Skip to Main Content

TRIO McNair Undergraduate Research Guide: Types of Research Designs


Before beginning your paper, you will need to design the study. 

The research design refers to the overall strategy that you choose to integrate the different components of the study in a coherent and logical way, thereby, ensuring you will effectively address the research problem; it constitutes the blueprint for the collection, measurement, and analysis of data. Note that your research problem determines the type of design you can use, not the other way around! 

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. Part 1, What Is Research Design? The Context of Design. Performance Studies Methods Course syllabus. New York University, Spring 2006; Trochim, William M.K. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006.

General Structure and Writing Style

The function of a research design is to ensure that the evidence obtained enables you to effectively address the research problem as unambiguously as possible. In social sciences research, obtaining evidence relevant to the research problem generally entails specifying the type of evidence needed to test a theory, to evaluate a program, or to accurately describe a phenomenon. However, researchers can often begin their investigations far too early, before they have thought critically about what information is required to answer the study's research questions. Without attending to these design issues beforehand, the conclusions drawn risk being weak and unconvincing and, consequently, will fail to adequately address the overall research problem. 

 Given this, the length and complexity of research designs can vary considerably, but any sound design will do the following things: 

  1. Identify the research problem clearly and justify its selection, 

  1. Review previously published literature associated with the problem area, 

  1. Clearly and explicitly specify hypotheses [i.e., research questions] central to the problem selected, 

  1. Effectively describe the data which will be necessary for an adequate test of the hypotheses and explain how such data will be obtained, and 

  1. Describe the methods of analysis which will be applied to the data in determining whether or not the hypotheses are true or false. 

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. Part 1, What Is Research Design? The Context of Design. Performance Studies Methods Course syllabus. New York University, Spring 2006.

Action Research Design

Definition and Purpose 

The essentials of action research design follow a characteristic cycle whereby initially an exploratory stance is adopted, where an understanding of a problem is developed, and plans are made for some form of strategy. Then the intervention is carried out (the action in Action Research) during which time, pertinent observations are collected in various forms. The new interventional strategies are carried out, and the cyclic process repeats, continuing until a sufficient understanding of (or implement able solution for) the problem is achieved. The protocol is iterative or cyclical in nature and is intended to foster deeper understanding of a given situation, starting with conceptualizing and particularizing the problem and moving through several interventions and evaluations. 

What do these studies tell you? 

  1. A collaborative and adaptive research design that lends itself to use in work or community situations. 

  1. Design focuses on pragmatic and solution-driven research rather than testing theories. 

  1. When practitioners use action research it has the potential to increase the amount they learn consciously from their experience. The action research cycle can also be regarded as a learning cycle. 

  1. Action search studies often have direct and obvious relevance to practice. 

  1. There are no hidden controls or preemption of direction by the researcher. 

What do these studies not tell you? 

  1. It is harder to do than conducting conventional studies because the researcher takes on responsibilities for encouraging change as well as for research. 

  1. Action research is much harder to write because you probably can’t use a standard format to report your findings effectively. 

  1. Personal over-involvement of the researcher may bias research results. 

  1. The cyclic nature of action research to achieve its twin outcomes of action (e.g., change) and research (e.g., understanding) is time-consuming and complex to conduct. 

Gall, Meredith. Educational Research: An Introduction. Chapter 18, Action Research. 8th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2007; Kemmis, Stephen and Robin McTaggart. “Participatory Action Research.” In Handbook of Qualitative Research. Norman Denzin and Yvonna S. Locoln, eds. 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2000), pp. 567-605.; Reason, Peter and Hilary Bradbury. Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2001.

Case Study Design

Definition and Purpose 

A case study is an in-depth study of a particular research problem rather than a sweeping statistical survey. It is often used to narrow down a very broad field of research into one or a few easily researchable examples. The case study research design is also useful for testing whether a specific theory and model actually applies to phenomena in the real world. It is a useful design when not much is known about a phenomenon. 

What do these studies tell you? 

  1. Approach excels at bringing us to an understanding of a complex issue through detailed contextual analysis of a limited number of events or conditions and their relationships. 

