Research Design

tekijä: Tanja Tuulikki Välisalo Viimeisin muutos tiistai 09. maaliskuuta 2010, 14.42


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There are several phases within this second stage. You will use all the notes you have taken during the first stage to formulate a research plan, which includes several highly necessary phases defined below. Your research plan will show your chosen points of view of the research topic and relevant research questions. During this stage you will plan in detail the progress of the research, the research methods and applied theoretical frameworks. You will also need to have an idea of the results of your data analysis and any conclusions. The research plan is a condensed description of the research, which may be changed and improved during the research process.

Your research plan has two key functions:

  • Enabling you to outline and introduce your research to other people, particularly your supervisor;
  • Enabling you to apply for research funding – see Selecting the Topic for commissioned research.

While the structure of any research plan usually obeys a particular pattern, the form, focuses and order of the content may vary according to the characteristics of the researched topic.

Nevertheless, if you prepare your research plan in order to apply for research funding, the plan has to obey the instructions of the financing organisation (for instance the Academy of Finland).

Essential areas of this research stage are:


Defining the research focus and formulating concrete research questions

You need at the start of this second stage to set an aim for the research and select, define and argue a research problem, which your research will solve. In order to do this, you need to have (a) clearly defined reasons for researching the chosen topic and (b) to have discussed the aims of the research because you will combine (a) and (b) to formulate your research problem. During this stage you will need to discuss and either keep or discard your research aims because they influence both the research problem and the kinds of research questions.

You can divide your chosen research problem into sub-problems. But essentially, before beginning the research process, you need to formulate your research problem as exact research questions.

Links to more information:

Research Question. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Formulating a Research Question, 2002/2003. Resources for Behavioral Science Researchers. Danya International Inc.

Marion, Rodger, 2004. Developing Research Questions. In The Whole Art of Deduction. Research Skills for New Scientists. The University of Texas Medical Branch.

Handley, Elaine and Oaks, Susan. Developing a Research Question. In Research Room. Empire State College.


Defining the point of view and theoretical framework

The point of view refers to a general way of approaching your research topic by exploring it from a particular orientation and stressing particular kinds of issues and questions in your research. The concept of theory refers to a scientific and abstract explanation or a system of explanation. The concept can also mean a supposition, presumption or hypothesis which still needs proving. A theory can be a broad system of explanation, which various disciplines use and which several researchers have developed. A theory can also be a profoundly concise explanation created by you. The concepts of theory and point of view may overlap in your research, i.e. a point of view may include a theoretical presupposition.

Please be aware that your chosen points of view and theories must be relevant to your research problem. We suggest you begin to specify your points of view and theoretical framework during the first stage.

Links to more information:

Routio, Pentti, 2007. Research on the Basis of Earlier Theory. Arteology, the science of products and professions. The Aalto University School of Art and Design.

Defining concepts

A concept refers to a linguistic definition of an abstract idea. These definitions may include meanings which are tied to certain contexts or situations. Concepts form multi-level hierarchies in relation to other concepts – some concepts can be categorised as broader concepts and others as sub-concepts. Concepts are particularly meaningful in qualitative research because they enable you:

To define and explain the research phenomenon.

To focus the research on examining how various phenomena are being conceptualised.

Please be aware of the kinds of concepts you are using, which meanings and values are tied to those concepts and what you mean precisely by using those concepts. Precise definition of concepts is an essential part of research, except for a particular category of concepts – scientific terms. A scientific term refers to a concept which has an established and frequently a discipline-specific meaning. Scientific terms are part of the professional vocabulary of scientists. You do not need to define them in research.

Links to more information:

Routio, Pentti, 2007. Concepts and definitions. Arteology, the science of products and professions. The Aalto University School of Art and Design.


