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Research Design

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As you learn more during your time at Endeavour, it is important to develop skills that let you evaluate sources, research quality and style. Once you move into professional practice, the skills of critical reading and identifying what kind of research is being presented will help you accurately and efficiently learn from new studies and future research break throughs.

On this page, we will explore the difference between quantitative and qualitative research.

Overarching Principle

Quantitative research is defined as research that is designed to gather quantifiable data. This numerical data is often analysed and interpreted performing statistical, mathematical, or computational techniques and is presented in numerical form. (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], n.d.; Hicks, 2009; Jacobsen, 2016).

Quantitative Research can be broken into several types, which are listed below.

Descriptive research typically aims to identify the characteristics of an individual, situation or group (variable). The researchers will offer a hypothesis after collecting the data and typically will provide an accurate or systematic description of the variable (Dulock, 1993; Pedamkar, n.d.).

Example of application:

A description of how global warming affects the role of Scientists in contemporary times (Pedamkar, n.d.).

A hypothesis describing the relationship between patients and their caretakers and how it affects their rehabilitation.
Correlation research is conducted to investigate potential associations and relationships between two or more variables. This research method is typically used to ascertain if there is value to a naturally occurring relationship. Also referred to as an aggregate study, the research design will focus on population level data rather than data reflecting a single case (Jacobsen, 2016; Polgar & Thomas, 2013). Once an association is found and supported with evidence, researchers will still be careful not to assume causation. Simply put, just because two variables can have a relationship doesn't mean they are mutually exclusive.

Example of application:

A study designed to establish whether the rate of asthma is higher in cities with greater air pollution.
Casual-Comparative or quasi-experimental research is specifically designed to conclude the cause-effect equation between two or more variables. The design will employ an intervention group where one variable will be hypothesised to be dependent on the other variable (Jacobsen, 2016; Pedamkar, n.d.). The method will work similar to those of randomized studies and experimental research, however will have no control group or no random selection due to ethical limitations (Hicks, 2009; Polgar & Thomas, 2013).

Example of application:

The impacts of drug use on teenage development (Pedamkar, n.d.).
Experimental research is designed "to test whether an intervention causes an intended outcome" (Jacobsen, 2016, p. 130). This form of research is one of the most common due to it's association with scientific logic (McCarthy et al., 2015). The experimental hypothesis aims to predict the relationship between two variables through random selection or assignment and will also use a control group in order to test efficacy and internal validity, and determine if there is a placebo effect (Hicks, 2009; Polgar & Thomas, 2013).

Example of application:

Researchers apply pre and post testing to two groups (one who received exercise therapy and one who received no therapy) to determine if the exercise therapy has affected the participants ability to walk greater distances (Polgar & Thomas, 2013).

Do participants who receive probiotic therapy have less instances of digestion issues after three months?
Survey research is the most basic tool due to the flexibility of compiling, administering, and analysing when attempting to gather large amounts of data (Pedamkar, n.d.; Watson, 2015). This form of data collection can be through questionnaires, interview, observation, cross-sectional or longitudinal (Jacobsen, 2016). In quantitative research, surveys are often used to determine base-line data of participants prior to trialling an intervention (Hicks, 2009; Jacobsen, 2016).

Example of application:

Naturopathy students are surveyed to determine their motivation level of completing coursework during the first, second, and third year of study (Watson, 2015).

Participants of a study are requested to complete a Health-Related Quality of Life Questionnaire (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2021) before participating in a research study.

There are additional resources available through the ebook catalogue.

Overarching Principle

Qualitative research is a process of data collection where researchers have close contact with their participants, and where research is usually conducted in the population's natural habitat. The research typically focuses on understanding the why and how of human behaviour through observation, and draws conclusions through non-numerical data (Jacobsen, 2016; Vishishtha, 2019).

Qualitative Research can be broken into several types, which are listed below.

Ethnography involves the researcher embedding themselves into the daily life and routine of the participants. The researcher experiences the culture using an insider's perspective aiming to understand the culture's customs, traditions, mannerisms, and reactions to situations (Jacobsen, 2016; Vashishtha, 2019). Ethnographic studies are typically conducted by researchers with a health or anthropological background (Polgar & Thomas, 2013).

Example of application:

A researcher lives with a remote community in order to gain an understanding of how their food supply chains are affected during flood season.
Narrative inquiry usually involves a process where the participants stories are the raw data. The researcher gathers data or facts from one or two subjects through interviews, stories and oral histories (Butina, 2015; Vishishtha, 2019).