  1. A researcher using a case study design can apply a variety of methodologies and rely on a variety of sources to investigate a research problem. 

  1. Design can extend experience or add strength to what is already known through previous research. 

  1. Social scientists, in particular, make wide use of this research design to examine contemporary real-life situations and provide the basis for the application of concepts and theories and extension of methods. 

  1. The design can provide detailed descriptions of specific and rare cases. 

What do these studies not tell you? 

  1. A single or small number of cases offers little basis for establishing reliability or to generalize the findings to a wider population of people, places, or things. 

  1. The intense exposure to study of the case may bias a researcher's interpretation of the findings. 

  1. Design does not facilitate assessment of cause-and-effect relationships. 

  1. Vital information may be missing, making the case hard to interpret. 

  1. The case may not be representative or typical of the larger problem being investigated. 

  1. If the criterion for selecting a case is because it represents a very unusual or unique phenomenon or problem for study, then your interpretation of the findings can only apply to that particular case. 

Anastas, Jeane W. Research Design for Social Work and the Human Services. Chapter 4, Flexible Methods: Case Study Design. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; Stake, Robert E. The Art of Case Study Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1995; Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research: Design and Theory. Applied Social Research Methods Series, no. 5. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2003.

Casual Design

Definition and Purpose 

Causality studies may be thought of as understanding a phenomenon in terms of conditional statements in the form, “If X, then Y.” This type of research is used to measure what impact a specific change will have on existing norms and assumptions. Most social scientists seek causal explanations that reflect tests of hypotheses. Causal effect (nomothetic perspective) occurs when variation in one phenomenon, an independent variable, leads to or results, on average, in variation in another phenomenon, the dependent variable. 

Conditions necessary for determining causality: 

  • Empirical association--a valid conclusion is based on finding an association between the independent variable and the dependent variable. 

  • Appropriate time order--to conclude that causation was involved, one must see that cases were exposed to variation in the independent variable before variation in the dependent variable. 

  • Nonspuriousness--a relationship between two variables that is not due to variation in a third variable. 

What do these studies tell you? 

  1. Causality research designs help researchers understand why the world works the way it does through the process of proving a causal link between variables and eliminating other possibilities. 

  1. Replication is possible. 

  1. There is greater confidence the study has internal validity due to the systematic subject selection and equity of groups being compared. 

What do these studies not tell you? 

  1. Not all relationships are casual! The possibility always exists that, by sheer coincidence, two unrelated events appear to be related [e.g., Punxsutawney Phil could accurately predict the duration of Winter for five consecutive years but, the fact remains, he's just a big, furry rodent]. 

  1. Conclusions about causal relationships are difficult to determine due to a variety of extraneous and confounding variables that exist in a social environment. This means causality can only be inferred, never proven. 

  1. If two variables are correlated, the cause must come before the effect. However, even though two variables might be causally related, it can sometimes be difficult to determine which variable comes first and therefore to establish which variable is the actual cause and which is the actual effect. 

Bachman, Ronet. The Practice of Research in Criminology and Criminal Justice. Chapter 5, Causation and Research Designs. 3rd ed.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press, 2007; Causal Research Design: Experimentation. Anonymous SlideShare Presentation; Gall, Meredith. Educational Research: An Introduction. Chapter 11, Nonexperimental Research: Correlational Designs. 8th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2007; Trochim, William M.K. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006.

Cohort Design

Definition and Purpose 

Often used in the medical sciences, but also found in the applied social sciences, a cohort study generally refers to a study conducted over a period of time involving members of a population which the subject or representative member comes from, and who are united by some commonality or similarity. Using a quantitative framework, a cohort study makes note of statistical occurrence within a specialized subgroup, united by same or similar characteristics that are relevant to the research problem being investigated, rather than studying statistical occurrence within the general population. Using a qualitative framework, cohort studies generally gather data using methods of observation. Cohorts can be either "open" or "closed." 

