically includes methods such as interviews, focus groups, observations, and content analysis, which allow for a deep, narrative understanding of participants’ experiences and social contexts. This type of design is oriented towards understanding “how” and “why” things happen, aiming to provide insights into human behavior, social processes, and cultural phenomena. The design in qualitative research is crucial for ensuring depth, richness, and relevance in the data collected, allowing researchers to capture the complexities of the phenomena in question. This approach requires a thoughtful integration of various elements like the research questions, the nature of the participants, the settings, and the researcher’s philosophical standpoint, all of which influence the data collection and analysis procedures.

How to Write a Research Design

Once the researchers formulate their research questions, they need to work on designing their overall research work and research investigation reports while using research designs appropriate for their respective work. When should you use a survey? Conduct experiments or perform participant observation? Need to combine several research designs? Structuring a well-coordinated research design will guide you in developing the right methods for your research goals. Here are some steps that you need to follow while writing a suitable research design for your research project:

1. Think about your specific aims and research approach.

First of all, have a clear understanding of what your research project will investigate. This will help you to properly think about what you really want to accomplish in your study.

2. Select a type of research design

There are wide-ranging types of research designs that you can select based on your research goals and objectives. Each research design gives you a framework for the overall structure of your research work.

3. Define your intended audience and sampling method

Make sure that you fully define who or what your research study will aim on, and what specific sampling method that you will use when you select your participants or subjects. Some examples of sampling methods are probability sampling and non-probability sampling.

4. Select your data collection methods

In order to effectively measure variables and gather sufficient information, you must select the one data collection method or several data collection methods like survey methods to enable you in acquiring original knowledge and comprehensive insights into your research problem. 

5. Develop a cohesive plan for your data collection methods

Next, you need to develop a systematic plan for your data collection methods so that you can accurately define your variables and make sure that you have credible and trustworthy measurements.

6. Choose the suitable data analysis strategies for your study

Lastly, you need to determine what specific data analysis strategies you will use in your research study. Read some research papers related to your research study so that you can choose the suitable data analysis strategies. 

Characteristics of Research Design

Research design is fundamental in conducting a reliable and valid study. Here are the key characteristics that define a strong research even further


  • Research designs are tailored to address specific research questions or hypotheses. The design guides the methodology to ensure that the data collected is appropriate and sufficient to answer the research questions effectively.

Rigorous and Methodical

  • A well-designed study follows a systematic, structured approach to ensure the integrity and quality of the research. This includes detailed planning of procedures like data collection and analysis to minimize errors and biases.


  • The chosen design must be practical and manageable within the given resources and time constraints. It should also consider ethical issues, ensuring that the study can be conducted without undue risk to participants.


  • While research designs must be structured, they should also allow for adjustments as new insights and conditions arise during the study, provided these changes do not compromise the study’s objectives.


  • A robust research design can be replicated by other researchers, which helps in validating the findings through repeated studies in similar or varying contexts.


  • Research designs should be specific enough to clearly define the population, variables, methods of data collection, and methods of analysis. This clarity is crucial for the validity and reliability of the study.


  • Research designs often include mechanisms to control for variables that could influence the outcomes. In experimental designs, for example, this could mean controlling the environment or randomizing subjects to different groups to ensure that the results are due to the intervention and not other factors.

Validity and Reliability

  • Ensuring the research measures what it intends to measure (validity) and can produce consistent results under consistent conditions (reliability) are critical aspects of research design.


  • All research designs must incorporate ethical considerations to protect participants from harm, ensure confidentiality, and promote integrity in the research process.

Resource Efficient

  • Effective research designs make optimal use of available resources, including time, money, and personnel, to achieve the research objectives without unnecessary expenditure.

Research Design Format

Research Goals and Purpose Statement: While formulating your research question, set your specific research goals and purpose while highlighting your priorities for your research design. Every research study has diverse priorities that’s why you need to clarify your exact aims and purpose in your research study.

Research Data Type: Indicate what specific type of research data essential for your research study. Consider your research questions and hypotheses so that you can choose the right research data type. Some examples of research data types are primary data, secondary data, qualitative data, and quantitative data.

Data Collection Methods: Determine the research data collection method that you will use in your study so that you are able to address your research problem. Research methods such as procedures, materials, tools, and techniques are commonly used for research studies. 

Data Analysis Procedure: Select the proper data analysis procedure for the design of your research study. You can use a quantitative data analysis or qualitative data analysis based on your needs and preferences.

Benefits of Research Design

A well-crafted research design is crucial for the success of any scientific study. It provides a structured approach to investigate research questions and ensures that the findings are valid and applicable. Here are the key benefits:

Enhances Validity

  • Internal Validity: Good research design controls for confounding variables, ensuring that the observed effects are due to the independent variables.
  • External Validity: It allows findings to be generalized to other settings or populations, enhancing the broader applicability of the research.

Increases Reliability

  • Consistency: A structured design helps ensure that the study can be reliably reproduced under similar conditions, which is fundamental for building trust in the findings.
  • Accuracy: Precision in the design helps in minimizing errors and biases, providing more accurate results.

Facilitates Data Collection

  • Efficiency: Efficient design reduces the resources (time, cost, effort) required to conduct the study.
  • Appropriateness: It ensures that the chosen methods and techniques are suitable for the research question and objectives, thereby optimizing data collection.

Supports Objective Analysis

  • Reduces Bias: A good design minimizes the researcher’s biases by using blinded assessments, randomized allocations, etc.
  • Statistical Power: Proper design increases the likelihood that the study will detect any true effects of the variables being tested, thereby preventing false negatives.

Enhances Ethical Integrity

  • Protects Participants: Ensures that the research adheres to ethical standards, protecting participants’ rights and well-being.
  • Moral Responsibility: Promotes transparency and accountability in research, fostering trust among participants and the public.

Improves Decision Making

  • Informed Decisions: The findings from a well-designed study provide robust evidence that can inform policy-making, clinical practices, and other decision-making processes.
  • Problem Solving: Helps identify effective interventions and solutions by clearly demonstrating what works, what doesn’t, and under what conditions.

Guides Future Research

  • Foundation for Further Studies: Establishes a solid basis for future research, indicating potential new areas to explore or methodological improvements to consider.
  • Contributes to Theory: Helps in building or testing theoretical frameworks, contributing to the overall knowledge and understanding of a particular discipline.

What is research design?

Research design is a structured framework that guides the collection and analysis of data for a research project.

Why is research data design important?

Effective research design ensures accurate, reliable data collection and analysis, leading to valid conclusions.

What are the types of research designs?

Common types include experimental, correlational, and observational research designs.

How does research design affect reliability?

A well-structured research design enhances the reliability of the findings by minimizing biases and errors.

What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative research designs?

Qualitative research designs explore phenomena in-depth, while quantitative designs quantify data and often involve statistical analysis.

How do you choose a research design?

Choose based on the research question, objectives, and the nature of the data required.

What is a case study in research design?

A case yet study involves an in-depth investigation of a single subject or entity to uncover unique insights.

How does a cohort study design work?

A cohort study design follows a group sharing a common characteristic over time to assess outcomes.

What is the significance of a cross-sectional study design?

Cross-sectional studies analyze data from a population at a specific point in time to identify patterns and correlations.

How can a research design be ethical?

Ensure informed consent, confidentiality, and transparency to uphold the ethical standards of research.

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