Outlining hypotheses and possible results

A scientific hypothesis refers to a proposal of the expected research results. The goal of your research is test to your propositions and to discover whether or not they are valid. Hypotheses are vital for you, as what you expect at the end of the process. You formulate your hypotheses from a combination of focusing the aims, formulating the research questions, discussing how to carry out the tests and their possible outcomes (results). There will be occasions when your research may indicate your hypotheses are not valid. For this sort of outcome, you need to explain (or try to explain) the reason for the invalidity of your hypotheses. The concept of hypothesis is particularly used in quantitative research. The concept of hypothesis is often known as a presupposition in qualitative research.

Links to more information:

Trochim, William M., 2006. Hypotheses. Research Methods Knowledge Base, 2nd Edition.

Gerber, Robert. The Hypothesis. Research Skills. Centre for Teaching, Learning and Media. Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

Marion, Rodger, 2004. Defining Variables and Formulation Hypotheses. In The Whole Art of Deduction. Research Skills for New Scientists.

Hypothesis. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Shuttleworth, Martyn, 2008. Research Hypothesis. Experiment Resources.


Mapping the data

When planning your research, you need to map the information on data: What kind of data exists on the chosen topic? Is it possible to use the data in your research? Where is the data located? You may also outline what kind of data the research could produce, for example through interviews or questionnaires.


Selection of strategies and data collection and analysis methods

The planning of the research includes your choices of the research strategy and data collection and data analysis methods, which are suitable for the aims of your research. Remember that a research strategy is the entity of methodological choices of research. Your research will guide your choice and use of research methods at both theoretical and practical levels. As data collection methods are those principles and practices, which you will use in collecting empirical data and analysis methods refer to the ways you will treat the data, your research strategy refers to a concrete way of using and treating your data.

Links to more information:

Routio, Pentti, 2007. Recording Descriptive Data. Arteology, the science of products and professions. The Aalto University School of Art and Design.

Routio, Pentti, 2007. Collecting Normative Data. Arteology, the science of products and professions. The Aalto University School of Art and Design.


Perceiving the researcher position

Essentially the concept of the researcher position refers to any position in relation to your research topic, which you have on the aims, problems, data and research methods. Three categories of factors can affect your researcher position:

  • you may have a particular link to the topic through personal motives, personal characteristics, cultural, social backgrounds and societal role;
  • your interests of knowledge, unconscious motives and your ideologies (beliefs);
  • you may also consciously take up a particular position by using a certain theoretical framework.

The significance of your researcher position on research topics and aims will vary. Your position may have a focal effect on:

  • The way you interpret and understand the meanings in the data.
  • The kind of results the data produces.
  • The ethical questions you need to answer in doing the research.

Please note that if your researcher position becomes focal you need to discuss it in your research report.


Compiling work plan and schedule

Important tools in planning and doing your research are to compile a work plan and a work schedule. They are primarily instruments for you and your supervisor to structure and keep a check on the progress of your research. For a work plan you need to separate all the phases, in all the stages, into sections. While you need to ensure the stages are sequential, the phases of each individual stage need not be sequential. The key function of the work plan-schedule is to help ensure you complete your research on time.


Writing the research plan 

Writing a research plan is an essential stage of your research. You should, when writing up your research plan introduce and discuss the following issues and aspects of your research:

  • the background of the research is introduced to the reader
  • reasons for doing the research (why the research is important to do)
  • previous research
  • aims 
  • research questions and possible hypotheses
  • the focus
  • theoretical framework
  • central concepts of the research
  • data collection strategies and methods
  • analysis strategies and methods
  • applicability and feasibility of the research results
  • a short work plan and schedule are compiled

You should use references in the research plan and add a shortened bibliography at the end of the plan.

Please note that the form, focus and order of the content of the research plan may vary according to the research topic. Essential factors of a good research plan are that the structure is clear, the argumentation is convincing and the plan is logical.

Links to more information:

Research Plan / Structure of Research Plan, 2009. Academy of Finland.

Instructions on how to start designing your research proposal. The Department of Languages, University of Jyväskylä.

Essentials of the Research Plan, 2005. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.