  • Open Cohort Studies [dynamic populations, such as the population of Los Angeles] involve a population that is defined just by the state of being a part of the study in question (and being monitored for the outcome). Date of entry and exit from the study is individually defined, therefore, the size of the study population is not constant. In open cohort studies, researchers can only calculate rate-based data, such as, incidence rates and variants thereof. 

  • Closed Cohort Studies [static populations, such as patients entered into a clinical trial] involve participants who enter into the study at one defining point in time and where it is presumed that no new participants can enter the cohort. Given this, the number of study participants remains constant (or can only decrease). 

What do these studies tell you? 

  1. The use of cohorts is often mandatory because a randomized control study may be unethical. For example, you cannot deliberately expose people to asbestos, you can only study its effects on those who have already been exposed. Research that measures risk factors often relies on cohort designs. 

  1. Because cohort studies measure potential causes before the outcome has occurred, they can demonstrate that these “causes” preceded the outcome, thereby avoiding the debate as to which is the cause, and which is the effect. 

  1. Cohort analysis is highly flexible and can provide insight into effects over time and related to a variety of different types of changes [e.g., social, cultural, political, economic, etc.]. 

  1. Either original data or secondary data can be used in this design. 

What do these studies not tell you? 

  1. In cases where a comparative analysis of two cohorts is made [e.g., studying the effects of one group exposed to asbestos and one that has not], a researcher cannot control for all other factors that might differ between the two groups. These factors are known as confounding variables. 

  1. Cohort studies can end up taking a long time to complete if the researcher must wait for the conditions of interest to develop within the group. This also increases the chance that key variables change during the course of the study, potentially impacting the validity of the findings. 

  1. Because of the lack of randomization in the cohort design, its external validity is lower than that of study designs where the researcher randomly assigns participants. 

Healy P, Devane D. “Methodological Considerations in Cohort Study Designs.” Nurse Researcher 18 (2011): 32-36;  Levin, Kate Ann. Study Design IV: Cohort Studies. Evidence-Based Dentistry 7 (2003): 51–52; Study Design 101. Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library. George Washington University, November 2011; Cohort Study. Wikipedia.

Cross-Sectional Design

Definition and Purpose 

Cross-sectional research designs have three distinctive features: no time dimension, a reliance on existing differences rather than change following intervention; and groups are selected based on existing differences rather than random allocation. The cross-sectional design can only measure differences between or from among a variety of people, subjects, or phenomena rather than change. As such, researchers using this design can only employ a relative passive approach to making causal inferences based on findings. 

What do these studies tell you? 

  1. Cross-sectional studies provide a 'snapshot' of the outcome and the characteristics associated with it, at a specific point in time. 

  1. Unlike the experimental design where there is an active intervention by the researcher to produce and measure change or to create differences, cross-sectional designs focus on studying and drawing inferences from existing differences between people, subjects, or phenomena. 

  1. Entails collecting data at and concerning one point in time. While longitudinal studies involve taking multiple measures over an extended period of time, cross-sectional research is focused on finding relationships between variables at one moment in time. 

  1. Groups identified for study are purposely selected based upon existing differences in the sample rather than seeking random sampling. 

  1. Cross-section studies are capable of using data from a large number of subjects and, unlike observational studies, is not geographically bound. 

  1. Can estimate prevalence of an outcome of interest because the sample is usually taken from the whole population. 

  1. Because cross-sectional designs generally use survey techniques to gather data, they are relatively inexpensive and take up little time to conduct. 

What do these studies not tell you? 

  1. Finding people, subjects, or phenomena to study that are very similar except in one specific variable can be difficult. 

  1. Results are static and time bound and, therefore, give no indication of a sequence of events or reveal historical contexts. 

  1. Studies cannot be utilized to establish cause and effect relationships. 

  1. Provide only a snapshot of analysis so there is always the possibility that a study could have differing results if another timeframe had been chosen. 

  1. There is no follow up to the findings. 

Hall, John. “Cross-Sectional Survey Design.” In Encyclopedia of Survey Research Methods. Paul J. Lavrakas, ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), pp. 173-174; Helen Barratt, Maria Kirwan. Cross-Sectional Studies: Design, Application, Strengths and Weaknesses of Cross-Sectional Studies. Healthknowledge, 2009. Cross-Sectional Study. Wikipedia.

