Research Methods STA630
A research design is a master plan specifying the methods and procedures for collecting and analyzing
the data. It is a strategy or blueprint that plans the action for carrying through the research project data.
A research design involves a series of rational decision-making choices depending upon the various
options available to the researchers. Broadly it is composed of different elements like: the purpose of
the study, the unit of analysis, time dimension, mode of observation, sampling design, observation tools,
data processing, and data analysis. Let us look at each one of these elements.
1. Purpose of the Study
From the perspective of purpose of the study, a research can be exploratory, descriptive, and
explanatory (the distinctions we have already discussed). As we have already covered a number of
steps in the research process, at this stage it is assumed that we are pretty sure about what we are
looking for whereby we have gone much beyond the stage of an exploratory study (all studies have
elements of exploration in them).
Beyond the exploratory stage now we are entering into the formal stage of delineating the plan for data
collection, data processing, and data analysis. Here our focus is on whether our study is going to be a
descriptive or explanatory. The essential difference between descriptive and explanatory studies lies in
their objectives. If the research is concerned with finding out who, what, where, when, or how much,
then the study is descriptive. If it is concerned with learning why that is how one variable produces
changes in another it is causal. Research on crime as such is descriptive when it measures the types of
crimes committed, how often, when, where, and by whom. In a explanatory study, we try to explain
relationships among variables for instance, why the crime rate is higher in locality A than in locality
B. Every explanatory study in the beginning is likely to be descriptive as well.
Methodological rigor increases as one moves from exploratory study to explanatory study, which may
encompass hypothesis testing involving multiple methods of data collection, sophistications in sampling
designs, formulation of instruments of data collection, data processing, and data analysis. Since the
purpose of the study is likely to determine how rigorous the research design is likely to be, therefore, the
researcher would decide very early on about the purpose of his/her study.
Within the explanatory study, researcher may further decide about the type of investigation i.e. causal
versus correlational. The researcher must decide whether a causal or correlational study is needed to
find an answer to the issue at hand. The former is done when it is necessary to establish a definitive
cause-and-effect relationship. If the researcher just wants a mere identification of important factors
"associated with" the problem, then a correlational study is called for. Whether the study is basically a
correlational or causal will help in deciding about the mode of observation survey study or an
2. Unit of Analysis
The unit of analysis refers to the level of aggregation of the data collected during the subsequent data
analysis stage. If, for instance, the problem statement focuses on how to raise the motivational levels of
employees in general, then we are interested in individual employees in the organization and would
have to find out what we can do to raise their motivation. Here the unit of analysis is the individual.
We will be looking at the data gathered from each individual and treating each employee's response as
an individual data source.
If the researcher is interested in studying two-person interactions, then several two-person groups (also
known as dyads) will become the unit of analysis. Analysis of husband-wife interactions in families and
Research Methods STA630
supervisor-subordinate relationship at the work place, teacher-student relationship in the educational
institution are good examples of dyads as unit of analysis.
If the problem statement is related to group effectiveness, the unit of analysis would be at group level.
In other words, even though we may gather relevant data from all individuals comprising, say six
groups, we would aggregate the individual data into group data so as to see the differences among six
groups. If we compare different departments in the organization, then data analysis will be done at the
department level that is, the individuals in the department will be treated as one unit and
comparisons made treating the department as a unit of analysis.
The research question determines the unit of analysis. Keeping the research question in view, it is
necessary to decide on the unit of analysis since the data collection methods, sample size, and even the
variables included in the framework may sometimes be determined or guided by the level at which the
data are aggregated for analysis.
Units of analysis in a study are typically also the units of observation. Thus, to study voting intentions,
we would interview (observe) individual voters. Sometimes, however, we "observe" our units of
analysis indirectly. For example, we might ask husbands and wives their individual voting intentions,
for purpose of distinguishing couples who agree and disagree politically. We might want to find out
whether political disagreements tend to cause family disharmony, perhaps. In this case, our unit of
analysis would be families, though the unit of observation would be the individual wives and husbands.
3. Time Dimension
Do we make the observations more or less at one time or over a long period, former called as cross-
sectional studies and the latter as longitudinal studies. While planning the strategy for data collection the
time dimension may be an important component.
Cross-Sectional Studies are carried out once and represent a snapshot of one point in time. Data are
collected just once, perhaps over a period of days or weeks or months, in order to answer the research
Longitudinal Studies are repeated over an extended period. The advantage of longitudinal studies is
that it can track changes over time. For example, the researcher might want to study employees'
behavior before and after a change in the top management, so as to know what effects the change
accomplished. Here, because data are gathered at two different points in time, the study is not cross-
sectional or of the one-shot kind, but is carried longitudinally across a period of time. Such studies, as
when data on the dependent variable are gathered at two or more points in time to answer the research
question, are called longitudinal. Longitudinal studies can be panel studies and cohort studies which
were discussed earlier.
