Basic Research Designs

Basic Research Designs

This module will introduce the basics of choosing an appropriate research design and the key factors that must be considered.

Learning Objectives

  • Distinguish between quantitative and qualitative research methods.
  • Identify whether or research project is qualitative or quantitative in nature.
  • List the key factors that must be considered when choosing a research design.


Once the research question has been formulated, it is critical that the researcher select the appropriate research methodology to answer the question. The type of research question will typically dictate the methodology that will be employed. The reliability and validity of the results depends on upon proper selection of the research approach and design.

Forms of Research

Research is a systematic inquiry used to describe, explain, predict, or control some observed phenomenon - the research topic. Research can be classified into four main forms based on the specific purpose:

  • Basic Research - This research is descriptive in nature and is used to understand and explain a phenomenon. This type of research is often conducted for the sake of increasing and advancing a knowledge base.
  • Applied Research - The purpose of this research is to provide information that can be used and applied in an effort to help people understand and control their environment. This type of research is more prescriptive in nature and seeks to offer potential solutions to problems.
  • Evaluation Research - The purpose of evaluation research is to examine the processes and outcomes associated with a particular solution to a problem. The research may be formative in that it attempts to improve the intervention or solution, or it may be summative and attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of solution or program.
  • Action Research - This research is often conducted within a program, organization or community and the researchers are involved in gathering data and studying themselves.

Regardless of the purpose of the research, the process is similar. Researchers begin by selecting a broad research topic and conducting a literature review to build up the researcher's knowledge base and to ensure the significance of the research. The researcher will then develop a research problem related to the topic and create a specific question. The research design will then be developed and the procedures for analyzing the data will be identified. The results of the research will hopefully lend themselves to the publication of a scholarly article.




Quantitative and Qualitative Designs

There are two main approaches to a research problem - quantitative and qualitative methods. Quantitative methods are used to examine the relationship between variables with the primary goal being to analyze and represent that relationship mathematically through statistical analysis. This is the type of research approach most commonly used in scientific research problems. Qualitative methods are chosen when the goal of the research problem is to examine, understand and describe a phenomenon. These methods are a common choice in social science research problems and are often used to study ideas, beliefs, human behaviors, and other research questions that do not involve studying the relationship between variables. Once the main approach to the research problem has been determined, there are several research designs for each type of approach that may be considered.  

 Choosing a Design

The following table lists and describes the most common research designs used at Grand Canyon University. Different research books will use different terms for similar types of research. However, the research designs identified in this document are fairly common in terms of their use and their terminology.

Types of Research Designs

Quantitative Designs

Qualitative Designs






Explore the relationship between two or more variables through a correlational analysis. The intent is to determine if and to what degree the variables are related.  It does not imply one causes the other.

Case Study

And Historical

Intent is to study and understand a single situation, which could be a leader, a classroom, a process, program, activity. Collect a variety of material in a specific and bounded time period. This is also used for historical studies, when collecting historical data to understand and learn from the past.

Causal Comparative

Compare two groups with the intent of understanding the reasons or causes for the two groups being different.


Describe the lives of individual(s) to get meaning from them.


Test an idea, treatment, program to see if it makes a difference. There is a control group and a test group. Individuals are randomly assigned to the two groups. One group gets the treatment (test group) and the other group (control group) does not get the treatment. There is a pre and post-test for both groups in a traditional experimental design.

Grounded Theory

The focus is to develop an understanding of a phenomenon or situation to be able to develop a theory/model for items such as factors, a form of interaction, or a process.


It is the same as experiment in that there is a control and test group. However, current groups are used as is rather than randomly assigning people to the two groups. Both groups receive the pre- and post- test in a traditional design.


Studies a human experience at an experiential level such as understanding what it means for a woman to lose a child. It is about understanding the essence or meaning of the experience. 


Mixed Research Designs

A mixed research design involves having both a quantitative design and qualitative design. Mixed designs are the best approach if the study requires both quantitative and qualitative designs to address the problem statement. 



The following YouTube video uses psychological research questions as examples to discuss possible experimental designs.  

Resource Links

Research Designs - This web link explores the main types of research design and provides additional links for more information. 

Choosing Appropriate Research Methodologies and Methods - The following website discusses qualitative and quantitative research methods and factors that should be considered when choosing the appropriate method.

Alan Byrman on Research Methods - This YouTube video contains comments and advice from Alan Byrman, Sage Publication research methods specialist regarding how to get started when selecting research methodology.

Types of Research Design:  Education Portal Academy - The following YouTube video uses psychological research questions as examples to discuss possible experimental designs. 

Qualitative Research Designs - The chart in the following link compares qualitative and quantitative research designs as well as describes the various types of qualitative research approaches. 

Overview of Psychology Research Methods - This article describes the most commonly used research methods in the field of psychology and gives a more in-depth look at specific quantitative research methods often utilized. 

Educational Research 102 - The Slide Share presentation linked here provides a wealth of information regarding types of research and basic research design. It compares empirical and non-empirical research, basic and applied research, and qualitative and quantitative research designs.

Other Resources on CIRT:


Suggested Readings

  • Bryman, A. (2016). Social research methods. Oxford university press.
  • Creswell, J. W. (2021). Concise Introduction to Mixed Methods Research. Sage.
  • Creswell, J. W. (2022). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Sage Publications, Incorporated.
  • Creswell, J. W., & Clark, V. L. P. (2018). Designing and conducting mixed methods research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage publications.
  • Isaac, S., & Michael, W. B. (1971). Handbook in research and evaluation.
  • Kerlinger, F. N., & Lee, H. B. (1999). Foundations of behavioral research.
  • Kothari, C. R. (2004). Research methodology: methods and techniques. New Age International.
  • Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods . SAGE Publications, inc.
  • Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research.

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