Descriptive Design

Definition and Purpose 

Descriptive research designs help provide answers to the questions of who, what, when, where, and how associated with a particular research problem; a descriptive study cannot conclusively ascertain answers to why. Descriptive research is used to obtain information concerning the current status of the phenomena and to describe "what exists" with respect to variables or conditions in a situation. 

What do these studies tell you? 

  1. The subject is being observed in a completely natural and unchanged natural environment. True experiments, whilst giving analyzable data, often adversely influence the normal behavior of the subject. 

  1. Descriptive research is often used as a pre-cursor to more quantitatively research designs, the general overview giving some valuable pointers as to what variables are worth testing quantitatively. 

  1. If the limitations are understood, they can be a useful tool in developing a more focused study. 

  1. Descriptive studies can yield rich data that lead to important recommendations. 

  1. Approach collects a large amount of data for detailed analysis. 

What do these studies not tell you? 

  1. The results from descriptive research cannot be used to discover a definitive answer or to disprove a hypothesis. 

  1. Because descriptive designs often utilize observational methods [as opposed to quantitative methods], the results cannot be replicated. 

  1. The descriptive function of research is heavily dependent on instrumentation for measurement and observation. 

Anastas, Jeane W. Research Design for Social Work and the Human Services. Chapter 5, Flexible Methods: Descriptive Research. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999;  McNabb, Connie. Descriptive Research Methodologies. Powerpoint Presentation; Shuttleworth, Martyn. Descriptive Research Design, September 26, 2008. website.

Experimental Design

Definition and Purpose 

A blueprint of the procedure enables the researcher to maintain control over all factors that may affect the result of an experiment. In doing this, the researcher attempts to determine or predict what may occur. Experimental Research is often used where there is time priority in a causal relationship (cause precedes effect), there is consistency in a causal relationship (a cause will always lead to the same effect), and the magnitude of the correlation is great. The classic experimental design specifies an experimental group and a control group. The independent variable is administered to the experimental group and not to the control group, and both groups are measured on the same dependent variable. Subsequent experimental designs have used more groups and more measurements over longer periods. True experiments must have control, randomization, and manipulation. 

What do these studies tell you? 

  1. Experimental research allows the researcher to control the situation. In so doing, it allows researchers to answer the question, “what causes something to occur?” 

  1. Permits the researcher to identify cause and effect relationships between variables and to distinguish placebo effects from treatment effects. 

  1. Experimental research designs support the ability to limit alternative explanations and to infer direct causal relationships in the study. 

  1. Approach provides the highest level of evidence for single studies. 

What do these studies not tell you? 

  1. The design is artificial, and results may not generalize well to the real world. 

  1. The artificial settings of experiments may alter subject behaviors or responses. 

  1. Experimental designs can be costly if special equipment or facilities are needed. 

  1. Some research problems cannot be studied using an experiment because of ethical or technical reasons. 

  1. Difficult to apply ethnographic and other qualitative methods to experimental designed research studies. 

Anastas, Jeane W. Research Design for Social Work and the Human Services. Chapter 7, Flexible Methods: Experimental Research. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; Chapter 2: Research Design, Experimental Designs. School of Psychology, University of New England, 2000; Experimental Research. Research Methods by Dummies. Department of Psychology. California State University, Fresno, 2006; Trochim, William M.K. Experimental Design. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006; Rasool, Shafqat. Experimental Research. Slideshare presentation.

Exploratory Design

Definition and Purpose 

An exploratory design is conducted about a research problem when there are few or no earlier studies to refer to. The focus is on gaining insights and familiarity for later investigation or undertaken when problems are in a preliminary stage of investigation. 

The goals of exploratory research are intended to produce the following possible insights: 

  • Familiarity with basic details, settings and concerns. 

  • Well-grounded picture of the situation being developed. 

  • Generation of new ideas and assumption, development of tentative theories or hypotheses. 

