Week 1


An Introduction to Research


Video Title: An Introduction to Research Design

Originally Published: 2017

Publishing Company: SAGE Publications Ltd

City: London, United Kingdom

ISBN: 9781473992306

DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781473992306

(c) SAGE Publications Ltd., 2017

This PDF has been generated from SAGE Research Methods.

[An Introduction to Research Design]

ERIC JENSEN: My name is Eric Jensen. I'm a sociology professor at the University of Warwick.

CHARLES LAURIE: And I'm Charles Laurie, Director of Research at Verisk Maplecroft.

ERIC JENSEN: In this video, we're going to talk about how you can develop a good research question

and find appropriate and feasible ways of measuring key concepts within your research question.

You then need to match your overall research goals to specific research methods that you can use to

address those goals, and you'll need to think ahead to avoid obstacles that can slow down or derail

your data

ERIC JENSEN [continued]: collection, analysis, and write-up. [What is research design?}

CHARLES LAURIE: Now let's make a start. When you're getting started on your research, you'll face

many decisions. To achieve your research objectives you need a roadmap to keep you on a good

path. This roadmap is your research design. Your research design is the plan you develop to outline

the methods and procedures you will use throughout your research project.

CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: Your design helps you get out in front of risks and uncertainties,

which gives you the best chance possible of successfully arriving at a completed research report you

can be proud of. [What does research design look like?]

ERIC JENSEN: You'll need to pinpoint precisely what you're going to measure and what research

approach will be the best fit for your topic. Developing a good research design involves matching

your research goals to appropriate methods for addressing those goals. As your research design

develops, you need to choose what type of data to collect, who to collect that data from,

ERIC JENSEN [continued]: where to collect that data, and how. This process rarely involves drawing

a straight line from a general idea to a specific detailed plan.

CHARLES LAURIE: You'll probably need to adjust your research design to account for new

information and unexpected challenges to your initial plans. In this figure from Doing Real Research,

we illustrate this process of decision-making, planning, and replanning that takes place during the

research design process.

ERIC JENSEN: As you develop your research design, you'll find that there's rarely one right way to

conduct research. There'll be a range of options, each involving trade offs of some kind. Just be sure

to document and justify the decisions you make along the way. You can do this by keeping a research

diary that includes notes on the issues you encounter,

ERIC JENSEN [continued]: the options you consider, and ultimately the choices you make and why

you made those choices. This practice of establishing an audit trail for your thought process as it

develops during your research journey can save you some major headaches later. This is because a

decision that can seem obvious now, might be easily forgettable later.

ERIC JENSEN [continued]: [Developing a Research Question]

CHARLES LAURIE: Now let's go through what it takes to develop a good research question. First of

all, your research question governs all aspects of your project. It defines what data you collect and


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Page 2 of 5 An Introduction to Research Design

how you analyze that data. Your research question needs to be both feasible and interesting to other

people or institutions. Consider the following points when crafting your research

CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: question. What are you looking to find out? What are your key

explanatory variables and outcome variables? What information do you need to answer your research

question? Will it be feasible to gather the data you need in the time you have available? And if not,

that means you probably need to narrow or change your research topic.

CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: Also ask yourself whether the answer to your research question is

likely to offer useful insights that contribute to ongoing debates in your field of study, or would your

research question add to current knowledge by shedding light on a new or underresearched aspect

of your topic. Would your research results help to develop a theory,

CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: or shed new light on an existing theory? Finally, ask yourself whether

your research question is too broad to be realistically answerable in your situation. Keep in mind that

it's nearly impossible to have a research question that is too focused.

ERIC JENSEN: Developing a tightly focused and answerable research question is the crucial first

step in the research design process, and it will become the foundation of your project. A poorly

formulated question may result in a research project that is hopelessly broad and unachievable within

your budget and time constraints. In contrast, a carefully crafted question

ERIC JENSEN [continued]: enables you to focus your efforts which will put you on a good track for a

completed project. Once you've refined your research question, you can build the rest of your project

around it.

