8.6 Matching question and design

Learning Objectives

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


This chapter describes how to create a good quantitative and qualitative research questions and starting in Chapter 10, we will detail some of the basic designs that social scientists use to answer their research questions. 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. On one hand, you may want to use an experimental design if your research question involves testing a new intervention. On the other hand, you may want to use an interview or focus group design if your study explores the experiences of people living in public housing.

We will learn more about each one of these designs in the remainder of this textbook. We will also discuss designs that use existing data, view individual clients in clinical practice, and evaluate programs. Below is a list of designs we will cover in this textbook:

  • 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.

If you think about your project, I imagine that a content analysis probably seems easier to accomplish than an experiment. As a 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.

There are so many different designs that exist in the social science literature that it would be impossible to include them all in this textbook. For example, photovoice is a qualitative method in which participants take photographs of meaningful scenes in their lives and discuss them in focus groups. This qualitative method can be particularly impactful, as pictures are often provide deeper meaning of concepts than mere words. During your undergraduate and graduate social work studies, I encourage you to acquaint yourself with advanced and specialized research designs. The subsequent chapters of this text aim to help you understand the basic designs upon which these more advanced designs are built.


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.


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Scientific Inquiry in Social Work Copyright © 2018 by Matthew DeCarlo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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