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This is the "Research Design" page of the "The research process" guide.
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This Libguide provides a systematic guide to the different phases and activities of a master's or doctoral research project and introduces the researcher and research student to relevant Library sources, tools and services offered along the way.
Last Updated: Jun 6, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Research design vs Research methodology

Research design    Research methodology

Focuses on the end-product: What kind of study is being planned and what kind of results are aimed at.

E.g. Historical - comparative study, interpretive approach OR exploratory study, inductive and deductive etc.

Focuses on the research process and the kind of tools and procedures to be used.

E.g. Document analysis, survey methods, analysis of existing (secondary) data/statistics etc.

Point of departure (driven by) = Research problem or question. Point of departure (driven by) = Specific tasks (data collection or sampling) at hand.
Focuses on the logic of research: What evidence is required to address the question adequately? Focuses on the individual (not linear) steps in the research process and the most ‘objective’ (unbiased) procedures to be employed.


Source: Mouton, J (2001). How to succeed in your master's and doctoral studies: a South African guide book. Pretoria. Van Schaik.


What is "research design"?

The research design articulates what data is required, what methods are going to be used to collect and analyse this data, and how all of this is going to answer your research question.

Both data and methods, and the way in which these will be configured in the research project, need to be the most effective in producing the answers to the research question (taking into account practical and other constraints of the study).

The research design also reflects the purpose of the inquiry, which can be characterised as one or more of the following:

  • Exploration
  • Description
  • Explanation
  • Prediction
  • Evaluation
  • History

There are different types of design, such as those:

  • Generating primary data
    E.g. surveys, experiments, case studies, programme evaluation, ethnographic studies
  • Analysing existing data
    E.g. text data (discourse analysis, content analysis, textual criticism, historical studies) or numeric data (secondary data analysis, statistical modelling)

To ensure that your thesis adheres to basic logic, it is important to consider the form of reasoning on which it will be based.  There are basically three forms of scientific reasoning that you can employ when writing your thesis:

  • Deduction
  • Inductive generalisation
  • Retroduction

 Source: Dr Brian van Wyk: Research design and methods Part I Presentation


Components of a research design

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,
  2. Review previously published literature associated with the problem area,
  3. Clearly and explicitly specify hypotheses [i.e., research questions] central to the problem selected,
  4. Effectively describe the data which will be necessary for an adequate test of the hypotheses and explain how such data will be obtained, and
  5. Describe the methods of analysis which will be applied to the data in determining whether or not the hypotheses are true or false.

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