4. Researcher Control of Variables
In terms of researcher's ability to manipulate variables, we can differentiate between experimental and
ex post facto design. In an experiment, the researcher attempts to control and/or manipulate the
variables in the study. It is enough that we can cause variables to be changed or held constant in
keeping with our research objectives. Experimental design is appropriate when one wishes to discover
whether certain variables produce effects in other variables. Experimentation provides the most
powerful support possible for hypothesis of causation.
Experimental studies can be contrived and non-contrived. Research can be done in the natural
environment where work proceeds normally (i.e. in non contrived setting) or in artificial, contrived
setting. Correlational studies are invariably conducted in non contrived settings, whereas most rigorous
causal studies are done in contrived lab settings. Correlational studies doe in organizations are called
Research Methods STA630
field studies. Studies conducted to establish cause-and-effect relationship using the same natural
environment are called field experiments. Here the researcher does not interfere with the natural
occurrence of events in as much as independent variable is manipulated.
Experiments done to establish cause and effect relationship beyond the possibility of the least doubt
require the creation of an artificial, contrived environment in which all the extraneous factor are strictly
controlled. Similar subjects are chosen carefully to respond to certain manipulated stimuli. These
studies are referred to as lab experiments.
With an ex post facto design, investigators have no control over the variables in the sense of being able
to manipulate them. They can only report what has happened or what is happening. It is important that
the researchers using this design not influence the variables; to do so introduces bias. The researcher is
limited to holding factors constant by judicious selection of subjects according to strict sampling
procedures and by statistical manipulation of findings. Survey research is an example of such study.
5. Choice of Research Design: Mode of Observation
There could be number of ways to collect the data depending upon whether the study is quantitative or
qualitative, descriptive or explanatory, cross-sectional or longitudinal, and contrived or non-contrived,
the researcher decides about the mode of observation. The modes could be like: survey, experiment,
communication analysis (content analysis) field observation, case study, focus group discussion.
6. Sampling Design
The basic idea of sampling is that by selecting some of the elements in population, we may draw
conclusions about the entire population. A population element is the subject on which the measurement
is being taken. It is the unit of analysis. Sampling has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Depending upon the nature of the study the researchers decides about following appropriate type of
7. Observation Tools
Observation tool mostly used by social researchers are: questionnaire, interview schedule,
Interview guide, and check list. In the research design, the researcher will specify the tools of data
collection along the logic justifying the appropriateness of the selected tool.
8. Field Data Collection
Depending upon the mode of observation, the researcher will outline the procedure for field operations.
The researcher will try to look after the questions like: How the data will be collected? Who will be
responsible for the collections of data? What training will be imparted to the field functionaries? How
will the quality control of data be maintained?
9. Data Processing and Data Analysis
In the research design the researcher is required to tell how the data shall be processed (manually,
mechanically), and analysis plans explicated. In case the qualitative data are to be quantifies the
procedures should be spelled out. The procedures for the construction of score
Indexes, if any, should be explained.
The research design should also say something about the analysis plan, the use of statistics, and the
inferences to be drawn.
Research Methods STA630
Survey Research: An Overview
Surveys require asking people, who are called respondents, for information, using either verbal or
written questions. Questionnaires or interviews are utilized to collect data on the telephone, face-to-
face, and through other communication media. The more formal term sample survey emphasizes that
the purpose of contacting respondents is to obtain a representative sample of the target population.
Thus, a survey is defined as a method of gathering primary data based on communication with a
representative sample of individuals.
Steps in Conducting a Survey
The survey researcher follows a deductive approach. He or she begins with a theoretical or applied
research problem and ends with empirical measurement and data analysis. Once a researcher decides
that survey is an appropriate method, basic steps in a research project can broadly be divided into six
Develop the hypothesis; decide on type of survey (mail, interview, telephone); write survey
questions (decide on response categories, design lay out). The researcher develops an
instrument a survey questionnaire or interview schedule that he or she uses to measure
variables. Respondents read the questions themselves and mark answers on a questionnaire.
An interview schedule is a set of questions read to the respondent by an interviewer, who also
records the responses. To simplify the discussion, we will use only thee term questionnaire.
Plan how to record data; pilot test survey instrument. When preparing the questionnaire,
the researcher thinks ahead to how he or she will record and organize data for analysis. The
questionnaire is pilot tested on a small set of respondents similar to those in the final survey.
Decide on target population; get sampling frame; decide on sample size; select the sample.
Locate respondents; conduct interviews; carefully record data. The researcher locates
sampled respondents in person, by telephone, or by mail. Respondents are given information
and instructions on completing the questionnaire or interview.
Enter data into computers; recheck all data; perform statistical analysis on data.
Describe methods and findings in research report; present findings to others for critique
Table of Contents: