The concept ‘research design’ denotes the overall strategy used to carry out research. The approach taken to design relies on the viewpoint of the researcher regarding its basis of knowledge and reality (epistemology and ontology – see Selecting and Developing Theoretical Frameworks Skill). At this level, the main distinction is between a positivist and an interpretivist paradigm. (Download the Glossary in the Beginning Your Research Skill.) At the next level, the research design will be influenced by the particular school of thought about what constitutes valid data and how to analyse it, often associated with particular disciplinary areas such as the physical sciences, social sciences, or humanities. This in turn will determine the appropriate research methods to use to collect and analyse the data and the type of conclusions you can draw from them.
The aim of the research design is to construct a robust, consistent, and practical plan of action to answer the research questions posed. It is very important that you design your research project in advance so that you know what to do and when to do it.
This Skill presents the key stages of the design of a research project and explains the importance of producing a strong but flexible design that fits the purpose, opportunities, and constraints of the situation. To help you decide on the type of design, a range of design options are presented that are compatible with different paradigms or approaches, including the use of secondary data and mixed methods. The implications of each design for the other choices that you will need to make, such as sampling and data-gathering methods, and the possibilities for you to use triangulation and iteration are explored. The need for you to make consistent choices of paradigm, approach, design, methods, and analysis is emphasised. Through this, you will be able to present a strong case for your design decisions and build a solid base for your various activities during your research project.
There’s a glossary of terms and concepts available for this entire Module in the Beginning Your Research Skill.