I.      Research DESIGN

  • Identify potential Research Focus and RQs
  • Undertake a literature search to conceptualize Focus
  • Framing the Research Question(s)

II. Research METHODS

  • Data Collection
  • Data Analysis
  • Interpretation of Results


What is Research Design?

RESEARCH DESIGN is the road map for your research.  It begins with a formulation of a problem or question that the research will answer. The problem drives the research, and is the reason for doing the research.  Hence it must be worthy, worth doing, and answer-able.  Based ona review of the relevant literature to refine the Research Focus, aResearch Question(RQ) emerges that guides your observation and understanding of the observations. You will formulate your RQ: the RQ guide the research methods: RQs thus should be relevant, interesting  and important enough to make research worth doing, worth the time, cost, effort, and use of resources that will be required. The RQ should also be do-able: that is, able to be answered given the practicalities of such boundaries as time, resources, data accessibility, and ethical issues.  It must also be do-able in terms of the skills and capabilities of the researcher(s).

Research Design involves mapping out how that RQ will be answered.The RQ will drive and define your research design, so it needs a lot of thought and work to refine it and get it right. Social research seeks to understand what is happening in one segment or other of society in some part of the world. There are many things to study in society, beginning from one individual to a couple, a family, a community, a group, a school, an organization or some other subset of humanity.

To meet the conditions for systematic and empirical research, the investigation requires a well considered and detailed design.  Hence RESEARCH DESIGN IS THE FIRST MAJOR STEP. This step involves brainstorming, looking at many options, considering the options thru a study of the literature, and thereby identifying and framing the research problem(s). It requires significant background research in order to arrive at conceptualization of the RQ.  And then, consideration of how the key terms are to be defined/understood in order to be identifiable by research.  For example, if the researcher sets out to study bigotry, it can be important to define such terms as stereotypes.  Identify your key assumptions and terms, define them, and seek additional support in the research literature on how to address and refine the terms key to your research focus.  Move beyond subjective assumptions, biases and ground your research in objective definitions of concepts and in scientific method.

The Research Design outlines the structure of your research plan: what will you do to answer the RQ and how will you do it?  What information is required and how will it be collected and analyzed?   Research Designrefers tothe overall picture or plan, it essentially is the map that shows where you want to go and how you expect to reach that destination: it is the framework that ties all the important parts of the research together.

The RESEARCH DESIGN is important because it provides a game plan or strategy of what steps are required to frame, posit and then answer the RQ.  Formulating the Research Design is essential but setting out the simple set of A,B,C steps involves a great deal of behind the scenes planning and investigation. There is an ongoing back and forth between formulating your RQ and designing the research strategy that you believe can best answer it.

Formulating the Research Focus: HOW TO GET STARTED?

  1. Begin to identify topics that are of interest to you and relevant to the course, i.e., questions related to applications of social media and/or social networks.  Some examples from past courses:
  2. Conduct a Review of the Literature: Formulating a good research question requires significant effort—the researcher must study the literature to get a feeling for what is already, how the RQ may have been dealt with in the past and what questions or problems remain; discuss the questions with the TA or other subject area experts, read traditional or online journals and other sources to identify the key issues that need to be covered.  Start with topics that are of interest to you, then begin to select specific issues that you wish to investigate in more depth.
  3. Use Search Engines: Google and Bing dominate the search engine marketplace, but they are not the only – and in some cases not the best – research tools available. Unique engines such Google Scholar, Touch Graph, Exalead, Hakia, RaRoi, Blinkx, Wolfram Alpha, Internet Archive, and the Good Search Engine (and others) have unique, useful qualities for those searching the Web.
  4. Research is an iterative process, requiring that you go through many of the same steps again and again. You will have to read documents, pursue interesting ideas, read some more, create more questions, find documents, talk with your instructor, TA, experts in the field, and even your colleagues and peers and so on. Continue doing this until you reach a question that is small enough that you think you could answer it in the time available to you.