  • Determination about whether a study is feasible in the future. 

  • Issues get refined for more systematic investigation and formulation of new research questions. 

  • Direction for future research and techniques get developed. 

What do these studies tell you? 

  1. Design is a useful approach for gaining background information on a particular topic. 

  1. Exploratory research is flexible and can address research questions of all types (what, why, how). 

  1. Provides an opportunity to define new terms and clarify existing concepts. 

  1. Exploratory research is often used to generate formal hypotheses and develop more precise research problems. 

  1. Exploratory studies help establish research priorities. 

What do these studies not tell you? 

  1. Exploratory research generally utilizes small sample sizes and, thus, findings are typically not generalizable to the population at large. 

  1. The exploratory nature of the research inhibits an ability to make definitive conclusions about the findings. 

  1. The research process underpinning exploratory studies is flexible but often unstructured, leading to only tentative results that have limited value in decision-making. 

  1. Design lacks rigorous standards applied to methods of data gathering and analysis because one of the areas for exploration could be to determine what method or methodologies could best fit the research problem. 

Cuthill, Michael. “Exploratory Research: Citizen Participation, Local Government, and Sustainable Development in Australia.” Sustainable Development 10 (2002): 79-89; Taylor, P. J., G. Catalano, and D.R.F. Walker. “Exploratory Analysis of the World City Network.” Urban Studies 39 (December 2002): 2377-2394; Exploratory Research. Wikipedia.

Historical Design

Definition and Purpose 

The purpose of a historical research design is to collect, verify, and synthesize evidence from the past to establish facts that defend or refute your hypothesis. It uses secondary sources and a variety of primary documentary evidence, such as, logs, diaries, official records, reports, archives, and non-textual information [maps, pictures, audio, and visual recordings]. The limitation is that the sources must be both authentic and valid. 

What do these studies tell you? 

  1. The historical research design is unobtrusive; the act of research does not affect the results of the study. 

  1. The historical approach is well suited for trend analysis. 

  1. Historical records can add important contextual background required to more fully understand and interpret a research problem. 

  1. There is no possibility of researcher-subject interaction that could affect the findings. 

  1. Historical sources can be used over and over to study different research problems or to replicate a previous study. 

What do these studies not tell you? 

  1. The ability to fulfill the aims of your research is directly related to the amount and quality of documentation available to understand the research problem. 

  1. Since historical research relies on data from the past, there is no way to manipulate it to control for contemporary contexts. 

  1. Interpreting historical sources can be very time-consuming. 

  1. The sources of historical materials must be archived consistently to ensure access. 

  1. Original authors bring their own perspectives and biases to the interpretation of past events and these biases are more difficult to ascertain in historical resources. 

  1. Due to the lack of control over external variables, historical research is very weak with regard to the demands of internal validity. 

  1. It is rare that the entirety of historical documentation needed to fully address a research problem is available for interpretation, therefore, gaps need to be acknowledged. 

Savitt, Ronald. “Historical Research in Marketing.” Journal of Marketing 44 (Autumn, 1980): 52-58;  Gall, Meredith. Educational Research: An Introduction. Chapter 16, Historical Research. 8th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2007.

Longitudinal Design

Definition and Purpose 

A longitudinal study follows the same sample over time and makes repeated observations. With longitudinal surveys, for example, the same group of people is interviewed at regular intervals, enabling researchers to track changes over time and to relate them to variables that might explain why the changes occur. Longitudinal research designs describe patterns of change and help establish the direction and magnitude of causal relationships. Measurements are taken on each variable over two or more distinct time periods. This allows the researcher to measure change in variables over time. It is a type of observational study and is sometimes referred to as a panel study. 

What do these studies tell you? 

  1. Longitudinal data allow the analysis of duration of a particular phenomenon. 

  1. Enables survey researchers to get close to the kinds of causal explanations usually attainable only with experiments. 

  1. The design permits the measurement of differences or change in a variable from one period to another [i.e., the description of patterns of change over time]. 

  1. Longitudinal studies facilitate the prediction of future outcomes based upon earlier factors. 

What do these studies not tell you? 

