How to create a research design

Date published by Date updated: March 24, 2017

A research design (or research strategy) describes how you will approach the investigation for your dissertation. It constitutes part of your research proposal.

Before you can create a research design, you first need to formulate a problem statement, a main research question and sub-questions. So, first define the problem.

What does a research design look like?

A research design should present an overview of the means you will use to undertake your dissertation research. You should describe where and when you will conduct your research, the sample you will use, and the approach and methods you will employ. You can do this by answering the following questions:


At which location or situation will you conduct your investigation?


At what point in time or in what period will the research take place?

Who or what?

Which individuals, groups or events will you examine (as your sample)?


What research approaches and methods will you use to collect and analyze data?

Example of a research design

The starting point for your research design is your main research question (which is derived from your problem statement).

Example of a main question
What factors cause visitors to the Cool Blue online shop to ultimately make their purchase in a traditional store?

Answers to the questions

From the main question it is obvious that the research needs to be undertaken around the online Cool Blue shop and possibly a traditional store.

Research will need to occur after a consumer has purchased a product in a traditional store. This is important, as you are investigating why someone follows this path (instead of buying the product online).

Who or what?
In this case, it’s clear that you must consider consumers who have made their purchase in a traditional store. However, you could also decide to examine consumers who did actually purchase something online, so you can compare the different consumers.

This question is often harder to answer. Among other things, you may need to consider the amount of time you have to conduct your research and if you have a budget for collecting data.

In this example, both qualitative and quantitative research methods could be appropriate. Options could include interviews, surveys and observations.

More on research methodology

Feasibility of the research

Always ask yourself: Is my research feasible?

In the example, you might choose to interview consumers as well as to conduct a survey. However, is this manageable in the time you have?

It’s important to discuss the feasibility of your research with your supervisor (and client, if appropriate). Sometimes what you want to do is really not the best option. The key is to keep it simple. If your research is lacking in some way, you can always decide to add a component – which will be much easier than omitting something if you realize you’ve been too ambitious.

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Article by Bas Swaen

Bas is co-founder of Scribbr. Bas loves to teach and is an experienced thesis writer. He tries to help students with writing clear and easy to comprehend articles about difficult topics.

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