Undertake a Literature Search

The Literature Search is the KEY aspect of refining and defining your research FOCUS.  It is the search of the research literature that helps you to identify and conceptualize how you will conduct your research and to address such questions as:

  • Is your research relevant? Or does it replicate research that exists? Is it redundant?
  • Is your research worthwhile? Does it add value to what we know and need to know?
  • Is your research do-able? What is involved and required in conducting your research?
  • What new ideas, approaches and methods might be relevant to your research design? Can you build on recent, related research? Are there gaps in the existing research that you can fill?

Figure 4: Group Process on Identifying Research Focus, RQs, and Methods


Framing the Research Question: WHAT MAKES A GOOD RESEARCH QUESTION?


  1. Framing or formulating A GOOD RESEARCH QUESTION (RQ) is the most critical part of the research design and methodology.
  2. A good research question identifies the phenomenon to be investigated.
  3. A good RQ is a question that’s worth asking. It poses a problem worth solving.
  4. A good RQ sets the context of the research and helps to determine the subject matter, the focus, what research evidence is required in order to generate an answer, and the conclusion.
  5. A RQ is not a broad question nor should it try to address huge issues.  It is not a topic but is a specific question within a topic:  it should be specific, clear, sharp, and concise. A good RQ will enable you to drill down into a phenomena to better understand it, rather than remaining superficial.  Focus is very important in formulating RQs. RQs should be tightly focused by the time that you are ready to proceed to designing the research methods.
  6. A poor or weak research question will hamper research activities because it will lead to superficial results or worse, mislead the whole research enterprise. Avoid complexity or ambiguity in your RQ. Avoid asking ‘big questions’; these are not conducive to good research and will lead to superficial, obvious, or irrelevant answers and results. Worse, a big or complex question may lead to poor, weak, incomplete or erroneous conclusions.
  7. “Dichotomous questions” – questions with simple yes or no answers – do not make good research questions
  8. The question should be do-able (within the given boundaries of time, money, capabilities, resources) and also be worth doing.
  9. It should also be interesting to do, since you will be investing significant time in doing it.
  10. A research question is not merely a question:  it is a question for which the answer is not immediately clear.  Answering the RQ has potential for expanding our knowledge base on a phenomenon. It is based on a problem that requires a solution or that answers a question that is NOT SELF-EVIDENT.  There is a TENSION related to the RQ, built by differing assumptions or expectations but lacking evidence.  This tension gives the research its heft and value, characteristic of an engaging and fruitful question.
  11. A good research question requires more than looking something up. It reflects an underlying tension that does not simply turn on one or two missing facts. It should force you to weigh evidence and compare divergent opinions on your topic. It should allow you to develop an answer that your readers find both interesting and significant.

Framing the RQs takes a lot of work and typically involves several reformulations and refinements as you synch the question with the data available to you in a workable and reasonable way in order to study in order to generate significant results and conclusions.

The more time that you invest in refining your RQs, the greater the likelihood of success in your research.  Investing 25% of the time in the research design and RQ is not too much, as a good plan will guide subsequent data collection and analysis tasks and make these easier and more effective.

When you think that you have an appropriate research question, fill in the blanks in the following sentence. If you are unsure how to fill it in, consult the professor, TA or your peers for help.

This MATRIX can help test and refine yourResearch Questions, Methods, Justification, Practicalities and Ethics [1],


Assignment 2

Research Question


Data Sources and Methods




Practicalities (e.g. resources and skills)


Ethical Issues


Formulating the Research Question


There is no recipe for the perfect research question, but there are bad research questions. The following guidelines highlight some of the features of good questions.

Good Questions Are:

  • Relevant.
  • Manageable in terms of research and in terms of your own academic abilities.
  • Substantial and with original dimensions.
  • Consistent with the requirements of the assignment.
  • Clear and simple.
  • Interesting.

In presenting your research question,make clear to the reader what is the tension that provides the heft for your question. Below is a list2 of hallmarks ofgood research questions. They point to the sort of tension that is characteristic of anengaging and fruitful question. Once you have a decided on a tentative question compareit to the items in the list. Add up the point total in the last column. A good researchquestion need not exemplify all of these characteristics. But a very low score indicatesthat you may be on the “dichotomous” side of the question spectrum. If so, someadditional reading and thought is appropriate.


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[1] Mason, J. ,1996, p24