CHARLES LAURIE: Now here are some principles to help you craft a good research question. First,

target a research gap. That means aim your question at a gap, a weakness, or an underdeveloped

area in the existing research literature on your topic. This can show your reader that there is a need

for your research. Second, keep your research question narrow and specific.

CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: This is because your research question needs to be answerable. A

narrow and specific question means that you are creating a manageable research task for yourself.

A focused research question with clear boundaries can save time and resources by limiting wasted

efforts. Don't worry, a narrow focus can still yield plenty of data for your project.

CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: Third, be analytical. The question should demonstrate more than

mere description in order to contribute to general knowledge about your topic. To make connections

to general knowledge, be sure to make connections to theoretical concepts. Fourth, be clear and

brief. Maintain maximum clarity by ensuring your research question is not too long or too difficult to


CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: Your question should simply and briefly communicate the key

information about what variables you'll be exploring.

ERIC JENSEN: You must be able to demonstrate that you can plausibly answer the research question

with the data that you are planning to collect. For example, consider the research question why


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do young people use Facebook? If you only collect survey data from students in one university

classroom, you wouldn't really be able to address that large question. Instead you would need a more

focused research question.

ERIC JENSEN [continued]: For example, you could use a sample of students in one university

department to address a more specific question such as, what are the self-reported motivations for

using Facebook amongst first year psychology students at a UK university?

CHARLES LAURIE: In continuing on with the Facebook example, you could ask yourself the following

questions, what do I want to know? And an answer might be I want to know why people are using

Facebook. You could ask, what is the population I'm aiming to study? And an answer could be I'm

studying first year psychology students at a UK university.

CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: You could also ask, have I specified the main variables I'm interested

in? And an answer might be you looking at motivations for using Facebook. And finally, you could

also ask the question, how could I limit the research scope? [Operationalize Key Concepts]

ERIC JENSEN: After establishing your research question, you'll need to start considering how you

could measure its key concepts. Some concepts are easy to measure. For example, you can

measure participants gender by asking them to tick a box next to male, female, or other in a survey

form. But for other concepts, you may need to be creative in devising appropriate and feasible ways

ERIC JENSEN [continued]: of testing those variables. For example, when I needed to measure

learning outcomes for children aged 7 to 15 visiting London Zoo, I decided to have them make

drawings of a wildlife habitat and all the plants and animals that lived there. They did that before

and after their zoo visit so I could compare and see whether there were any improvements over the

course of the visit.

ERIC JENSEN [continued]: This process of figuring out how you can measure an abstract concept

relevant to your project, an abstract concept like learning or gender, this process is called


CHARLES LAURIE: Let's take another example. If you want to assess which brands of clothing are

popular amongst web uses, you could measure this by analyzing the keywords entered into a search

engine, such as google. If you find that search terms associated with one brand are particularly

popular, this could indicate that the brand is favored by online consumers.

CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: Of course, there could be other reasons a brand is searched for a lot,

such as scandal. The reason for going through this operationalization process is to help you develop

your plans by establishing precisely what you will be measuring in your project. [Focus in Research]

ERIC JENSEN: Finally, we want to highlight the importance of focus in your research. You may find

that you need to reduce the scope of your project along the way. In this case, look for places where

you can make a clean cut. For example, a whole section, or one out of three of your comparison

cases, so that you don't create more work by having to edit the section you cut down in size.

ERIC JENSEN [continued]: At the time, cutting down your scope may be hard to accept, but you'll be


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much happier in the longer term if you make the decision early on, before investing a lot of time and

effort and resources in a direction you don't have time to fully develop. By developing and refining

you're clear and achievable research question,

ERIC JENSEN [continued]: you'll keep your research on track as you encounter many interesting

pathways along your research journey. Along this journey, your mantra should be stay focused.


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  • An Introduction to Research Design