Example of application:

Autobiographical and biographical research is a common form of narrative inquiry (Butina, 2015).

Recording of Indigenous histories are often through narrative inquiry, as Indigenous culture recognises oral histories.
Phenomenology studies an event or activity as it happens, seeking to understand how participants might understand, interpret, or find meaning with their experiences and feelings (Jacobsen, 2016). Data collection can be conducted in a range of way including interviews, videos, and on-site visits (Vashishtha, 2019). This research method is steeped in understanding human experience and will focus on uses communication to build evidence (McCarthy et al., 2015).

Example of application:

Universities who would like to understand how students make their choices when selecting courses (Vashishtha, 2019).

A patient experiencing an illness who communicates their experience in order for health care workers to understand the patient's experience (Carel, 2011).
Grounded theory is a form of research which attempts to develop general theories after gathering data through observation (Jacobsen, 2016). Often, hypotheses and theories will arise from the gathered data (Hicks, 2009).

Example of application:

A herbal manufacturing company gathers data to understand how their customers use their products (Vashishtha, 2019).

An epidemiologist systematically collects data on multiple sclerosis and after analysis of this data will find that clusters of disease appear in colder climates (Hicks, 2009).
Case studies can be likened to life histories, in that the researcher is able to gain insight of a specific objective while studying the participant in a natural setting (Wilson, 2007). The participant or research subject could be any entity including an individual, an organisation, an event, or even a country (Vashishtha, 2019). In contemporary research, case studies are often found in research using mixed (or multi)-method design (Gaikwad, 2017).

Example of application:

A researcher is interested in documenting and analysing the development of a bevy of cygnets.

A woman approaches a psychologist to help her with anxiety. The psychologist studies the woman during therapy sessions and draws conclusions that targeted behavioural therapy would be the most suitable form of treatment.
The historical method of research places the researcher firmly as the instrument for sourcing and analysing data. It is the researcher's duty to interpret past events in order to understand present scenarios, and predict future outcomes (Wilson, 2007). The hypothesis is developed after analysing the findings of the historical sources, and is presented in a biographical or report form.

Example of application:

For creating new advertisements, small businesses can use data from existing campaigns (Vishishtha, 2019).

When using previous clinic notes during consultation, you review and analyse the data to support your current diagnosis, and to predict any potential side effects to prescriptions.

There are additional resources available through the ebook catalogue.

Below is a side by side comparison to help you identify whether a research paper is quantitative, qualitative or mixed-methods. For more information on understanding where to look for these features, please see our Understanding Research Papers.

Quantitative: Quantitative = Quantity

Features of Quantitative Research Design

  • If the data is defined with a numeric variable it is usually quantitative
  • Data is represented in numerical form, graphs, and tables
  • Information is gathered from participants using closed-ended questions
  • Research in conducted in a controlled and/or clinical environment
  • Focused on data collection using methods which can be easily replicated
  • Will develop a hypothesis before beginning research
  • Hypotheses are rigorously tested

Features of Quantitative Research Questions

  • Quantitative research questions are formed around 'how', 'what', and 'why'
  • The intention of the study will be to test the relationship between two variables (independent and dependant)
  • It will define the purpose of the study as to compare, relate, or associate the variables in some way
  • The research will be descriptive, causal, or predictive in nature

Examples of quantitative research questions:

  • How often do adults between the age of 25 and 30 seek medical attention?
  • What is the relationship between acupuncture and migraines?

Qualitative: Qualitative = Quality

Features of Qualitative Research Design

  • If the data is defined by category it is usually qualitative
  • Data is represented by a name, symbol, or a number code
  • Interviews are conducted using open-ended questions; results are descriptive
  • Research is conducted in a natural environment
  • Focused on utilising data collection techniques which are naturally available
  • Will first define the research problem and then develop a hypothesis
  • Hypotheses and theories will be derived from real-time data

Features of Qualitative Research Questions

  • Qualitative research questions are formed around ‘what’ or ‘how’
  • Will explain the intention of the study to describe, explore, or discover data.
  • It will define the reason for gathering data as to experience, discover meaning, or understand.
  • Will often feature a multi-level research design which can include mixed-methods of quantitative research. This is to add validity, rigor and quality to the data

Examples of qualitative research questions:

  • How can malnourished people describe their relationship with food?
  • What does it feel like to be singled out as a minority in modern Australia?

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