Research Design: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Last Updated on January 18, 2021 by Chrisantus Oden

Research Desgin: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

If you are thinking about going to college or are starting your degree now, you may be a little lost among so many types of research design. In this article, you will be able to learn more about the subject with examples of the most common types of research designs.

Various Forms of Research Designs

All research conducted academically, that is, at a college or university, is considered scientific. This is because they are based on theories and methods for obtaining results.

Scientific research can be classified by the methodology used, varying according to the structure, objective, and purpose for which it is intended.

Research Design – A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

If we categorize a search by its purpose, it can be of the basic or applied type:

  • Basic Research Design

It is one of the main types of research design. Basic research proposes to deepen in scientific knowledge previously studied ideas. The researcher goes deep into a certain topic, studying the work already done on the subject and complements it with his knowledge or discovery. As it is theoretical research, it requires a vast bibliographic study. This type of research can also be subdivided into two categories: pure basic research or strategic.

The pure basic research is made solely for academic purposes, without proposing to change the reality. It is only a theoretical study, with no future use for any kind of change.

In basic strategic research, the researcher aims to produce knowledge that may be useful in the future, causing transformations and problem-solving.

  • Applied Research Design

Applied research aims to produce knowledge that can be applied in practice. Applied research can be an innovation or the deepening of some thesis presented in previous theoretical research. Its purpose is to improve a given reality.

The research approach can also be subdivided into types of qualitative, quantitative, or quali-quantitative research. Understand each one better:

  • Qualitative Design

Qualitative research studies something subjective, that is, it is concerned with behavior, feelings, etc. The collected data are analyzed and interpreted by the researcher. The collection of information is done in a more open way, where the researched subject has more space to manifest, and the investigated group may be smaller. The investigation in qualitative research has a more complex character of data not measurable through numbers. In general, it seeks to explain the reason for things. This type of research is more common in the Humanities area.

  • Quantitative Design

Quantitative research uses data collection and analysis techniques, using statistics created in software where the results are released. It is then up to the researcher to collect objective data through closed questions, such as multiple choice for example. What matters is the totality of responses from a group, not from the individual in particular.

Quantitative research is unambiguous, and the researcher is just an observer, and cannot interfere with the results. The collection methods are inflexible, and the results are presented in graphs and tables.

  • Mixed Research Design

This type of research is a mixture of the characteristics of the previous two. In it, it is possible to start the study by collecting data, and later to make a critical analysis of the information collected. This research design can also mix more open and closed questions at the time of data collection, bringing objective and subjective content to be analyzed.

So far, you have seen that a search can be basic (pure or strategic); quantitative, qualitative, or mixed. Now, the categorization with more varieties is about the procedures used. Learn more below:

  • Descriptive Design

Among the types of research, the descriptive is the one that uses the procedure of describing in detail a subject already known. In it, the researcher is a studious observer of the data, which he collects, records, interprets, and analyzes. That is, it does not propose to intervene. It can display the frequency or variables of the data.

  • Explanatory Research Design

In explanatory research, the researcher collects and analyzes data to link theory into practice. In it, the data studied are explained, transforming into concepts what was evidenced in the data collected. It is a more detailed and in-depth evolution of descriptive research, commonly used in master’s and doctoral theses, where the aim is to present new and innovative theories.

Explanatory research can be used in marketing and sales practices to improve market strategies. Take an example: within a given undergraduate course at a specific college, there is a dropout rate of 80% of those who start. Therefore, only 20% graduate. Explanatory research can take as a base this data previously raised to analyze and explain the reason for this high dropout rate.

  • Exploratory Research Design

In exploratory research, the object to be studied is not yet clearly defined. The objective is to seek an innovative theme for science, something that has not yet been explored. It can be the precursor to explanatory research. The methods used are theoretical studies, presenting in the literature what already exists on the subject, and practical experiments. Great scientific discoveries are the result of exploratory research. This type of study is widely used in the areas of politics, sales, and marketing.

  • Documentary Research Design

This type of research has as a source of analysis documents (written or not written) and records, such as medical records, wills, laws, recordings, magazines, newspapers, catalogs, films, photos, etc. It is common for this type of research to be combined with others, such as bibliographic research. The union of these two types of research offers the theoretical argument added to documentary evidence.

