The function of a research design is to ensure that the evidence obtained enables you to effectively address the research problem logically and as unambiguously as possible. In social sciences research, obtaining information relevant to the research problem generally entails specifying the type of evidence needed to test a theory, to evaluate a program, or to accurately describe and assess meaning related to an observable phenomenon.
With this in mind, a common mistake made by researchers is that they begin their investigations far too early, before they have thought critically about what information is required to address the research problem. Without attending to these design issues beforehand, the overall research problem will not be adequately addressed and any conclusions drawn will run the risk of being weak and unconvincing. As a consequence, the overall validity of the study will be undermined.
The length and complexity of describing research designs in your paper can vary considerably, but any well-developed design will achieve the following:
- Identify the research problem clearly and justify its selection, particularly in relation to any valid alternative designs that could have been used,
- Review and synthesize previously published literature associated with the research problem,
- Clearly and explicitly specify hypotheses [i.e., research questions] central to the problem,
- Effectively describe the data which will be necessary for an adequate testing of the hypotheses and explain how such data will be obtained, and
- Describe the methods of analysis to be applied to the data in determining whether or not the hypotheses are true or false.
The organization and structure of the section of your paper devoted to describing the research design will vary depending on the type of design you are using. However, you can get a sense of what to do by reviewing the literature of studies that have utilized the same research design. This can provide an outline to follow for your own paper.
NOTE: To search for scholarly resources on specific research designs and methods, use the SAGE Research Methods database. The database contains links to more than 175,000 pages of SAGE publisher's book, journal, and reference content on quantitative, qualitative, and mixed research methodologies. Also included is a collection of case studies of social research projects that can be used to help you better understand abstract or complex methodological concepts.
De Vaus, D. A. Research Design in Social Research. London: SAGE, 2001; Gorard, Stephen. Research Design: Creating Robust Approaches for the Social Sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2013; Leedy, Paul D. and Jeanne Ellis Ormrod. Practical Research: Planning and Design. Tenth edition. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2013; Vogt, W. Paul, Dianna C. Gardner, and Lynne M. Haeffele. When to Use What Research Design. New York: Guilford, 2012.
Genre and the Research Paper
This handout provides detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.
Contributors: Jack Raymond Baker, Allen Brizee, Ashley Velázquez
Last Edited: 2011-03-30 09:06:38
Research: What it is.
A research paper is the culmination and final product of an involved process of research, critical thinking, source evaluation, organization, and composition. It is, perhaps, helpful to think of the research paper as a living thing, which grows and changes as the student explores, interprets, and evaluates sources related to a specific topic. Primary and secondary sources are the heart of a research paper, and provide its nourishment; without the support of and interaction with these sources, the research paper would morph into a different genre of writing (e.g., an encyclopedic article). The research paper serves not only to further the field in which it is written, but also to provide the student with an exceptional opportunity to increase her knowledge in that field. It is also possible to identify a research paper by what it is not.
Research: What it is not.
A research paper is not simply an informed summary of a topic by means of primary and secondary sources. It is neither a book report nor an opinion piece nor an expository essay consisting solely of one's interpretation of a text nor an overview of a particular topic. Instead, it is a genre that requires one to spend time investigating and evaluating sources with the intent to offer interpretations of the texts, and not unconscious regurgitations of those sources. The goal of a research paper is not to inform the reader what others have to say about a topic, but to draw on what others have to say about a topic and engage the sources in order to thoughtfully offer a unique perspective on the issue at hand. This is accomplished through two major types of research papers.
Two major types of research papers.
Argumentative research paper:
The argumentative research paper consists of an introduction in which the writer clearly introduces the topic and informs his audience exactly which stance he intends to take; this stance is often identified as the thesis statement. An important goal of the argumentative research paper is persuasion, which means the topic chosen should be debatable or controversial. For example, it would be difficult for a student to successfully argue in favor of the following stance.
Cigarette smoking poses medical dangers and may lead to cancer for both the smoker and those who experience secondhand smoke.
Perhaps 25 years ago this topic would have been debatable; however, today, it is assumed that smoking cigarettes is, indeed, harmful to one's health. A better thesis would be the following.
Although it has been proven that cigarette smoking may lead to sundry health problems in the smoker, the social acceptance of smoking in public places demonstrates that many still do not consider secondhand smoke as dangerous to one's health as firsthand smoke.
In this sentence, the writer is not challenging the current accepted stance that both firsthand and secondhand cigarette smoke is dangerous; rather, she is positing that the social acceptance of the latter over the former is indicative of a cultural double-standard of sorts. The student would support this thesis throughout her paper by means of both primary and secondary sources, with the intent to persuade her audience that her particular interpretation of the situation is viable.
Analytical research paper:
The analytical research paper often begins with the student asking a question (a.k.a. a research question) on which he has taken no stance. Such a paper is often an exercise in exploration and evaluation. For example, perhaps one is interested in the Old English poem Beowulf. He has read the poem intently and desires to offer a fresh reading of the poem to the academic community. His question may be as follows.
How should one interpret the poem Beowulf?
His research may lead him to the following conclusion.
Beowulf is a poem whose purpose it was to serve as an exemplum of heterodoxy for tenth- and eleventh-century monastic communities.
Though his topic may be debatable and controversial, it is not the student's intent to persuade the audience that his ideas are right while those of others are wrong. Instead, his goal is to offer a critical interpretation of primary and secondary sources throughout the paper--sources that should, ultimately, buttress his particular analysis of the topic. The following is an example of what his thesis statement may look like once he has completed his research.
Though Beowulf is often read as a poem that recounts the heroism and supernatural exploits of the protagonist Beowulf, it may also be read as a poem that served as an exemplum of heterodoxy for tenth- and eleventh-century monastic communities found in the Danelaw.
This statement does not negate the traditional readings of Beowulf; instead, it offers a fresh and detailed reading of the poem that will be supported by the student's research.
It is typically not until the student has begun the writing process that his thesis statement begins to take solid form. In fact, the thesis statement in an analytical paper is often more fluid than the thesis in an argumentative paper. Such is one of the benefits of approaching the topic without a predetermined stance.