4.6 Matching question and design

Learning Objectives

  • Identify which research designs may be useful for answering your research question


This chapter described how to create a good quantitative and qualitative research question. In your research classes, you learn some of the basic designs that social scientists use to answer their research questions. But which design should you choose?


a chalkboard with "what's next?" written on it

As with most things, it all depends on your research question. If your research question involves, for example, testing a new intervention, you will likely want to use an experimental design. On the other hand, if you want to know the lived experience of people in a public housing building, you probably want to use an interview or focus group design.

Below is a list of designs you may wish to use:

  • Surveys: online, phone, mail, in-person
  • Experiments: classic, pre-experiments, quasi-experiments
  • Interviews: in-person or phone
  • Focus groups
  • Historical analysis
  • Content analysis
  • Secondary data analysis
  • Program evaluation
  • Single-subjects
  • Action research

The design of your research study determines what you and your participants will do. In an experiment, for example, the researcher will introduce a stimulus or treatment to participants and measure their responses. In contrast, a content analysis may not have participants at all, and the researcher may simply read the marketing materials for a corporation or look at a politician’s speeches to conduct the data analysis for the study.

As a social work researcher, you have to choose a research design that makes sense for your question and that is feasible to complete with the resources you have. All research projects require some resources to accomplish. Make sure your design is one you can carry out with the resources (time, money, staff, etc.) that you have.


Key Takeaways

  • The design you choose should follow from the research question you ask.
  • Research design will determine what the researchers and participants do during the project.


Image attributions

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Guidebook for Social Work Literature Reviews and Research Questions Copyright © 2020 by Rebecca Mauldin and Matthew DeCarlo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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