Documentary research is widely used for studies in human and social sciences, providing a greater understanding of historical and social contexts.

  • Bibliographic Research Design

Among the types of research, a bibliography is one of the most basic tools for introducing the world of scientific research. It is common for undergraduates to be introduced to bibliographic research at the beginning of their course. It concerns the survey of publications, articles, among other literary contents focused on the subject studied.

It is needed for virtually all of the other research designs cited here. From there, the researcher can analyze the arguments and evidence of different scholars on the topic to be researched. From this survey, in comparison with the other authors, the researcher can construct his theory.

  • Case Study Design

A case study is a form of empirical research. That is, it is not based only on theoretical data. The researcher deeply analyzes a specific topic. The case study is a search for a particular element, so the facts identified cannot be generalized or taken as absolute truth.

As you may have noticed, the case study is a type of qualitative research that delves into a particular object of study. Usually, this type of research seeks to clarify decision-making. A case study may be also descriptive research or even an exploratory one.

The case study is very common in the humanities. The treatment of a particular patient can become a case study for a nurse. It is clear that, for this, the necessary authorizations are necessary, according to research ethics, which is a separate chapter.

  • Experimental Design

As a case study, experimental research is also empirical research. This means that the research is made from trial and error, through the researcher’s experience. Experimental research is common in the laboratory but is not limited to it. For it to be carried out, there is a control of variables to prevent interference from the environment.

Experimental research can be used both for the development of a new drug and for market analysis, to study consumer behavior. Experimental research can be mixed with descriptive, exploratory, or explanatory research.

  • Field Research Design

Unlike experimental research, in-field research, the researcher goes to the environment to be explored, without intervening in it. Through it, facts or phenomena are observed, collected, analyzed, and interpreted by the researcher.

In the scientific field, it is important to combine other types of research with field research. For example, before observing the object of study, the researcher must appropriate the subject through bibliographic or documentary research, using the theory to better observe the field.

Through field research, the researcher can acquire information extracted directly from the studied reality. It is commonly used in the social sciences, such as Sociology and Anthropology. For example, field research can be used to understand the culture of a certain group.

  • Ex Post Facto Research Design

This type of research is carried out after the occurrence of a phenomenon. That is the origin of the name ex posts facto, which means “from the past fact.” As the fact has already occurred, the researcher has no control over the variables. Therefore, the researcher studies the variations with the existing variables when the phenomenon occurred.

Such a study can serve to understand how a fact interfered in the present or could interfere in the future of a group. Its objective is, therefore, to analyze a possible cause and effect relationship. One example is to study the high incidence of births of children with disabilities in a given inland city. What are the environmental variables? The genetic conditions of the parents?

  • Action Research Design

In this type of research, the researcher also goes to the field, but he intervenes. This means that the researcher, in this case, is not a mere observer, and his action causes a change in the environment. For this, the researcher must initially equip himself with a problem situation, starting from a theoretical study, then intervene in the environment and study it again, making a comparison of what has changed. This methodology is widely used in the area of ​​information technology, such as creating an application.

  • Survey Design

This is the methodology used in surveys such as the intention to vote. A small sample of the population is evaluated, and that result is taken to interpret the result of a totality. For the reliability of results, several variables are controlled, so that the target audience is well defined. It is quantitative research that takes the result as a representative of the whole.

  • Participatory Research Design

In participatory research, as well as in action research, there is an interaction between the researched and the researcher, where the researcher is not a passive agent and an observer. The difference is that, in this case, there is no need for a prior intervention plan. The main element of this research is the result of the relationship between researcher and researched, which arises from this interaction.

It is a common type of research in social areas. Instead of the researcher going with the object of study ready, he becomes aware of what the problem situation is through the content brought by the interviewees.


In this article, you got to know different types of research design: those related to its purpose (pure/strategic basic research or applied research), its approach (quantitative, qualitative or mixed), and about the procedures: descriptive, explanatory, exploratory, documentary research, bibliography, case study, experimental, field research, ex post facto, action research, survey and participant research.

As you have seen, the same study can mix different procedures, according to the need of the phenomenon to be studied.