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Theoretical Models and Frameworks

Writing Tips

The function of a research design is to ensure that the evidence obtained enables you to effectively address the research problem logically and as unambiguously as possible. In social sciences research, obtaining information 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 and assess meaning related to an observable phenomenon.

With this in mind, a common mistake made by researchers is that they begin their investigations far too early, before they have thought critically about what information is required to address the research problem. Without attending to these design issues beforehand, the overall research problem will not be adequately addressed and any conclusions drawn will run the risk of being weak and unconvincing. As a consequence, the overall validity of the study will be undermined.

The length and complexity of describing research designs in your paper can vary considerably, but any well-developed design will achieve the following:

  • Identify the research problem clearly and justify its selection, particularly in relation to any valid alternative designs that could have been used,
  • Review and synthesize previously published literature associated with the research problem,
  • Clearly and explicitly specify hypotheses [i.e., research questions] central to the problem,
  • Effectively describe the data which will be necessary for an adequate testing of the hypotheses and explain how such data will be obtained, and
  • Describe the methods of analysis to be applied to the data in determining whether or not the hypotheses are true or false.

The organization and structure of the section of your paper devoted to describing the research design will vary depending on the type of design you are using. However, you can get a sense of what to do by reviewing the literature of studies that have utilized the same research design. This can provide an outline to follow for your own paper.

NOTE:  To search for scholarly resources on specific research designs and methods, use the SAGE Research Methods database. The database contains links to more than 175,000 pages of SAGE publisher's book, journal, and reference content on quantitative, qualitative, and mixed research methodologies. Also included is a collection of case studies of social research projects that can be used to help you better understand abstract or complex methodological concepts.

De Vaus, D. A. Research Design in Social Research. London: SAGE, 2001; Gorard, Stephen. Research Design: Creating Robust Approaches for the Social Sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2013; Leedy, Paul D. and Jeanne Ellis Ormrod. Practical Research: Planning and Design. Tenth edition. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2013; Vogt, W. Paul, Dianna C. Gardner, and Lynne M. Haeffele. When to Use What Research Design. New York: Guilford, 2012.

Elements of a Proposal

Maps and Directions