  1. The data collection method may change over time. 

  1. Maintaining the integrity of the original sample can be difficult over an extended period of time. 

  1. It can be difficult to show more than one variable at a time. 

  1. This design often needs qualitative research to explain fluctuations in the data. 

  1. A longitudinal research design assumes present trends will continue unchanged. 

  1. It can take a long period of time to gather results. 

  1. There is a need to have a large sample size and accurate sampling to reach representativeness. 

Anastas, Jeane W. Research Design for Social Work and the Human Services. Chapter 6, Flexible Methods: Relational and Longitudinal Research. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; Kalaian, Sema A. and Rafa M. Kasim. "Longitudinal Studies." In Encyclopedia of Survey Research Methods. Paul J. Lavrakas, ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), pp. 440-441; Ployhart, Robert E. and Robert J. Vandenberg. "Longitudinal Research: The Theory, Design, and Analysis of Change.” Journal of Management 36 (January 2010): 94-120; Longitudinal Study. Wikipedia.

Observational Design

Definition and Purpose 

This type of research design draws a conclusion by comparing subjects against a control group, in cases where the researcher has no control over the experiment. There are two general types of observational designs. In direct observations, people know that you are watching them. Unobtrusive measures involve any method for studying behavior where individuals do not know they are being observed. An observational study allows a useful insight into a phenomenon and avoids the ethical and practical difficulties of setting up a large and cumbersome research project. 

What do these studies tell you? 

  1. Observational studies are usually flexible and do not necessarily need to be structured around a hypothesis about what you expect to observe (data is emergent rather than pre-existing). 

  1. The researcher is able to collect a depth of information about a particular behavior. 

  1. Can reveal interrelationships among multifaceted dimensions of group interactions. 

  1. You can generalize your results to real life situations. 

  1. Observational research is useful for discovering what variables may be important before applying other methods like experiments. 

  1. Observation research designs account for the complexity of group behaviors. 

What do these studies not tell you? 

  1. Reliability of data is low because seeing behaviors occur over and over again may be a time-consuming task and difficult to replicate. 

  1. In observational research, findings may only reflect a unique sample population and, thus, cannot be generalized to other groups. 

  1. There can be problems with bias as the researcher may only "see what they want to see." 

  1. There is no possibility of determining "cause and effect" relationships since nothing is manipulated. 

  1. Sources or subjects may not all be equally credible. 

  1. Any group that is studied is altered to some degree by the very presence of the researcher, therefore, skewing to some degree any data collected (the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle). 

Atkinson, Paul and Martyn Hammersley. “Ethnography and Participant Observation.” In Handbook of Qualitative Research. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, eds. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994), pp. 248-261; Observational Research. Research Methods by Dummies. Department of Psychology. California State University, Fresno, 2006; Patton Michael Quinn. Qualitiative Research and Evaluation Methods. Chapter 6, Fieldwork Strategies and Observational Methods. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002; Rosenbaum, Paul R. Design of Observational Studies. New York: Springer, 2010.

Philosophical Design

Definition and Purpose 

Understood more as a broad approach to examining a research problem than a methodological design, philosophical analysis and argumentation is intended to challenge deeply embedded, often intractable, assumptions underpinning an area of study. This approach uses the tools of argumentation derived from philosophical traditions, concepts, models, and theories to critically explore and challenge, for example, the relevance of logic and evidence in academic debates, to analyze arguments about fundamental issues, or to discuss the root of existing discourse about a research problem. These overarching tools of analysis can be framed in three ways: 

  • Ontology -- the study that describes the nature of reality; for example, what is real and what is not, what is fundamental and what is derivative? 

  • Epistemology -- the study that explores the nature of knowledge; for example, on what does knowledge and understanding depend upon and how can we be certain of what we know? 

  • Axiology -- the study of values; for example, what values does an individual or group hold and why? How are values related to interest, desire, will, experience, and means-to-end? And what is the difference between a matter of fact and a matter of value? 

What do these studies tell you? 

  1. Can provide a basis for applying ethical decision-making to practice. 

  1. Functions as a means of gaining greater self-understanding and self-knowledge about the purposes of research. 

  1. Brings clarity to general guiding practices and principles of an individual or group. 

  1. Philosophy informs methodology. 

  1. Refine concepts and theories that are invoked in relatively unreflective modes of thought and discourse. 

  1. Beyond methodology, philosophy also informs critical thinking about epistemology and the structure of reality (metaphysics). 

  1. Offers clarity and definition to the practical and theoretical uses of terms, concepts, and ideas. 

What do these studies not tell you? 

  1. Limited application to specific research problems [answering the "So What?" question in social science research]. 

  1. Analysis can be abstract, argumentative, and limited in its practical application to real-life issues. 

  1. While a philosophical analysis may render problematic that which was once simple or taken-for-granted, the writing can be dense and subject to unnecessary jargon, overstatement, and/or excessive quotation and documentation. 

  1. There are limitations in the use of metaphor as a vehicle of philosophical analysis. 

  1. There can be analytical difficulties in moving from philosophy to advocacy and between abstract thought and application to the phenomenal world. 

Chapter 4, Research Methodology and Design. Unisa Institutional Repository (UnisaIR), University of South Africa;  Labaree, Robert V. and Ross Scimeca. “The Philosophical Problem of Truth in Librarianship.” The Library Quarterly 78 (January 2008): 43-70; Maykut, Pamela S. Beginning Qualitative Research: A Philosophic and Practical Guide. Washington, D.C.: Falmer Press, 1994; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, CSLI, Stanford University, 2013.

Sequential Design

Definition and Purpose 

Sequential research is that which is carried out in a deliberate, staged approach [i.e., serially] where one stage will be completed, followed by another, then another, and so on, with the aim that each stage will build upon the previous one until enough data is gathered over an interval of time to test your hypothesis. The sample size is not predetermined. After each sample is analyzed, the researcher can accept the null hypothesis, accept the alternative hypothesis, or select another pool of subjects and conduct the study once again. This means the researcher can obtain a limitless number of subjects before finally making a decision whether to accept the null or alternative hypothesis. Using a quantitative framework, a sequential study generally utilizes sampling techniques to gather data and apply statistical methods to analyze the data. Using a qualitative framework, sequential studies generally utilize samples of individuals or groups of individuals [cohorts] and use qualitative methods, such as interviews or observations, to gather information from each sample. 

What do these studies tell you? 

  1. The researcher has a limitless option when it comes to sample size and the sampling schedule. 

  1. Due to the repetitive nature of this research design, minor changes and adjustments can be made during the initial parts of the study to correct and hone the research method. Useful design for exploratory studies. 

  1. There is very little effort on the part of the researcher when performing this technique. It is generally not expensive, time consuming, or workforce extensive. 

  1. Because the study is conducted serially, the results of one sample are known before the next sample is taken and analyzed. 

What do these studies not tell you? 

  1. The sampling method is not representative of the entire population. The only possibility of approaching representativeness is when the researcher chooses to use a very large sample size significant enough to represent a significant portion of the entire population. In this case, moving on to study a second or more sample can be difficult. 

  1. Because the sampling technique is not randomized, the design cannot be used to create conclusions and interpretations that pertain to an entire population. Generalizability from findings is limited. 

  1. Difficult to account for and interpret variation from one sample to another over time, particularly when using qualitative methods of data collection. 

Rebecca Betensky, Harvard University, Course Lecture Note slides; Cresswell, John W. Et al. “Advanced Mixed-Methods Research Designs.” In Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social and Behavioral Research. Abbas Tashakkori and Charles Teddle, eds. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2003), pp. 209-240; Nataliya V. Ivankova. “Using Mixed-Methods Sequential Explanatory Design: From Theory to Practice.” Field Methods 18 (February 2006): 3-20; Bovaird, James A. and Kevin A. Kupzyk. “Sequential Design.” In Encyclopedia of Research Design. Neil J. Salkind, ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2010; Sequential Analysis. Wikipedia.